Hoarding used to be a silent epidemic in this country. Thanks to shows like Hoarding: Buried Alive or coverage in local newspapers, things are improving.

Despite this, hoarding remains a serious issue to the life and well-being of millions. Roughly one in 20 Americans may struggle with hoarding.

But what exactly is hoarding, and what are the dangers behind collecting too much stuff?

When Your “Stuff” Owns You

Hoarding is the “persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value.” What hoarders gather differ from person to person. Common items are newspapers, photographs, food, or clothing. That isn’t all, though. People have hoarded everything from plastic bags to animals.

Compulsive buying is one way that many get themselves in trouble. Others gather free items or collect a lot of one specific thing. The what and the how all depend on the individual reasons behind the hoarding.

Why Do People Hoard?

The most common reason for hoarding is depression. Studies show 15 percent of seniors with depression display signs of extreme hoarding. The danger is that the two can feed each other.

Isolation can lead to depression, which progresses hoarding to fill the “emptiness”. As the hoarding worsens, the isolation grows, leading to further depression and hoarding.

The danger is the two feed each other: isolation leads to depression, leading to more isolation.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can also often lead to hoarding. Hoarders with OCD do so because their brain tells them they MUST. The urge drives the sufferer to collect items to an unhealthy degree. In other cases, it’s a fear of losing things. If they get rid of something, they’ll need it in the future. The sufferer does this regardless of the item’s value.

What Are the Dangers?

You can sum up the dangers of hoarding in two words: Health hazards. Mold, germs, and pest infestations become a real issue. This is especially true for food or pet hoarders.

Fire hazards can also be a threat since many commonly hoarded items are flammable, such as newspapers and clothes. Hoarding can block exits and make it difficult to escape in the event of a fire.

Another danger is the increased risk of getting injured in the home. Slipping on loose items becomes more likely. There is a danger of getting trapped underneath fallen piles of hoarded items. Hoarding can even cause structural damage to the home.

Another danger is the increased risk of getting injured in the home. Falling or getting trapped are all possible.

What Are the Signs?

There are many signs of compulsive hoarding. Seniors who suffer from hoarding develop a general apathy. Often they’ll neglect hygiene and display a severe anxiety when discarding things.

The state of a home can also be telling. If you or a loved one’s formerly pristine home is now filthy and cluttered, begin seeking help.

At some point, hoarding becomes impossible to hide, which can develop into social isolation. These are a few common symptoms, but there are many others.

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Hoarding can be a result of many underlying issues that are best dealt with by professionals. If you or a loved one suffer from compulsive hoarding, please seek professional help immediately. You can also read our article “Declutter Your Life” for steps to get started.

Further Reading

Anxiety and Depression Association of America — Hoarding: The Basics
Johns Hopkins Magazine — Why can’t some people throw anything away?
NPR — Behind the Piles: A Look At Why People Hoard
Psychiatric Times — Hoarding Late in Life: Implication for Clinicians