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Psychology of Hoarding

The statistics related to hoarding disorder are quite surprising and disturbing. Experts estimate that 1 in 50 Americans have what could be classified as a severe problem with hoarding. Also, the hoarding definition indicates that hoarding is considered to be part of the obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) group of mental/psychological disorders. Hoarding disorder represents approximately 25% of the people that have been diagnosed with OCD and this makes psychology of hoarding an important topic.

Psychology of Hoarding

Given the depth of this problem in America, there is ample reason to look at the psychology of hoarding in some depth. After all, the issue has become serious enough that experts are looking at the possibility of declassifying hoarding as an OCD and giving it a classification of its own. By providing the following information, it should give people some ability to recognize that they or a loved one is suffering as hoarders.

Hoarding Definition

In an effort to define hoarding, we will turn to the hoarding definition as provided by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: “Hoarding is marked by an overwhelming desire to collect items and an inability to discard things that may seem useless, to such a point that the collections cause stress and start impacting a person’s health, career or relationships.”

The Difference Between Collecting and Hoarding

People don’t start hoarding items because they have nothing better to do. Sure, there are plenty of people who consider themselves “collectors.” In fact, most such people are collectors. They collect things they value, but they do so as a way to keep themselves entertained or as a means of creating future wealth as the items they collect increase in value over time. So, what is the difference between collecting and hoarding?

The Difference Between Collecting and Hoarding

The answer to that question is collecting becomes hoarding when the individual starts suffering various forms of collateral damage from their “collecting” activities. That collateral damage will usually come in the form of:

  • Financial issues
  • Problems in personal relationships
  • Problems at work
  • Safety issues around the home
  • Physical health problems
  • Mental health problems

The Psychology of Hoarding

If people don’t become hoarders because they have nothing better to do, then why do they become hoarders? The truth is that there is definite psychology behind hoarding disorder. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the psychology of hoarding.

In recent years, mental health professionals have started to look at the complicated nature of hoarding, and it is complicated. It’s a disorder that seems to develop over time for a variety of reasons that ultimately end in high levels of anxiety and depression. Interestingly, there is neurological evidence that the act of hoarding actually offers relief related to feelings of anxiety and depression in the early stages of the disorder. Of course, too much hoarding will eventually create more anxiety and depression further down the road because of the collateral damage it causes.

This would be the right time to detail some of the symptoms of hoarding. Going forward in this writing, the ability to recognize these symptoms should play a big role in helping people identify hoarders be it themselves or loved ones. Symptoms of hoarding include:

  • Great difficulty in the ability to discard things that seemingly have little to no value
  • The act of trying to discard items causes the individual distress
  • The build up of clutter creates issues trying to traverse safely through the house
  • The obsession to hoard things interferes with other aspects of the hoarder’s life (work, relationships, finances)
  • Displaying of the inability to make decisions

While anxiety and depression will usually play a role in the development of a hoarding disorder, it’s not enough to truly explain the psychology behind hoarding. Therefore, it’s safe to assume they are other factors that cause people to hoard, something that warrants serious consideration.

Truth be told, it’s very difficult to pinpoint the causation of hoarding at an individual level. There are some traits that are common among hoarders such as hoarding usually starts developing in adolescence and comes to fruiting in middle age, or hoarders tend to isolate themselves from others. Still, it seems necessary to look a little deeper into possible causes.

Without a great deal of data to support which risk factors seem most prevalent in the causation of hoarding, there are three risks that seem more likely to be involved than others.

Personality Factors

People prone to hoarding tend to be a bit temperamental and easily angered. They also show signs of being indecisive when making important decisions. That likely includes being indecisive about discarding things, which the hoarder resolves by simply not discarding anything.

Personality Factors That Affect Hoarding Disorder
Family History and Learned Behavior

Family History

A lot of hoarders seem to come from families where at least one other key family member has shown evidence of having a hoarding issue. That would support the notion that hoarding is a learned behavior that starts during adolescence.


With any kind of emotional or psychological disorder, trauma is a good place to start looking for possible causes. For hoarders, trauma might relate to any of the following life events:

Experience of Trauma in Hoarding Disorder
  • Physical, emotional, verbal, or sexual abuse
  • Living in deep poverty during childhood (doing without things that others have)
  • Involvement in a tragic event like a natural disaster, fire, flood, or physical accident
  • The death of a deeply revered family member or friend
  • Loss of key relationship like a marriage through divorce
  • Loss of a job or eviction from a primary residence

Addressing the Psychology Behind Hoarding

The good news is hoarding is treatable. It will generally require that the hoarder goes through some type of intensive therapy in an effort to find the root causes of their desire to hold onto things without reason. When they identify the root causes, it then becomes possible for the hoarder to develop the coping skills they will need to fight back against that need to hold onto things. Free professional help is readily available if you need it, for instance National Depression Hotline.

While getting treatment, hoarders also need to start addressing the physical remnants of their hoarding. At some point, they will have to start letting go of things and also start cleaning up the messes they have created throughout the years. This can be very difficult for someone who has been hoarding for years. However, it’s a necessary step that needs to be taken to get the hoarder’s life back to some level of normalcy.

If you or a loved one are suffering from this very serious and destructive disorder, you can contact Clutter Trucker for help with the cleanup portion of your “therapy.” As one of the top junk removal companies in Colorado, we have experience with cleaning up large “hoarding” collections of junk and trash in an efficient, reliable and friendly manner.