In the context of this website, hoarding means to acquire or have difficulty discarding a large volume of possessions which others would consider useless or of limited value. Since 2013, hoarding has been recognised as a psychiatric condition. It differs from chronic messiness and collecting.
Hoarders may see possessions as important or closer to treasure while others may see them as valueless and closer to rubbish. Hoarding can be viewed as one way to barricading or protecting oneself from the world outside.
People who hoard may have great difficulty discarding possessions and can experience great distress in thinking about discarding or in having accumulated possessions taken away from them.
Hoarding doesn't just affect individuals. Families, friends, neighbours and communities are impacted.
Hoarding patterns in families suggest that, in some cases, people may have a genetic predisposition to hoarding. The condition can appear as a result of a genetic history of hoarding, ageing related illness, trauma or childhood neglect.
Yes. Hoarding disorder is estimated to affect 600,000 or 2.6% of the Australian population, according to recent research.
While it is difficult to accurately give good estimates of the prevalence of hoarding and squalor in the community due to the hidden nature of many situations, international research in Europe and North America suggests that up to 2% to 5% of the population may exhibit compulsive hoarding behaviours.
Resource: DVD: CCS Consumer Client Videos, produced by CCS. Hear stories from four people who hoard.
There is lots of support available including health and welfare organisations, emergency services, community service providers, animal protection agencies and support groups.
The right support and intervention can bring about behavioural change in people with hoarding disorder and reduce the tendency to collect and store possessions.
- Find a Support Group
- Directory of Service Providers
There are some common characteristics that you can recognise in a person who is hoarder or living in squalor, but everyone is an individual with a unique set of experiences, beliefs and values.
Typically, a person who hoards or is living in squalor:
- cannot stop bringing items into the home;
- believes that the items are in some way part of themselves;
- is unable to effectively categorise items;
- is affected by indecision;
- is unable to discard items without feeling distressed;
- has lost control of their living environment and parts of the house or entire rooms have become cluttered and unusable;
- feels shame about their situation and may hide their cluttered and squalid living environment from others;
- may or may not seek help depending on their level of insight and feelings of shame.
Some people who are hoarders or living in squalor are able to continue to work, and may appear to others to have a 'normal' life.
It is not clear what causes hoarding disorder and there is no single answer to this question.
Health, medical and community service providers cite different reasons why people hoard.
Some key causes include:
- family influences and experiences;
- response to significant life events (such as war, trauma);
- difficulty with executive functioning (processing information, categorisation, decision making, memory);
- emotionally driven reinforcement patterns (i.e. where learning is driven by emotions or acquiring possessions can make people who hoard feel good);
- inability to form personal relationships;
- cognitive impairment caused by dementia, alcohol-related brain damage (evidence suggests that between half to two-thirds of people living in extreme domestic squalor may be affected by dementia, alcohol-related brain damage, mental health issues); and
- mental health issues such as schizophrenia, depression.
For people affected by hoarding, reasons or causes may include:
- protection and prevention from other people getting too close;
- creates a feeling of security;
- strong emotional attachment to items;
- a belief that the items are worth valuing and/or might be useful someday;
- a strong desire not be wasteful;
- an intention to sort through accumulated belongings; and/or
- the situation reflects negative feelings about self (e.g. feeling like rubbish, not valued, broken).
An animal hoarder is a person who accumulates a large number of animals, usually cats or dogs. Sub-groups of animal hoarders include:
- incipient hoarders in early stages of hoarding;
- overwhelmed caregivers who are strongly attached to animals and usually aware of the situation but cannot give adequate care;
- rescuers who may have initially tried to place animals but ultimately only trust themselves to provide adequate levels of care.
- Breeder hoarders who initially selective breed for show or sale but who continue to breed when conditions deteriorate; and
- exploiters who may claim to be breeders but lack empathy for people or animals (e.g. puppy farms).
See Support for Animal Hoarding for more information.
In the context of this website, squalor is used to describe somewhere that is cluttered, filthy and unclean through neglect. It describes a living environment. Hoarding describes a behaviour, related to a mental health condition.
There are lots of options for support. You may wish to begin with online support groups such as:
- Adult Children of Hoarders support group https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/childrenofhoarders/info
- Mutual Support http://www.mutual-support.com/the_buried_in_treasures_workshop
Agencies/organsations that help:
- Catholic Community Services - Hoarding and Squalor Program
- Family and Community Services
- NSW Fire Brigade
- NSW Health
- Find a support group
- Directory of Service Providers
Hoarding affects people of different ages. Characteristics can begin in childhood with mild symptoms in mid-teens, moderate symptoms in 20s. In adulthood, hoarding can reveal itself after a stressful or traumatic event.
Because of the health and safety risks associated with hoarding and living in squalor, other people, including family members, people living with sufferers, neighbours and communities, are affected by hoarding and squalor situations.