Hoarding is not simply a behavior. It is a mental health condition. In fact, there are different types of hoarding disorders. Oftentimes, hoarding is a subset of OCD, which itself is an anxiety disorder.
What Is Hoarding?
Hoarding is a condition in which a person keeps things that most other people would say are not valuable. Of course, it’s true that “one’s man junk is another man’s treasure.” However, if a person collects items to the point where it interferes with their lives in some significant way, and they are still unable to get rid of those items, then they are hoarding.
Some examples of hoarding negatively impacting someone’s life include:
Their home because difficult to live in due to clutter. They may be unable to cook, shower, sleep in a bed, or move around properly.
They can’t have people in to do normal home repairs because of the “stuff.”
The hoard leads to home damage such as rotting, mold, sagging foundations, etc.
Neighbors and/or city officials complain or take action against the home because of the hoard.
Hoarding limits emergency personnel’s access to the home and its occupants.
The hoard causes physical illness due to contamination, filth, dust, etc.
Animals in the hoard aren’t receiving proper care including medical treatment.
The hoard affects the person’s relationships with loved ones.
Inability to maintain steady employment due to conditions related to the home and/or to shopping to add to the hoard.
People with hoarding disorders often become extremely distressed at the idea of losing their stuff. If someone, such as loved one, comes in and cleans, they get very anxious and angry.
Hoarding and OCD
Compulsive hoarding is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which is one type of anxiety disorder. Generally speaking, people with hoarding tendencies have high levels of anxiety and the hoarding behaviors helps soothe those anxieties. It’s important to note that although compulsive hoarding is very common among people with OCD, not all hoarding before is OCD-related.
Types of Hoarding
People can truly hoard almost anything. However, there are some common themes that relate to different types of hoarding. They include:
Many hoarders have great anxiety about letting go of any little bit of paper. They worry that they will need the information on that paper and therefore can’t let it go. Their homes get overwhelmed with paper clutter. This can include:
Printed-out copies of online conversations
Notes, cards, and letters
Mail including coupons and junk mail
Magazines and books
Of course, we all keep some kind of paper clutter in our lives. However, hoarders won’t let go of anything. They often can’t find what they want in the mess. If asked to let go of something such as their child’s third grade report card, they may panic or get angry.
There are laws in most areas limiting the number of pets a person is allowed to have. Those who go above that number may be animal hoarding. However, there’s more to it than this.
Animal hoarding means that, regardless of the law, the person has more animals than they can take care of. They physically, mentally, and financially do not have the means to provide for the animals. Therefore, the animals are undernourished and ill, often dying from unknown causes.
Despite this, the hoarder continues to believe that they love the animals and are even helping them. They don’t want to let any of them animals go to other homes. In fact, they keep acquiring more animals. They may put food out on the porch to encourage strays or even drive to various areas with traps to collect animals. They don’t spay or neuter the animals, so they breed prolifically.
Some people have a huge fear of running out of food or running out of the money to buy food. They stockpile. Their cupboards, refrigerator, freezer, pantry, and basement overflow with food and yet they keep buying more. Food hoarders rarely pay attention to expiration dates. They don’t want to throw out any food, even if it’s expired or clearly rotting.
Trash Hoarding AKA Hoarding Everything
There are some people whose hoarding is so generalized that they absolutely don’t want to get rid of anything. They’re sometimes called garbage hoarders because they keep things that other clearly consider to be trash. They don’t ever “take out the garbage.” They may see potential use in everything. Alternatively, throwing something out might just give them too much anxiety. People may keep empty containers and boxes, the plastic wrap off of opened products, or even things like toilet paper and dirty diapers if the hoarding has gotten so extreme.
Hoarding with Compulsive Shopping
People with compulsive shopping disorders don’t necessarily hoard. However, the two conditions can go hand-in-hand. The person shops impulsively and compulsively, often going into great debt but feeling unable to stop themselves. They never get rid of the items that they purchase; that’s the hoarding part. If they became unable to continue shopping because they lose all access to funds, then they may go “shop” in untraditional places such as dumpsters.
Symptoms of Hoarding
Each form of hoarding is a little bit different from the others. Individuals may experience hoarding to varying degrees. However, here are some common symptoms to look for:
The feeling that you just can’t throw something away
Justifying to others why you can’t get rid of things
High anxiety when asked to try to throw something away
Retrieving items from the trash after throwing them away
Inability to make decisions about what to keep and what to discard
Feeling overwhelmed by “stuff” but unable to do anything to change it
Stress when other people are near your things; worry that people will get rid of your items
Constant fear of not having enough, needing more, or losing something important
Of course, all of the examples described above of how hoarding can negatively impact someone’s life are also warning signs to look out for.
Treatment Options for Hoarding Disorder
Although not all compulsive hoarding is part of an OCD diagnosis, it’s often treated in the same way as OCD. Cognitive Behavioral Treatment and Exposure Response Prevention are two of the most common treatments to help people overcome hoarding. Oftentimes, the therapist will come to the individual’s home to help them work on their thoughts and behaviors in the hoarding environment.