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How to Tell If Someone Is a Pack Rat or a Hoarder

Determining the Difference Between Clutter and Compulsive Hoarding Can be Difficult

It can be tricky to look at a messy house or room and know whether it’s the result of a messy person or a compulsive hoarder. No two homes are alike, and everybody has a different idea of what they consider to be “cluttered.” Plenty of people are collectors or may save nostalgic items and that have cluttered up their houses. While it can cause frustration, it’s not the same as a hoarding disorder.

If you have a nagging feeling that you or somebody in your life might be a hoarder, you may need help in determining what to do next, or whether you should call in an expert. To officially declare that somebody is a true hoarder may feel scary, because it names a problem that needs to be addressed.

If you’re the person looking through a cluttered space and trying to assess if outside help is needed, you might find it helpful to use a clutter image rating. (You can find many examples through an Internet search.) These visual examples will help you compare what you see in person to photos that outline varying degrees of severity.

True hoarders will show certain mental and emotional tendencies that set them apart from someone who is just messy. Some behaviors that could be a red flag:

  • Insisting on buying or saving items that they have no use for
  • Showing anxiety or anger when somebody attempts to discuss the problem
  • Becoming highly distressed at the suggestion of discarding or even moving items that may appear useless to others
  • Living in unsanitary or hazardous conditions

If signs are pointing toward a hoarding problem, rather than just a mess, you’ll want to consider your options for how to help. If you’re overwhelmed by the task at hand, consider scheduling a consultation with a hoarding advisor to receive help in getting started.