Understanding Hoarding

Hoarding, recognized as a behavioural problem, has three main elements.

1. Excessive acquiring and failure to discard a large number of possessions that appear to be useless or of little value;
2. Cluttered living spaces that cannot be used for ordinary daily activities; and
3. Significant distress or impairment in functioning because of the hoarding.

(Frost & Hartl, 1996)

It’s important to understand that the primary feature of hoarding – what makes it different from clutter or collecting (or the room of a messy teenager) – is difficulty letting go of possessions that most people would not choose to keep and that the person does not need, use, or even want. The types of items saved by people who hoard are similar to what most of us have in our homes – clothing, shoes, magazines, newspapers, books, documents, electronic items, containers, toys, and decorative items. In rarer situations, a person may save unusual things like used tissues, their own urine or feces, and spoiled food. This type of saving can lead to unsanitary conditions (squalor) in the home.

People with hoarding problems save objects for almost exactly the same reasons that most people do: for sentimental reasons, because they are useful, and because they seem beautiful. Impacting ~2-5% of people in the global north, this complex, personal mental health problem can sometimes become a public health and safety problem for family members, shared wall neighbours and the surrounding community.

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