What Is Hoarding?
Hoarding was previously considered a subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) however, hoarding refers to a disorder in which someone has difficulty getting rid of items, regardless of actual value. The hoarding definition provided by the American Psychiatric Association further clarifies that the persistent problem of getting rid of possessions that can lead to clutter and disrupt someone’s ability to use their living or work spaces.
Compulsive hoarding is different from collecting because the items are not displayed nor do they necessarily have any value. Hoarding can lead to the excessive accumulation of items. Eventually, a person with hoarding disorder may not be able to move freely through their space.
Until recently, hoarding disorder did not receive much attention. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) previously listed hoarding disorder as a subtype or feature of other disorders. The most recent update of the DSM-5 placed hoarding disorder as its own category.
Common Types of Hoarding
Hoarding may take many forms and can lead to different outcomes based on what types of items someone is hoarding. The motivations behind hoarding may also differ between various types of hoarding. Some common types include animal hoarding, book hoarding and food hoarding.
Animal hoarding most often begins with good intentions of rescuing animals from shelters or bringing in stray animals. Someone who hoards animals is likely to accumulate more animals than they can properly take care of. Instead of giving away some of their animals, they continue to acquire new animals. Two of the most common forms of animal hoarding are cat hoarding and dog hoarding. However, a person can hoard any animal.
People who engage in book hoarding justify their hoarding by expressing a need to have the information on hand. People with this type of hoarding sometimes called bibliomania, save books, papers and files, even if it’s highly unlikely that they will ever use them again.
Shopper or shopping hoarding occurs when someone keeps every item that they’ve purchased even if they don’t use it. The objects shopper hoarders may have can be anything — food, clothing, photos, televisions, collectibles, etc. These purchases typically remain unopened, still in their packages with price tags attached.
This kind of hoarding is particularly wasteful. Food hoarding is when someone brings home bags of groceries or excessive amounts of food when their refrigerator and cupboards are already full. The food may rot, attract rodents and bugs and breed viruses or germs. In addition to buying excessive amounts of food, people with food hoarding disorders usually don’t throw away the food either. It’s not uncommon for food hoarders to have rotted food in piles aroun their house.
People with trash hoarding disorders not only save or keep piles of garbarge, they often go through other people’s trash to find their own treasures that they’ll bring back to their house. Rodents and other pests will most likely appear because of the rotting trash. Pests and vermin can create additional problems for someone with trash hoarding because of the diseases they carry or breed from their waste.
People living with a paper hoarding disorder keep all types of paper like bills, invoices, books, magazines, coupons, junk mail, photos, report cards, receipts, recipes, etc. Hoarding paper can be a fire hazard and if a pile becomes large enough, a dangerous hazard that could fall on someone.
Symptoms of Hoarding
Hoarding symptoms include the inability to discard possessions and experiencing significant anxiety at the thought or attempt to discard items. A person with hoarding disorder likely has difficulty keeping their possessions organized and may feel embarrassment over the disorder of their living spaces.
Obsessive thoughts and compulsions are sometimes present like when a person compulsively stockpiles items with the fear of running out or refuses to throw away any trash for fear that it will be needed one day.
Experts have created a model of five levels of hoarding to determine the severity of a hoarding disorder. Level 1, the least severe, refers to when all areas of the home are still accessible and the home generally appears to be kept up well without sanitation concerns. Each level progressively gets more serious until a person reaches Level 5. At Level 5 there is likely to be structural damage due to the hoarding as well as possible health and sanitation hazards.
Causes of Hoarding
While what causes hoarding is not known, it appears to have a genetic component. People with indecisive temperaments may develop a hoarding disorder due to the difficulty of deciding what items to get rid of and which items to keep. Hoarding disorders begin to develop in adolescence but generally stays in the less severe of the five stages of hoarding during this time. Later stages of hoarding are rare in young people. Hoarding may intensify following stressful life events and continue to worsen if coping and acceptance of the stressor do not occur.
How is Hoarding Diagnosed?
Many people with hoarding disorder seek treatment for a co-occurring disorder or complication of hoarding disorders. Once the clinician discovers the excessive hoarding of items, they can explore the reasons for hoarding and difficulties of parting with possessions.
Who is at Risk for Hoarding?
Risk factors for hoarding disorders may include a history of brain injuries, spending significant amounts of time with people who hoard and stressful life events.
Researchers have concluded that hoarding is more common in older adults, though it may begin to develop in adolescence. Hoarding statistics indicate a prevalence of almost four percent of the general population. Hoarding disorders are often more common in males than females. The severity of hoarding appears to be inversely related to household income. Thus, people with lower incomes may be more likely to engage in hoarding.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance use disorder and a co-occurring disorder like hoarding, help is available. At The Recovery Village, a team of professionals provides treatment programs for substance use and co-occurring disorders to suit your individualized needs. Call and speak with a representative to learn more about which program could work for you.