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.
Facts About Hoarding Disorder
- HD is a diagnosable, treatable mental health challenge. 2% to 5% of the world’s population need help. That’s 6 million to 16 million people in the US, including 140,000 to 350,000 in MA.
- Hoarding is a behavior, not an identity. Rather than calling people hoarders, use terms like, “over-collecting,” “finding and keeping,” or “people living with HD.” If a person with HD chooses to call themself a hoarder, that’s their right, not ours.
- Stigma towards people with HD is increasing. In the time of COVID-19, the word “hoarder” is used to describe anyone stockpiling essential goods, whether it’s out of distress or to price-gouge. HD is not a crime.
- HD is not an adjective. To say you’re “such a hoarder” because you have a pile of papers on your desk is like saying you’re “so OCD” because you can’t stand a cluttered desk.
- HD doesn’t discriminate. People of all ages, races, religions, socioeconomic status, and gender, are vulnerable.
- The diagnosis of HD does not hinge upon the value that others place on the items saved. Too much of anything can become a problem.
- It’s never too soon or too late to get help. People of all ages can and do recover.
- Peers can help each other. Research shows that self-help groups facilitated by people with lived experience of HD are as effective as self-help groups run by licensed clinicians.
- Many people with HD do acknowledge their challenge, and they do want help. People around the world are getting help and making progress.
- HD affects all members of a household. Care and support must be extended to the entire family. Children, both young and grown, need help too. It is not their responsibility to be caretakers for their parents with HD.
- Cleanouts aren’t an effective treatment for HD. Removing items from someone’s home doesn’t make them “better,” just as throwing someone’s cigarettes away doesn’t mean they quit smoking.
- People with too many animals are usually overwhelmed caregivers. People who are called “animal hoarders” may act out of a fear that their animals will be put to sleep if they are discovered. Working to decrease this fear and build a bridge between animal lovers and animal welfare organizations may help to save the lives of both the animals and the people who love them.
- People with HD are a protected class under the Fair Housing Act in the United States.