Learning more about compulsive hoarding

I receive a number of e-mails from readers asking for personal help or help for friends and family members who suffer from compulsive hoarding. Whenever these requests come into my inbox, I feel a sense of helplessness because all I can do is guide them to other resources. Compulsive hoarding is a psychological and medical condition, similar to obsessive compulsive disorder, and requires treatment from a licensed, medical professional.

The magazine Psychology Today approximates that 2 million U.S. residents suffer from compulsive hoarding disorder. This diagnosis is usually made based on results to one or more of the following tests: The Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive Scale (Y-BOCS), the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS), the Hamilton Anxiety Scale (Ham-A), the Global Assessment Scale (GAS), or the Clinical Global Impression/Improvement (CGI) scale. Psychiatrists and medical doctors make the official diagnosis, but, unfortunately, too many cases go undiagnosed.

A report published in June of 2006 in the Journal of Psychiatric Research found evidence that “SRI [serotonin reuptake inhibitors] medications are effective for compulsive hoarding,” and so many compulsive hoarders are finding help for their disorder with a combination of psychotherapy and SRIs. If you know someone who is a compulsive hoarder, I strongly recommend that you encourage them to seek medical treatment so that they can find some relief from this debilitating disorder.

If you’re interested in learning more about compulsive hoarding, the TLC network has a special called, “Help! I’m a Hoarder!” that will air again on August 10, at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. The show explores the symptoms and treatments of compulsive hoarding disorder. From the TLC’s website:

“More than a million Americans suffer from disposophobia – the fear of throwing anything away. Meet three individuals who face the devastating effects of compulsive hoarding. You’ll never look at your clutter in the same way again.”

This special aired last September, and my understanding is the August 10 episode is a re-broadcast of last year’s program. I can’t find documentation on TLC’s website to know for certain. So, if you missed the show last year, let me definitely recommend that you tune in this year to learn more about this paralyzing condition.

22 Comments for “Learning more about compulsive hoarding”

  1. posted by Soton on

    It is worth it to mention this site too:

    it has a survey for self-assessment.

  2. posted by Alex Fayle on

    As well for people with hoarding and other chronic disorganization issues, there’s the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization at http://www.nsgcd.org


  3. posted by Michelle on

    Here is a film on the topic, called “Possessed”. I thought I had seen it here on Unclutterer at one point.


  4. posted by Cecilia on

    Erin, as a counselor, I think it’s great that you publish this information on your site. Hopefully it will help a lot of people, even those who may be suffering this disorder withour knowing.
    Well done!

  5. posted by Rebecca on

    Also, here is the website for the *adult* children of compulsive hoarders – a great resource/support website for those who grew up not knowing what normal really meant and who have to deal with parental hoarders – and all their stuff!


  6. posted by Kate on

    What’s the opposite of disposophobia? Whatever it is, I’ve got that. I can hardly bear to *keep* anything which often gets me in trouble.

    I guess Unclutterer is enabling me 😉

  7. posted by STL Mom on

    Kate, would you please cough on your modem so I can catch your disorder?

  8. posted by [email protected] Awareness * Connection on

    As someone in the mental health field, I also have to say hats off for the important and accurate info. For those reading, keep in mind that this is not garden variety keeping of too much stuff. This is a debilitating disorder that by definition, like all mental disorders, interferes with either relationships, work or both. In some cases the person will feel compelled to keep materials useless scraps of styrofoam. Like other forms of OCD they can tell you that it makes no sense and that they want to be rid of it, but they feel absolutely compelled to save it though they may not be able to supply any reason for why.

    My father as an HVAC contractor occasionally ends up in homes of people with hoarding issues where the entire house for instance is filled with stacks of newspaper with only tight pathways remaining going through the middle of the rooms, and virtually no living space remaining.

    And like other forms of OCD, depression and anxiety disorders either psychotherapy or medication can be helpful and the combo is usually more helpful than either by itself. Though therapy has the added benefit that the gains tend to last indefinitely whereas gains from medication disappear shortly after the medication is discontinued.

    Fascinating how our brains work, and how they can create very peculiar behaviors in us when something is amiss.

    Thanks for an important post.

  9. posted by Cubicle Hacker on

    I better get on the phone and tell my brothers and mom. They love accumulating crap. One room has so much stuff it will take hours before it burns completely and move to the rest of the house. I guess I’m a half full kind of guy.

    Seriously, I never thought this was a disorder. I was raised by a hoarder mom and never really thought it was wrong. It didn’t make sense to me and I found it annoying and useless but that is why I moved out of the house.

    Man, I guess we all have something we need to work out of our childhoods, forgive and forget, appreciate our parent s, move on, grow up and keep moving.

    Live is dynamic so our minds. Get with the program and enjoy that half glass


  10. posted by David Beach on

    Is it odd that I collect stories on hoarding ?

  11. posted by Di on

    David, me too! My mom is a packrat, not a hoarder, but I still find it all fascinating and very sad.

  12. posted by h20 on

    david, as a collector, you’ll collect anything, including stories on hoarding….

    I don’t know you, but I also collect stories on hoarding, plus all the books (a full bookcase) to cure the habit, but it seems the most difficult thing to let go off are those stories and the bookcase full of books by sandra felton, don aslett etc etc

  13. posted by Beth on

    We have 2 20×30 tents in our back yard. My husband admits that he is anxious. I am not the cleanest person.
    He goes to counseling but it doesnt do much. Mostly because he needs this stuff for e-bay.
    Beth Green

    Sorry I missed your show

  14. posted by christa on

    How do you know the difference between knowing whether someone just keeps too much stuff, a packrat and a hoarder? I don’t think my parents are hoarders, but they definately have too much stuff. I think I learned my fear of throwing stuff away from my father, however instead of just keeping it, I choose to recycle or give/donate responsibly. That makes me feel better about getting rid of stuff.

    I also know people who don’t necessarily hoard, they are just dirty, messy people.

    What is the criteria for diagnosing a hoarder as opposed to other types of disorders?

  15. posted by aneca on

    i have become so depressed about the state of my house that i am suicidal. what medications have helped anyone out there? i have chronic pain and fatigue as well which makes it hard to make any efforts alone. our house is so small and claustrophobic that i just wish it would burn down so we could start over.

  16. posted by Ida on

    Dear Aneca,
    Please know that there is always help and hope. Please reach out to those in your family or you city, even a suicide prevention hot line…

    I know things can feel beyond help, but they are not. The first step to seeking help is the hardest but worth taking.

  17. posted by P on

    I grew up with a mom with hoarding OCD and now have a husband with another type of OCD. If a person is willing to get help (which it sounds like you are, Aenca), then that is the biggest hurdle you’ve already crossed.

    Medication is EXTREMELY effective and is used as ‘water wings’ to take off the edge while you get what they call CBT therapy. That’s what really nips it in the bud. Go to http://www.ocfoundation.org/ to find therapist trained specifically in CBT. Traditional therapy (talk therapy) does nothing to treat ocd, but CBT is very effective and typically is very short therapy to get big results. (Its not like you’ll be in therapy for years–it’s relatively quick and then you may need ‘touch ups’ from time to time). You don’t have to live with this condition ruling your life. I only wish the people in my life would have chosen to seek help. Good luck to you and I’d advise you to find a therapist this very week. You deserve to be happy and it’s possible!

  18. posted by Kir on


    I am the opposite too. I can’t think when the house, my purse, or a drawer is too cluttered. I actually am looking for anyone who can tell me this is a real issue because it gets me in trouble too. Have you any information on the opposite of disposophobia? I’d love to know.


  19. posted by Daniel on

    For years and years and years, I kept trying to find out what was wrong with me. Did I have a stroke and that’s why I couldn’t easily make decisions, and no longer organize any of my things? Was it residual symptoms of bipolar disorder or part of narcolepsy? Maybe all the medications over the years for both disorders had caused an organic change in my brain, or maybe just a side effect of my medications. Why have I lost all of my friends, why do I isolate myself? Why do I have three feet of junk every where, no clear paths, walking on three feet of ??? whatever was there had become the norm. I didn’t have OCD, or prader-willy syndrome, or other disorders where hoarding has been found more common. Three days ago I accidentally read an article on compulsive hoarding, and features that distinguish it from OCD and other psychiatric disorders. As for medication treatment mentioned, I complained for years to my psychiatrist that SSRI’s relieved depression, but also made me apathetic. That was also mentioned in the article! Unlike OCD, where extremely high doses of SSRI’s have proven extremely beneficial, they often do not work with people who have compulsive hoarding, yet do not have full OCD diagnostic criteria.
    I had no idea. The associated features of non-OCD hoarders read as if I had written them describing myself.

  20. posted by Tim on

    Here is the program referenced in the article-
    Part One – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=daKsMsa8YAc
    Part Two – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHMvx9ts5Ug

  21. posted by Digging Out on

    So, what’s the difference between “hoarding” and “garden-variety keeping of too much stuff” (as [email protected] put it)? A named psychological disorder is handy ammunition in the hands of people I would describe as just plain wasteful–that is, people who have very neat homes because, while they are every bit as acquisitive as so-called hoarders (often more so), they throw things in the landfill when they’re done with them, with no thought to the long-term effects on others or the planet. My heart breaks when I see new UPS boxes on the porch of my next-door neighbor because I know that another perfectly good item will show up in the trash the next Saturday. If something makes its way to Goodwill, it’s because I take it there.

  22. posted by Lori L Berg on

    hi, my name is lori. my husband and i live with his disgusting evil grandmother. not only is every room in the house filled to the cieling with her ‘craft stuff’ we pretty much live in raw sewage! his grandmother has these two disease infested dogs that are never made to go outside, but instead are allowed to pee and poo where ever in the house they choose. i know what you are thinking ‘a normal person would clean it up right away’ not her. it will lie around on the floor for days until my husband leaves our room-well its usually me stepping in it a freaking out-he will pick it up. when she cleans it-ha-she just smears it around a little and leaves it. one of the dogs favorite spot to pee is right in front of the bathroom door. they have been doing it in that same spot for so many years-um i cant even put it into words-anyway every morning when she gets up and feeds them, thier food does not go in dogbowls, it goes right there on that spot on the floor where they have just peed all nite. the smell is so horrendous that when you walk in the door you literally have to plug your nose and hold your breath until you get to our room-which by the way we are forced to stay all the time with the door tightly closed and the cracks filled with towels. i keep a bedpan in my room to use at nite otherwise i would have to get up and put my shoes on, find a flashlight to be able to see so i dont step in the 15 piles of poop on the floor. and the bathroom, oh my, we have lived here a little over a year, this time, the first 7 months i was so sick and almost died from bladder infection, kidney infection, that is until i just started going outside and squatting on the ground during the day-ha like the dogs should be doing-and using the bedpan in my room at nite. i could go on and on, and we really really need someone to direct us where to go for help, so i will quit for now. however if there is anywhere i could submit photos i will and if i could somehow bottle the stench for you i would do that too. please help us or find someone who can. thank you

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