Everyone likes to collect things. Certain people are even dedicated collectors or at least we like to know we have something we might need in the future.
But there are people who hoard, so much that it adversely affects their life. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), Hoarding Disorder occurs in two to six percent of the population.
A usually clear difference between a collection and a hoard is how things are organized. A collection – such as books, vinyl records or stamps – is usually neatly ordered, tidy and easy to access.
But a hoard is more often than not disorganized, takes up lots of space – including entire lofts, garages, sheds, rooms and sometimes apartments or houses. The items are difficult or even impossible to access.
With hoarding it might not even have any similar theme – it’s just all things and all stuff. Perhaps the key difference between a collection and a hoard is how it affects the person’s life and those around them.
What is most commonly hoarded?
Hoarding problems can be evident as early as someone’s teen years. But it’s usually only in middle age and onwards that the hoarding becomes much more noticeable and causes increasing problems.
Some things that are commonly hoarded include:
- Newspapers and magazines
- Leaflets and letters
- Clothes and footwear
- Bags and containers
- Food and drinks
- Domestic supplies
- DIY items
But some people hoard much more diverse things than this – and that can even include animals. More recently a problem is data on devices such as computers or cellphones that a hoarder finds impossible to delete.
Compulsively collecting and keeping
Hoarding can be seen as an addiction to collecting things. But in fact it’s much more to do with attempting to deal with painful feelings than collecting.
There’s a definition of addiction that can also be applied to see if someone is a collector or a hoarder: is it detrimental to the person’s life and/or the lives of those around them?
Also, as with many other addictions, including some behavioral addictions, a person who hoards might be more likely to spend much of their time alone. This can be a combination of things: feeling alienated and disconnected from others; not wanting to be told to sort out or stop their behavior; and people deciding not to spend time with them due to that same behavior and its consequences, such as a lack of personal hygiene.
Although previously thought to be connected to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Hoarding Disorder has been defined since 2013 as a mental health condition.
According to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), the guide book used by many health professionals around the world, Hoarding Disorder is: “Persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value. This difficulty is due to a perceived need to save the items and to the distress associated with discarding them.”
Major signs of Hoarding Disorder
At first, without fully understanding, hoarding might not seem to be too much of an issue. But it can cause a huge amount of suffering.
A person with Hoarding Disorder might:
- Collect and keep items that have little or no financial value.
- Feel compelled to collect broken things they see that they intend to repair.
- Find it impossible to organize their stuff.
- Suffer from indecision.
- Find that life is unmanageable, such as they struggle with simple daily tasks – shopping, paying bills, cleaning, cooking, responding to emails, messages or phone calls.
- Become attached to things, not letting anyone borrow or even touch them.
- Be unable to get around their house to use, for instance, their bathroom, kitchen or bedroom. This obviously negatively impacts on personal hygiene and good health. Their garden, yard or garage might be inaccessible too. If personal hygiene is badly affected it can cause problems at work or even make the person unemployable.
- Be reluctant or unable to have visitors, which can lead to feelings of loneliness. If they won’t let in tradespeople it can mean that, for example, they might not have any water.
- Be living in unhygienic conditions because it’s impossible to clean due to everything they are hoarding. This can encourage insects and rodents and bad smells.
- Not be able to get out of their house in time if there was such as a fire.
- Be much more likely to have falls due to the clutter in their house. Or if things are kept in tall piles these can collapse on them or anyone else in the house.
- Not be able to maintain a relationship or negatively affect their family life as it makes it very difficult for anyone to share a home with them.
- Get extremely distressed at collecting so much and being aware of everything they are keeping – and yet feel unable to organize or discard it.
Hoarding can also be an indication of another condition, including:
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Bipolar disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD)
- Psychosis, including schizophrenia
Why does someone hoard?
Hoarding Disorder is difficult to address as many people who hoard do not see they have a problem. Then those who are aware it’s a problem are often reluctant to get the help they need – because they feel embarrassed, guilty and ashamed about it.
A lot of people who hoard are perfectionists. This personality trait can be formed during childhood, for instance, if somebody was only praised when they achieved something.
But also perfectionism is something seen in people who were heavily criticized as children. They are driven by the belief that if they do everything perfectly there will be no reason for anybody to criticize them again.
Some mental health experts think that hoarding is connected to childhood experiences of not being looked after sufficiently and having unmet needs – feeling unloved. This could also include neglect and abuse.
Or it could be from not having many possessions, losing them or having them taken away. Perhaps also as a child the person who is now a hoarder witnessed poverty and constant financial anxieties.
They are likely to have grown up in a household that was anxious. It focussed on negatives in life, lack and scarcity.
This can sometimes be the case even if a family has some financial wealth. It’s a state of mind and even if there is plenty in the bank, some people can still suffer from the fear of financial insecurity.
This is usually all learned behavior that has frequently been passed on for generations as people do not realize and are not aware there is an alternative way to see things. So there could well have been a family history of hoarding, growing up in a cluttered and disorganized home.
Trauma might also be behind hoarding. For instance, if someone was abused or attacked, their hoarding can be like putting up a wall between themselves and other people.
A person who is hoarding really needs to seek help. If not treated, it is almost certain that the disorder will only get worse. But if treated it can be overcome.
The main talking therapy used to treat hoarding is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which looks at how thoughts, attitudes and beliefs affect feelings and behavior. It helps people manage life better by changing how they think (cognitive) and act (behavior).