Explains what hoarding is, possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping someone who is hoarding, as well as helping yourself.
Hoarding is having so many things that you cannot manage the clutter where you live, and find it difficult or impossible to throw things away.
You might hoard because you feel a strong need to keep things. But your connection to these things can cause you distress. And the impact of hoarding can affect your day-to-day life.
Hoarding disorder is a mental health problem that a doctor can diagnose. But you might also experience hoarding as part of another mental or physical health problem.
If you hoard, you might:
“I tried to throw away things that I found on the floor, but couldn't because of emotional attachment. Whether it be for practical, sentimental or aesthetic reasoning, I couldn't do it.”
Many of us have belongings we consider special and things we save. But this is different from hoarding. When you hoard, it's because you might have emotional connections or beliefs about all your things. This makes it very hard to get rid of anything.
For example, you might believe the following:
Lots of us share some of these beliefs about certain belongings. But we don't feel as strongly about them. And we don't experience these beliefs and feelings as part of hoarding.
Hoarding does not only involve keeping objects in the place you live. There are other types which you might not recognise as hoarding at first. But they can make you feel the same way, for the same reasons.
Digital hoarding is when you make and keep a large number of digital files. Deleting files can cause you the same distress that other people who hoard might feel around physical objects. And you may want to keep these files for similar reasons.
It might involve buying multiple hard drives and devices, or using cloud storage or other software to keep the files. The types of files can include:
You might experience digital hoarding on its own, or along with hoarding physical objects. You might keep a digital record of things you hoard physically. For example, by typing up an index.
Digital hoarding might start out as a way to reduce physical hoarding. For example, you might start taking pictures of objects instead of buying them. But you might end up causing similar problems as physical hoarding.
“I had reasoned with myself that taking photos would not help because I would be creating five objects not just one, whether it be digital or physical, if not both.”
Animal hoarding is when you keep too many animals to provide proper care for. You might have trouble noticing that this lack of care causes harm to the animals. This could include the animals not having:
To class your behaviour as animal hoarding, you don't need to have a set number of animals. It's more about how you get the animals and how you care for them.
You might experience animal hoarding on its own, or alongside other types of hoarding. Some of us might experience delusions, such as beliefs that animal rescue centres harm animals or can't look after them.
The reasons behind hoarding animals are very complicated. Those of us who hoard animals can often:
Hoarding can be a symptom of other physical and mental health problems. It's important to know if another health problem is behind hoarding, as this can affect the treatment.
Some health problems that might lead to hoarding include:
In these cases, treating the physical or mental health problem may stop you hoarding.
Normally, you won't get a diagnosis of hoarding disorder if your hoarding is caused by another health problem. Because of this, not all of our information on hoarding might be helpful to you.
“After a divorce and house move, as a single mum working full-time suffering from depression on and off for years, I didn't have the energy to face throwing things away, especially baby clothes and toys, and my small flat became increasingly full.”
Hoarding could affect you in lots of different ways. For example, you might:
You might also experience many of these effects if you live with someone who hoards.
“I stopped asking people round as I was ashamed and it caused me a lot of guilt that I was not hosting family meals. My family wanted to 'help' by turning up with bin bags but this caused more upset.”
Many of us have heard of hoarding, but this doesn't mean that we all understand it. The word 'hoarding' is sometimes used in the wrong way, such as:
The media might also show hoarding in a very extreme way, which is different to many experiences. This can make it difficult to recognise that you're hoarding or tell other people about your experiences.
People might also make hurtful assumptions about hoarding, such as thinking it means being unclean or lazy. Hoarding doesn't mean you need help tidying up – it's unhelpful if people try to do this for you. It can feel frustrating and upsetting if people don't understand this. but it's important to remember that you are not alone.
For more information, see our pages on stigma and misconceptions.
This information was published in February 2022. We will revise it in 2025.
References and bibliography available on request.
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