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How to Recognize and Deal with Family Hoarders

Updated on June 20, 2016
Stacie L profile image

Stacie L has been an educator for many years and likes to share her experiences and advice.

Buried in Their Treasures

Being buried alive conjures an image of a closet full of stuff falling on you as you open the door. I know many collectors that became overzealous and filled their home with their favorite possessions. People love to collect items and many cannot bear to part with them. The problem arises when the collector becomes a hoarder. They form an unhealthy attachment to junk and garbage as well as collectibles. Their homes resemble storage units or garbage containers.

My collections never took over any room nor did I have to rent space for them. I know some people whose collections grew so large that they ran out of room in their homes and resorted to renting space for them. The problem started when they were paying more attention to their collections than their children. Imagine being a child and watching mom or dad tending to their things and not giving the child any money or time because their things took all of it.

On the other hand those who fill their homes with trash, dead pets and useless items, are labeled hoarders. It is believed that the obsessive component is a form of a mental illness. The affected person cannot help themselves and is unable to see a problem. It happens gradually over time and usually after a traumatic event.

Hoarding living room
Hoarding living room | Source

Pet Hoarding

cats living in squalor
cats living in squalor

Problems Defined

When a collection takes on a life of its own and takes over the house, then it may be a hoarding problem.
Hoarding is defined as an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or attention deficient disorder (ADD) due to the inability to make decisions and procrastination.

According to Dr. Randy Frost, a professor of Psychology at Smith College and a hoarding expert, "Compulsive hoarding is the acquisition of and failure to discard possessions that appear to be either useless or of limited value. This behavior is quite common, and only becomes a clinical disorder when the behavior or resulting clutter presents problems in living."

Most of us have watched programs about those who are obsessive compulsive which seems funny to the rest of us. The typical OCD person washes their hands constantly, or needs to align the rug fringes, or even have ritualistic behaviors such as counting a certain way before eating or sleeping. The afflicted person cannot make decisions about throwing away an item or they put off throwing it away. Thus the piles grow higher and higher until one loses sight of the floor and walls.

Psychologists suggest that these people are driven by a sense of fear or anxiety and need to have these material objects surrounding them as security. The collecting becomes a huge problem when objects that are of no value are stock piled and never used.

Also many hoarders are known to stop cleaning the refrigerator, take out trash or empty the sink. The children and spouse become trapped in the hoarders objects of treasure and cannot see a problem until it’s too late.
The authorities have to take the children away or threaten to, unless the home is deemed safe and clean again.

Another area not thought of is pet hoarding. Many animal protection agencies are faced with removing too many pets from a home because they are in an unhealthy environment. The hoarder may not even know how many animals are in the home due to the massive amounts of clutter that is hiding the animals. Most of the pets that people hoard happen to be cats.That's probably because they are easy to hide and aren't always obvious.

Animal Rescue is a program that I watch and they are always removing pets from cluttered and filthy homes. ASPCA's across the country deal with pet hoarders daily.


Children are ashamed by the problem parent so friends are never invited over. The spouse, too cannot have friends over. Soon, the family is isolated, much like those that are living in abusive relationships.

The social implications are enormous and causes loneliness and depression for family members.

The Problem Highlighted

There is a new program on A&E channel that’s aptly titled “Hoarders” which documents the lives of real people who have problem throwing away unused, broken and invaluable items they have collected during their lifetime.

It starts out innocently enough; maybe someone grew up poor and always hungry so began buying extra canned and frozen foods to stock up, then couldn’t stop shopping. The results were disastrous for the child who had to share a home with his mom that didn’t see the rotting food in the freezer or pantry.

Another show portrayed a father living with his long suffering wife and teenage daughter that couldn’t move about the home at all.

They threatened to move out if he didn’t get some intervention and clean up the house. He couldn’t part with any of his possessions and so ,in the end, he couldn’t be helped. His wife suffered a heart attack weeks later and so he still hasn’t thrown anything away.

The afflicted person cannot see a problem and often feels attacked by others wanting to change them or their situation. The brain can trick someone into not seeing what’s really going on. They can acknowledge a problem but not be able to do anything about it.


Neat Hoarding or collecting?


Collecting is a favorite pastime for many people but when it starts to become more than a fun hobby and takes over someone's home then a serious problem may be evident.

Having a family member, friend or yourself afflicted with a hoarding problem is more than dealing with a messy, cluttered home. The physical aspects of it, hide the underlying, deep-rooted mental and or emotional issues involved. They are crying out for help and do not realize it.

Getting a home organizer may deal with the physical problem but a professional needs to be involved to deal with the emotional damage as well. Re-learning how to socialize and not cling to objects for security, is a long process and loved ones need to support the hoarder.

Geralin Thomas, founder of Metropolitan Organizing, LLC, has helped small business owners, corporate executives, artists, politicians, professional athletes, and many other individuals and families live more productive and balanced lives. He appears on the A&E program, Hoarders.


Do you know someone that is a hoarder?

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© 2009 Stacie L


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