What Causes Hoarding?

Messy pile of vintage objects - representing hoarding

What Causes Hoarding?

Hoarding is a disorder that seems to be a growing problem. Experts estimate that between 400,000 and 1.1 million people in Australia suffer from it. But what is hoarding, and what causes it in the first place?

People who are struggling with hoarding might have some of the following symptoms:

  • severe anxiety about getting rid of things,
  • inability to throw things away even when they cannot be used,
  • inability to organise items,
  • paranoia about people taking their things,
  • embarrassment about how they live, and
  • obsessive thoughts about their possessions.

Hoarding affects people’s lives by causing relationship problems and making their homes dangerous or difficult to live in.

Doctors used to think of hoarding as a form of OCD. However, in recent years mental health professionals have started to consider it a separate disorder. In 82% of cases, it does occur along with another disorder, such as OCD, depression, or schizophrenia. Although it isn’t a genetic disorder, there seems to be a genetic link that makes it more likely, so it does sometimes run in families. Often people who suffer from hoarding have experienced a trauma, especially in childhood.

Anxiety is always associated with hoarding, and it is a part of a cycle that is very hard for sufferers to escape. Collecting things helps them feel less anxiety, but then living in the squalor increases their anxiety. The embarrassment and relationship problems that follow make the anxiety worse, increasing the desire to collect items.

There is an important distinction between hoarders and collectors, though. Collectors take care of the items they collect, and they are proud of them. Although they feel connected to their possessions, they are able to give things up, in order to improve their collection. Hoarders, on the other hand, typically feel embarrassment and anxiety about the things they collect. They are overwhelmed and unable to organise or care for them. Although getting new items may make them happy, actually having them is extremely stressful.

It is very difficult to treat hoarding disorder; the person suffering from it has to want the help. Medication has very little effect, but therapy can help if the sufferer is dedicated to change. It is not helpful to clean up the hoarder’s home against their will. This will cause a dramatic increase in their anxiety, causing them to fill their space back up as quickly as they can. It has even led people to commit suicide.

If you or a loved one are dealing with hoarding, contact us to discuss if our residential care and support may assist you.