By Dr. Gail Steketee

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problems can have great difficulty throwing anything away, from worn-out socks to used food containers, as well as out-of-date newspapers.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.

Videos: Hoarding

Choose a title below to view related OCD videos

Gail Steketee, PhD, LICSW, discusses a mental health condition known as hoarding disorder. Hoarding disorder is accompanied by a variety of behaviors, such as difficulty getting rid of objects that ordinary people would not have a problem getting rid of. It is also accompanied by constantly purchasing things and extreme cluttering.

Gail Steketee, PhD, LICSW, discusses how hoarding disorder is associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The two disorders overlap, but they are not closely related. A person can have either condition separately, or both at the same time.

Gail Steketee, PhD, LICSW, discusses the difference between clutter and hoarding. Messiness is a very low level of clutter. People who have low levels of clutter are capable of cleaning it up, whereas hoarders engage in severe cluttering and have a hard time letting things go.

Gail Steketee, PhD, LICSW, discusses the affects hoarding disorder has on the sufferer's family members. Often times, family members do not understand why hoarders cannot throw things away. Family members have a hard time understanding the attachment that hoarders have to objects. Family members usually believe that taking a hoarder out of his/her home and cleaning it will fix the disorder. However, this does not alleviate the hoarder's attachment behaviors.

Gail Steketee, PhD, LICSW, discusses helpful steps for hoarding disorder. The initial step is stemming the tide of incoming objects, such as stoping the acquiring. Another early step is organizing the objects and thinking through what the hoarder wants to keep and does not need to keep. Another early step is deciding which area in the house the hoarder would like to enjoy being around. Figuring out how to configure a space early on is important in this process.

Gail Steketee, PhD, LICSW, discusses when hoarding starts. Hoarding starts in childhood, especially in the teenage years. However, most people who seek help are above 40.

Gail Steketee, PhD, LICSW, discusses symptoms associated with hoarding disorder among children. The most common symptom in children with hoarding disorder is the difficulty parting ways with an object.

Gail Steketee, PhD, LICSW, discusses how adult children can help their parents who have hoarding disorder. It is recommended for adult children to discuss their concerns with their parents who have hoarding disorder. If the parents are in danger and do not want to engage in conversations with them, another recommendation would be to contact their parents' city and ask if there are adult services that can be provided.

Gail Steketee, PhD, LICSW, discusses the resources for individuals with hoarding disorder. It is highly recommended to visit the International Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Foundation's website, www.iocdf.org, and to click the hoarding section.

Gail Steketee, PhD, LICSW, discusses denial and hoarding disorder. Those who suffer from hoarding disorder often deny their problem itself or the severity of their problem.

Gail Steketee, PhD, LICSW, discusses tips for living with someone suffering from hoarding disorder. It is important to consult with them before throwing away something. Another recommendation is convincing the hoarder to see a therapist with you. Learn more about hoarding disorder at www.peaceofmind.com.