Skip to main content

Hoarding Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment

Even normal persons may collect items, but the collection of persons with hoarding disorder is purposeful and organized. They take pride in their collection. They find it difficult to part with possessions. Often these items are of little value. It does not inconvenience them. But, in hoarding disorder, the items clutter the living areas. One cannot use such living areas fully. In this article, we will explore the nature of hoarding disorder, its causes, symptoms, and available treatment options.

Items that are most often hoarded are newspapers, magazines, paper, plastic bags, cardboard boxes, photographs, household supplies, food, and clothing. Some may hoard animals. People feel upset or anxious if you attempt to clean it up.

People who hoard are perfectionists. They dread making wrong decisions. They fear wasting things or losing items that might be “important”. These worries lead to behaviors like indecision, not getting rid of things, and collecting objects that may be of value only later on.

Understanding Hoarding Disorder

Hoarding Disorder is characterized by persistent difficulty in parting with possessions, resulting in an excessive accumulation of items, regardless of their value. Individuals with Hoarding Disorder experience intense anxiety at the thought of discarding or getting rid of their belongings. This condition goes beyond ordinary clutter and can significantly impact a person's daily functioning and quality of life.

Definition and Diagnostic Criteria

Hoarding disorder is officially recognized as a distinct mental health condition. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), it is characterized by persistent difficulty discarding possessions, regardless of their actual value, and an intense urge to accumulate more items. Hoarding behaviors typically lead to severe clutter in living spaces, rendering them unusable for their intended purpose.

Prevalence and Demographics

Hoarding disorder affects individuals across different ages, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Studies estimate that approximately 2 to 6 percent of the population experience hoarding behaviors. It often starts in adolescence or early adulthood, with symptoms typically worsening over time if left untreated.

Symptoms and Consequences

Symptoms of Hoarding Disorder

  • Inability to discard possessions that they no longer use.
  • Severe anxiety when attempting to discard items
  • Great difficulty organizing or categorizing possessions
  • They buy many of the same things again and again because they cannot lay their hands on what they already have.
  • The clutter prevents them from having friends or relatives over at their place.
  • Functional impairments, including loss of living space, family or marital discord, financial difficulties, health hazards, falls, and even fire hazards.
  • There could be narrow “trails” in the house to make their way between tall mounds of stuff.
  • They may feel out of control or embarrassed when they look at their piles of clutter.
  • Obsessive thoughts and behaviors, such as fear of running out of an item or checking the trash for accidentally discarded objects

Excessive Acquisition

People with hoarding disorder have a persistent urge to acquire new items, often far beyond their actual needs or available space. They may compulsively buy, collect free items, or excessively save objects they believe may be useful in the future.

Difficulty Discarding

Discarding possessions is extremely challenging for individuals with hoarding disorder. They experience intense distress or anxiety at the thought of parting with their belongings, even if they have little or no practical value. This difficulty in discarding differentiates hoarding disorder from general clutter or collecting behaviors.

Cluttered Living Spaces

Hoarding behaviors lead to cluttered living spaces, making it challenging to use rooms for their intended purposes. Excessive items accumulate to the point where they interfere with daily activities, such as cooking, cleaning, or sleeping. Walkways may become blocked, creating safety hazards.

Impairments in Daily Functioning

Hoarding disorder can significantly impair an individual's ability to function in daily life. The clutter and disorganization can lead to difficulties in finding important documents, paying bills on time, or maintaining personal hygiene. In severe cases, individuals may become socially isolated, unable to invite others into their homes due to shame or embarrassment.

Impact on Mental Health

Anxiety and Depression: Hoarding disorder often coexists with anxiety disorders and depression. The accumulation of possessions and the distress associated with discarding them can cause significant anxiety. The inability to maintain a tidy living space and the resulting social and emotional consequences can contribute to feelings of depression and hopelessness.

Social Isolation and Shame: People with hoarding disorder often feel ashamed or embarrassed about their living conditions, leading to social withdrawal and isolation. They may avoid inviting friends or family members into their homes due to fear of judgment or criticism. This isolation further exacerbates feelings of loneliness and reinforces the cycle of hoarding behaviors.

Impaired Relationships: Hoarding disorder can strain relationships with family members, friends, and romantic partners. Loved ones may struggle to understand the underlying motivations behind the hoarding behaviors, leading to frustration and conflict. The cluttered living environment may make it challenging for others to visit or feel comfortable in the individual's home.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of hoarding disorder is unknown. People may hoard thinking an item may come in handy later on. Or they may feel sentimental about it, or think it is unique and irreplaceable. They may keep it to jog their memory, so as not to forget an important event or person. Or they cannot decide where something belongs and hence keep it where it is.

Risk factors include:
  • Indecisive personality or temperament.
  • Family history of the disorder.
  • Stressful life events (e.g., death of a loved one, divorce, eviction, losing possessions in a fire, etc.)

Psychological Factors

Hoarding disorder is believed to be influenced by various psychological factors. Some individuals hoard as a way to cope with emotional distress, seeking comfort and security in their possessions. The excessive acquisition of items can provide temporary relief from anxiety or depression. Additionally, perfectionism, indecisiveness, and difficulties with organizing and categorizing possessions may contribute to hoarding behaviors.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors play a significant role in hoarding disorder. Traumatic events, such as the loss of a loved one or a major life transition, can trigger or exacerbate hoarding behaviors. Limited social support, financial constraints, and living in cluttered or chaotic environments can also contribute to the development of hoarding disorder.

Genetic and Neurobiological Factors

Research suggests that genetics and neurobiological factors may contribute to hoarding disorder. Studies have found higher rates of hoarding behaviors among individuals with a family history of hoarding, indicating a potential genetic component. Brain imaging studies have also identified differences in brain activity and connectivity among individuals with hoarding disorder.

Diagnosis and Assessment

Diagnostic Criteria

To receive a diagnosis of hoarding disorder, an individual must meet specific criteria outlined in the DSM-5. These criteria include persistent difficulty discarding possessions, excessive accumulation of items, and significant distress or impairment caused by hoarding behaviors.

Assessment Tools

Mental health professionals may use various assessment tools, such as the Saving Inventory-Revised (SI-R) or the Hoarding Rating Scale (HRS), to evaluate the severity of hoarding behaviors and assess the impact on an individual's life.

Differential Diagnosis

It is essential to differentiate hoarding disorder from other conditions with similar symptoms, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or major depressive disorder. A comprehensive evaluation by a qualified professional is necessary for an accurate diagnosis.

Treatment of Hoarding Disorder


Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a widely recognized therapy for Hoarding Disorder. Components include psychoeducation and goal setting, organization skills training, practice with resisting acquisition, and cognitive restructuring.

Given that many patients have limited insight, use motivational interview techniques to engage patients in treatment. Involving family members and social services may be key, particularly when insight is absent.


Medications may be prescribed to alleviate symptoms associated with Hoarding Disorder. These medications can help reduce anxiety and obsessive thoughts, which can facilitate the process of decluttering.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the first line of treatment for hoarding disorder. Venlafaxine also may be efficacious for this disorder. Some studies have noted a response to glutamate modulators.

Support Groups and Peer Support

Joining support groups or engaging in peer support can be beneficial for individuals with hoarding disorder. These platforms provide a non-judgmental environment where individuals can share their experiences, exchange strategies for managing hoarding behaviors, and receive support from others who understand their challenges.

Home Visits and Professional Organizing

In some cases, professionals specializing in hoarding disorder may offer home visits or professional organizing services. These interventions focus on creating a safer and more functional living environment, providing hands-on assistance in decluttering and organizing possessions.

Self-Help Strategies

Self-help strategies can complement professional treatment and empower individuals to take control of their condition. These strategies may include setting achievable goals, creating an organized system for belongings, and gradually practicing discarding items that hold less emotional significance.

Tips for Supporting Someone with Hoarding Disorder

Approach with Empathy and Compassion: When addressing hoarding behaviors, approach the individual with empathy and compassion. Recognize that hoarding disorder is a complex condition, and change takes time.

Encourage Professional Help: Encourage individuals with hoarding disorder to seek professional help from mental health professionals specializing in hoarding disorder. These professionals can provide the necessary support and guidance throughout the treatment process.

Focus on Collaborative Efforts: Involve the individual in decision-making processes regarding their possessions. Collaborate on developing a plan for decluttering and organizing, ensuring that their preferences and priorities are respected.

Addressing Common Misconceptions

Hoarding vs. Collecting

Hoarding disorder is often misunderstood and mistakenly equated with collecting. While collecting involves a purposeful and organized acquisition of specific items, hoarding is characterized by excessive accumulation and difficulty discarding possessions, leading to clutter and functional impairments.

Hoarding and Cleanliness

Hoarding disorder is not related to personal hygiene or cleanliness. Individuals with hoarding disorder may struggle to maintain a clean living environment due to the overwhelming clutter and disorganization. However, their inability to discard items should not be equated with a lack of cleanliness.

Understanding Hoarding as a Mental Health Condition

Hoarding disorder is a recognized mental health condition that requires professional intervention and treatment. It is not simply a matter of being disorganized or lazy. The underlying psychological and emotional factors driving hoarding behaviors require a compassionate and comprehensive approach to treatment.

Hoarding Disorder and Other Mental Health Disorders

Hoarding disorder can be comorbid with other mental health disorders such as depression (major depressive disorder), anxiety disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Hoarding Disorder and OCD

Hoarding disorder shares similarities with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) but is considered a distinct diagnosis. While both disorders involve intrusive thoughts and repetitive behaviors, hoarding disorder is primarily characterized by difficulty discarding possessions, whereas OCD encompasses a broader range of obsessions and compulsions.

Hoarding Disorder and ADHD

Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and hoarding disorder can coexist, as individuals with ADHD may struggle with organization, decision-making, and impulsivity, contributing to hoarding behaviors. Proper assessment and diagnosis are essential to develop an appropriate treatment plan that addresses both conditions.

Hoarding Disorder and Depression

Hoarding Disorder is frequently associated with depression. The chronic stress, isolation, and difficulties in daily functioning caused by hoarding can lead to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest in activities.

Hoarding Disorder and Anxiety Disorders

Hoarding disorder frequently co-occurs with anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or social anxiety disorder. The excessive accumulation of possessions can serve as a coping mechanism for managing anxiety, further reinforcing hoarding behaviors. Integrated treatment approaches are recommended for individuals with both hoarding disorder and anxiety disorders.

The Future of Hoarding Disorder Research

Advances in Treatment Approaches: Ongoing research is focused on developing more effective and tailored treatment approaches for hoarding disorder. This includes exploring the potential of virtual reality therapy, smartphone applications for self-monitoring and motivation, and combining different therapeutic modalities to address the complexities of hoarding behaviors.

Identifying Underlying Causes: Further research aims to identify the underlying causes and mechanisms of hoarding disorder. This includes investigating genetic and neurobiological factors, the impact of traumatic experiences, and the interplay between cognitive processes, emotional regulation, and hoarding behaviors. A better understanding of these factors will contribute to more targeted interventions.


Hoarding Disorder is a complex condition that goes beyond mere clutter. It affects individuals in profound ways, impacting their emotional well-being, relationships, and overall quality of life. By understanding the causes, symptoms, and available treatment options, we can offer support and empathy to those facing this challenging condition.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1. What is the difference between hoarding and collecting?

A1. While collecting involves the purposeful and organized acquisition of specific items, hoarding is characterized by excessive accumulation and difficulty discarding possessions.

Q2. Can hoarding disorder be cured?

A2. There is no definitive cure for hoarding disorder but it can be effectively managed and individuals can experience significant improvement with the right treatment and support. However, there is no known cure for hoarding disorder.

Q3. Can hoarding disorder relapse after treatment?

A3. Relapses are possible, but with ongoing support and the implementation of learned strategies, individuals can minimize the risk of relapse and maintain progress.

Q4. How can I help a loved one with hoarding disorder?

A4. Offer understanding and support without judgment. Encourage them to seek professional help, assist with decluttering efforts if appropriate, and help them establish and maintain an organized living environment.

Q5. Is hoarding disorder a form of OCD?

A5. While hoarding disorder is often associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), it is now recognized as a distinct condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).


Other Posts

The Mystery of Edith Bouvier Beale's Mental Health

Edith Bouvier Beale , commonly known as " Little Edie ," was an American socialite and cousin of former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. In this article, we explore the life of Edith Bouvier Beale, an enigmatic figure whose struggles with mental health captivated public attention. From her affluent upbringing to her seclusion in " Grey Gardens ," we delve into the complexities of Edith Bouvier Beale's mental health journey. Edith Bouvier Beale's Mental Health: What We Know (and Don't Know) In the realm of intriguing personalities, Edith Bouvier Beale stands out as a complex figure whose life was marked by both glamour and obscurity. While her name might not ring a bell for everyone, her captivating journey, marred by mental health struggles, has left an indelible mark. Let us delve into the life of Edith Bouvier Beale, exploring her early days, her rise to stardom, her decline into isolation, and the profound impact of mental health challenges on

OCD: Symptoms, Types, Causes, Treatment, Help, Cure

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder , more commonly known as  OCD , is a common, chronic, and long-lasting disorder and is characterized by way of persistent, undesired thought processes (obsessions) and/or repeating actions (compulsions). Obsession, in this case, is highly unpleasant as the individual is compelled to repeat certain behaviors again and again. The condition, most of the time, is anxiety-related and the  thoughts are unwanted and intrusive . Sufferers often understand that these thoughts are irrational, but by performing compulsive behavior, they believe they will be cured or will be relieved. Recurring actions such as hand washing (to avoid catching germs), counting numbers, checking things over, or cleaning are frequently carried out with the anticipation of avoiding compulsive thoughts or making them disappear altogether. This is to avoid their obsession turning into reality. OCD is a common mental condition that affects 2.5 million adults or

Health Anxiety Is Ruining My Life: How to Get Over It

Do you have a fear of diseases? Have you ever thought of a simple headache to be a brain tumor, or a slight stomach ache as an intestinal blockage? Have people ever called you crazy because of your obsession with health and hygiene? Are you gripped by a constant fear of being terminally ill? Have you ever self-diagnosed yourself by checking the symptoms online? Are you aware of the symptoms of various diseases because you constantly look them up online? Do you keep getting tests done (often by different doctors)? Is no reassurance enough to prove that you are not sick? You know that but are never satisfied. Is that you? If the answer to most of these questions is yes, you probably are a hypochondriac. But if " Health anxiety is ruining my life " is something you can relate to, this article will help you overcome it. Health Anxiety Is Ruining My Life If you're constantly worried about their health and always convinced that you are sick, then you may