Compulsive hoarding

What is it?

Two behaviours characterise hoarding: acquiring too many possessions and difficulty getting rid of them when they are no longer useful or needed. When these behaviours lead to enough clutter and disorganisation to disrupt or
threaten a person”s health or safety, or they lead to significant distress, then hoarding becomes a “disorder.” A major feature of hoarding is the large amount of disorganised clutter that creates chaos in the home.  Such as:

  • Rooms can no longer be used as they were intended
  • Moving through the home is difficult
  • Exits are blocked

What kinds of things do people who hoard typically save?

It may appear that people who hoard save only rubbish or things of no real value.  In fact, most people who hoard save almost everything. Often this includes things that have been purchased but never removed from their original wrapper. The most frequently saved items are:

  • Clothes
  • Newspapers

Other commonly hoarded items include:

  • Containers
  • Junk mail
  • Books
  • Craft items

Why do people hoard?

Not wasting things: The most frequent reason for hoarding is to avoid wasting things that might have value. Often people who hoard believe that an object may still be useable or of interest or value to someone. Thinking about whether to discard it leads them to feel guilty about wasting it.

Fear of losing important information: The second most frequent reason for saving is a fear of losing important information. Many hoarders describe themselves as “information addicts” who save newspapers, magazines and brochures. They keep large quantities of newspapers and magazines so that when they have time, they will be able to read and digest all the useful information they imagine to be there. Each newspaper contains a wealth of opportunities. Discarding it means losing those opportunities. For such people, having the information at hand seems crucial, whereas knowing that the information exists on the internet or in a library does little to help them get rid of their often out-of-date papers. Hoarders are often intelligent and curious people for whom the physical presence of information is almost an addiction.

Emotional meaning of objects: A third reason for saving is that the object has an emotional meaning. This takes many forms, including the sentimental association of things with important persons, places, or events, something most people experience, just not to the same degree. Another common form of emotional attachment concerns the incorporation of the item as part of the hoarder”s identity getting rid of it feels like losing part of one’s self.

Characteristics of objects: Finally, some people hoard because they appreciate the way objects look, especially their shape, color, and texture. Many people who hoard describe themselves as artists or craftspeople who save things to further their art. In fact, many are very creative with their hands. Unfortunately, having too many supplies gets in the way of living and the art projects never get done.

Why can’t people who hoard control their urges?

Understanding this requires knowing what happens at the moment the person decides to acquire or save something. For example, they forget that they don”t have the money or space for the item, or that they already have 3 or 4 of the same thing. When faced with the idea of throwing it away, hoarders have different thoughts than most other people. All their thoughts center on what they will lose (e.g., opportunity, information, identity) or how bad they will feel (e.g., distress, guilt) while none of the thoughts focus on the benefits of getting rid of the item. Saving the item, or putting off the decision, allows them to escape this bad experience. In this way people become conditioned to hoard.

Recommended resources


This book aims to help those who are affected by hoarding difficulties, including friends and family with topics including what triggers hoarding, an 8-step plan to deal with hoarding and many more. To purchase this book please click here.

Five tips to help overcome hoarding

Assess Your Needs
Ask yourself, “Do I truly need this item?” You may come up with one hundred different reasons why you need this particular item, but the question you ought to ask yourself is whether you in fact will use it in the present or future. If you haven’t used it for many years, it is very probable that you will never use it again. The best thing for you to do is discard these items in the rubbish bin or sell them in a yard sale. You also don’t need to keep extras of anything; if you have one, you don’t need another.

Be Prepared to Face Your Fears
Overcoming hoarding is not always a simple task. You have to face your fears and stick to your plan of getting treatment to rid yourself of all useless belongings. During this process you may accidentally sell something that was of some worth or value. Just keep in mind that you can always buy a new and possibly better one. Stop worrying that you may discard something valuable, nothing bad will occur if you get rid of some of your belongings.

Stop Allowing Junk to Pile Up
Compulsive hoarding is not overcome in a few hours or few days, it is a continuous process. Once you have removed the existing mess from your abode, you also need to enforce measures to prevent junk from piling up again. Be patient with this dilemma and don’t allow your hoarding to overwhelm you again. Clean and organise your belongings on a consistent basis.

Get Help and Get Treatment
It is possible to overcome compulsive hoarding. Remember to be yourself. However, receiving some kind of treatment from a mental health practitioner who specialises in this sort of behaviour will help you to reach your goal. A psychotherapist specialising in cognitive behavioural therapy can help you to better understand why you accumulate useless things. After a proper diagnosis they will be able to help you get rid of all the clutter in your home, and help you to develop your decision making and relaxation skills. Above all a therapist will be supportive if you encounter any setbacks along the way.

Reach Out to Other People
Loneliness is one of the main factors that causes hoarding to occur, that’s why it is never wise to confine yourself to your home. This will not aid you in overcoming hoarding. If you are not comfortable inviting guests to your house because of the mess, make it a point to visit the homes of your relatives and friends.

These five tips for hoarders will greatly aid you to overcome hoarding, which segregates you from your loved ones. If you know that a loved one is a compulsive hoarder, don’t quarrel with them as this will make them more stubborn in their ways. Instead be prepared to listen to them and converse with them about how this behaviour is preventing them from reaching maximum quality of life.

These tips are originally from Curio Cabinet Stop (

How we can help

Anxiety UK is a user-led charity with more than forty years experience in supporting those living with anxiety. By becoming a member of Anxiety UK, you will have access to a range of benefits, including:

  • Access to reduced cost therapy within two weeks of submitting your therapy request
  • One year’s free subscription to Headspace (worth approx. £60), more details
  • Access to our infoline, email, text and live chat services (available Monday-Friday, 9:30 am – 5:30 pm) staffed by volunteers with personal experience of anxiety
  • Receipt of four issues of Anxious Times, our quarterly members” magazine
  • Access to the members only section of our website, featuring regular support surgeries facilitated by anxiety experts
  • Access to specialist helplines, including the psychiatric pharmacy helpline and the psychology information helpline

And many, many other benefits that will help you manage your anxiety long term. To become a member of Anxiety UK click here or ring 03444 775 774 today.

Personal experience

Do you suffer from compulsive hoarding and want to share your experience with other people? Post your personal experience in the comments box below where it will be sent to our moderator for approval. Many people find this part of the site very useful when trying to understand their disorder so your comments really do make a difference. Please note, all comments submitted to the Anxiety UK website may be used by Anxiety UK for (but not limited to) publicity and promotional material.

Anxiety UK would like to thank the International OCD Foundation for the information on this web-page. For the full article please click here.