Hoarding is a complex disorder in which people 1. acquire or collect too many items; 2. experience extreme difficulty regarding the possessions they’ve collected; and 3. have troubles with organization.
People who hoard frequently shop for new possessions, and experience a thrill at finding a bargain, or “just the right thing.” They may find it difficult, if not impossible, to turn down free things. They may also just be unable to throw out wrappers, packing materials, or other items. Frequently people I work with describe wanting to save something useful from going into the trash.
A defining characteristic of hoarding behavior is the inability to let go of things. While it is sometimes easier to recycle, give things away, or donate them (versus throwing them out), it is ultimately very challenging for people who hoard to let go of items. When individuals with this problem do sit down to sort through their possessions, the process is usually so time-consuming and overwhelming they ultimately give up, defeated and discouraged.
People who hoard have difficulty organizing, which may stem from problems with attention, information processing, categorizing things, and making decisions. When they do try to organize, individuals with this problem typically just end up moving items from one location to another without any effective change. We call this “churning.”
Hoarding can have serious safety consequences: the living space may become so cluttered it poses a fire or safety hazard, or the person in question may be in danger or tripping or harming themselves trying to get around the house.
People with this problem are often embarrassed for anyone to see their home; they frequently limit or prohibit guests or visitors. While they may fully understand that their habits are unusual, they typically are not greatly bothered by the hoarding itself. People who hoard frequently are unaware of the potential consequences of their behaviors; instead, it may be family, friends, health departments, or other social agencies who voice concern.
The most important message is that help and expertise in treating hoarding disorder exists. If you or someone you love has trouble with hoarding, make sure they get help from a specialist who has extensive experience in dealing with this problem.