What is hoarding?

POSTED ON 02/07/2020 IN Emotional Wellbeing

Hoarding is often spoken about in society and portrayed on television dramas, but I have never seen it looked into with much depth. However, hoarding is an important topic to discuss and know more about because it can become a significant problem, and there are many challenges to it being recognised. Some people who hoard may not realise they have a problem and/or be reluctant to seek help, but if it is not tackled it will probably constantly exist in their lives.

Everyone keeps items for different reasons; some may be for monetary reasons, for personal memories and keepsakes, and for many other subjective explanations. However, hoarding goes beyond this, and is different to a person having a collection due to the way items are stored, as they are usually stored in a disorganised and inaccessible way that takes up a large amount of space. A range of items are commonly hoarded including newspapers, magazines, books, plastic bags, and household supplies.

A hoarding disorder is where a person saves or acquires lots of items, regardless of their worth, and these items can be of little of no monetary value. The items are stored in a chaotic way which leads to there being a huge amount of clutter which interferes with how that person lives. An example of this could be that the amount of items doesn’t allow for the person to use certain areas of their home. Such items may be the cause of a lot of distress if, for example, someone tries to clear them away. This and also the thought of giving the items away can cause feelings of anxiety and upset. On the other hand, when a person acquires new items, they may have very strong positive feelings, and most people with a hoarding disorder have very strong emotional attachments to their items.

The reasons why people hoard items are not completely understood, but it can be a symptom of another condition, such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), severe depression, or psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia. For some people, it is a condition on its own, and is often associated with self-neglect. There are many misconceptions about hoarding with how it is carried out and how people who hoard feel about doing it, and so it is important to help those who hoard in the correct way and to try and understand how they feel.

For people who have a hoarding disorder, they will probably realise that they do have a problem with hoarding, but they may be reluctant to seek help for it. This reluctance may come from feeling guilty, humiliated or ashamed by it. The treatment for this disorder is also challenging to implement because many people who hoard have little awareness of how it is impacting on their life, or the lives of those around them, or they don’t see it as being a problem. However, the difficulties that arise from this disorder, such as the problem of clearing out items, can lead to loneliness and other mental health problems, as well as there being a risk to their health and safety because of the clutter that is generated. Due to these challenges that are faced when trying to treat a hoarding disorder, it is important for people around them to encourage them to seek help.

Visiting a GP is usually the first step to gain help, and the main treatment for hoarding disorder is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), where a therapist will aim to help the person understand why they carry out hoarding behaviour. CBT aims to help a person change how they think and act, which for hoarding disorder will aim to improve the person’s organisational and decision-making skills as well as aiming to overcome the urge to save items, which can then lead to the clutter being cleared. Regular sessions of CBT along with sessions based in the person’s home would be needed, with the aim being that they become better at discarding items, and organising those they keep. Understanding why they feel how they do about keeping items is also a goal, and having a plan to help them build on their work so they do not go back to their previous behaviour is also achieved.

For more information and resources, please see the references section.


Sarah Keeping MBPsS MSc PgDip GDip BA (Hons) Cert HE

Follow Sarah on twitter at @keepingapproach, facebook at @keepingapproach, and on instagram at @thekeepingapproach         


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