Hoarding--sometimes called compulsive hoarding--is a mental health condition that causes people to collect large quantities of objects. Hoarding is differentiated from hobby collecting in that it has a negative impact on the person's quality of life and/or relationships with others, and it interferes with their ability to function in a healthy manner.
People who hoard collect a wide variety of things. Sometimes the hoarding is limited to a specific type of object such as dolls, baseball cards, old computer parts, or clothing. But in other cases, hoarders tend to collect almost everything they come into contact with any may struggle to throw anything away. One type of hoarding, animal hoarding, can put both humans and animals in danger. People who hoard animals may have hundreds of animals, many of which may die without the owner noticing. Urine, feces, and disease are often rampant in the homes of people who hoard animals.
The public awareness of hoarding greatly increased due the popularity of the TLC television show “Hoarding: Buried Alive.” The show features people who hoard and follows them as they attempt to clean their homes and improve their emotional states.
Most mental health professionals believe that hoarding is a type of obsessions and compulsions. Even when a hoarder knows that his or her hoarding is out of control, he/she feels compelled to continue collecting items without getting rid of anything. Hoarding is sometimes a tool for alleviating anxiety or a byproduct of depression. People with a family history of hoarding are more likely to hoard, and substance abuse is correlated with hoarding. Hoarding can begin in early adolescence, but older people are more likely to hoard than young people.
Treatment for hoarding is generally two-pronged. Hoarders often need help to clean their living space and dispose of old collections, and homes often need serious work. Animal hoarders might need toxic waste disposal assistance. Therapy can be highly successful, but only works when people who hoard enter treatment of their own accord, not solely under the pressure of family and friends; some hoarders struggle to recognize the disastrous consequences of hoarding. Therapy typically centers around understanding the compulsion to hoard, finding alternative strategies, and alleviating anxiety and depression. Antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication can also sometimes be helpful.
Talking to a loved one about their hoarding behavior can be challenging, and many people react to criticism with defensiveness. However, many people who hoard do not seek help until they realize the effects of their behavior on others.
Here are some suggestions to consider when you talk to a loved one about hoarding:
Last updated: 12-15-2013