Understanding Hoarding Disorder

What is Hoarding Disorder?

Hoarding disorder is a mental health condition where a person feels the need to excessively collect things and store them in a seemingly random and disorganised manner.

The items they collect do not need to have any monetary value, but the thought of getting rid of them or people moving them can cause them anxiety.

People with hoarding disorder rarely see it as a problem, and this can make it difficult to treat.  If they live alone they can easily hide it from other people.  It can get so extreme that it can make moving around the house extremely difficult and even dangerous. 

Living with someone who has hoarding disorder can be very challenging, as they don’t realise how it affects other people.  Even though they will use all the storage areas and cover all the surfaces, even filling baths and showers.  In extreme cases it can extend from the house to sheds, garages and cars and if they run out of space, they might even rent storage facilities.


It is not fully understood what causes a person to start hoarding but it usually starts in their early teens.  It can even be a symptom of another health conditions.

Physical disabilities can stop a person from removing unwanted items, learning difficulties and dementia can make it hard for people to distinguish what they need and what items they can dispose of.

Severe depression, OCD obsessive compulsive disorder and conditions like schizophrenia can also be associated with hoarding.  As can a family history of hoarding or a stressful life event that happened to them.

Physical Symptoms

  • Being more likely to fall due to over cluttering
  • Poor personal hygiene due to inability to use bathroom facilities or wash and dry laundry
  • Injuries caused by stacked items falling
  • Illness caused by infestation or poor hygiene
  • Potential injury due to fire hazards

Psychological Symptoms

  • Loneliness
  • Feelings of Isolation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability and anger when challenged about their hoarding

Self Help

As people with hoarding disorder do not see it as a mental health condition they are resistant to seeking help or looking for ways to help themselves.

If you know someone who has an extreme hoarding disorder and refuses to see their doctor or seek help, and you believe they are in physical danger, you may need to step in and involve the local authorities, police or fire services. 

If they have children living with them who you think are in imminent danger you should contact child or welfare agencies.

Remember to be reassuring, explain that no one is going to force their way in and take away their belongings.

Professional Health

If you can get them to seek help from their doctor this is the first place to start.  They might prescribe antidepressants such as SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors).  Hopefully, they will refer them to a mental health team dealing with OCD and hoarding. 

If they are unable to, then you may need to find a local therapist who will be able to help.  They can offer therapies such as counselling, psychotherapy, and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), which is most commonly used to treat hoarding disorder.

Written by Jan, Jeana and Wendy at Barnsley Hypnosis and Counselling (UK).  For more free information click above link