What is hoarding disorder?
Hoarding disorder is an illness that makes people feel a very strong need to collect things. They can't bear to think about parting with their things.
Over time, the collected items may take over the person's house. The items may cover tables, beds, counters, and floors. Hallways and rooms—including kitchens and bathrooms—may get so cluttered that they can no longer be used or kept clean.
The collected items are often ordinary things like newspapers, plastic containers, or clothing. But different people collect all kinds of different things. And some people collect cats, dogs, or other animals.
People with this illness may feel very ashamed or guilty about their behaviour. And yet the idea of getting rid of anything is very upsetting to them.
It can be frustrating to be a family member or friend of someone who has this illness. But it's important to remember that it is an illness.
Hoarding disorder is different from being a collector, even one who collects a lot of items. Collectors are proud of their collections. They are able to organize and display them. Their collections don't get in the way of everyday life.
Experts say that out of every 100 people, 2 to 6 have hoarding disorder.footnote 1
What causes it?
The exact cause of hoarding disorder isn't known. It often runs in families. About half of all people with hoarding disorder say they have a relative who also hoards.footnote 1 A lot of people say their hoarding behaviour started after a stressful or traumatic event in their life.
What are the symptoms?
The main symptom of hoarding disorder is collecting so many possessions that they get in the way of everyday life. People with this illness may have so much clutter in their homes that their living conditions are unhealthy.
They may also find it hard to make decisions, make plans, or stay organized.
Many people with hoarding disorder also suffer from depression or anxiety.
How is it diagnosed?
A doctor can check for hoarding disorder by asking about the person's symptoms and past health. The doctor may also do a physical examination.
Catching the disorder early is important. That's because hoarding often gets worse over time. And the more clutter that collects in the person's home, the harder it is for the person to do normal things, like stay clean, eat well, and get enough sleep.
How is hoarding disorder treated?
The two main types of treatment are counselling and medicine.
Counselling involves helping the person gradually learn to get rid of unneeded possessions without feeling anxious or worried about it. Patients may also learn organization, decision-making, and relaxation skills.
Medicine can also help sometimes. The medicines that help the most are ones that are also used to treat depression and anxiety.