What Is A Hoarding Disorder And How Does It Affect Your Life?

Reviewed by Lauren Guilbeault

Published 12/27/2020

It doesn’t matter how old we get – we’ve all looked at that old collection of sports cards in the closet and thought, “There’s no way I’m getting rid of that.” The same goes for those souvenirs you’ve collected from all the different cities you’ve visited throughout the years.

Over time, we grow attached to these things and they become a part of who we are. It makes sense to collect them because they’re more than just sports cards and souvenirs — they’re memories. Still, there always comes a time when we’re ready to let go of these things and make room for new memories, new collections.

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Unfortunately, many people don’t know when enough is enough. Many people struggle to let go of certain things and would rather hold onto it for as long as they can — even when they have nowhere left to store it. When things get this bad, it’s likely the person is suffering from a hoarding disorder.

So what is a hoarder?

hoarding disorder is defined as the difficulty or inability to part with your possessions and belongings, especially when it starts to affect your physical and mental health. There are five different stages of hoarding, which range from the onset of hoarding to the most severe cases of hoarding.

It’s difficult to spot a hoarder in the early stages because there’s minimal clutter, minimal damage to the home and all areas of the home are still accessible. This is considered a ‘level 1 hoarder’ and is largely detected by behavior (a need to save items).

Eventually, the behavior starts to have an effect on the home. Rodents begin to make their way into the home, food isn’t getting thrown out, the garbage can is overflowing, and there’s pet waste on the floor. Clutter is starting to present itself and odors make their way into certain areas of the home.

Once upgraded to ‘level 3 hoarder’ status, the warning signs start making their way outdoors. Items that are normally inside are on the porch, in the backyard, or even the front yard. Appliances are broken, pet care is neglected, hallways are showing signs of clutter, nothing is organized or clean, and odors are starting to peak.

When multiple rooms are out of service, a majority of appliances are broken, structural damage is found throughout the home, mold and mildew is growing, food starts to rot, rodents make themselves at home, and you start to experience sewage backups, you’re considered a ‘level 4 hoarder.’

While we sincerely hope no one ever reaches the ‘level 5 hoarder’ status, it’s something that does happen and needs to be dealt with very carefully. These types of homes are hard to walk through. There might be one room that’s usable, but that would likely be stretching the definition of ‘usable.’

The odors are the worst they’ve ever been, making it hard to be anywhere near the home. The mental implications are obvious, but it can also harm you physically as well. While it rarely starts off as a dangerous way to live, it almost always leads to that point if not properly detected and treated by a professional.

What Causes Hoarding Disorders?

To someone who doesn’t suffer from a hoarding disorder, you might be asking yourself, “Why do people hoard?” It’s something researchers continue to scratch their heads over to this day.

Although they haven’t zeroed in on any one direct cause of hoarding, they’ve discovered several factors that play a role in the onset or succession of hoarding in the individual. Some people are affected by one factor, while others are affected by multiple (or all) of the factors.

Let’s take a quick look at the most prominent factors discovered by researchers thus far:

  • One of the most promising factors contributing to a hoarding disorder is having a relative with the disorder. Any type of direct exposure to someone with a hoarding disorder, especially repeated exposure, could influence someone to start hoarding themselves.
  • Certain injuries or trauma to the head or brain could trigger the need to save things. Researchers have also revealed that certain brain abnormalities or developmental issues could trigger a hoarding disorder.

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  • Experiencing a traumatic or stressful life event could trigger the need to save things, or the inability to let things go. Such events include divorce, the loss of a loved one, or losing your possessions in a house fire.
  • Believe it or not, the excessive need to shop could be a reason some people hoard. Some people purchase new items so often it becomes difficult to keep track of it all. Instead, they throw it wherever they can inside the home and let it pile up.
  • In addition to shopping, those that love coupons, free samples, and free listings on Craigslist are prone to be labeled as hoarders. It’s hard to pass up free things, but you have to make sure they add some sort of value to your life.

Researchers have also revealed a striking correlation between people suffering from a hoarding disorder and people suffering from other mental disorders or behavioral issues. That means depression, OCD, ADHD, PTSD, addictions, and anxiety could all have an effect on compulsive hoarding.

It can also be rooted in the excessive need to save things, the fear of needing it in the future and not having it, or people that get a kick out of collecting things that don’t need to be collected.

If you suspect you or someone you know is suffering from a hoarding disorder, it’s best to seek help immediately to avoid the situation getting any worse. The longer you allow the disorder to affect your life, the further you’ll fall through the many stages of hoarding.

How Does Hoarding Affect Your Life?

Hoarding disorders can affect the physical and mental health of the hoarder, as well as their relationships with friends and family — whether or not they live with anyone. The longer the disorder goes unnoticed or untreated, the more damage it presents to the individuals involved.

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When living with a hoarding disorder, you have to consider the lack of space inside the home, the odors, broken appliances, unusable utilities, rodent and insect infestations, and large amounts of waste inside the home — all of which factor into diminished quality of life.

In the event you’re living with someone, whether it be a friend or family, hoarding disorders often lead to a diminished relationship. It can influence young children to follow in your footsteps, even if you don’t wish that upon them. It drives away older children that don’t want to spend time inside the home. And it destroys the relationship between two partners the same way.

A hoarding disorder could potentially lead to separation, divorce, a loss of child custody, eviction, financial issues, structural damage to the home, and an overall sense of loneliness in an already lonely world.

Symptoms & Signs of Hoarding

Since there are so many different hoarding disorder symptoms to consider when detecting it in yourself or those you love, it’s important you have a firm understanding of each one. It’s also important to remember that people can experience one, multiple, or none of the symptoms.

Let’s take a look at the most common and prominent hoarding disorder symptoms we all should know:

  • Can’t throw personal belongings away or have extreme anxiety when you have to.
  • Inability to properly organize your belongings, to the point you have no control over where things are.
  • Feeling overwhelmed or embarrassed over how many items you own, largely due to how others might perceive it.
  • Constantly checking the garbage to make sure nothing important was thrown out, especially when living with others.
  • The excessive need to stock up on items, more out of a fear of running out in the future.
  • Anytime clutter starts to get in the way of the usual flow of the home or cause an obstruction of any kind in a room.

If you or a loved one are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s best to start seeking help right away. The longer you wait, the more time you give the disorder to negatively affect the hoarder’s life — which inadvertently might affect your life as well.

Are You Ready to Find Help?

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We know hoarding doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves, especially due to the amount of damage it can have on someone’s quality of life. That’s why we created an online test designed to help detect hoarding disorders in individuals before it’s too late.

At Mind Diagnostics, we understand how difficult living with a hoarding disorder is. That’s why we want to make sure everyone has access to the right treatment available to them. With our comprehensive online hoarding disorder test, you’ll have a much better idea of whether this disorder is affecting your life at all.

If you feel you need further assistance or need the help of a therapist to get over your symptoms, Mind Diagnostics is prepared to help you with that as well. Ensuring you’re matched with the best possible therapist is what we pride ourselves on, so feel free to contact us today if you have any questions!