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Why do people hoard? Hoarding help, how to heal from this mental illness...

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A hoarders kitchen

A hoarders kitchen

Hoarding comes with a price

  • Emotionally
  • Physically
  • Socially
  • Financially
  • And even legally


What is hoarding?

Hoarding would fall into the category of an anxiety disorder, or obsessive compulsive disorder. When someone hoards they compulsively acquire, search, and purchase items that have little or no value. The act of hoarding seriously affects the hoarder themselves, and their loved ones. Emotionally, hoarders feel guilty, ashamed, sick, anxious and embarrassed, logically they know to let go of these things, but cannot without considerable stress. I personally don't think hoarders are slobs or lazy, they just cannot let items go, sometimes this includes trash. Which is why so many people look at hoarding as laziness, being messy slobs, being unclean, having an inability to take control of life, cope with pressure from life, and take personal responsibility for the lifestyle they are living.

Frequent thoughts of a hoarder


What are the symptoms of hoarding?

  1. Hoarders do not throw away newspapers, plastic bags, cardboard boxes, magazines, photos, food, clothing, nick-knacks, trash, collectibles, magnets, lids, caps, pens, you name it, they save it.
  2. When a hoarder tries to throw something away or discard of their items, they are often suffocated with severe anxiety, and are emotionally distraught.
  3. Hoarders lack the ability and coping skills to make decisions and correctly organize their possessions.
  4. Hoarders obsess over running out of things. They may repeatedly check the trash or garbage bins in fear of accidentally throwing things away. They do not want to be wasteful and often worry "what if I need that someday".
  5. Hoarders often collect or have collections of various items, nick-knacks, statues, artwork, even lids to cans of food, bottle tops, milk jugs and milk carton rings, coins, etc...
  6. Hoarders become upset and suspicious when someone moves or handles their possessions. Taking their possessions is like removing a friend or loved one from their life. People without the illness of hoarding cannot understand this response.
  7. Hoarders can have multiple mental disorders, such as ODC (obsessive compulsive disorder), depression, and post traumatic stress disorder.
  8. Hoarding compounds other issues by limiting safe, sanitary living space. This can be a huge issue for everyone involved, especially family pets.
  9. Hoarders feel socially isolated, frequently have financial difficulties, as well as marital, family, and relationship problems.

What causes someone to become a hoarder?

People without the mental disorder of hoarding are often appalled, disgusted, and shocked that someone can literally live confined and consumed by material possessions and trash. We wonder "how can someone live in such horrible conditions" "how do they function living the way they do". "How can they possibly enjoy life, or complete daily tasks?"

The complete understanding of what causes hoarding is unclear, but has been linked to multiple factors.

Early onset hoarding this usually shows up in children. The youngest documented age of someone displaying hoarding symptoms is 3yrs. But more commonly appears in early adolescence, particularly teens 13 years old and up. Symptoms usually worsen in the 20's and 30's, and can become severe by 40-50. Boys and men are more likely to have this disorder, but women typically show symptoms earlier and more profoundly.

Late onset hoarding late onset hoarding is rare. Those who develop this behavior over 50 often had previously mild hoarding symptoms which are exasperated by stress, loss or trauma.

Key characteristics

  • People who hoard generally have issues with perfectionism, ADHD, depression, and anxiety.
  • Hoarding has been shown to be an inherited trait, so contributing factors can include genetics, and family history.
  • Hoarders are often impaired mentally in the brain (documented by MRI imaging) and are impaired by decision making processes, memory, and categorization.

Hoarders form intense emotional connections with inanimate objects. Possessions make them feel safe, loved, secure, relieve loneliness, and the thought of getting rid of things causes them grief, nervousness, loss of control (although counterproductive) and anxiety.

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How to help a hoarder heal

First, you must recognize that hoarding is a mental condition. Yelling at your hoarder will not change their behavior, neither will insults, rage, demands, or ultimatums. Often, they know they have a problem, but they do not know how to over-come it. Therapy for the person hoarding should ALWAYS be part of treatment.

  1. Don't enable the hoarder. By this, I mean do not give them more things or offer them free hand me downs or other possessions. Do not constantly clean up after them. Do not berate, belittle or judge them, this negative energy will not help.
  2. Help them seek professional help. Counseling, therapy, support groups, relaxation strategies and even medications if needed. The most commonly prescribed medications are those to eliminate depression and anxiety.
  3. Do not throw away their things or move them without discussing it with them first. Doing this will only put a bandage on the problem, and not eliminate it. It will most likely cause tension, and unnecessary arguments.
  4. Don't get sucked into the "craziness" of this illness. If your loved one has not made attempts to get professional help, they will most likely revert back to old habits.
  5. When your hoarder is active in treatment, begin helping them to clean up their home.
  6. Once clean-up begins, remove all trash from the home first, this is the least stressful thing to start working on and get rid of for them.
  7. Next, make sure to categorize clean-up items. Such as starting three bins. 1. Keep 2. Donate 3. Throw away or recycle. It is helpful to help them categorize the clean up process since they have trouble with organization.

Help for hoarders

Info for the hoarder

As you recover, it is important to make a constant effort to keep your hoarding tendencies in line to avoid backsliding to old habits. These suggestions should prove helpful.

  1. Do you really need it. Ask yourself this every time you go to purchase something.
  2. Stop going to flea markets, thrift stores and garage sales, these are horrible places for hoarders. Not only are there so many items in need of homes, but they are inexpensive, which means they can buy more.
  3. Keep an emotional journal to chart progress and deal with emotional upsets.
  4. Start a hobby (one that does not consist of acquiring more things).
  5. Ask for help and use support groups, chances are, you are surrounded by more love then you can imagine and people that want to help you get better.


Rebecca (author) from USA on September 25, 2016:

Thank you for your comments Grand Old Lady, I hope it helps. :)

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on July 08, 2016:

I have a friend who is a hoarder and who insists that nothing is wrong. What's more, if you say anything that seems to interfere with her agenda in a conversation that she has mapped out in her head, she gets pissed. Thank you for the advice that they can't be helped unless they first see a psychiatrist.

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on July 02, 2016:

Very interesting and revealing. I know a hoarder who really wrestles with control issues. Your advice on how to deal with hoarders is most helpful.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on September 03, 2013:

Hoarding is such a problem with so many people and your tips explains everything one needs to overcome this issue.

Christin Sander from Midwest on August 31, 2013:

Very interesting and thorough hub on this phenomenon, voted up.

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