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Understanding Food Hoarding

Food Hoarding

Hoarding in the Animal World

Several species of animals, including insects, crabs, birds, and mammals, are hoarders. Most animal behavior is motivated by attempts to survive. Animals collect things to camouflage themselves or their dens, gather specific objects to attract mates, or store food for themselves and their young.

Whether preparing for seasonal or unexpected necessity, animals generally hoard food in two ways. One is storing non-perishable food in a few large caches, called larders, which they defend. The other is scatter-hoarding by tucking small amounts of food in multiple locations to access within a few days.

What Makes Human Hoarding Different

Animals gather each item for a specific purpose and either use or discard it when the purpose is fulfilled. The stashes are organized, used, shared, and replenished as needed. The amount gathered corresponds with the amount needed.

When humans prepare for the future, exhibit cherished collections, or ignore light clutter, those behaviors are natural. In human hoarding disorder, the behaviors are characterized by refusal to let go of unneeded items and failure to recognize harm being caused in the home. Health, safety, social relationships, and the dwelling become negatively impacted.

What is Food Hoarding?

Food Hoarder's Fridge

Preparing for the future involves planning, but hoarding behavior is disorganized and out of control because it’s fueled by compulsion. The goal is hoarding food, but not eating it. The home may conceal hundreds of pounds of overabundant edibles guarded for years rather than consumed or donated. Food storage areas are crammed, and other locations such as appliance tops, sinks, drawers, and closets become larders. Healthful produce rots.

The disorder often emerges during the teens but is more common in adults over 55. Many live alone, suffering from mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, and social avoidance. Because hoarders experience powerful emotional relationships with their possessions, they feel that well-meaning intentions from others wanting to clean out their homes are invasive and threatening. Hoarders isolate themselves to protect their belongings.

Causes of Hoarding of Food

Most hoarders will target one or two very specific items to satisfy their obsession to hoard. Once they adopt those items, they will typically collect them to excess. Furthermore, they will be resolute about not parting with anything as the collection grows. They will look for justifications to support their strange collecting behaviors.

  • Genetic tendency/history of hoarding in the home
  • History of family mental health issues
  • Difficult emotional situation/events in childhood or adulthood
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • History of hunger, starvation, or poverty
  • History of unstable home life
  • Lack of consistent parenting, guidance, or affection
  • History of loss
  • Depression, hopelessness, low self-esteem
  • Inadequate coping skills
  • Loneliness, isolation, attachment issues
  • Anxiety, fear
  • Linking food with emotions, memories, affection, and security

Consequences of Hoarding of Food


Hoarding is not static. It presents a spectrum of consequences. At the very least are embarrassment, shame, and an increased sense of having a dirty secret that results in increased withdrawal and social isolation.

Pests such as cockroaches, ants, houseflies, meal moths, mice, and rats are attracted by the garbage and odors. Depression leads to poor housekeeping practices inviting fleas, bedbugs, mildew, and dangerous mold. Inadequate food preparation causes health changes like malnutrition, dehydration, and illness.

Growing clutter causes the risk of physical injury from trips, falls, tumbling objects, blocked paths, inaccessible doorways, and fire hazards.

At its worst, minor children and elderly adults are removed from the home due to neglect. The resident is evicted or loses the home due to nonpayment of bills, safety violations, and structural damage. The secret becomes a public nightmare.

Treatment for Hoarding of Any Kind

The good news is that help is available. Acknowledged as a mental health diagnosis rather than a moral failing, the condition is addressed like any medical condition. With professional assessment, an individualized treatment plan can provide effective management. Recovery is possible when persons hoarding their food admit to the problem. Common approaches may include:

  • CBT/Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Understanding how emotions are produced by thoughts and how changing basic beliefs will change thoughts, emotions, and actions
  • ERP/Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy: Safely confronting triggers to difficult emotions to eventually manage reactions
  • MI/Motivational Interviewing: One-on-one partnership in conversation to engage individuals not yet ready to accept help
  • Group Therapy: Structured in-person or online small-group sessions led by a professional
  • Support groups: Informal in-person or online meetings to share experiences, support, and tactics
  • Family therapy: Involving people whose lives are affected by the hoarder’s situation
  • Medications: Individualized as recommended by the primary care provider

Get Help Here for Food Hoarding

Clutter Trucker team

At Clutter Trucker, is a unique cleanup and removal service in the Denver area including Arvada, Littleton, Castle Rock, Boulder, and Colorado Springs. We’re a full-service family-based business specializing in helping people with hoarding challenges. Equipped to handle the most extreme jobs, we will always treat you and your belongings with respect and compassion. Call us at 720-802-6340 in Denver or 719-372-5009 in Colorado Springs.

What’s the best way to talk with a food hoarder?
Hoarding is anxiety-driven, so ridiculing with eye-rolling and comments like “I don’t see how anyone can live like this!” is hurtful. So is insisting on an immediate invasion to clear out their “trash” without their permission. Triggering shame will only increase social isolation.
The way to earn trust is by showing non-judgmental concern about their health, happiness, and right to control their own lives. You’ll create better lines of communication by being a helper instead of a soldier. Don’t point out what disgusts you, but appeal to their need for help with sleep problems, loneliness, or other issues. Encourage conversations about what their food stashes mean to them. Understand that mocking their possessions feels like mocking a part of themselves and their dreams. Ask permission to find a specialized therapist and attend a session so you can learn more. Praise each bit of progress. Your goal is to make the journey easier by respecting him or her as a whole person with a life instead of “a hoarder.”
What mental illness causes hoarding?
Long classified as a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder, hoarding was reclassified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association-5th edition as a separate diagnosis among compulsive spectrum disorders relating to anxiety. Along with the compulsion to acquire more food, it’s linked with anxiety over food caches being taken away. Such hoarding is frequently associated with eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating.
What are the 5 stages of hoarding?
The Institute for Challenging Disorganization, the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization, and others have provided research and education on harrowing conditions such as hoarding. Here is one assessment tool:
Level 1/Minimal: Few indicators of clutter are visible but food storage areas may be full, the refrigerator may show an abundance of unused produce, and the individual may be overly enthusiastic about food shopping.
Level 2/Mild: Stashing food outside of storage areas may be apparent as well as extra food caches consisting of more items than necessary. Poor housekeeping, overflowing garbage, clutter around ventilation areas, light mildew, and partially blocked pathways may be present. The individual is often reluctant to invite people to the home to prepare or share food.
Level 3/Moderate: Due to garbage accumulation and poor housekeeping, odors are noticeable. Clutter has spread outside. Structural damage, at least one non functioning major appliance, an unusable room, and a blocked exit are evident. Pests may deter the individual from allowing repairmen and other visitors to enter.
Level 4/Severe: By now the individual has been neglecting personal hygiene and home maintenance. Damage is visible in the home, rooms are unusable, multiple pests and rotting food are causing odors, mold is visible, and fire hazards make the home unsafe.
Level 5/Extreme: The home is not only unliveable but irreparably dangerous due to damage, code violations, and numerous fire hazards. Utilities have been turned off, and garbage, pests, and odors are out of control.
What does a Level 1 hoarder look like?
Food hoarders in the early stages look like anybody: any age, gender, culture, or ethnic background. They’re frequently older adults of unhealthy weight. Entering the home will provide more clues.
Can abnormal relationships with food be prevented?
Since issues usually emerge during the early teenage years and are caused by a combination of factors, researchers are actively studying prevention. Learning as much as you can will help you recognize the signs and find help.