When a Loved One Hoards

Many of us get the spring cleaning impulse this time of year. Out go old possessions that don’t “spark joy,” as organizing guru Marie Kondo would say.

But for some people, asking if an item “sparks joy” is futile—because they are tied emotionally to all their possessions. For people living with a hoarding disorder, discarding items sparks the opposite of joy!

Collecting, or hoarding?

Over the years, our homes can become stuffed with stuff. Maybe we have a stack of magazines that we’re sure we’ll read … someday. We cram a spare closet with old clothes that “might come back into style someday.” Piles form here and there with items that have emotional value to us. Many people collect things—fridge magnets, comic books, ceramic figurines, and the like.

But hoarding goes well beyond that. The home isn’t just messy or cluttered—it’s dangerous and fundamentally unlivable. Here are signs that a person may have a hoarding disorder:

  • Bringing more and more items home, while discarding nothing
  • Compulsive shopping, sometimes purchasing several of the same item
  • Saving junk mail, packaging materials and obsolete, useless items
  • Items unopened in their original packaging
  • Unsafe or unsanitary conditions (such as fire hazards, rodents or spoiled food)
  • Clutter that prevents the person from using the kitchen, bedroom or bathroom
  • Isolation; not wanting to let anyone into the home
  • Conflict with family and friends about the condition of the home

What causes hoarding disorder?

Hoarding used to be classified as a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but it’s now considered a distinct form of mental illness. It may run in families, though experts say this could be a matter of learned behavior rather than genes. It also may worsen as a person grows older.

The causes of hoarding have always been something of a mystery. But recent research funded by the National Institute of Mental Health used brain imaging to show that people with hoarding disorder often have abnormal activity in parts of the brain that govern decision-making.

Can hoarding disorder be treated?

Treatment for this condition can be challenging. People who are struggling with hoarding seldom can get the impulse under control without help. Yet intervention is difficult, especially when the person doesn’t see the squalor as a problem. Family and friends often want to help, but their tidying is likely to be seen as interference. Therapy or group support may help.

What can family do?

Social service agencies may step in; many communities today have local “hoarding task forces.” Mental health professionals and support groups help people understand the problem and underlying causes. “Organization coaches” and specialized cleaning services can assist in dealing with extremely cluttered home conditions.

You can learn more from the International OCD Foundation’s hoarding resources center (

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise

Categories: Mental health