Is Hoarding a Mental Illness?

by Brooke Strickland

Many of us have heard of and are even fans of the TLC show, Hoarders.  While it’s often disgusting and disturbing to watch, there is also something somewhat fascinating about the minds of the people that hoard their belongings.  Hoarding is considered the excessive collection of items, along with the inability to get rid of them.  Hoarding is also called compulsive hoarding and compulsive hoarding syndrome.  People who hoard often do not see it as a problem.[1]  Hoarding is very different than collecting.

What are the signs of hoarding?

-Cluttered living spaces
-Inability to get rid of belongings
-Keeping stacks of books, magazines, newspapers, junkmail
-Acquiring and keeping unnecessary items
-Difficulty managing daily activities and limited social life/interactions
-Difficulty organizing items
-Excessive attachment to personal belongings

For many people who hoard, they believe they’re saving items that they’ll need in the future, or they have significant personal attachment to personal belongings. 

What causes hoarding?
While there is no clear medical definition as to what causes hoarding, it’s more common to see families with history of hoarding, making genetics a likely factor. There are also other factors that can trigger hoarding, such as stressful or traumatic life events, such as the death of a loved one or divorce.  In addition, individuals that have been socially isolated for long periods of time have shown high hoarding tendencies, as they fill loneliness with more and more personal possessions.

In extreme cases, hoarding can cause significant health risks, including increased risk of falling and mainly unsanitary living conditions which can pose risk to overall health.  If you’re considered someone you know is a hoarder, it’s important to seek professional advice from a mental health professional.  And of course, if there are concerns of the living conditions of the home, contact authorities to be sure living areas are clean and suitable for healthy living.


[1] Hoarding.  Mayo Clinic.  Accessed April 4, 2012.

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