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.
Causes of hoarding
No one knows exactly what causes hoarding, but there are lots of theories. Different people will have different reasons for their own experiences. It's likely to be a combination of factors.
This page covers:
Hoarding can be related to difficult experiences and painful feelings. You may find these hard to express, face or resolve.
Some people say hoarding helps them cope with other mental health problems, or distracts them from feeling very anxious, upset or afraid.
There can sometimes be a link between hoarding and impulse control. This is when you find it almost impossible to resist certain actions, such as buying items.
If you hoard things, you might feel very worried about making mistakes – also known as perfectionism. You might also find it hard to make decisions, plan ahead or work out how to do tasks. These could be possible reasons why some of us are more vulnerable to hoarding.
For example, you might struggle to sort or group your things into types, or to decide what to keep or throw away. The idea of this might seem so difficult or upsetting that it feels easier not to try.
Sometimes I get triggered because I have anxieties about society's expectations of what I should be doing or achieving.
Some researchers believe hoarding can relate to childhood experiences of losing things, not owning things, or people not caring for you. This might include experiences like:
- Money worries or living in poverty in childhood.
- Having your belongings taken or thrown away by someone.
- Hardship, emotional abuse or neglect. For example, if your basic needs weren't met, or people didn't treat you with warmth or support
These experiences might make you feel more connected to your belongings, or make it hard for you to organise them.
My parents were full of stories of their parents' and grandparents' deprivations, it was part of my world view growing up, and I know that chronic disorganisation multiplies the impact of every extra item I have.
You might be able to link the start of your hoarding to a traumatic period in your life. This could include:
- Being abused, bullied or harassed, including experiencing racism
- Breaking up with a partner
- Experiencing physical health problems
- Losing someone close to you
- Feeling extremely lonely or isolated
- Experiencing long periods of stress, or feeling stressed a lot
For some of us, these experiences could make your hoarding worse if you started doing it before a traumatic period.
It was like she built a wall of stuff to keep everyone out. Having experienced several traumatic events in her life: the loss of her baby (while her father was dying), a terrible divorce, her partner having a heart attack and finally the death of her mother. No-one could hurt her if she was protected by all of this stuff.
It's common for those of us who hoard to have family members who share this behaviour, such as a parent or sibling. Some studies suggest that certain genes could make you more vulnerable to hoarding.
But family links are very complicated. If you grew up around hoarding, you might have learned some of these habits and behaviours. You could also hoard without any other family members who have problems with hoarding.
If you live with someone who hoards, this can result in you having more clutter in your home overall. You might find it really difficult to make changes because you disagree with each other on what to keep or throw away.
I call my mum a hoarder because she is, I just had no idea that I'd become one too. I thought of my childhood and the shame I felt that my house wasn't like my friends' houses.
This information was published in February 2022. We will revise it in 2025.
References and bibliography available on request.
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