Gary's Guidance: Things to Know About Hoarding

May 2014

What is someone else’s junk may be someone else’s treasure. So stopping by a roadside trash day pick-up just might result in the collector’s item you have been looking for. Hanging onto things happens and most people do it.  When does possessing items become unhealthy and known as hoarding? People keep things for the same reason as anyone else: sentimental value strongly associated with emotional attachment, or the item is useful or could be useful sometime in the future, and the valued item is considered attractive or beautiful to the beholder.  With the elderly, sometimes hoarding as a problem is worse because there can be a greater accumulation of possesions in light of there being a greater number of years gone by.  Also, seniors are faced with many life themes relating to loss, and as a result the possessions collected have even more emotional significance and attachment.

There are three components of hoarding:

  1. Obtaining possessions compulsively either through buying or by collecting free things
  2. Holding onto possessions and never discarding
  3. Not organizing and taking care of all the saved possessions

Clinical definition of hoarding:

  1. The acquisition of, and failure to discard, a large number of possessions that appear to be useless or of limited value
  2. The living environment/ spaces or workplace are cluttered enough that they can’t be used for the functional use that they were designed
  3. Significant distress or impairment in emotional, social, occupational or other important areas of functioning caused by the hoarding
  4. The hoarder’s behaviors causes distress to other people such as a spouse, family members, or landlords
  5. The behavior has harmful effects – emotional, social, physical, financial, and legal – for the person suffering from the disorder and family members

More about hoarding:

Hoarding disorder is a progressive disease. By compulsion, the hoarder has got to do it, they must have it, and don’t have an ability to self-regulate. Denial is present too as a hoarder minimizes the frequency of behavior and volume of items already accumulated. Hoarders rationalize or engage in self-deception which serves to reinforce their hoarding as being a normal behavior. Hoarders do not feel understood by others. Hoarders do it out of a desire or drive for happiness, but the hoarding falls short of fulfilled desire. Hoarding is an anxiety-based maladaptive coping mechanism. Hoarders do not know how to get out of the problem, and the barriers to getting help include embarrassment and shame.


DSM-5 Changes: Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders, John M. Grohol, PSY.D, 2013

Gary Kozick, LCSW

(215) 510-8901