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Clearing out the Clutter: Identifying Hoarding

What is Hoarding?

According to the Mayo Clinic, hoarding disorder is “a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items.” This struggle creates an accumulation of objects that may not be actually valuable and often leads to cluttered and dangerous living conditions. In mild cases, hoarding may not affect daily functioning, however, severe cases can make daily functioning extremely difficult. Many people with hoarding disorder also experience other mental health disorders, such as depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder. While it is unclear what causes hoarding, it is often linked to stressful life events, having a family member who hoards, and personality. Connections between genetics and brain functioning are also being studied.

Signs and Symptoms

Hoarding is typically more severe and obvious in middle-aged individuals, however, the first signs and symptoms often become present in teenagers and young adults. Hoarding behavior gradually develops over time and is often unnoticed by others until there is significant clutter. The Mayo Clinic states that signs and symptoms may include:

  • Excessively acquiring items that are not needed or for which there's no space

  • Persistent difficulty throwing out or parting with your things, regardless of actual value

  • Feeling a need to save these items, and being upset by the thought of discarding them

  • Building up of clutter to the point where rooms become unusable

  • Having a tendency toward indecisiveness, perfectionism, avoidance, procrastination, and problems with planning and organizing

  • Collecting large numbers of pets that may be confined inside or outside

Hoarding may also cause a variety of dangerous complications, such as unsanitary conditions that pose a risk to health, risk of injury by falls or being trapped by shifting or falling items, fire hazards, family conflicts, loneliness and isolation, and poor work performance.


Many individuals with hoarding disorder do not believe they have a problem, so treatment may be challenging. The most common form of treatment for hoarding is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a primary form of psychotherapy. CBT may help individuals learn to let go of items by identifying and challenging the perceived need to save them, practicing resistance to acquiring more, and improving decision making and coping skills. This can be done by decluttering the home with a therapist or friends and family and learning to organize and place value on items to help manage the stress of discarding them. There are no medications for hoarding yet, however, if you are experiencing another mental illness, taking your prescribed medication has been found to help hoarding as well.

If you or a loved one want help learning how to stop hoarding, contact us to set up an appointment with a clinician here!

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