Hoarding disorder is defined as the acquisition of and inability to discard items that seem to most people to have little or no value, to the degree that living spaces cannot be used as intended. Hoarding disorder is considered a mental health problem when it causes significant distress to sufferers and others living with them, and also impairs their ability to function well. People with significant hoarding problems can have great difficulty throwing anything away, from worn-out socks to used food containers, as well as out-of-date newspapers. They often fear they might need the items in the future, and they feel responsible for keeping things that could be useful one day. If they have any doubt about the value of an object, they usually keep it ‘just in case’.
People who hoard objects may feel depressed and anxious. They are overwhelmed by the accumulated clutter, feeling at a loss for how to organize and store the things they want to keep. Decision making about objects is very difficult for them. Cognitive and behavioral treatment is available in the form of individual sessions, group treatment, and community efforts to help people in their homes. In these contexts, people are asked to clarify their values about people and objects and their goals for the future. They learn skills for not acquiring new items, for organizing and sorting what they have, and are guided to practice “letting go” of items that don’t fit their values and goals. Treatment may take several months or even a year or more, and medication may help some people.
Hoarding of animals occurs when people own many animals, often pets, but don’t provide basic sanitary conditions, nutrition and veterinary care. They fail to recognize that the animals are not well cared for and deny or minimize the impact of their behavior on the animals and the people living in the environment. More research on the problem of animal hoarding is needed to better understand why this problem occurs and what treatments may be most helpful.
DISCLAIMER: The content found here is intended to serve as educational content and is not intended to replace therapy. For treatment-related questions, please be sure to work with your local provider or contact a local clinician.