How to Recognize Hoarding Disorder

All over the world people bought specific items in bulk “just in case” these things would no longer be available in the near future. The media wrote that people “hoarded” toilet paper and the use of that word bothers me.

Hoarding is different than stockpiling items to prepare for an emergency.

Everyone has a different clutter threshold (how much clutter they can tolerate in their home), and people have different ideas about what a cluttered home looks like. Some people can’t stand the sight of clothes on the bedroom floor, others feel completely at ease in a home where items obstruct doors, and they can no longer use their living space due to the amount of stuff that has taken over the area.

How do you know it’s simply a case of owning too much stuff, or if it’s hoarding disorder?

According to experts these are the 3 key features of hoarding.

Key feature #1: Acquisition of and persistent difficulty discarding possessions, regardless of their actual value.

Acquisition includes purchased items, free things, or items picked up from the curb. Often you will see large quantities of combustible items like newspapers, magazines, and rubbish piled up in a home. Other items also include books, clothes, receipts, and household supplies.

Failure to discard relates to extreme difficulty to part with possessions due to a perceived need to save the items “just in case”, and distress associated with discarding them.

Some people are able to let go of some items, but the process of discarding them is so elaborate and time consuming that the number of newly acquired easily exceeds the number of removed ones.

People who hoard keep things for the same reasons as anyone else:

  • To remember a specific event: “This empty tea packet reminds me of the hike with my friend and throwing it out is like tossing away the memory.”
  • The item is useful: “I keep this magazine just in case there is information in it that I need someday.”
  • The item is attractive or beautiful: “I love the colour combination of these lolly wrappers.”


Key feature #2: Possessions congest and clutter living spaces, substantially compromising their intended use.

For example:

  • Sofa and living spaces packed with boxes and bags of belongings
  • Shower filled with newspapers
  • Extreme built up of items in the home and in the yard
  • Blocked exits (doors, windows)
  • “Goat paths” (narrow pathways) in the home
  • Long term neglect of home maintenance (non-working utilities like running water, heat, or refrigeration: do not want to have people over, not possible to clean)


Key feature #3: Significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

People who hoard experience intense emotional distress when thinking about discarding. That is why they keep excessive amounts of stuff.

The extreme buildup of clutter makes the living environment unsafe to live in, and severely impacts the quality of life.

People who hoard tend to have limited social contacts, and often there is conflict about the amount of clutter with family members, neighbors, or authorities.

Safety issues in homes where hoarding disorder is prevalent include accumulation of dust and mold causing poor air quality, injuries due to tripping over items or things falling on top of them, and difficulty with daily hygiene activities like bathing, sleeping, and eating.

If you recognize yourself in the above explanation of hoarding disorder and want to learn what aspects of your life are impacted by clutter, complete the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD) Clutter Quality of Life Scale™ to learn more. Email the outcome of the test to me and I will send you the results.

Hoarding disorder is NOT limited by age, race, gender or nationality, and people who hoard can be of any educational or socio-economic level.

Compulsive hoarding affects up to 6 percent of the population it is partly genetic, and has been found to run in families. It is more prevalent in older adults, above 50 years of age.

Some of those suffering from HRD have underlying trauma (that they are not aware of themselves). About half of those experienced trauma. Keeping possessions offer a feeling of safety and comfort.

Hoarding disorder is NOT a personality problem. The brains of those who hoard are wired differently.

Research shows specific information processing difficulties associated with decision-making, categorizing, sorting and organizing abilities, distractibility, and impulsivity.

Hoarding disorder is NOT something that goes away by itself; it generally becomes worse over time.

Intervention is needed.

Feel free to contact me if you like to talk about this topic, or have any questions about Hoarding Disorder.