Troubles with Junk: A Guide to Compulsive Hoarding

Written by: Nicholas Brit
The desire to hold onto or collect items isn't uncommon. Many people have felt a desire to keep something longer than its proves useful. In other cases, people may have an item or two that they enjoy collecting, such as antiques or stamps. Provided that it doesn't get out of hand, this isn't a cause for concern. However, when a person begins to collect and keep excessively large quantities of items, this is called hoarding, or compulsive hoarding. As the collected items grow, they can quickly take over a person's home and life. When this happens it creates several potentially dangerous and unhealthy situations, such as attracting rodents and other pests, or creating a fire hazard. In addition, mounds of clutter can block windows and entrances, and could prevent people who live in the home from escaping in an emergency situation or prevent help from reaching them. In order to overcome this disorder, hoarders and the people who care for them should understand the types and signs of compulsive hoarding and also how it is diagnosed and treated.


When a person is a compulsive hoarder, he or she will most often not recognize that there is a problem. For others however, the signs and symptoms of the condition are difficult to ignore. A person who is a compulsive hoarder will display a number of traits that may seem irrational to others. They are unable to throw away items, often for fear that these items may be necessary or useful at some future date and may even become possessive over them. Items that are collected typically include things that have no usefulness, but seem important to the hoarder. As these items grow in number they clutter all areas of the home, including tables, kitchen cabinets, chairs and beds. As a result, it is difficult to find items of importance, move, sit or even sleep within the home. Other symptoms include relocating hoarded items from one stack or area to another, an inability to clean or organize the home and in some cases, the hoarder may become withdrawn and no longer socialize with others outside of the home. This is usually because of embarrassment, feelings of depression, or an effort to prevent friends and family from seeing and commenting on the clutter.


In order to accurately diagnose hoarding, medical and mental health professionals take several things into consideration. Suspected hoarders will be evaluated by a mental health provider who will ask questions, and may even ask them to complete a questionnaire regarding views on hoarding, the collection of items and about their personal life. These answers, along with information provided by family and friends, are used to help make a proper diagnosis. The state of their living environment, their ability to rid themselves of clutter, and the impact that it is having on their life and emotions, are also essential to diagnosing the problem. The patient's medical history is also of importance when it comes to determining if his or her compulsive hoarding is the result of brain trauma or a certain disease. Because some hoarders also have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), they are also checked for signs of the condition, such as fear of contamination, obsession with symmetry and superstition.


In treating compulsive hoarding the hoarder must first realize that there is a problem that requires treatment. Even with acceptance, treatment should not be looked upon as a cure for the disorder as it typically takes ongoing treatment to keep these tendencies under control. While hiring an organizer can help cut back the clutter, it is necessary to seek the help of a trained therapist to begin treatment on the psychological causes of the disorder. A therapist may use medications, such as antidepressants, to help treat the condition. These medications include paroxetine and serotonin reuptake inhibitors. In other cases a therapist may start cognitive behavior therapy. This is the most commonly used form of treatment and it helps the hoarder understand why he or she hoards items and teaches them to learn to relax and make wise decisions. For this type of therapy, the therapist may visit the patient in his or her home as a part of the treatment.

Related Conditions

Often when people think of hoarding, they think of mounds of expired magazines, old newspapers, clothing or other items that most people consider junk. While this is a common form of compulsive hoarding, there are other types of hoarding, such as animal hoarding, OCD-based hoarding and book hoarding. Animal hoarding is a serious condition in which a person hoards, or collects animals, such as cats. When a person is an animal hoarder, large numbers of animals are kept in the home to the point of over-running it. They may see the animals as pets and believe that they are caring for them. This, however, results in unsanitary living and health conditions and can even lead to the eventual death of some or all of the animals. Book hoarding, also known as bibliomania, is a condition in which a person hoards excessive amounts of books. The hoarder will typically purchase many copies of books, even the same book or those that hold no interest to him or her. When a person has bibliomania, their collection of books begins to overrun free space in the home.