According to Boston University School of Social Work, hoarding is “the acquisition of and failure to discard items that appear to be useless or of little value”. Hoarding results in so much clutter that it disrupts and threatens a person’s health and safety or leads to significant distress. Hoarding is different than collecting in that it disrupts a person’s life. People hoard many different types of possessions including newspapers, books, clothes, garbage, and in rare circumstances, animals.
Compulsive Hoarding in itself is a psychological condition. According to HUD, many hoarders have one or more other mental health conditions (e.g., depression, generalized anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social phobia, failure to process or organize information). There are many reasons people hoard. The International OCD Foundation reports the following common reasons for hoarding items: not wasting things, fear of losing important information, emotional meaning of objects, and the characteristics of objects.
Hoarding can threaten an individual’s health and safety. Clutter can block exits, cover heating vents, and make it difficult to move around the home, thus posing as a fire hazard. If a fire starts in the home of someone who hoards, it may spread quickly and be difficult to extinguish. Clutter can also lead to falls, unintentional injuries, and make it difficult for emergency personnel to access an ill person. Hoarding can lead to structural damage. General clutter can make it difficult to clean, and allow dust and allergens to build up. Depending on the items being hoarded, there may be additional health and safety risks. Hoarding food or garbage can lead to infestation and other health issues. Hoarding also takes a toll on relationships. According to Boston University School of Social Work, many hoarders have conflicts with family members for friends who are concerned or upset about the situation.
According to Hoarding: Best Practices Guide, most hoarders do not seek help, but rather someone else, like a mandated reporter or neighbor, discovers the issue. Cleaning out the home of a hoarder without addressing the underlying issues will likely fail. People who do not receive any behavioral treatment will return to hoarding.
Hoarding is a complex issue that requires a complex and multidisciplinary intervention. Hoarding interventions may include the housing provider, local health department, court, therapist, clean-up service provider, and family. Ongoing monitoring and case-management can be effective.