Is hoarding a form of mental illness?

Understanding: Is Hoarding a Form of Mental Illness?


Hoarding disorder is a psychological disorder characterized by the excessive accumulation of possessions and the difficulty in getting rid of them. It often leads to extremely cluttered living spaces and can seriously impact a person’s daily functioning. Hoarding behavior ranges from mild to severe, with some individuals experiencing distress at the thought of discarding items and others inconvenienced by the clutter that consumes their living areas.

Symptoms of hoarding disorder include persistent difficulty in parting with possessions, a perceived need to save items, and the buildup of clutter to the point where living spaces cannot be used for their intended purpose. Hoarding disorder is not the same as collecting, as collectors carefully search out specific items, organize them, and display them without the distress and impairment seen in hoarding disorder. Hoarding disorder is also associated with other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Treatment for hoarding disorder typically involves cognitive-behavioral therapy and may also include motivational interviewing and group or family therapy.

Key Takeaways:

  • Hoarding disorder is a psychological disorder characterized by the excessive accumulation of possessions and difficulty in discarding them.
  • Individuals with hoarding disorder may experience distress and impaired functioning due to their hoarding behavior.
  • Hoarding disorder is not the same as collecting; it is associated with other mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety disorders.
  • Treatment for hoarding disorder often involves cognitive-behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, and group or family therapy.
  • Seeking professional help from a multidisciplinary treatment team is important for addressing hoarding disorder effectively.
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Causes and Risk Factors of Hoarding Disorder

Hoarding disorder is a complex condition with various causes and risk factors. Researchers are diligently studying the potential factors associated with this psychological disorder. While the exact causes remain unclear, there are several factors that may contribute to the development of hoarding disorder.


There is evidence to suggest that genetics plays a role in hoarding disorder. Individuals with a family member who has hoarding disorder are more likely to develop the disorder themselves. This strong association indicates a genetic predisposition to hoarding behavior.

Brain Function

Abnormalities in brain function have also been linked to hoarding disorder. People with hoarding disorder may exhibit difficulties in decision-making, attention, and organization. These brain function abnormalities contribute to the challenges individuals face when it comes to discarding possessions.

Stressful Life Events

Stressful life events can trigger the onset of hoarding behavior. Significant life events, such as the death of a loved one or the loss of possessions in a fire, can lead individuals to find comfort and security in accumulating and holding onto objects. These events create emotional ties to possessions and contribute to the development of hoarding disorder.

Several risk factors are associated with hoarding disorder, including personality traits, family history, and significant stressors in life. Personality traits like indecisiveness and perfectionism can contribute to the difficulty individuals face when trying to discard possessions. Having a family history of hoarding disorder increases the likelihood of developing the condition. Experiencing significant stressors in life, such as financial difficulties or relationship problems, can also increase the risk of developing hoarding disorder. It is important to note that hoarding disorder typically begins in adolescence or early adulthood and tends to worsen with age.

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Treatment Options for Hoarding Disorder

Hoarding disorder can be challenging to treat, but there are various treatment options available to help individuals with their hoarding behavior. The most well-studied treatment for hoarding disorder is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This therapy focuses on helping individuals understand their thoughts and behaviors related to hoarding, and aims to change beliefs about possessions, develop decision-making skills, and reduce acquiring behaviors.

In addition to CBT, another effective approach is motivational interviewing. This technique can be beneficial in helping individuals with hoarding disorder start the process of decluttering and stay engaged in treatment. Motivational interviewing aims to increase motivation and commitment to change, and can be particularly helpful for those who may be ambivalent about addressing their hoarding behavior.

For a comprehensive and holistic approach, it is important to have a multidisciplinary treatment team. This team should include clinicians, prescribers, professional organizers, case managers, and family members. They work together to provide personalized care and support, addressing the physical, emotional, and practical aspects of hoarding disorder. Collaborating with a treatment team helps reduce distress, improve overall functioning, and create a healthier living environment.

Is Hoarding Considered a Symptom of a Larger Mental Illness?

Hoarding is often considered a symptom of a larger mental illness. Individuals who struggle with mental illness hoarding risk factor may find themselves unable to part with possessions, leading to an accumulation of items that can interfere with daily life. It is important for those experiencing hoarding symptoms to seek professional help.

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