Hoarding disorder

Dr Elaine Ryan
Written by Dr Elaine Ryan Psychologist and Founder of MoodSmith® Elaine obtained her Dr in Psychology from the University of Surrey and has worked in psychology for 20 years. Dr Ryan specialises in Intrusive Thoughts, OCD and anxiety-related conditions.

What is hoarding disorder?

A person is said to have a hoarding disorder when they have so much stuff that they live in a chaotic and overwhelmingly cluttered home but cannot get rid of any of their possessions.

Popular television programs have featured compulsive hoarders. You may be familiar with images of rooms piled high with clutter and kitchens and bathrooms that are unusable due to the extensive mess.

These types of programs portray hoarding as being part of OCD, but not all people who hoard have OCD.

Many people incorrectly believe that if they hoard, they automatically have OCD. However, in 2013, hoarding disorder was classified by DSM5 as a condition in its own right instead of falling under the classification umbrella of OCD.

People who hoard may lack essential self-care, have other mental health conditions, or have difficulty managing their homes. This article will help you understand what hoarding is, how it can impact your life and how to seek help should you need it.

What is hoarding?

Hoarding is when you acquire so many possessions that you can no longer manage them and are not able to dispose of or give any of them away.

Hoarding during the pandemic

Food hoarding increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. You probably held more stock in your home than you usually would or have been guilty of having a cupboard full of toilet rolls.

When faced with a unique scary situation like the pandemic, and due to restrictions where it was challenging to go shopping, human beings try to create a sense of safety and ensure their immediate and future needs are met.

I was undoubtedly guilty of bulk buying in March 2020 when Boris Johnson gave that speech saying we were all to stay home. But does that make us hoarders?

If you had a room full of toilet rolls, dried goods, pasta and pulses, technically, you have hoarded them, but the question is, when does hoarding become a disorder?

When does it become a disorder?

Hoarding becomes problematic if it seriously affects your quality of life.

Hoarding is problematic if;

  • your possessions result in so much clutter that you cannot use areas of your home. For example, if you find it difficult or impossible to cook food due to the mess in your kitchen or cannot access your bath or shower.
  • You cannot get rid of stuff, even though it negatively impacts your life.

What causes hoarding?

People may hoard due to mental health conditions such as depression or OCD.

In this case, hoarding is part of another condition, but problematic hoarding can occur in the absence of other conditions, known as hoarding disorder.

For example, your parents may have been highly disorganised and have grown up surrounded by excessive clutter, and you did not acquire the necessary skills to sort, store and manage your things.

Difference between OCD and hoarding disorder

  • Hoarding used to be classified under Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) as a symptom, but under the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM-5, hoarding is now classified on its own under the category of “Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders”.
  • Hoarding is having difficulty in letting things go, which results in clutter due to the problem in doing so.
  • OCD is characterised by the presence of recurrent, intrusive thoughts or images that cause significant distress or impairment.
  • Compulsive hoarding is a disorder in which an individual cannot or will not discard possessions despite having difficulty controlling their acquisition and accumulation of objects.
    For example, people with OCD may have recurring thoughts about contamination or perfectionism, while people with compulsive hoarding may not be able to discard anything, even if it becomes overwhelming.

What are the symptoms of hoarding?

Hoarding disorder is characterised by the excessive acquisition of objects that have no perceived purpose.

The disorder is not attributable to another medical condition, and the symptoms of another mental health condition do not better explain it.

Compulsive hoarding causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
People with compulsive hoarding often have difficulty discarding possessions, even if they’re not worth anything.

This leads to an accumulation of possessions which clutter the person’s living space and interfere with their use.

Risks and complications of hoarding

Hoarding can have several consequences, including health and safety risks, social isolation, and legal issues.

Compulsive hoarding can lead to family strain and conflicts, isolation and loneliness, and an inability to perform daily tasks. Hoarding can be a sign of mental health problems.

Treatments

Some of the most common treatments are cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), and exposure and response prevention (ERP)

Cognitive behavioural therapy helps people learn why they hoard, organise their possessions, and decide what to keep and discard.

Exposure and response prevention involves gradually exposing the patient to the things they are afraid of losing or getting rid of without allowing them to engage in their usual hoarding behaviours. This treatment is helpful in compulsive hoarding cases where insight is poor and ambivalence to change is marked.

ONLINE SELF-HELP

If you would like my help, please see my online courses.

Table of Contents