A hoarding disorder is where someone acquires an excessive number of items and stores them in a chaotic manner. The items can be of little or no monetary value and usually result in unmanageable amounts of clutter.
It's considered to be a significant problem if:
- The amount of clutter interferes with everyday living – for example, the person is unable to use their kitchen or bathroom
- The clutter is causing significant distress or negatively affecting the person's quality of life or their family's – for example, they become upset if someone tries to clear the clutter and their relationships with others suffer.
Hoarding can have a huge impact on a person’s ability to function independently and can carry a high level of risk for themselves and others. It can cause high levels of distress for those sharing a home with or living close to the person who hoards.
Hoarding difficulties can affect anyone and are often associated with having experienced difficult life circumstances. Around two to six people in every hundred have hoarding disorder, and both men and women are equally affected. Typically hoarding difficulties become worse as people grow older.
What can you do if you or someone you know has difficulties with hoarding?
It's important to ask for help. The first and most important thing to do is talk to your GP.
What can help
The following tips from people who have been in similar circumstances may also help:
- Make the decision to do something about it and enlist help - don't try and do it alone
- Reduce acquiring first
- Give yourself a time limit for making decisions
- Do small jobs daily and choose one place to work on
- If you find yourself becoming anxious, take a break: physical exercise and relaxation exercises help
- Celebrate successes and let go of setbacks
What doesn’t help
The idea of a big clear-out may seem like a sensible option. People struggling with hoarding problems have often already had experience of major clear-outs. If it is thrust upon them, rather than being something they have chosen to undertake, it can increase their fears about getting help and reduce their motivation to make changes. Forced clearance may change a person’s living environment temporarily but it's unlikely to lead to lasting behaviour change. It can make things worse and may be traumatic for the person.
There is a wealth of information available online, and useful books that can help. The British Psychological Society has published: