What Is Hoarding?
Hoarding is a complex disorder involving the overwhelming collection of and inability to discard items, which can lead to significant issues in daily living.
Hoarding is generally made up of three problems, all of which are all connected:
1) Collecting too many items - of one or many types. The items may range from items like empty food wrappers to items as complex as animals. Many hoarders also shop too much, indicating that a shopping addiction may be interconnected with hoarding.
The difference between a "collector" and a "hoarder" is the degree to which items are saved and the reasons behind it. A collector usually has a place to display items they are collecting to show them off to guests.
Collectors often have a sense of pride about their items, and budget their time and money to add to the collection. A hoarder will generally save far too many of an item, and are unable to organize and display them. Hoarders often have a sense of shame or embarrassment about these items. Some hoarders will collect a variety of items, which may or may not have monetary value. It's common for a hoarder to have so much clutter that they lose living space because of it.
2) Difficulty getting rid of items. Hoarders may find it difficult to let go of items through any means, including selling or giving away, throwing away, or even recycling items. They save the items for various reasons: possibility of future usefulness, emotional attachment, or liking the way something looks or feels.
To most people, the items a hoarder keeps may seem worthless or worn out, but the hoarder simply feels unable to let go. The hoarder may be suspicious of other people touching their items, yet is unable to categorize or organize their items on their own. They may suffer from fear of running out of something, or accidentally throwing away something that is needed.
They can suffer from extreme anxiety when attempting to dispose of items. This can lead to a loss of living space, social isolation, and difficulties with financial obligations, as well as (in severe cases) health hazards.
3) Difficulty organizing items. A hoarder may spend hours trying to organize their items without result. This can result in piles of items that include both valuable and worthless items. People who hoard may have problems with information processing, attention, organizational skills, and decision-making.
Quite often, the hoarder is unable to recognize that there is a problem - they may deny that there is an issue. Some hoarders will live without heat or other necessities rather than allow somebody into their homes to repair broken appliances due to shame or fearfulness of strangers being near their items. In some cases, much of their living space will be completely unusable, posing severe health or safety risks.
How is Hoarding Classified?
Hoarding is being considered for inclusion in the DSM-V.
Hoarding has long been thought of as a subset of OCD, but research is showing that there are significant differences between OCD-based hoarding and what may be referred to as "Hoarding Disorder."
The difference between collecting and hoarding is one of volume and organization. When the acquisition and subsequent difficulty in disposing of items leads to enough clutter and disorganization as to effect health or safety (or if disposal of said items leads to significant distress), then collecting is considered "hoarding" and becomes a disorder.
What Is Animal Hoarding?
Animal hoarding is generally defined as having more than the typical number of animals, failing to provide minimal care (nutrition, medical care, shelter, and sanitation), and denial that there is a problem. Simply having more than the typical number of animals alone is not a hoarding issue.
How Is Animal Hoarding Categorized?
Animal hoarding is categorized into three categories:
- Overwhelmed Caregivers - The Overwhelmed Caregiver is most likely to accept help and downsize, and least likely to repeat the problem. Often a change in circumstance has triggered the problem, or the problem has gradually developed.
- Rescue Hoarders - Rescue Hoarders often start with the best of intentions, but may believe they are the only ones capable or providing care. They may tend to avoid authorities, and often have an extensive network of animal welfare people to work with. They may find it difficult to turn away any animal, and feel a strong need to save animals from the possibility of euthanasia.
- Exploiter Hoarders - Exploiter Hoarders often have little to no empathy for people or animals, and acquire the animals to serve their own needs. They believe they definitely know best, reject authority figures or outside help, have an extreme need for control, and actively acquire animals.
Problems with hoarding can be assessed by a mental health provider. Hoarding is usually identified as a condition that occurs with depressive disorders. A psychological evaluation is performed, sometimes with the help of information gathered from family members.
Listed below are some tools that can be used to measure the degree of a hoarding situation:
Hoarding Assessment Tool (pdf)
Hoarding Rating Scale (pdf)
Treatment for Hoarding Disorder:
Because many hoarders do not see the negative impact of the disorder, it may be difficult to treat the problem successfully; however, cognitive-behavioral therapy is the preferred method of treatment. In some cases, a prescription anti-depressant medication can be helpful.
Additional Hoarding Resources:
The IOCDF Hoarding Center has the goal to educate and facilitate education about hoarding, support research into the causes and treatments for hoarding, and advocate for public policy changes.
ADAA Hoarding Information is another good source for information about hoarding, its causes, and effective treatments.
Children of Hoarders (COH) is a non-profit organization with the goals of raising awareness of the impact of hoarding, providing educational materials for those affected, and advocating for public policy changes to address needs.
Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium (HARC) was founded by a group of individuals to increase awareness and eliminate stereotypes so that better possibilities for treatment may be achieved for animal hoarding.