The Psychology of Hoarding

Are you a hoarder? Do you hate to throw things out, and save mementos of all sizes and shapes… forever?

Like every category of emotional disorders, hoarding has its ranges. For example, up to 40 percent of people with obsessive compulsive disorders are hoarders, and hoarding is often considered part of the spectrum of obsessive compulsive behavior. In fact, at some point in the future, I believe hoarding will most likely have a category of its own.

Hoarding vs. Collecting

If you hoard, as opposed to collect, you are accumulating possessions that can limit and disrupt both your life and your work. As a collector, you search for particular objects that can be organized to form a collection to be displayed and viewed by you and others. If you are a hoarder, you have an emotional attachment to the objects you keep. You may believe that those objects will serve you some time in the future, are emotionally connected, and less anxious by possessing them. In fact, just the thought of eliminating or clearing the clutter of all that stuff creates anxiety, stress and dysfunction. Hoarding can become so paralyzing that it may cause problems at work as well as at home, by disrupting the interactions necessary.

And, hoarding can place you in a double bind. On the one hand, your hoarding can isolate you from others who find it uncomfortable and stressful to be surrounded by clutter. On the other hand, you isolate yourself by preferring to be surrounded by your possessions, which lowers your distress and anxiety. In fact, hoarders can become dysfunctional through the preoccupation of both collecting and being with their collected items.

How Hoarding Begins

If you are a hoarder, you probably began the behavior during adolescence. You may have experienced an emotional trauma that led you to hoarding and are compensating for that emotionally-charged event. In fact, there may even be a genetic link to hoarding.

Help for Hoarders

Many hoarders may experience a subset of emotional problems that tend to get worse over the years, including drug and alcohol abuse, anxiety, or hyperactivity. If hoarding is damaging your lifestyle, both social and emotional, you should seek professional help. Therapies such as cognitive behavior therapy can be most successful, especially when incorporated with medication when necessary. Through cognitive behavior therapy and medicine to lower your stress and anxiety, you can learn to let go of unneeded objects and clutter. Through behavior modification and cognitive behavioral therapy, you can give voice to your depression, stress or anxiety while helping to find healthy ways to reduce your stress, relax, and self manage your hoarding.