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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 are the symptoms of hoarding?

You might be given a diagnosis of hoarding if you:

  • find it really difficult to discard or part with possessions, regardless of their value
  • feel distressed at the thought of discarding things, and that you need to save them
  • are unable to use parts of your home because they are very cluttered
  • are experiencing distress due to hoarding, or it's affecting other areas of your life
  • aren't hoarding because of another mental health problem, or other health condition.

If you experience these symptoms, doctors or healthcare professionals may give you a diagnosis of hoarding disorder, which is a fairly new term. They might also call it compulsive hoarding.

But it is important to remember that hoarding can be different for everyone. You might recognise some of the signs and symptoms listed above, but you might also have other experiences or difficulties that aren't included here.

How is hoarding different from collecting?

Some people enjoy collecting and saving particular types of items they find valuable or special, for example vinyl records, stamps or sports merchandise. Items in collections tend to be chosen carefully and displayed in an ordered way, so you can easily enjoy them or show other people.

Hoarding often involves acquiring many more items in a less selective way. You might not use or look at very many of your things once you have them, as you might be more focused on acquiring more, and they might be mixed up with other types of items. But the main difference between collecting and hoarding is whether it causes distress or affects how you live your life.

"I kept lots of [clean] packaging as school kept asking for stuff for junk modelling, and I liked to do crafts with my daughter. Slowly things built up and my dining table was completely covered, so we could not actually do the craft stuff."

What kinds of items might someone hoard?

Everyone will have a different experience of hoarding and it's possible to hoard any type of item. But here are some examples of things people commonly hoard.

You might buy or save lots of:

  • clothes or shoes
  • drawings or photographs
  • toys or childhood keepsakes
  • books, newspapers, magazines or leaflets
  • post (open or unopened), bills or other paperwork
  • boxes, bags or other storage containers
  • food, which can include rotten or out-of-date food.

It's particularly common to hoard items in your home, but you might use other spaces such as a car, garage or storage unit too. You might also hoard things that aren't objects, such as digitally or online, for example keeping lots of emails.

"I still have items at my parents which I have been finding it really hard to sort through, my garage is full, and a spare bedroom is unusable."

You might save things other people see as worthless or of limited value, or have important and unimportant things mixed up together. This might cause you distress, or it might be how you prefer to arrange your belongings.

Hoarding and animals

If you keep more pets than you can adequately look after and don't provide basic care for them – including food, shelter, toilet facilities and vet care – this is sometimes viewed as a type of hoarding behaviour. However, researchers don't know if this is best understood as a form of hoarding disorder, or as another separate condition.

You might believe very strongly that you are saving animals or fulfilling a duty to look after them, and disagree with people who say they aren't well cared for. This can sometimes be a type of delusion (a false belief others don't share).

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

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