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What is Hoarding?

By Debra Durkee
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Hoarding is the obsessive collecting of items. Many times, these collections seem to have no rhyme or reason to outsiders, and the collected items often take over the home. While the hoarder typically sees nothing wrong with his or her lifestyle, friends and family often find themselves struggling with the condition of the hoarder and their home.

A collector may have a large number of items of a certain type, such as stamps or coins, but the items saved by a hoarder are typically of a wide variety and seem to have no real purpose. Collectors typically have their collections neat and organized, while the items saved by a hoarder clutter homes, fill rooms, and make practical areas such as tables, counters, and beds unusable. Most of the items saved by hoarders are regarded as trash by others, and can include such mundane items as boxes of hangers, old newspapers, and plastic bags.

Also known as compulsive hoarding, the condition is characterized largely by an inability to throw anything away. The result isn't just a small stash of items, but piles that clog hallways and overwhelm rooms. There is no consistent system of organization to the clutter, and hoarders will often move piles from one place to another in hopes of getting it right, although it never is. Some hoarders are uncomfortable allowing others into the home, and can grow tense or uneasy when others even touch their possessions, much less suggest throwing them away. This can lead to a limited social life, and can often result in estrangement from family members.

Within the broad definition of hoarding are those that hoard a very particular thing: animals. Animal hoarders often begin with the good intentions of adopting animals that would otherwise be homeless or undergo euthanasia, but often end up overwhelmed with animals. Most of these animal hoarders take in cats or other small mammals, and can end up with anywhere up to and over 100 individual animals. The result is often unsanitary conditions that can end up making animals and people ill or injured.

In addition to the strain hoarding places on relationships, it also presents safety concerns. Aside from falling objects, there is also the increased possibility of fire in the homes of hoarders. Hoarders are not easily swayed by safety concerns, and usually see nothing wrong with what they are doing.

Hoarding tendencies often begin young, and those with parents who are hoarders can be particularly prone to following in their footsteps. There are a number of reasons a person can begin hoarding, ranging from experiencing difficulties making decisions to not having possessions of his or her own as a child, and feeling protective toward everything earned as an adult. Hoarders can often overcome their tendencies, often with therapy and understanding.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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