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How to spot signs of hoarding

An Example Of Hoarding

In today’s modern, fast-paced world, the trend of minimalism is becoming increasingly popular, with many people decluttering their homes and simplifying their lives. However, some of us may find it difficult to part with our belongings and say goodbye to things we don’t need anymore.

Counter to the minimalist lifestyle, hoarding represents an opposite tendency. Hoarding typically occurs gradually, as individuals feel the need to collect and retain items in their homes that others might discard, recycle, sell, or share with others. Hoarding often leads to excessive clutter in the home and disorganised living spaces.

In this article, we’ll look at some of the common signs of hoarding, explore its possible causes and offer practical tips on how to deal with this condition if it’s something that you find challenging or if it affects someone you care about.

Jump to:
What is hoarding disorder?
Signs of hoarding
Causes of hoarding disorder
How to help a hoarder

What is hoarding disorder? 

Let’s start by explaining what hoarding disorder is. Essentially, hoarding disorder is a mental health condition that results in an individual feeling a strong urge to gather or keep a large number of items, regardless of their value or condition.

Research indicates that between 2% and 5% of the UK population show significant levels of hoarding, making hoarding behaviours more common than people might think. 

With a difficulty in disposing of old things, items that are no longer needed and non-functioning devices, hoarding disorder can result in overcrowded, cluttered living spaces, significantly reducing the quality of an individual’s life.

However, it’s important to separate hoarding from collecting or clutter. While ‘collecting’ involves searching for and buying particular items with purpose, such as antiques, vinyl or books, hoarding comes as a compulsive cumulation of a wide range of items for no real purpose and an inability to part with them.

As already mentioned, hoarding disorder can affect various areas of people’s lives, including:

  • Cluttered living spaces, where rooms become unusable for their intended purposes
  • Safety and health hazards, including risks of falls, fire hazards and sanitation issues
  • Social isolation and strained relationships due to feelings of shame and fear of judgement from others

Signs of hoarding

The first signs of hoarding disorder can be subtle and easily overlooked, especially in the case of elderly individuals. However, there are a few signs to keep an eye on to identify potential hoarding behaviour in the early stages.

These may include:

Difficulty discarding items

As already mentioned, people with hoarding disorder usually experience difficulties discarding any material things, even when the items are old or no longer usable and valuable. Additionally, hoarders frequently feel that they need to keep lots of items for a reason, such as they might need them in the future, even if it’s unlikely to be the case. 

Excessive clutter in living space

Excessive clutter is one of the most significant signs of hoarding disorder, especially when it starts to become unmanageable, disrupting the way people use their home. From overcrowded cupboards, bathrooms or bedrooms that can’t be accessed properly, to cluttered garages and garden areas, all these spaces can be filled over time, which can present serious challenges to the person’s day-to-day life.

Compulsive acquisition of items

Frequent shopping is another common sign of hoarding disorder, with people excessively acquiring items that might not be necessarily needed or don’t serve any practical purpose. 

Neglect of household maintenance

As a result of cluttered, overcrowded living space, some hoarders might gradually stop taking care of their household, neglecting tasks like cleaning, cooking or doing the laundry. This neglect can result in a decline of living conditions and rooms becoming unusable due to clutter. 

Social withdrawal

From avoiding social gatherings to refusing to have visitors at home, changes to social behaviours are very common when it comes to hoarding disorder. As a result, hoarders might completely isolate themselves and withdraw from the social interactions, so as to avoid judgement from family, friends and surroundings. 


Anxiety is something that often accompanies hoarding disorder, and may occur if people are pushed to discard old items or explain their reasons for their cluttered living space. Additionally, hoarders often find it uncomfortable for other people to touch or move their possessions, as these items might hold emotional attachment and value to the individual. Therefore, handling their belongings can evoke feelings of distress and anxiety.  

Woman Displaying Anxiety

Causes of hoarding disorder

Hoarding is a complex disorder and can be caused by a combination of genetic, environmental and psychological factors.

There are several mental health issues and other conditions that can sometimes be associated with hoarding, including:

  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

While all of the causes of hoarding are not fully understood, the studies have identified a number of other factors that might lead to this mental health disorder, including:

Getting Support With Hoarding

Genetic predispositions

Studies suggest that hoarding tendencies might sometimes run in families. That means that certain genetic factors might cause individuals to have strong emotional attachment to possessions, which may lead to hoarding behaviours.

Environmental influence

The research has also shown that people growing up in a cluttered environment and chaotic household might experience hoarding tendencies in adult age, as they might struggle to prioritise and organise their possessions.

Lack of financial security in childhood

Similarly, if individuals grow up with a lack of material or financial security, they can sometimes feel an increased need to accumulate items in later life.

Traumatic events

Traumatic experiences, such as the loss of a loved one, abandonment or significant life change, can also trigger hoarding behaviours. Keeping items can be something that people turn to help them cope with emotional challenges and provide a sense of control if they are experiencing feelings of instability in other areas of life.

Loneliness and isolation

Finally, people struggling with loneliness can sometimes find a certain kind of comfort in having lots of material possessions, as acquiring things might provide them with emotional fulfilment.     

Essentially, understanding the underlying causes of hoarding disorder is vital to developing effective ways of offering support, treatment and promoting healthy lifestyle changes.

How to help a hoarder

Depending on unique circumstances leading to hoarding disorder, there are various approaches to help individuals manage their behaviour and improve their overall mental wellbeing. However, with hoarding commonly appearing as a side effect of other mental issues, people often seek treatment primarily for depression, anxiety or other disorders rather than hoarding.

The first step in seeking help is usually contacting a GP, who can refer the individual to a dedicated mental health professional.

The most common way to treat hoarding disorder is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – a talking therapy helping individuals manage their problems by changing the way they think and behave. After assessing the situation, the professional will then suggest a treatment plan to address the hoarding disorder and other potential mental health issues.

However, alongside seeking professional help, there are also other ways you can support a hoarder and provide them with a safe, understanding environment to help accelerate their recovery.

Educate yourself

Learning about hoarding disorder and understanding its symptoms and causes can help you approach the situation with empathy and sensitivity.

Be open and honest

Initiating honest conversations with the individual is a key to helping them acknowledge that hoarding is causing a problem and seek help if necessary. It’s important to show your empathy and express concerns without judging their behaviour.

Offer practical help

In the advanced stage of hoarding disorder, the clutter in the affected person’s home can feel overwhelming. Therefore, it might be a good idea to offer help with cleaning, decluttering and organising tasks, focusing on small areas or categories of items at a slow pace. 

However, you should avoid putting any pressure on the individual and forcing them to discard items against their will, as this might cause them feelings of distress and anxiety. It’s important that the person who hoards items is on board with plans to remove some of the excess belongings from the home so that they feel some control over what is happening.

Once a room or home has been emptied of excess belongings, putting in place good storage solutions, so that everything has its place, can help keep things organised in the future. 

If you’re looking for more inspiration to organise a living space, you can check our blog on Top home storage ideas for renters

Organising And Storing Your Belongings At Home

Address safety concerns

As part of the decluttering process, it’s also important to address any potential health risks and safety hazards posed by the accumulated items.

Seek professional support

Exploring treatment options and seeking professional help are important steps to make sure the individual with hoarding disorder receives all the essential professional support to build a healthier and safer life and develops ways to deal with challenges they might face. 

Provide emotional support

Recovering from hoarding disorder can be a very challenging process, and it’s vital to provide the individual with emotional support, validating their efforts and encouraging them to focus on positive aspects of life beyond hoarding behaviours.