What is Hoarding Disorder (HD)?
Hoarding disorder is associated with three key features:
- Ongoing and significant difficulty getting rid of possessions (i.e., throwing away, recycling, selling, etc.), regardless of their value; and strong urges to save and/or acquire new, often non-essential, items, that if prevented leads to extreme distress. Non-essential includes items that are both useless (i.e., broken), as well as those with limited value (e.g., 10 skirts in every color but never worn)
- Living space is severely cluttered preventing it from being used for its intended purpose.
- Significant impairment in social, occupational, and other important areas of functioning as evidenced by:
- Impaired physical health
- Missed work and compromised employment
- Financial problems
- Housing instability including threat of, or actual, eviction
- Social isolation
- Emotional distress
- Family stress
Two additional specifications include: 1. Whether the individual is also engaged in excessive acquisition (It is currently estimated that upwards of 80-90% of individuals with hoarding also experience excessive acquisition of items through collecting, buying, and even theft.), and, 2. Whether the individual has any insight or awareness that their behaviour is problematic.
Frequently Asked Questions
I love to shop - does this mean I’m a hoarder?
At the heart of consumerism is the desire to acquire. This desire is fueled by many factors including meeting emotional and functional needs as evidenced by purchasing something because it makes one feel good or because the item is needed for work. The majority of individuals are able to moderate their desire to acquire based upon their financial budget (i.e., spending within one’s means), space limitations (i.e., bigger space allows for more stuff), and function (i.e., obtaining items one will use), among other variables. Even if individuals acquire more than they can afford financially, space-wise, or functionally, this does not mean s/he has a hoarding disorder.
I’m a collector - does this mean I’m a hoarder?
While there are a few similarities between collectors and someone with hoarding disorder, there are far more differences. Collectors, hobby enthusiasts, and curators engage in socially accepted, methodical acquisition of a narrow range of specific items that together form a cohesive category. They often are able to discard items as needed (e.g., removing from a collection a cheap replica of a porcelain figurine that was mistaken for the real thing). Collections are kept in an organized manner, and are identified as having meaning, purpose, and value not just for the collector, but also for the broader community. Examples of collections that meet these criteria include 50’s memorabilia, folk art, or coins. While what is considered “meaningful” and “valued” is socially constructed, collecting does not prevent the individual from engaging in activities of daily living such as maintaining employment, paying bills, socializing in their homes, and more. Finally, collecting often decreases over the lifespan. In contrast, individuals struggling with hoarding disorder typically engage in saving and/or acquiring of unrelated items that have little to no use or value (e.g., 50 broken kitchen appliances), that are kept in a chaotic and disorganized manner, and generate shame and secrecy in the individual. Furthermore, the individual is unable to discard items even when they are aware of the item’s lack of value/use, leading to excessive acquisition of non-functional items and resulting clutter, and in extreme cases, squalid living conditions. As a result, friends and family are often concerned for the individual’s emotional and physical, health and wellbeing, with hoarding resulting in severe limitations in social and occupational quality of life. Finally, hoarding often increases over the lifespan plateauing several decades after onset.
I have a hard time getting rid of things - does this mean I’m a hoarder?
The longer we live, especially if we stay in one location for many years, the more we acquire. And for many, the longer we have something, the harder it can become to part with it. This may be due to an emotional attachment, such as not wanting to part with a favourite toy from childhood or a painting your deceased grandparent left to you, because they have sentimental value. Or it might extend to every day items of less value, but items that may come to serve a purpose in the future, such as owning three coffee pots in case one breaks. While these items may be hard to part with for various reasons, keeping them is of less concern if you have the space to store these items, they are not interfering in your general living space, and were someone in great need of a particular item, you would then be able to part with it.