Hoarding Disorder

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

Hoarding Disorder

Hoarding disorder is a disorder in which a person struggles to discard their possessions. It is not unusual for a person to hold onto certain things for sentimental reasons. Sometimes people will hold onto certain belongings in anticipation of needing it one day. These behaviors are typical, and not harmful to a person. It becomes a hoarding issue when the affected person experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of anything.

A person with hoarding disorder will struggle with letting go of anything they own. They accumulate an unhealthy amount of possessions in their home. This habit causes filth, clutter, and a poor quality of life.

A person with hoarding disorder will not only hold onto a few things for sentimental reasons. They will hold onto anything they own. Conditions in the home of a hoarder are deplorable. There will be only small aisles of space to move. There are piles of clutter, garbage and unusable items stored in every inch of their living space.

Symptoms of Hoarding Disorder

Hoarding disorder is different than a collector or a messy person. A collector has an emotional investment in something specific. They tend to collect with the intention to sell or for genuine interest. Someone who is messy is disorganized and struggles to take the time to keep tidy.

A person with hoarding disorder will be emotionally attached to everything that comes to their possession. This includes:

  • Junk mail
  • Dollar store splurges
  • Old food
  • Animals
  • Old papers
  • Broken appliances, bins, toys, etc.
  • Wrapping paper
  • Discarded waste
  • Wrappers
  • Containers
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Furniture
  • Old blankets
  • Old clothes
  • Mattresses
  • And more

Most of the possessions a hoarder posses has little to no value. It does not need to be saved, reused or collected.

The idea of throwing away any item creates great distress for a person with hoarding disorder. Some people with the disorder can handle throwing away a couple of items, but most cannot address throwing away items without professional intervention.

Hoarders will also exhibit behavioral symptoms, like:

  • Refusing to listen to concerns or reason about home from loved ones
  • Poor hygiene
  • History of anxiety or depression
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Impulse control issues
  • Difficulty managing stress
  • Defiance from authority figures and neighbors who complain or set boundaries for hoarding behavior
  • Aggression toward people who try to intervene

Causes of Hoarding Disorder

Hoarding disorder tends to affect people who also suffer from another mental health disorder. This is especially prevalent with anxiety disorders and depression. There are different types of anxiety disorders. Having an anxiety disorder increases the risk of developing hoarding disorder.

The following disorders are often found in people who suffer from hoarding disorder or issues related to hoarding behavior:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Depression
  • Alcoholism
  • Substance abuse
  • Panic disorder
  • Agoraphobia
  • Grief and complicated grief

Those who have a family history of hoarding disorder, OCD or related disorders are at increased risk of suffering from hoarding disorder.

It is not uncommon for someone who suffers from hoarding disorder to have a history of abuse or trauma. One is also at increased risk if they struggle with managing stress or suffer from unresolved grief.

Treatment for Hoarding Disorder

Most people with hoarding disorder will not seek therapy for their hoarding habits. They are more likely to seek therapy for other issues. These issues typically relate to another mental health disorder that may be affecting the hoarding behavior.

Through exploration of other affecting conditions, a therapist may pick up on the possibility of hoarding habits. A therapist may ask about some of the things the client feels, and how they affect their environment. If the therapist suspects a hoarding issue, they will discuss it with their client.

Sometimes family members of affected people will seek professional help. Family may seek out a therapist to intervene with a suffering loved one.

A person with hoarding disorder is resistant to addressing their living space. Therapists who are specially trained in hoarding disorders are best utilized to help coach a hoarder through learning the difference between useful and expendable.

It takes a great deal of time and patience to help a person recover from hoarding disorder. It is not uncommon for a person with hoarding disorder to not make a full recovery.

Treatment for hoarding disorder involves cognitive behavioral therapy. With cognitive behavioral therapy, affected person learn how to challenge their thoughts that lead to hoarding. They learn how to think critically about what they keep and prevent an emotional attachment from imprinting on every material possession.

Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches coping skills for stress and emotional upset. It also teaches healthy decision-making skills.

Treatment may also include group therapy and family therapy. Family therapy is particularly important and powerful because family is affected by hoarding. The affected person will likely lose the support of family and friends without professional intervention. Family therapy helps the family and affected person learn effective communication skills for healing.

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