What is Hoarding?

Hoarding is an illness that not only affects the hoarder but their loved ones as well. Hoarding is considered to be an excessive collection of items; however, the person who only has an extensive collection of baseball cards or Star Wars collectibles would not fall into this category.

Hoarding is the inability to discard any items regardless of age, actual worth, or cleanliness. This can include anything from newspapers to junk mail, food cartons, old clothing, old appliances when new appliances are purchased, yard sale items, and even bits of paper. These individuals often collect and store (or hoard) items because they sincerely believe that any of these items will be needed or have value in the future. Some individuals also hoard animals. However, these same individuals often do not have the means to provide for these animals and the animals are then kept in unsanitary conditions.

Who Does Hoarding Affect?

The effects of hoarding often create extremely restricted living conditions for the hoarder. Their homes are often overflowing with narrow walkways winding through mounds of objects. Hoarding behaviors can surface in anyone regardless of background, age, gender, or social class. Research indicates that signs of hoarding are demonstrated by around the age of 12 and tend to increase with age.

What Causes Hoarding?

A sole reason for hoarding is still being debated and investigated. However, there are believed to be antecedents to hoarding--a history of hoarding by a close family members, traumatic or stressful life events, social isolation or poor interpersonal interactions, and perfectionism. Hoarding is also considered to be part of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which is an anxiety-based disorder that has behavioral components. These behavioral components are emotionally driven and could be the stem for keeping the unwanted items.

Individuals who hoard also have other symptoms, including acquiring unneeded or seemingly useless items, difficulty managing daily activities, difficulty organizing items, and excessive attachment to possessions. It should be noted that not all individuals with OCD exhibit hoarding behavior.

First Signs and Symptoms of Hoarding

Clutter and trouble disposing items are usually the first signs of hoarding. These early indications, ranging from mild to severe, usually surface during the teenage years. As time goes by and the person ages the problem worsens and usually is not treated until middle to late adulthood. Usually by this time symptoms are often severe and difficult to treat without proper intervention.

Best Practices for Treatment of Hoarding

Determining best practices for treatment of hoarding is challenging, as the results are often met with varied success. Individuals who are affected by hoarding do not normally recognize the impact that hoarding has on their lives and those around them. Hoarders are often resistant or do not feel they need treatment. However, when an individual who is affected by hoarding engages in treatment, the treatment could include the use of medication (an antidepressant) and a form of psychotherapy (usually cognitive behavioral).

What to Do if You or a loved One Show Signs of Hoarding

Talk to a doctor or mental health provider asthey are the best expert to assist with the problem and give you and the family member suggestions to cope. Many community-based agencies have resources that can help with this type of behavior and a lot of time the assistance is at a low cost. However, make sure that whoever assists you has experience with this disorder due to underlying issues that could exist.

In severe cases, you may also need to contact local authorities especially when the health or safety of the hoarder is at stake, when there are children involved, and/or animals.  This might be very difficult to do because of your emotional connection to the individual; however, may local government and law enforcement agencies also have referrals and could assist.