for better mental health

Hoarding

Explains hoarding, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.

What is hoarding?

Hoarding is acquiring or saving lots of things regardless of their value.

If you hoard, you might:

  • have very strong positive feelings whenever you get more items
  • feel very upset or anxious at the thought of throwing or giving things away
  • find it very hard to decide what to keep or get rid of.

"I'm terrified of having visitors to my home, as I'm secretive of our hoarding situation and my worst OCD triggers are here too."

Many people have some belongings they consider special and it's common to save some things because they could come in useful in the future. Hoarding is when your need to keep things causes you distress or interferes with your day to day life. If you think you might be hoarding, our sections on self-care and treatments have some suggestions for you to consider.

People might disagree on what is hoarding and whether it's causing problems for you. Someone else (such as a friend, family member or healthcare professional) might say you are hoarding when you don't think you are.

Beliefs about needing to keep things

If you hoard, you might have very strong beliefs about keeping or saving things. For example, you might believe that:

  • you need to keep things for the future
  • you won't cope with how you feel if you throw things away
  • throwing things away will harm other people or the environment
  • you have to keep things because you mustn't waste them
  • you should arrange or dispose of things perfectly or not at all
  • your belongings are making you happy or keeping you safe
  • your belongings are all unique and special, even if they are very similar
  • you simply need more storage space, or more time to sort things out.

Lots of people share some of these beliefs to an extent, but don't feel them as strongly or as part of hoarding.

Is hoarding a mental health problem?

It is increasingly being recognised that hoarding can be a condition by itself, as well as sometimes being a symptom of other mental health problems. People used to think hoarding was a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), but research suggests they are not the same.

For these reasons hoarding disorder has been listed as a distinct mental health problem in the DSM-5 and ICD-11 (manuals that doctors use to categorise and diagnose mental health problems).

You might hoard by itself or as part of another mental health problem.

"My mum sleeps on a small patch of her sofa. I don't know the last time she slept in a bed, but it has been several years."

close up photo of flowers growing on the roadside

I'm a hoarder...

"It is a constant internal fight that I live with that nobody sees."

Hoarding due to other types of conditions

Hoarding can also be caused by some other conditions (for example dementia or brain injury) which are generally diagnosed and treated differently to mental health problems – in these situations, the information in these pages might not apply. For more about other types of conditions, see the NHS website.

  • Whatever way you experience hoarding, it's a good idea to see a doctor who can check you over and help you access the right kind of treatment and support.
  • It might help to look at the Clutter Image Rating, which can help you consider and describe your situation. (Read more about the Clutter Image Rating.)
  • If you want to help someone else with hoarding, our page on how other people can help has some suggestions for you.

How might hoarding affect my life?

Hoarding could affect you in lots of different ways. For example, you might:

  • struggle to find things you need, or keep on top of bills and letters
  • buy the same items more than once because you can't find them
  • avoid letting people into your home or have difficulty answering the door – meaning you don't have visitors or don't get repairs done, which could lead to housing problems
  • find it hard to look after your physical health – for example if you can't access your bathroom or washing machine
  • find it hard to cook and eat healthy food – which might be because you can't access your kitchen or there's no space inside your fridge
  • be unable to use parts of your home for their intended purpose – for example being unable to sleep in your bed or walk along hallways because they're very cluttered
  • be unable to safely leave your home quickly in an emergency
  • distance yourself from other people, because you don't want them to know about your situation or because they say or do things that don't feel helpful for you
  • feel ashamed or lonely, which could make you feel very isolated or affect your self-esteem.

See our information on money and mental health, housing and mental health, food and moodcoping with loneliness and improving your self-esteem for more on these topics.

"Christmas and other holidays fill me with fear as the few family who know my situation keep pushing for an in-law to visit us regardless. I feel violated and trapped."

You might find that other people focus a lot on the effects hoarding can have on your home or other physical spaces, and that they don't really understand how you feel or why acquiring and saving things feels important for you.

Experiences of facing stigma

Many people have heard of hoarding, but this doesn't mean that they understand it. Misconceptions about hoarding can sometimes come from the media, including TV shows – which often fail to show how varied people's experiences of hoarding can be or how they might feel.

Hoarding doesn't mean you just need help tidying up and it's unhelpful if people try to do this for you. It can be frustrating and upsetting if people don't understand this, but it's important to remember that you are not alone.

See our page on stigma and misconceptions for lots of ideas on how to deal with stigma.

"My bedroom became particularly bad with the floor covered in clothes... I could no longer open the wardrobe or drawers... random stuff [was] spilling into plastic bags on the floor. Eventually I needed a leak fixing and the landlady came round, and she gave me notice to leave."

This information was published in September 2018. We will revise it in 2021.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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