How do you know if you’re a hoarder? Maybe you’re just naturally a messy, disorganized person who functions better when everything is out in the open. How can you tell when your clutter becomes a hoard?
For the longest time, I was worried I had hoarding tendencies. I would spend hours watching shows like Hoarders and Hoarding: Buried Alive. Watching these shows would (temporarily) make me feel better about myself. After all, my clutter was bad; but not that bad. I frantically Googled, “symptoms of hoarding disorders”. And read everything I could find on the subject.
After discovering that at least two of my family members had hoarding tendencies, I began to research whether hoarding was hereditary. I wanted to know why people become hoarders.
What I discovered shook me to my core. Compulsive hoarding does, in fact, run in families. Actually, there are multiple symptoms associated with hoarding disorders. To my horror, I suffered from more than a few…
Disclosure: I am neither a doctor nor a licensed therapist. Please do not take the information contained here as medical advice. If you (or a family member) are a compulsive hoarder, support is available. I urge you to reach out to your family physician for help. He or she will be able to refer you to a specialist for immediate assistance.
According to the Mayo Clinic, hoarding is:
…a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. Excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value, occurs.
You Might Be A Hoarder If…
- Compulsive hoarding often manifests during the childhood-teen years and progresses as you age. Quite possibly, you were an avid collector as a child, and your “collections” have grown exponentially over the years. Once a person reaches adulthood, hoarding intensifies. Likely because, as adults, we have (almost) unlimited access to stuff.
- Much of your stuff is useless (aka trash). While you may not think of your belongings as garbage, other’s may have told you that many of the items you possess are beyond repair, useless, or are otherwise qualified for the dumpster.
- You have a difficult time throwing anything away. Usually, you just end up moving things from one place to another. In fact…
- The thought of getting rid of anything sends you into a panic. Your anxiety levels peak whenever someone mentions getting rid of your clutter. You may instantly experience crippling feelings of fear, panic, and anger at the mere thought of getting rid of something.
Compulsive hoarding affects between 6 to 15 million people in the US.
- You are (overly) sentimentally attached to your possessions. A common symptom of hoarding disorder is believing that inanimate objects possess “feelings”. It’s highly possible you worry that if you declutter your possessions, you will end up disappointing them.
- You lack a concrete organizational system. In your home, chaos reigns. Your past (earnest) attempts at organizing the clutter have been unsuccessful.
- You may deny the fact that you have a problem. Even though your friends and loved ones may have been (repeatedly) trying to tell you so.
What’s the difference between hoarding and collecting? Collectors display/maintain their items. They have an organizational system in place. Hoarders lack organization. Their items seem to have “taken over” their home.
- You procrastinate to the point that you become “paralyzed” with inaction. All of us procrastinate to some degree. However, it becomes a concern when your procrastination regularly impairs your judgment.
- You are a perfectionist. Again, a lot of people have perfectionist tendencies. However, your motto is: “If you can’t do something right, don’t do it at all.”
- You own more pets than you can reasonably care for. Some compulsive hoarders hoard animals instead of objects. You may own multiple dogs, cats, horses, etc. More than likely, you lack the accommodations/finances to properly care for your furry friends.
Concerned you might be a hoarder? Help is available.
- You have OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), an addictive personality, or you suffer from anxiety. Until 2013, compulsive hoarding was thought to be a form of OCD. It has since been classified as a separate mental illness. It’s important to note that not everyone who has OCD becomes a hoarder. Likewise, not all hoarders have OCD. Studies have shown, however, that the majority of hoarders suffer from at least one other mental disorder.
- At least one (possibly more) of your family members is a hoarder. While it remains unclear whether DNA plays a role in developing a hoarding disorder, frequently, a hoarder can identify at least one other family member with the illness.
- You are a compulsive shopper. You cannot pass up a bargain even if you have no use for the items you purchase. Perhaps you’ve maxed out your credit cards on clearance items, “limited time only” sales, or thrift store “deals” that were too good to pass up.
Many times, hoarding runs in families. “People with this problem tend to have a first-degree relative who also does,” says Randy O. Frost, Ph.D., a psychologist at Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts. “So it might be genetic, or it might be a modeling effect.”
- You truly believe you might need everything you own…someday. You fear you’ll run out of an item. As a result, you may excessively stockpile soap, toothpaste, toilet paper, and underwear. Because you know (one day) you will need these items. The problem is, you cannot actually locate your stockpile underneath all of the clutter.
- You feel safer surrounded by stuff. Many people who suffer from compulsive hoarding have built literal walls around themselves. They are comforted being confined by their stuff.
- You do not want other people to touch your stuff. (And you constantly suspect that they have). You’ve even gone so far as to look in the garbage to make sure no one has thrown away your belongings.
- You have distanced yourself from social interaction with your family and friends. You are embarrassed by the condition of your home so you prevent others from entering it.
“I’m beginning to realize that I’m either overly sentimental, or am a hoarder who struggles to part with things. In all honesty, I’m probably both.”
― Fennel Hudson
- Your “collecting” has had a negative effect on your marriage as well as your finances. In many cases, compulsive hoarding leads to increased divorce rates. In addition, many hoarders have either already filed for bankruptcy or are on the verge of doing so.
- You can no longer use certain areas of your home the way they were intended. If clutter has blocked your access to your bed, shower, refrigerator, or stove, it’s likely you are a compulsive hoarder. Seek immediate medical attention.
- Your home has become a safety hazard. Examples that a home is unsafe include water damage to floors/ceilings, the presence of mold, animal feces, and rodent/insect infestation. If your health and well-being is in jeopardy due to the unsafe conditions of your home, get help now!
I might be a hoarder but…
Thankfully, I was able to recognize and seek treatment for my hoarding tendencies early on. Unfortunately, many people do not have this luxury. If you or someone you love suffers from compulsive hoarding, it is vital you implement a treatment plan before it’s too late. While compulsive hoarding cannot be “cured” overnight, treatment is available.
- How To Help A Hoarder: 5 Things You Should NEVER Say
- Top 10 Decluttering Tips For Hoarders
- 20 Ways To Tell When You Have Too Much Stuff
- Staging A Hoarding Intervention: How To Help A Hoarder
« Letting Go of Other People's Stuff: How to Declutter Family Heirlooms
» Why I Do Not Use A Bullet Journal And I Probably Never Will
Cheryl Lemily says
You are not crazy for being angry. What you are feeling is a normal response to someone who hoards. Unfortunately, when it comes to communicating with a hoarder, you’ll catch more flies with honey so to speak.
The only thing you can do is gently encourage your loved one to seek treatment, while at the same time realizing that they may never do so.
Only you can decide whether it’s best for your own sanity to walk away from the situation or stay involved from a distance (as long as safety/health isn’t an issue).
Sadly, you may not be able to recover your family pictures if your step-parent refuses to part with them.
You are not mean. The people who wrote those comments are
Every room in this house has become a storage room with clothing, shoes, pocket books, makeup, and the not so funny thing is I literally have about 200 hundred pairs of shoes and I can’t find one matching pair because one shoe is in one room and only God knows where the other shoe is .over the past 10 years I’ve spent over 45,000 dollars on hiring house keepers and organizing companies and sometimes I would luck out and find a person with whom I think can help me. And the weird thing is I would be elated after all the work the help and myself put into cleaning and clearing up the clutter but for some reason my house becomes more cluttered within a day or two because I’d be looking for something and I would pull out everything ” saying to myself, I can’t believe that the help would put this with that and so on and on, and before long all the money and hours not to mention the physical and mental toll it took for me to get some clarity ,goes up into air causing me more mental and emotional stress .so,I’ll say to myself ” no one can help me because, they always do it wrong and put everything in the wrong places and I’m the only one who knows what to do ” and most of the time I’m correct because, I can teach and train someone for weeks on how I need something done and I usually work with them as if I’m the hired help for months, but it seems like I can’t blink my eyes or take a bathroom break without them doing something wrong. I know I’m all over the place with my comments but I wrote such a thorough and completely honest article from the beginning of my journey till now and I lost it before I could save it . So I’m upset that I have to do this all over again!!!
My son, husband and myself are the only three people that occupied this large home, now it’s just myself and my husband who is rarely here because he travels for work and probably doesn’t want to be in this unhealthy environment, my home has become a storage facility and it’s caused me unbearable pain physical and mental and emotional pain , my once envied oasis has become a den for clutter!! I don’t have company over and if the door bell rings I feel instant anxiety and it takes me about 5 minutes to get to the door. And that’s breaking something or getting another bruise due to the clutter
Thank you! I don’t feel like I’m the only person who has this disorder!! My home was the envy of all my friends and family members who saw my home! I’ve lived in my oshouse for 20 years and it’s 5000 sq ft .
I used to be a hoarder. My house is still so full of stuff that I told my family that I don’t want Christmas gifts. For a long time it was difficult for me to get rid of gifts. I finally convinced myself that I was getting rid of a gift and not the giver. I have been taking large boxes and bags of stuff to Goodwill since before I retired. I’m really seeing light at the end of the tunnel. It helps for me to read articles like this. I find motivation. I doubt that I will ever become a minimalist but I have also read books on minimalism for inspiration.
I have a little boy with autism and anxiety and I think he is becoming a hoarder. Not sure how to get help. He will actually check the garbage after I sweep to make sure I didn’t throw away anything important. He just turned 9.
Saunter calmly says
I have the manual 1920 s egg beater l from my great grandma and it still works I use it to make cakes. And similar. I don’t use electric machine it’s annoying.
I threw the electric machine away.
Doesn’t this make sense.
Why don’t you encourage people to write in an accomplishment l. Such as throwing away an electric machine that isn’t used.
Treat each other with kindness.
Saunter calmly says
My mom, deceased, and I wear the same size clothes. We used to trade off taking turns wearing each other’s clothes.
After her death I kept 1/2 the clothes she owned. Every few years I repeat. And I wear the clothes that I kept.
I feel sentiment when I wear her clothes. Some of what you write on here is just mean.
I am a compulsive shopper/hoarder. I have a beautiful 11 room home but three of the rooms are jammed with stuff that I can’t allow myself to part with. I’m miserable that I can’t change my behavior and part with things (mostly clothes, shoes and handbags) that are really meaningless in the scheme of things. I need help in Northern Virginia.
My relationship with a beloved family member has just blown apart because of my stepparent’s hoarding. My parent died almost a decade ago and my family pictures are buried in an house that has overflowed to a garage, an RV and four storage units on the property (I think there are two more elsewhere). My step-parent removes things from garbage and recycling cans at public places and other people’s home. I pace my efforts to essentially beg for these precious family memories. Small batches have been released only after horrendous blow outs. I am a stepchild so have no real power except to argue; there is not a health issue (the house is clean, just filled the gills). I am now so angry I have ended an otherwise good decades’ long relationship. I do not know what to do. I feel completely powerless. I feel crazy for being angry.
I think I could classify myself as a hoarder. The thing is, I DO feel the need to declutter and reorganize stuff, and I have done that. I do like to clean – I don’t have filth, I vacuum and dust. But I DO have a LOT of possessions. I rent a room – I’m embarrassed to have ANYBODY see my place. One good thing; I have a really big organizing project planned, and I have a huge load of books I’ll be taking to the used bookshop, so am I still considered a hoarder, even if I feel the need to change?
Best I’ve seen on hoarding. _What can one do about a spouse getting violently upset when one gets rid of things or when spouse fills spaces cleared, with more things; bikes, machines, china, books etc.?
Imelda Coleman says
My son and daughter in law are both hoarders. I just spent the day helping them move out of a home i own. we will have to spend $20-30K to repair all the damage from water leaks,pests, dogs and pure filth. My 3 year old grandchild lives there and it breaks my heart. They each blame the other for the mess. How can I get them to understand the problem and seek help?
Darlene Mitchell-Penn says
I definitely could use some help. I do have a real problem getting rid of things/stuff!! I could really relate 2 all your info. Thank u, please help me with all& any help!!
This is a fantastic article! My husband fits 90% of these bullet points, but luckily for me, he does recognize it. Now it’s just getting rid of it. …