Compulsive hoarding can take on many forms. Some people can't seem to stop collecting paper (like newspapers, magazines or even junk mail), books, clothing and even containers (like boxes). Others hold onto food (even rotting food), garbage and animals (like cats, for example).
Regardless of what's being collected, with hoarding the result remains the same: things take hold of your life.
Collecting versus hoarding
If you're a collector, then you have a sense of pride about your collection. You may show them in a display case or keep them neatly away in order to preserve what you're passionate about. You may also be a member of a club or group and share your interest with other like-minded people. Compulsive hoarders, however, are quite different.
Compulsive hoarding is about both accumulating and keeping. While physical evidence shows that hoarders just can't throw something out, part of the problem is not being able to stop buying or accumulating stuff. Consequently, the situation gets worse.
People who have a problem with hoarding show different characteristics, including:
- The items they collect have little or no value — like old shopping lists, empty food tins, string, price tags, burnt-out light bulbs and extra (often useless) furniture.
- The clutter prevents them from healthy living — sometimes clutter can block or overtake a bedroom, bathroom or kitchen so having a good night's sleep, bathing and cooking are simply not possible or cannot be done correctly or safely.
- Their home becomes dangerous — piles of paper near a furnace, stove or heater can cause a fire hazard, emergency exits may be blocked and, in some cases, excessive clutter can prevent repairmen from reaching a broken appliance or faucet.
- They isolate themselves from others — they may feel ashamed of the state of their home and are reluctant to let people in, and some may feel that others don't understand them.
- Hoarders simply can't let go — often the mere suggestion of throwing out some of the clutter can cause feelings of anger and anxiety.
When it's time for help
Compulsive hoarding can range from mild to severe cases — but help is available.
If you or someone you know may be suffering from compulsive hoarding, there is something you can do. Speak to your healthcare provider to see if a mental health professional should be consulted. You can also search "hoarding" in Find Support.
While treating compulsive hoarding may take time, know that there's always hope. And if you feel that it's too difficult to face your problem, try this visualization exercise to help you find the inner strength you need.