Hoarding Disorder, Symptoms, and Why It’s Dangerous
Hoarding is a phenomenon that almost everyone is familiar with, especially with the popularity of TV shows that document hoarders and their effort to clean and restore their homes. But do people truly understand what hoarding is? Hoarding is not simply a bad habit or laziness, it is classified as a mental disorder. Hoarding disorder causes those affected to resist throwing any of their possessions away because they feel a strong need to keep everything. Many affected by hoarding disorder will feel anxious or distressed by the idea of parting with anything they have collected in their homes. This results in a buildup of items in the home due to perceived instead of actual value.
Hoarding is easy to recognize when the clutter buildup is extreme, but many of the signs and symptoms of hoarding go unnoticed until the situation gets out of hand. It is important to be able to identify potential hoarding issues before the symptoms get out of control and the living conditions become dangerous. Hoarding has far reaching consequences that will not only lead to excessive clutter in the home, but also problems with social relationships. In order to effectively help someone who struggles with hoarding issues, you must understand what causes people to begin hoarding and be able to identify the symptoms.
This complete guide on hoarding covers hoarding disorder causes, symptoms, consequences, and treatments so you can gain a better understanding of hoarding and how to help those affected.
Hoarding Disorder Causes
Mental health experts are not sure what causes hoarding, but there are a number of risk factors and triggers associated with the start of hoarding behaviors. The main risk factors that have been associated with hoarding disorder include personality, family history, and stressful life events.
- Personality: There are several personality traits that could lead to the development of hoarding behaviors including indecisiveness, procrastination, and being disorganized. Those who suffer from anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), or attention deficit, hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are also at risk for hoarding.
- Family History: Those who have a family member with hoarding disorder are much more likely to develop the disorder themselves.
- Stressful Life Events: A stressful life event such as the death of a friend or family member, divorce, or some other major loss may trigger hoarding symptoms.
While the exact cause of hoarding disorder may be difficult to pin down or differ from case to case, there are some details about the start of hoarding disorder that appear to be true in most cases. Hoarding symptoms often begin for those affected in their early teenage years and worsen as the individual gets older. Hoarding is the most prominent among older adults. The other common characteristic of those that hoard is that they develop a perception that the objects they collect have value or may be useful in the future. Pretty much everyone affected by hoarding disorder feels much safer hanging on to their possessions.
Hoarding Disorder Symptoms
As discussed above, hoarding is a mental disorder that causes those affected to resist throwing anything away due to anxiety, and the first symptoms appear during the early teenage years. As the affected individual gets older and the symptoms continue to get worse, the behaviors become more private which is why others do not notice or try to help until the clutter becomes impossible to hide or ignore. If you are not sure if someone you know is affected by hoarding, look for the following symptoms:
- Continued issues parting with any of their possessions even when they have no actual value and no space in their home.
- A persistent need to save all items because they have perceived or sentimental value, or the individual believes they will be needed in the future.
- Allowing items to build up in areas of the home such as the bedroom, living, room, kitchen, or bathroom to the point that the area cannot be used.
It is extremely important to be able to recognize hoarding disorder symptoms because many who struggle with hoarding do not realize they have a problem. Therefore, a friend or family member must notice when there is a problem and try to provide help before the situation becomes worse.
For more about identifying the symptoms of hoarding, check out our blog Five Major Warning Signs of a Hoarder.
Consequences of Hoarding Disorder
The excessive buildup of clutter that results from hoarding behaviors creates dangerous and unsanitary conditions in the home:
- Items such as clothing, newspapers, books, and others may end up in piles throughout the home.
- Pathways and various rooms in the home can become too cluttered for use.
- Food and trash may build up and result in unsanitary conditions that could lead to illness.
Some of the consequences of this clutter buildup are obvious, such as an increased risk of injury, fires, falls, or illness from the unsanitary conditions. However, there are other less obvious consequences including conflicts with close friends or family, trouble at work, and social isolation as those who struggle with hoarding may not let others into their homes. These consequences can have a very serious effect on a hoarder who already likely struggles with anxiety or depression that contributed to the hoarding in the first place. If you want to help someone you know who hoards, it is very important to take the right approach.
Providing treatment for those who hoard is tricky because it is a matter of treating a mental disorder, not just cleaning out a home. Understanding the causes and risk factors explained above will give you some insight into how a hoarder thinks which will help you appeal to them about cleaning their home. The affected individual must feel valued and respected and regardless of what happens with the cleanup, they must be in control of every decision. You should never start cleaning out a hoarder’s home or get rid of anything a hoarder has collected without their explicit permission. Try helping the individual understand the danger of living in such a heavily cluttered home so that they will decide that cleaning the home is the best option. Only when a hoarder agrees to proceed with the cleaning should you contact a professional for hoarding cleaning services.
For more insight on how to approach a hoarder, read our blog The Proper Way to Approach a Hoarder.
Hoarding disorder is a complex mental disorder that can lead to very dangerous consequences if the common behaviors are allowed to develop. The behaviors associated with hoarding are commonly the result of underlying depression or anxiety which is why hoarding situations must be approached delicately. If someone affected does want help cleaning out their home, it is best to involve a professional that provides hoarding cleaning services. These professionals have experience working through the most extreme cases of hoarding and they will make sure that the affected individual makes all final decisions regarding the fate of their possessions.