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10 Things to Know About the Psychology of Hoarding

You may know a hoarder. Maybe you’ve watched that popular television show on the subject, or maybe you personally experience this disorder. But what is hoarding and how does it have so much control over people’s lives? Hoarding is a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, commonly referred to as OCD. Some professionals claim that one in four people who have OCD are also hoarders. The International OCD Foundation also estimates that one in every 50 people struggles with some form of obsessive and severe hoarding. This sounds like a psychological topic worth diving into…  

Hoarding may include physical things but it’s a psychological act.

  A hoarder is someone who feels the constant need to keep things. These “things” could literally be anything. While these objects and items are physical, the desire we are describing is a psychological disorder. When someone is hoarding, they feel actual psychological stress. The stress over having to get rid of an item is just too much which ultimately leads to hoarding. For people suffering from this disorder, it usually does not matter how their space looks or how impractical their lives have become. Their desire to hoard overpowers any of this.   

Most hoarders are adults but tendencies begin in childhood. 

  The tendencies to become a hoarder begin early on in childhood. However, these tendencies don’t tend to show until someone becomes an adult. This may be because children cannot buy their own things yet. They do not have their own home to fill. They have someone parenting them and asking them to clean, so on and so forth. While these tendencies are yet to see the light of day for a child, this is where they begin. This concept of feeling attached to things, often categorized as “Attachment Theory” or “Early Anxious Attachment,” begins in childhood. ,  

There is no definite cause for hoarding.

  Hoarding is not like the chicken pox. You don’t just catch it. There is no definite cause for hoarding because as we said before, it is not a physical disorder. However, there are quite a few situations that could be pin pointed. Once these are recognized, it is easier to understand where the disorder emerged from. These possibilities may include deep rooted family issues, an innate struggle with making decisions, a traumatic life event, being raised by a hoarder, and more. These possibilities can all fall under the umbrella of the term “attachment theory.” An attachment theory defines someone’s struggles with how they control things in their lives. When someone is hoarding, they may have serious trouble with controlling their emotions. When they keep all of these things close, they are attempting to manage these emotions.   

Many experts believe in the Psychological Ownership Theory.

  The Psychological Ownership Theory is when someone has the mindset of “It’s mine!” This concept is not un-relatable for many of us, but hoarders feel it on another level. Essentially, this theory motivates psychological ownership, personal identity, and a feeling of emotional attachment to possessions. When someone has hoarding tendencies, they are hyper-sentimentality. This means that they identify their items as a part of who they are and what they need to be safe. This theory is meant to highlight the intensity of the feelings behind hoarding.   

Hoarding can exist in different levels of severity. 

  Hoarding has become some sort of a television and internet phenomenon. You may have seen the show that highlights the insanely interesting lives of hoarders. If not, you may be new to understanding the disorder! Our point here is that a hoarder is not just someone who collects things. Hoarders are not pack rats. While the disease can exist in different levels of severity, it is a serious disorder.   

Hoarding is directly linked to anxiety and depression.

  Typically, someone who has anxiety and depression is more likely to become a hoarder. On the other side, people who are hoarders typically deal with anxiety and depression on daily basis. When someone is showing signs of hoarding, they are usually anxious. They may have severe anxiety around getting rid of things. To cure this, they accumulate far too many things. And as you may assume, this only promotes anxiety and depression. When someone is feeling anxious and depressed, clinging to the things that make them feel safe and less lonely may have them entering the world of hoarding.   

Hoarders are typically people who are very scared of the world.

  As we sort of mentioned above, hoarders treasure their excessive amount of things for a reason. It may not be for the physical objects and items themselves, but more so for the feelings that they promote. These things can make them feel safe. These things can make them feel less lonely. Typically people who suffer from a hoarding disorder are depressed, isolated, and feeling very alone. Inner attachment issues arise when they are constantly surrounded by things that make them feel fewer of these intense feelings. The world can be very scary for people who live with OCD. Hoarding is one of the coping mechanisms for this.   

Anything can be hoarded.

  You read that right…anything! Anything can be hoarded. According to the Internal OCD Foundation, hoarders typically accumulate common possessions. These may include newspapers, mail, clothing, furniture, books, trash, etc. More serious hoarders may obsessively keep animals, food, human waste, etc.    Some experts claim that there are five levels to hoarding. As someone climbs higher on the levels, their obsession is more intense. The higher the number, the lower quality of life. For example, a level one hoarder can still access every door and stairway in their home. A level five hoarder lives in a home with serious structural damage, maybe no utilities, maybe no working toilet system, hazardous living conditions, etc.   

Treatment exists but many people don’t seek it out. 

  Typically people who are hoarders feel embarrassed about their prized possessions. As we said before, this is not collecting. This is not a collection that this person is proud to show off in a glass chest. Hoarders have obsessive thoughts that lead to clutter, an unhealthy living space, and feelings of shame and sadness. Because of this, is is not common for hoarders to seek treatment for themselves. This may also be related to the idea that hoarders are typically lonely and isolated people. There may be no one with another perspective encouraging treatment. However, if treatment is sought out, cognitive behavioral therapy is the go-to. Because this is a psychological disorder, cognitive therapy is the treatment.   

There is no medicine for hoarding.

  Hoarding is a psychological disorder and treatment can be found for it. However, there is no medicine for a hoarding disorder. There is medicine for the symptoms that are related to hoarding, though. Hoarding tendencies become far worse due to anxiety and depression. If these conditions are managed with the proper medicine, it is possible for someone’s hoarding to become less life threatening. This may be one of those situations where you can’t just check one box. You need to check them all!   

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