Hoarding

Written by Bonnie Gifford

Bonnie Gifford

Hypnotherapy Directory Content Team

Last updated on 26th July, 2022

If it feels like you have so many things that you cannot manage the clutter, have difficulty or find it impossible to throw things away, it could be a sign of hoarding.

We explain more about the types of hoarding, how it can affect you, and how hypnotherapy can help you to overcome hoarding.

What is hoarding?

The term hoarding has become more commonly used to describe collecting or keeping items that you may not even need. But what is hoarding disorder, and how serious is it?

People who hoard may struggle with the amount of clutter they have in their homes. Generally, someone with hoarding disorder finds it difficult or impossible to throw things away. You could feel a strong need to keep things (eg. having an overly sentimental connection to things, or worrying that you might need something so it is better to keep things just in case). It’s when your connection to things starts to cause you distress and/or your hoarding has a serious impact on your day-to-day life, it could be a sign that you need help.

Hoarding disorder is both a diagnosable mental health issue, and can also be a sign of other mental or physical health problems. If you are worried that you might be exhibiting signs, it’s important to speak with your GP in order to get an official diagnosis. 

When is hoarding a problem?

If the amount of things you own becomes clutter that interferes with your daily life, such as being unable to access a room in your house or use furniture; the clutter is causing you significant distress; or clutter is negatively affecting your or your family’s quality of life, it can be a sign that hoarding has become a significant problem. 

The person experiencing hoarding disorder may be unable to recognise that they have a problem, or may not see how their hoarding is affecting them or those they care about. Feelings of guilt, shame, and humiliation can lead to some people feeling unable to seek help.

It’s important to encourage loved ones who may be experiencing hoarding disorder to seek help. When left untreated, hoarding disorder can lead to feelings of loneliness, ill mental health, and even become a physical health and safety risk. Without intervention, the issue is unlikely to resolve itself. 

Is hoarding the same as OCD?

Although some people with a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may show signs of hoarding, hoarding disorder and OCD are two separate diagnoses. Someone with OCD may have recurring thoughts, urges, or compulsions, while someone with hoarding disorder has difficulty in letting go of physical possessions. 

Hoarding disorder has been considered a unique mental health problem, separate from OCD, since 2015. However, there are often many crossovers between the two. 

What are the symptoms of hoarding disorder?

Compulsive hoarders may struggle with avoidance, indecisiveness, perfectionism, and anxiety. Common signs and symptoms that could indicate that you may have an issue with hoarding can include:

  • Keeping or collecting items with little to no monetary value (eg. newspapers, cardboard boxes, plastic bags) or items that they plan to reuse or repair.
  • Feeling the urge to get more things (even if you already have a lot).
  • Difficulty organising or categorising items, or making decisions about your things.
  • Experiencing strong, positive feelings when you acquire more things.
  • Getting upset or feeling anxious at the thought of getting rid of things (giving or throwing away).
  • Trouble managing to do everyday tasks (eg. cleaning or cooking).
  • Developing an emotional attachment to things (even if you have a lot of them, or it is something people do not typically develop an attachment to).
  • Having difficulty organising things, deciding what to keep or get rid of.
  • Becoming attached to items and refusing to let anyone touch or borrow them.
  • Losing part of your home due to too many things taking over your space (eg. a guest room is no longer accessible due to boxes or stacks of things; a bath can no longer be used due to items being stored there).
  • Having disagreements or arguments with those you care about regarding your things.
  • Experience deteriorating or poor relationships with friends or family due to their clutter, home, or attachment to items. 

Types of hoarding 

It’s important to note that people can hoard any number of different items. Commonly hoarded things can include (but aren’t limited to):

  • books, magazines and newspapers
  • clothing
  • letters, leaflets and flyers
  • bills, receipts and paperwork
  • containers (eg. plastic bags, Tupperware, cardboard boxes)
  • household supplies
  • animals (eg. excessive numbers of cats, dogs, birds, or any number of animals)

Other types of hoarding that may be less common can include food, compulsive shopping (items purchased from TV shopping channels. For example, items you have no use for but compulsively buy), digital hoarding (emails, photos, or documents), and rubbish (their own or others that they have rescued to reuse).

While all types of hoarding can pose a risk, animal hoarding can pose additional risks to both the hoarders' health, as well as the animals and environment. Due to the large number of animals often hoarded, many basic needs may not be met, such as grooming, feeding, getting proper medical treatment, exercise, or maintaining sanitary conditions (eg. cleaning litter boxes or garden waste). In extreme cases, animal hoarders may not realise that some of their animals have died, and may continue living with the remains, creating a potential hazard for their and their animal's health. 

What’s the difference between hoarding and collecting?

The primary difference between a hoard and a collection is organisation and how much it affects your life. For example, one person may collect books, while another may hoard them. A collector would typically have an organised collection. It may be displayed, organised, and easy to access. They may think about their collection but can go about their day-to-day life without it affecting them. A hoarder may have stacks or piles of books in boxes or scattered around a room. Their hoard may take up entire spaces meant for other things (eg. you can no longer use a bed due to the hoard, or a room becomes inaccessible), and is usually inaccessible. It may affect other areas of their life, such as negatively impacting relationships or even their health. 

For example, a collector may have books of stamps where they carefully preserve their collection of stamps in a specific, neat order. They can typically show you what is in their collection, knowing where things may be due to their method of organising things. A hoarder may have piles of opened and unopened letters which have stamps on them or could have boxes of torn-off envelope corners with stamps on them. For a hoarder, there may be no way of locating all of their stamps, they cannot enjoy or access them easily, and they may have many duplicates as they feel unable to let go of any of them, regardless of their condition or value. 

What causes a hoarder to hoard? Reasons why people hoard

There can be many different reasons why someone may begin compulsively hoarding. While many of us may save things we consider special, those who hoard develop these emotional connections for all of their things. This makes it hard to impossible for them to feel able to get rid of things. Even the thought of getting rid of things can make them feel distressed, anxious, angry, or overwhelmed. 

People who hoard may believe certain things about or regarding the items they feel unable to let go of. This can include:

  • Worrying you will lose important memories if you throw things away.
  • Keeping things ‘just in case’ you need them (even if you have never used them before).
  • Thinking that your things are unique or special (even if you have more than one or several very similar things).
  • Worrying you won't be able to cope with feelings caused by throwing things away.
  • Feeling that throwing things away is wasteful, or the only way to dispose of things should be perfectly (eg. getting rid of all of a certain type of item, or clearing a whole room) or not at all.
  • You think that your things are keeping you safe or making you happy.
  • Making excuses (‘I just need more time/space to sort things out’.)

The risks of hoarding

Hoarding disorder can negatively impact your relationships with friends, family, romantic partners, and colleagues. It can affect your social and working lives, and can even cause serious health and safety concerns by creating fire and tripping hazards.

Over time, serious hoarding can lead to strain, conflict, a sense of loneliness, and even isolation. You may feel like you can’t invite anyone over, due to feelings of embarrassment or shame. Or you may feel like you can no longer fully use your home, as you can’t access your kitsch, bathroom, or bedroom. 

Hoarding can take over your life gradually or quickly. Your personal hygiene may suffer, and you may feel unable to have essential works done in your house that could lead to safety issues (eg. electrical problems or plumbing leaks).

Is hoarding a sign of something more serious?

Hoarding disorder is a diagnosis in and of itself. However, hoarding can also be a sign of other underlying conditions. These include can include:

  • addiction (drug or alcohol)
  • anxiety disorder
  • brain injury
  • OCD
  • depression
  • dementia
  • personality disorders
  • schizophrenia
  • Prader-Willi syndrome

Finding help for compulsive hoarding

If you or someone you love has a problem with hoarding, it’s important to speak with your GP to get an official assessment and diagnosis, so as to find the best treatment option for you. 

It can be difficult to convince a loved one to seek help, as they may feel that they do not have a problem. Approaching the issue sensitively, carefully, and focusing on your concern for their well-being and health is key. Reassuring them that no one will come into their homes to throw things away can help them to feel calmer and more in control. 

Hoarding disorder can be difficult to overcome, even for those who want help. Recommended treatment options can include:

Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)

A type of talking therapy that encourages you to recognise how your thoughts can affect your feelings and behaviour, CBT can help break overwhelming problems into smaller, more manageable parts, making change easier to achieve. CBT can specifically help you to manage problems by changing how you think and act. Time, motivation, commitment, and patience are often needed for CBT to be truly successful. 

Medication

Your GP may recommend medication to help with hoarding disorder, as research has shown that this can be helpful in some cases. 

 Can a hoarder be cured?

With the right help and support, people with hoarding disorder or hoarding tendencies can show signs of significant improvement. While it is not easy to treat and relapses are common, it is important to know that hoarding can be overcome.

Can hypnotherapy help with compulsive hoarding?

Hypnotherapy can be a powerful tool in helping combat underlying issues which may have lead to unhelpful behaviours such as hoarding. Working together with a hypnotherapist, you can uncover the underlying causes or triggers that may be causing your attachment to things. 

A hypnotherapist can help you to change these unhelpful behaviour patterns by putting you in a deep state of relaxation and communicating with your subconscious. This can help you to change your emotional attachments to specific items, learn to challenge connections you have made between things and feelings, and reach a place where you feel able to make changes to your hoarding behaviours to put your well-being first. A hypnotherapist can also help you to learn new, healthier ways of managing your emotions, gain control over your compulsions, and feel ready to move forward. 

Ready to find help for compulsive hoarding? Use our advanced search to find qualified, experienced hypnotherapists online and in person near you. 

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