What Causes Hoarding? The Many Causes and Reasons People Hoard

What are the causes of hoarding, leading to hoarding disorder?

We’ll answer that question and more in this article.

Everybody hates a messy home. Magazines, newspapers, old clothes, and other stuff make a living environment or workplace crowded. But some people like it this way even though clutter becomes intolerable.

You might be one of them or know someone who likes to keep personal possessions that other people see as worthless.

Is it hard for you to throw personal belongings or like to keep old things even it disrupts your lifestyle? If you do, you’re suffering from

What Causes Hoarding

What Causes Hoarding

What is Hoarding Disorder?

The difficulty of throwing away or parting with personal items refers to hoarding. These possessions are valuable to the hoarder but worthless to friends and family members. Hoarding occurs overtime and could be mild or severe.

Persons with hoarding disorder view their belongings still useful regardless of its value due to the following:

  • Belief that the items are still valuable or useful in the future
  • Feeling that the possessions have sentimental value or unique
  • The items become a reminder of a person or a special event
  • Inability to decide whether to keep the possessions or not
  • Safety seeing or keeping the items

Hoarding disorder results in too much clutter that results to a cramped home or office.  For example, a hoarder’s home has a crowded living room or narrow pathways. The clutter doesn’t affect the hoarder that much, but it’s an annoyance to family members or relatives.

A hoarder’s home has this typical scenario:

You can see stuff in the sink, countertops, desks, and even the stairways. When there’s no more room inside the house, clutter is visible in the garage, backyard, and inside the car. 

Hoarding Disorder in A Hoarder’s Perspective

Hoarding might not have much effect on a hoarder. He or she only sees value and contentment in the possessions. In severe cases, the clutter affects the lifestyle of the hoarder.

Here’s an example:

John woke up late and hurried to prepare for the office. It’s difficult for him to cook breakfast because of the mess on the sink and dining table. When he’s about to drive out of the garage, it took a few minutes to do it. The reason – there are too many boxes, and other stuff is blocking the driveway.

Hoarders don’t see clutter as a problem and continue to live with their life.  Since hoarding behavior is normal to them, treatment is a little challenging. But hoarders should understand that treatment is essential so that they could live a safe and happy life. (We’ll talk about hoarding treatments later.)

Effects and Consequences

Hoarding disorder might not affect the hoarder that much if the behavior is only mild. But severe cases have harmful effects on the following:

  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Social
  • Financial
  • Legal

The hoarder and his or her family members might have fights due to disagreements on throwing away unwanted stuff. The result – the hoarder sets him or her apart from family and friends.

Hoarding (without treatment)causes problems inside the family, socialization, and work environments. Possible consequences ofhoarding are as follows:

  • Fire and tripping hazards
  • Health code violations
  • Family conflicts
  • Anger
  • Resentment
  • Depression
  • Loneliness
  • Isolation
  • Inability to perform daily  activities

Hoarders often or might ignore the consequences and try to continue with their lifestyle. But in time, people with hoarding disorder face distress and problems that affect their safety and family members inside the house.

Take a look at this scenario:
Peter and his family always spend their Sundays at home. But family gatherings aren’t often joyous. Pocketbooks, glasses, paper, and books occupy most space in the dining area. The kitchen sink and cabinets are stuffed with things.

Peter’s mom always complains about the mess, but Peter always reasons out, “These items are useful in the future.” Peter’s siblings also complain about the newspaper and magazines in the living room. As a result, fights and arguments are always present at home. 

Do you have the same experience?  What do you feel about the situation?

Hoarding and Collecting: Are These the Same?

You might wonder, “Is hoarding similar to collecting items?” No. Collecting and hoarding are different. Collectors buy specific items such as toys, model cars, or jars and display them. Collectors take pride and joy to the items they collect.

Collectors often have large collections, but these don’t result from cluttering. The collectibles are organized and displayed neatly. Unlike hoarding disorder, collecting doesn’t create stress and conflict among family members.

Hoarders keep items that are valuable to them but worthless for others. Examples of these items are used clothes, old books, pens, broken appliances, etc. Hoarders don’t organize their kept belongings and put these in different areas of the house.

People with hoarding behavior only keep items because they think these are still valuable in the future or have sentimental value. Hoarders sometimes misplace or lose important stuff in a messy household.

Hoarding Pets 

Hoarding behavior isn’t only limited to household stuff but also animals as well. A person who has hoarding disorder tends to buy and collect as many animals as he could. Pets such as dogs, cats, birds, and rabbits are a few of the animals a hoarder might collect.

The idea of buying and collecting pets is fun but not what a hoarder does. Keeping dozens or hundreds of pets has harmful effects on the hoarder and the animals.

Few of these harmful effects are the following:
  • Safety problems
  • Health issues between the owner and the pets
  • Poor home management
  • Unsanitary conditions

Talk to a health professional if you’re hoarding pets. Mental health experts such as a psychiatrist help in treating hoarding behavior. If your friend has hoarding behavior, talk to him or her about the situation. Explain the situation to your friend carefully not to worsen health and safety problems.

Signs and Symptoms

The first signs of hoarding might begin during teenage or early adolescence. A hoarder wouldn’t notice the signs at first, thinking that keeping items is normal. In time, family members would notice that the “simple thought of keeping things” leads to clutter.

The hoarder becomes angry or stressed if a family member complains about the unwanted belongings. As I mentioned earlier, the situation leads to family misunderstanding and conflicts. The hoarder’s hoarding behavior might also affect his or her working environment.

Hoarding signs and symptoms are the following:

  • Buying and acquiring unwanted items
  • Feeling a need to keep belongings
  • Feeling upset thinking of throwing items
  • Being suspicious if other people touch the acquired stuff
  • Embarrassment when other people notice the hoarding behavior
  • Difficulty in organizing personal belongings

In severe cases, hoarders show extreme signs that are often noticeable. These signs result to the annoyance of family members and conflict within the family.

  • Severe anxiety thinking about losing an item
  • Great distress and depression 
  • Obsessive actions and thoughts (such as fear or worrying about losing a home belonging)
  • Checking the trash regularly
  • Isolation or withdrawal from family members

Signs and symptoms of hoarding behavior don’t show rapidly. If the hoarding behavior begins to threaten health and safety, it’s time to talk to a doctor.

The Risk Factors 

Hoarding disorder is more common in males than in females. A person might develop hoarding behavior at an early age (around 11 to 15) and could worsen with age.

You might not know that you have a hoarding disorder at an early age. Some hoarders only discover the symptoms during their early adult years.

The following are risk factors of hoarding behavior:

Stressful Experiences 

Hoarding disorder might develop due to stressful events in a person’s life.  Some people who have hoarding disorder have difficulty dealing or coping with a stressful event.

Few examples of distressing experiences that lead to hoarding are the following:

  • Losing personal belongings in a fire
  • Death of a friend or family member
  • Eviction
  • Divorce
  • Depression
  • Serious family problems  

Family History 

Hoarding can also develop within the family. If your grandfather or father has hoarding behavior, there’s a possibility that you can have the disorder too.


Hoarding behavior starts within the person himself. At a young age, you might be indecisive and care too much for your belongings. You tend to keep items such as notebooks, books, cups, or magazines, even if these items create clutter in your home. If you have these behaviors, there’s a chance you might be or become a hoarder.

What Causes Hoarding Disorder?

Until now, doctors and medical experts aren’t sure about the cause of hoarding. The cause might be a mystery, but medical professionals cite possible causes of hoarding:

  • Uncontrollable buying
  • Indecisiveness
  • Brain injury that results in saving items
  • Mental disorders such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or depression
  • Genetics
  • Brain functioning

Doctors and researchers continue to conduct studies to find out the cause of hoarding behavior. Medical experts hope that with accurate and continuous research, someday they would discover the main cause of the behavior.

Diagnosing Hoarding Behavior 

Doctors or mental health professionals start the diagnosis of hoarding disorder by observing the signs and symptoms of hoarding. Then, they ask the patient what he or she feels if an item would be thrown away. The psychiatrist then conducts immediate treatment for the patient.

Hoarding Treatment 

If you’re experiencing hoarding symptoms, don’t worry! Hoarding behavior can be treated. Two of the most common types of treatment today are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT and medications.

What Causes Hoarding Issues

A hoarder learns essential things that help lessen symptoms of hoarding. Few of these things are the following:

  • Learning to throw away or discarding unimportant items without being stressed
  • Improving decision-making skills and organizing items
  • Learning how to relax
  • Avoiding unstoppable buying habits
  • Recycling items at home
  • Joining support groups or organizations that help treat hoarding behavior
  • Making a daily plan to prevent future clutter at home or in the  office

Treatment for hoarding disorder starts when the hoarder “opens up” about the problem. It’s isn’t easy for a hoarder to talk about the situation to a family member or a friend. When a hoarder is ready to talk with you, he or she acknowledges the problem and wants support.

One of the simple and best things you can do is help and understand the hoarder’s condition. Here are a few guidelines you can do during and after the conversation:

Respect the Person 

All of us have the right to make our own choices and decisions. Acknowledge the decision of your family member or friend who has hoarding behavior. If it took time for him or her to speak up about the issue, give respect.

Give Encouragement 

You can’t force a hoarder to forget hoarding overnight. Hoarding treatment takes time so start with the basics. Suggest ideas that can make your family member or friend’s home safe.  For example, tell them to remove clutter on the staircase, hallways, walls, and the kitchen.

Show Sympathy 

It’s not bad to show sympathy to a hoarder even if you’re annoyed with him or her. Understand that hoarders have a strong attachment to the items they own. An item (though useless for you) is important to a hoarder, so be caring and understanding.


As mentioned earlier, a hoarder needs understanding and support. The best way to show that is to team up with him or her. No, I’m not saying you join in making a house messier. I’m talking about motivating the hoarder to throw unessential items little by little. In time, you’ll see a wonderful change!

Reflect on the Bright Side 

Take time to reflect on the positive side of de-cluttering a home. Your friend or family member might be hesitant at first, but there’s nothing impossible with motivation and sincerity.  Talk politely while you state your points about why he or she needs to get rid of old things.

Give great reasons why de-cluttering helps a person achieve a happy and enjoyable life. Then, state the consequences of having a messy home. Ask your sibling or friend which one he or she likes.

Ask to Achieve Trust 

Hoarders see value in the items they own, so it’s hard for them to get rid of it. You don’t need to force them to throw some of their belongings if they don’t want to. Ask before you start to throw an item. In this way, you earn their trust.

Besides these guidelines, don’t forget to remind the hoarder that he or she should always follow the doctor’s instructions. Medications are also helpful in treating hoarding disorder. But take note of the following:

  • Medications don’t get rid of hoarding symptoms completely.
  • Medications might help but doesn’t reduce symptoms of hoarding behavior
  • Some medications can worsen mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression.

Is cleaning out a home really a good solution for hoarding disorder?

No. Honestly, de-cluttering a home could worsen a person’s hoarding disorder. You might spend thousands of dollars to clean out the home of a friend. After several months, the situation recurs.

You might ask help from local authorities to solve the problem, but the result is given – failure. Hoarders would think of the clean-out as a personal offense and would worsen the hoarding behavior. It’s still best to ask permission from the hoarder before cleaning out a residence.

Is there a need to call local authorities?

Hoarding behavior (if mild) doesn’t affect much the lifestyle of the hoarder and family members. The hoarder would see the clutter as normal.  The big problem starts when your friend’s hoarding condition threatens the safety and health of the whole family and community.

Contact local authorities such as police, public, or even animal welfare organizations if the hoarding situation becomes worse. These authorities help prevent future safety and health problems from happening.

Does hardship or poverty influence hoarding disorder?

Some people say that their hoarding behavior is due to the hardship or poverty they experience in the past. Well, modern research doesn’t agree with the idea. Experts say that people who hoard experience a tragic event or loss of a family member that causes hoarding disorder.

What does Research Say About Hoarding Behavior?

Medical researchers and experts continue to study hoarding. According to studies, 2 to 6% of the world population has hoarding disorder. Hoarding greatly affects a person’s daily activities when the condition gets worse.

Hoarding starts at a young age and gets worse as a person ages. A hoarder feels anxiety or distress when throwing or discarding an item. Since it’s hard for the hoarder to get rid of excess possessions, the home becomes messy with clutter.

The cause of hoarding disorder is unknown, but experts link hoarding to several risk factors such as family history or a traumatic event. Some studies show that hoarding behavior is most common in males than in females.

Studies also point out that older adults have hoarding conditions three times, unlike other adults. Research states that 55 to 94 adults have hoarding behavior than adults ages 34 to 44.

Hoarding affects your lifestyle if not treated. But you can prevent the disorder from getting worse by setting an appointment with your doctor. You can take medications or undergo Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT.

If you have a family member or friend who has hoarding behavior, talk to them politely. Understand their situation and help them change their behavior.

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