A hoarding disorder is where a person gathers an excessive number of items and stores them. This is usually in a chaotic manner and results in unmanageable amounts of clutter.
Hoarding can be a significant problem if:
- the amount of clutter interferes with everyday living
- it is causing distress or affecting the quality of life of the person or their family
Many people collect items such as books or stamps. This is not considered a problem. The difference between a "hoard" and a "collection" is their organisation.
A collection is usually well ordered and the items are accessible.
A hoard is usually:
- very disorganised
- takes up a lot of room
- the items are inaccessible.
Why someone might hoard
The reasons why someone begins hoarding are not fully understood.
Some reasons might be that:
- It can be a symptom of another condition.
- Someone with mobility problems may be unable to clear huge amounts of clutter.
- Someone with learning disabilities may be unable to categorise or dispose of items.
Mental health problems associated with hoarding include:
- severe depression
- psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia
- obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
In some cases, hoarding is a condition in itself and associated with self-neglect. These people are more likely to:
- live alone
- be unmarried
- have had a deprived childhood
- have a family history of hoarding
- have grown up in a cluttered home
Many people who hoard have strong beliefs about acquiring things and throwing them away. Some people might be struggling to cope with a stressful life event. This could include the death of a loved one.
Attempts to discard things often bring up very strong and overwhelming emotions. So, the person hoarding often tends to put off or avoid making decisions about what can be thrown out.
Signs of a hoarding disorder
You might have a hoarding disorder if you:
- keep or collect items that may have little or no monetary value
- find it hard to categorise or organise items
- have difficulties making decisions
- struggle to manage everyday tasks, such as cooking, cleaning and paying bills
- become attached to items, refusing to let anyone touch or borrow them
- have poor relationships with family or friends
Items you might hoard include:
- newspapers and magazines
- leaflets and letters, including junk mail
- bills and receipts
- containers, including plastic bags and cardboard boxes
- household supplies
- large amounts of data, including electronic data and emails
Why hoarding disorders are a problem
A hoarding disorder can be a sign of underlying conditions such as:
A hoarding disorder can be a problem for several reasons:
- It can take over your life, making it very difficult for them to get around their house.
- It can cause your work performance, personal hygiene and relationships to suffer.
- It can cause isolation and loneliness.
- The clutter can pose a health risk to you and anyone who lives in or visits your home.
- It can lead to unhygienic conditions and encourage rodent or insect infestations.
What you can do if you think someone is hoarding
If you think someone you know has a hoarding disorder:
- try to persuade them to see a GP
- be sensitive about the issue
- emphasise your concerns for their health and wellbeing
- reassure them that nobody will go into their home and throw everything out
Talking with a GP will establish what treatment or support is suitable. A GP can refer the person to a therapist or specialist in this area.
Treatment for hoarding disorders
Hoarding disorders are challenging to treat because many people who hoard do not see it as a problem. They might have little awareness of how it is affecting their life or the lives of others.
Some people who hoard realise they have a problem but are reluctant to seek help. They can feel ashamed, humiliated or guilty about it.
Cognitive behavioural therapy
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helps you manage problems by thinking more positively. It frees you from unhelpful patterns of behaviour.
[RT] Read more about CBT and talking therapies.
Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE.