What is hoarding?

Hoarding is the excessive accumulation of items, coupled with difficulty or refusal to part with them, which often results in clutter, disorganization, and potentially hazardous living environments. Different types of hoarding include compulsive hoarding (often linked to mental health issues like OCD), collecting (which becomes hoarding when it’s excessive and disorganized), animal hoarding (accumulating large numbers of pets without providing proper care), digital hoarding (amassing digital files and data), and others.

Individuals who hoard usually feel a strong attachment to their possessions and experience distress at the thought of losing them. This behaviour can be driven by emotional attachments, fear of losing memories, or perceived future utility of the items.

Hoarding can have a significant impact on an individual’s life, affecting personal relationships, mental health, and the functionality and safety of living spaces. For example, excessive clutter can create fire hazards or make a home unsanitary.

Addressing hoarding often requires a multi-faceted approach that includes psychological therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, support from family and friends, and sometimes medications to treat underlying mental health conditions. Interventions are often gradual and focused on helping the individual to develop decision-making skills and reduce the distress associated with discarding items.

The psychological causes of hoarding are complex and can vary from person to person. Several factors may contribute to the development of hoarding behaviour:

  1. Anxiety and Depression: Individuals with anxiety or depression may hoard items as a way of coping with their emotions. The act of acquiring items may temporarily relieve feelings of anxiety, while the thought of discarding items can cause increased anxiety or sadness.
  2. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Hoarding was previously considered a type of OCD and is still closely associated with it. People with OCD may hoard due to obsessive thoughts about needing items in the future or extreme anxiety about throwing things away.
  3. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): People with ADHD may have difficulty organizing and making decisions, which can contribute to hoarding. The impulsivity associated with ADHD can also lead to the excessive acquisition of items.
  4. Attachment Disorders: People with attachment disorders may form emotional bonds with objects as a substitute for human relationships. This can lead to the excessive acquisition and retention of possessions.
  5. Trauma and Loss: Some individuals start hoarding after experiencing trauma or loss. Holding onto objects can be a way to retain memories and create a sense of security.

Psychology Clinic Services

Related FAQs