Key Takeaways Key Takeaways
  • Collecting and hoarding are different behaviors with unique psychological aspects.

  • TV shows about hoarding have raised awareness but can also stigmatize the issue.

  • Hoarding is recognized as a distinct disorder in the DSM-5, and several avenues are available for help, from therapy to government programs.

How to Seek Help for Hoarders

Unpacking the Common Methods of Overcoming Hoarding

Despite affecting a significant percentage of the population, hoarding is a topic that remains somewhat stigmatized and severely misunderstood. But what exactly does it entail? Whether seeking actionable advice, guided help for hoarders or just curious to learn more, you’re in the right place. We’re starting the conversation about this commonly experienced condition, including tips on how to overcome hoarding.

The Fine Line Between Collecting and Hoarding

Some people see collecting as a socially acceptable form of hoarding, but where is the line? The truth is that it is often a blurry one. While emotional connections to physical objects are a driving force for collectors and hoarders, the nature and significance of these connections vary greatly.

One of the main differences is that collectors tend to be purpose driven. They seek out specific items that fit into a well-defined set, be it stamps, vintage wine, or comic books. Each new addition brings them joy but not Anxiety. Their collections are organized, displayed proudly, and add to their lives’ quality without taking over living spaces.

Hoarding, on the other hand, is less about the joy of the item and more about the fear of letting go. The items may not necessarily fit a theme or bring joy—they just accumulate. Emotional attachment becomes paralyzing, making it difficult to part with even the most insignificant things. Unlike collections, which are often presented with pride, hoarded items tend to be stored haphazardly, leading to unmanageable clutter.

Another way to tell the difference is by assessing whether the items are trash or treasure. This is a subjective question, but considering the usefulness or functionality of the items will shine a light on the nature of the behavior. Think about it: collectors often take care of their possessions, ensuring they are in good condition and possibly even appreciating in value, but hoarders collect items irrespective of their current or future utility, amassing things they don’t need and often won’t even use.

So, while collecting is driven by a sense of accomplishment, aesthetics, or investment value, hoarding stems from emotional attachment and a fear-based mentality. The next time you look at that pile of treasures, ask yourself, are you curating or cluttering? The answer could be more psychologically revealing than you think.

Hoarding on Your TV Screen

Hoarding may be misunderstood, but it’s no secret in the public eye. TV shows like “Hoarders: Buried Alive” and “Everything Hoarders” have brought the issue of hoarding out from behind closed doors and into our living rooms. On one hand, these shows have done a lot to raise public awareness. Before, many people didn’t even realize hoarding was a serious issue—often mistaking it for a quirky personality trait or simple disorganization. Now, thanks to these shows, more folks are aware of the psychological complexities involved, which, in turn, can help with hoarding at a community level.

But, there’s a catch, as these shows can unintentionally stigmatize the issue. The dramatizations, while entertaining, often paint hoarders as extreme cases, almost like caricatures. People may watch these shows and judge those who are suffering, building a stigma around it. This sensational portrayal can make those experiencing milder forms of hoarding reluctant to seek help for fear of being lumped in with those suffering from more severe cases that they have seen on their screens. Fear of public shaming or ridicule can result in further isolation.

The Clinical Aspects of Hoarding Disorder

Hoarding isn’t just a bad habit; I’’s officially in the mental health rulebook—the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (or the DSM-5 as it’s more commonly called). This highlights that hoarding goes beyond just a penchant for collecting. It recognizes the substantial emotional, psychological, and physical toll that hoarding takes on individuals.

According to the International OCD Foundation, around 2-6% of the population suffers from hoarding disorder, which appears to affect men and women at similar rates.

Emotionally, living with a hoarding disorder can be isolating. Imagine the strain it puts on relationships when your living space becomes an impassable labyrinth of random items. There’s an actual social cost to this affliction. Inviting people over or maintaining relationships is hard when you’re preoccupied with accumulating things you may never even use.

This hoarding psychology can create a vicious cycle of Anxiety and Depression, which is why seeking professional help is so beneficial. The acquisition of random things provides a temporary emotional lift, a kind of high. But this is often followed by a low, which can be severe as the reality of a cluttered life sets in. Hoarding itself can be both a symptom and a cause of deeper psychological issues.

And let’s not forget the physical aspects of hoarding. Tripping hazards, fire risks, and, in some cases, health risks can result from the accumulation of unsanitary items. In severe instances, people have been trapped in their own homes, buried under the weight of their possessions.

Recognizing hoarding as a clinical disorder isn’t just a formality; it opens the door for more targeted hoarding solutions, including therapeutic approaches that address the root emotional and psychological causes. The acknowledgment by DSM-5 is a step toward better understanding and treatment for those who need it.

When is Hoarding More Than Just Hoarding?

Although it sometimes occurs as a stand-alone issue, hoarding is often intertwined with other conditions. Recent research suggests that hoarding doesn’t always act alone. It often rolls with a squad—like Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). That means that help for hoarders varies depending on each person’s condition.

ADHD is characterized by impulsiveness, which could manifest as an inability to resist buying or collecting items. The distractibility component of ADHD could also mean that people start accumulating stuff but never get around to sorting, using, or disposing of it. So, it’s not surprising to see some overlap between ADHD and hoarding. In a notable research study looking at ADHD prevalence and association with hoarding behaviors, 41.9% of participants with ADHD also exhibited hoarding behaviors.

OCD, on the other hand, involves unwanted recurring thoughts and behaviors. While traditional OCD often focuses on cleanliness and order, hoarding can be considered a form of the disorder where the compulsive behavior focuses on acquiring and saving items. Studies show that traditional OCD treatment may not be effective for hoarding, meaning specialized support is needed.

Other conditions can also be entangled with hoarding behaviors, such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Depression, and even certain Personality Disorders. Essentially, the brain is a complex organ, and its quirks and tendencies don’t always fit neatly into one diagnostic box.

Given the multifaceted nature of hoarding, treatment options are varied too. Whether it’s support groups or Group Therapy sessions that deal with the root cause, understanding the interplay between hoarding and other conditions is crucial. The point is, tackling hoarding often means checking out what else is going on in the brain department.

How to Stop Being a Hoarder

You’ve acknowledged that hoarding is affecting your life or the life of someone you care about. But how does one stop hoarding? The good news is that hoarder help is available, and we’re not just talking about a weekend clean-up crew. Therapy, specialized services, and even some support groups offer structured support for hoarders. The key is approaching the issue with compassion and understanding rather than judgment.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a popular choice, helping people develop healthy coping mechanisms and avoid hoarding. Therapists can provide invaluable insights into why items might have emotional significance and help set realistic decluttering goals. If you’re looking for a deeper emotional dive, Psychotherapy is also an excellent option.

Benefits of Seeking Professional Help for Hoarders

Here’s the scoop on why getting professional help for hoarders can be a game-changer:

  • Think of them like mental health detectives, figuring out why you can’t let go of that 1997 calendar.
  • Therapists can help you break down a mountain of stuff into manageable molehills.
  • Professional help can give you the tools to keep your space clean-ish, long-term, freeing up your home, and your life.

Why Hoarding Help is Essential

Hoarding is more than a mere bit of a mess; differentiating between a collector and a hoarder is essential in finding the right kind of support. Though they both involve an excess collection of items, the emotional and psychological stakes are significantly higher with hoarding. The clutter isn’t just physical—it imposes emotional and even social limitations.

The bottom line? Hoarding isn’t just a quirky habit; it’s a mental health issue with real-world consequences. But the good news is, it’s treatable. A therapist won’t just help you tidy up; they could give you a new lease on life.

Authored By 

LifeStance Health
LifeStance Health

LifeStance is a mental healthcare company focused on providing evidence-based, medically driven treatment services for children, adolescents, and adults suffering from a variety of mental health issues in an outpatient care setting, both in-person and through its digital health telemedicine offering.

Reviewed By

Nicholette Leanza, LPCC-S
Nicholette Leanza, LPCC-S

Nicholette is a faculty member at John Carroll University’s Clinical Counseling program, and she is also the host of the LifeStance podcast, Convos from the Couch.