Hoarding Disorder is a mental health condition that is marked by difficulty discarding objects that others may think have little value, and  by excessive clutter that makes use of the home difficult. Many people also have difficulty with bringing too much stuff into the home when there isn’t enough space (excessive acquisition).

Hoarding problems can cause a lot of distress for the person living with it, and for their loved ones. Hoarding can also lead to difficulties with day to day living, such as having a hard time using your kitchen to prepare meals, no longer being able to use your bed to sleep, and feeling too uncomfortable to have people over for social visits or to do home repairs.

It is estimated that 2-5% of the population experiences hoarding, and the problem tends to get worse over time as more and more clutter piles up. It is common for people with Hoarding Disorder to also struggle with depression, anxiety, and attention problems (e.g., ADHD).

Hoarding used to be considered a type of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and while they share some similarities, we now understand that they are not the same thing. Hoarding is now thought to be an OCD-related disorder, but is no longer diagnosed as OCD.

People with a diagnosis of Hoarding Disorder tend to have problems in these four areas:

  1. Making decisions and solving problems;
  2. Unhelpful thinking;
  3. Dealing with intense emotions, and
  4. Fluctuating motivation.

When it comes to sorting and organizing, research has shown that people with hoarding problems are actually quite good at making decisions about other people’s items, but find it much more challenging to make decisions about their own items. This may be in part due to the types of beliefs that people with hoarding problems tend to have about their personal possessions. For instance, people may believe that they need hold onto certain items in order to keep the memories that are associated with them. They might be afraid that if they part ways with a treasured item, they will also forget about the happy times they felt with that item. They may also hold onto items that seem like they could be useful again one day, even if they are broken or in poor condition.

Along the same lines, they may be very concerned about being wasteful. not wanting to contribute to damaging the environment, so they will hold onto items instead of throwing them away. When faced with giving up treasured items, people with hoarding problems tend to experience strong emotions such as fear, sadness, or guilt. So instead of having to deal with these uncomfortable feelings, they might put off or altogether avoid discarding their things. On the other hand, people may feel such intense excitement and joy at the idea of getting a good deal, that it is hard to walk away from something they would like to purchase or take home. For all of these reasons, it can be very hard to keep up our motivation to declutter and things can tend to become overwhelming and then progress can stall.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) has been shown to be helpful in addressing hoarding problems. In CBT, the individual with the hoarding problem works collaboratively with the therapist to identify why they have difficulty parting with personal items, work on problem-solving and decision making strategies, learn ways to challenge unhelpful thoughts and cope with intense emotions, and how to keep up the motivation.

Learn more about CBT for Hoarding Disorder and our Declutter Class.