Hoarding disorder is characterized by a persistent difficulty with getting rid of possessions, no matter their actual value. Previously, the behavior of hoarding was included under Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), but has since been recognized as an independent disorder by the DSM-5.

Hoarding Disorder Symptoms

An individual may suffer from a hoarding disorder if they exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Inability to get rid of possessions
  • Tendency to avoid situations in which someone might discover their possessions
  • Severe anxiety when attempting to organize or discard items
  • Obsessive thoughts or actions
  • Illogical paranoia and suspicion regarding their possessions being touched or moved by others
  • Progressive decline in general well-being, including financial hardship, social isolation, health problems, etc.

Causes of Hoarding Disorder

The causes of hoarding are complex and can often be correlated with other anxiety disorders. There are a variety of reasons why a person might begin hoarding. Some contributing factors of a hoarding disorder include:

  • Family history of hoarding
  • Underlying mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and/or OCD
  • The individual feels that the items are unique or one-of-a-kind
  • The individual feels that the items were too big of a bargain to throw away
  • The individual believes that the items will jog their memory, and without them, he or she will forget an important person or event
  • The individual does not know where the items belong, so he or she decides to keep it

There has also been evidence that those with a family history of hoarding are more likely to hoard than those without, so genetics also plays a role in this disorder. While some of these causes may sound practical, a hoarding disorder occurs when the above reasons become obsessive and interfere with an individual's ability to function on a daily basis.

Treatment for Hoarding Disorder

The most common type of therapy for hoarding disorder is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a treatment that explores the patterns of thought that lead to inappropriate responses. In this type of therapy, individuals who hoard will:

  • Explore why they feel compelled to hoard
  • Learn organizational tools, which will help rationalize which possessions to discard
  • Improve decision-making skills
  • Work through their home's clutter with their therapist and/or a professional organizer
  • Learn relaxation techniques
  • Have periodic visits to keep up healthy habits

Individuals who hoard might also attend group or family therapy for their disorder, and might have to consider psychiatric hospitalization for their disorder, depending on the level of severity. Individuals who hoard should attempt to find a therapist with experience treating individuals who hoard.

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Jill M. Hooley, D.Phil.
Jennifer M. Park, Ph.D.
Mary E. Dozier, B.A.


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