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Is Hoarding a Form of OCD?

Updated on January 23, 2010

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental illness that causes obsessive thoughts and compulsive behavior. Hoarders compulsively save possessions of little to no extrinsic value. Some experts suggest that the hoarding behavior is powered by obsessive thoughts of loneliness, threats to self-image, or insecurity of being without necessities. Is hoarding a form of OCD?

Some people with OCD have hoarding as a minor symptom compared to more severe OCD symptoms. Other people with hoarding as a primary symptom of OCD collect so many possessions and clutter that their homes become uninhabitable. Many hoarders have close relatives who also demonstrate hoarding behavior. Other forms of OCD also tend to run in families. There is actually a strong hereditary component with compulsive hoarding in that up to 85% of compulsive hoarders have family members who also have hoarding behavior.

Compulsive hoarding is continued by the individual even if the clutter is causing distress. As with other forms of OCD, the hoarder cannot stop the compulsive behavior without effective treatment. The hoarder may face eviction or the home may risk being condemned by local safety officials. Hoarders may not allow family and friends to see the home due to embarrassment over their collection of possessions.

Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


Like other forms of OCD, the compulsive behavior is extremely difficult to stop. As with OCD, the hoarding compulsion is caused by anxiety and obsessive thoughts. Compulsive hoarding does not respond well to the medications used to treat OCD. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is hoarding treatment that focusing on changing the hoarding behavior and addresses the underlying causes of the hoarding.

To the outsider, the hoarding behavior may seem illogical and indeed it is. However, the hoarder cannot simply stop hoarding just as someone cannot will-away diabetes or medical conditions. A compulsive hoarder needs to address the strong psychological needs that are fueling the hoarding compulsion.

 If people clean out the home of a hoarder without treatment to address the causes of hoarding behavior, the hoarding behavior is likely to worsen. A hoarder who loses all their possessions may be overwhelmed with anxiety without having the necessary coping skills to avoid alleviating anxiety with hoarding behavior. Compulsive hoarding has clear similarities to OCD. Experts remain divided on whether compulsive hoarding is a subtype of OCD, a possible OCD symptom, or a separate condition entirely.


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