Lee County Task Force on Hoarding
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Hoarding FAQs

What Is Compulsive Hoarding?

Hoarding is a complex disorder that is made up of 3 connected problems:
  1. A person collects and keeps a lot of items, even things that appear useless or of little value to most people.
  2. These items clutter the living spaces and keep the person from using their rooms as they are intended.
  3. These items cause distress or problems in day-to-day activities.

 

What are the signs of hoarding?

  • Difficulty getting rid of items.
  • Large amounts of clutter in the home, car, or other spaces making it difficult to use furniture or appliances or move around.
  • Many animals that are sick and not provided proper care in cases of animal hoarding.
  • Losing important items like money or bills in the clutter.
  • Feeling overwhelmed by the volume of possessions that have “taken over” the house.
  • Being unable to stop taking free items.
  • Buying things because they are a “bargain” or to “stock up.”
  • Not inviting family or friends into the home due to shame or embarrassment.
  • Refusing to allow repairmen in the home.

 

Why is de-cluttering difficult for hoarders?

Hoarders have . . .
  • Difficulty organizing possessions.
  • Unusually strong positive feelings (joy, delight) when getting new items.
  • Strong negative feelings (guilt, fear, anger) when considering getting rid of items.
  • Strong beliefs that items are “valuable” or “useful,” even when other people do not want them.
  • Feelings of responsibility for objects and sometimes think of inanimate objects as having feelings.
  • Denial of a problem even when the clutter or acquiring clearly interferes with a person’s life.

 

Who struggles with hoarding behavior?

Hoarding behaviors can begin as early as the teenage years, although the average age of a person seeking treatment for hoarding is about 50. Hoarders often endure a lifelong struggle with hoarding. They tend to live alone and may have a family member with the problem.

People who hoard may call themselves “thrifty.” They may also think that their behavior is due to having lived through a period of poverty or hardship during their lives. Research has not supported this idea. However, experiencing a traumatic event or serious loss, such as death of a spouse or parent, may lead to a worsening of hoarding behavior.


Can hoarding be treated?

Strategies to treat hoarding include:
  • Challenging the hoarder’s beliefs about the need to keep items and collecting new things.
  • Going out without bringing home new items.
  • Getting rid of and recycling clutter. First, by practicing the removal of clutter with the help of a clinician or coach and then independently removing clutter.
  • Finding and joining a support group or teaming up with a coach to sort and reduce clutter.
  • Understanding that relapses can occur.
  • Developing a plan to prevent future clutter and the excavation of events that could lead to criminal activity.

 

How can I help a friend or family member?

Attempts to help may not be well received by the person who hoards. It is helpful to keep in mind:
  • Until the person is internally motivated to change they may not accept help.
  • Motivation cannot be forced.
  • Everyone, including people who hoard, has a right to make choices about their objects and how they live.
  • Attempts to “clean out” the homes of people who hoard without treating the underlying problem usually fail. Cleaning without their consent often causes extreme distress and hoarders may become further attached to their possessions.