My Anxiety Plan for Hoarding

The following strategies are designed for you to use as you begin to tackle your Hoarding Disorder. These strategies are best used for adults with mild-moderate signs of this type of anxiety related disorder. For individuals with more severe symptoms or who have been diagnosed with Hoarding Disorder, we recommend treatment with a mental health professional, although MAP strategies can be used at home to support your therapy work.

Step 1. Helping you become an expert on stress and anxiety

This is a very important first step, as it can help you understand what is happening in your mind and body when you experience stress and anxiety. Stress is a normal and routine part of living in the modern world, and is defined as any demand placed upon the body and mind. Stress may be both negative and positive, but only becomes a problem when we let life’s demands exceed the resources we have to cope. Resources can be both internal, such as our thoughts and feelings, and external, such as our actions, environment, friends, and family. In addition, recognizing that the worries and physical feelings you’re experiencing have a name -anxiety- and that millions of other people also have anxiety can be a great relief. Finally, the following links can further your expertise by providing you with additional facts and information: ABC's of Anxiety: Understanding How Anxiety Works & Anxiety 101: What You Need to Know About Anxiety & Anxiety 102: More Facts & Fight-Flight-Freeze & When Anxiety Becomes a Problem: What’s Normal and What's Not

Step 2: Learning the facts about Body Focused Repetitive Disorders

Reading about the information outlined on the hoarding disorder main page can help you feel less afraid of what is happening to you. After all, knowledge is power.

In addition, understanding the factors contributing to your hoarding problem is a great place to start. This can help you identify what areas are most in need of change and what tools will work best. The following model identifies common reasons, that when combined, result in behaviour patterns that lead to hoarding and clutter.

  • Reason #1: Experiencing strong emotional attachment to possessions, and related beliefs about these possessions. For example, some adults believe that their identity is directly linked to their possessions, and thus were they to eliminate various possessions they would no longer be who they are. For others strong beliefs can lead to hoarding, such as beliefs about waste versus use, responsibility, sentimental attachment, and perfectionism and control.
  • Reason #2: Information Processing Difficulties. For example, many individuals with hoarding struggle to process information due to: challenges with attention and focus, difficulties with decision-making and categorization, and poor problem solving.
  • Reason #3: The power of reinforcement. Most adults with hoarding are aware of the power of emotions in contributing to their hoarding. It can feel exhilarating to bring a new item into the home, or relieving to sit among one’s possessions. But so too can one feel afraid, ashamed, guilty, and more, when one must get rid of an item. Seeking “good” feelings and avoiding “bad” feelings both reinforce hoarding actions.

As highlighted in the diagram below, the beliefs around possessions, the difficulty processing information and making decisions, as well as the positive emotions associated with acquiring and the anxiety associated with discarding, lead to behaviour patterns. If taken to a point that it begins to interfere, these patterns may be described as Hoarding.

Step 3: Creating your Hoarding Disorder MAP

The best way to help you deal with hoarding disorder is to learn specific tools that can be used to cope with the symptoms, urges, and behaviours associated with hoarding.  These tools are intended to increase your ability to tolerate stress and anxiety, rather than to eliminate stress and anxiety, which accompanies urges and actions associated with hoarding.  Stress and anxiety exist everywhere, and therefore it is an illusion to believe we can eliminate the source and experience of these emotions. It is far more effective to provide yourself with the tools to tolerate and cope, rather than to control and escape.  For hoarding disorder, you can use any or all of the following anxiety tools to create your MAP (My Anxiety Plan). These tools are listed in a recommended order, although proceeding in this order will depend on your needs and interests. Many of these important tools can be combined together to provide you with relief from your symptoms.

Final point: Although increased knowledge and the many tools available on this website can be very effective in helping you to manage your hoarding, sometimes it is not enough. Some adults have very severe hoarding difficulties and despite all their best efforts, they might still be struggling daily with hoarding and related problems. If this is the case for you, we recommend you seek professional help through a consultation session with your family doctor, psychiatrist, or a psychologist/mental health worker.