Why do people hoard junk?

August 24, 2016

Clinical hoarding is a disorder that affects up to 5% of the world’s population and is often misunderstood. Hoarding, by definition, is the persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their value. When not treated, the disorder can have a profound impact on personal health, family relationships, social interaction, financial well-being and an individual’s work life.

Symptoms of hoarding may include:

Anxiety when attempting to throw certain items away
Inability to throw items away
Indecision about what to keep and where to keep items
Overly protective about who touches or moves possessions
Loss of living space due to overrun areas of possessions or garbage
Obsessive behavior or fear of ‘running out’ of certain items
Socially reclusive or withdrawn
Financial difficulties
Marital problems
Poor health

Hoarding by the numbers:

75% of hoarders engage in excessive buying
50% excessively acquire free items
15% acknowledge that their behavior is irrational

Anatomy of a hoarding house, with blocked access to:

45% Refrigerator
42% Sink
42% Bathtub
10% Toilet

Understanding the problem isn’t always straightforward. Some causes can be traced to other family members who grew up in a similar setting or through genetic predisposition. Studies have shown that hoarding can begin at an early age, and in some cases has been shown that children begin collecting objects at 25 months of age and by age 6, nearly 70% of children collect or store things. Often linked to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), between 18-40% of those with OCD display hoarding as a symptom, however only 5% display it as a primary symptom.

Getting Help

For those who suffer from clinical hoarding and accept the resources made available, there are several therapies shown to help manage the disorder. Cognitive behavioral therapy has shown the greatest positive results with 70% of patients responding to talk therapy based skills training and motivational interviewing. Antidepressants have shown mixed results since mental health professionals don’t fully understand neurological sources of all hoarding. Finally, exposure and response prevention provides the least positive results – a treatment in which subjects are forced to throw their possessions away, causing a negative response and refusal for other treatment.

Why people hoard is not an easy question to answer, but hopefully a greater understanding of the disorder will help create acceptance and healing.


Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness