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HealthInfo Aoraki South Canterbury



Picture of a house overtaken by hoarding clutterMany people like to collect items or hold on to some things for sentimental reasons. But for some people, the desire to have and keep things grows out of control. They cannot get rid of things that most people see as rubbish.

Their homes become cluttered, often causing a fire or health hazard. They collect so much it interferes with their relationships and ability to do everyday tasks. It can even prevent them moving around.

This is called hoarding or compulsive hoarding.

Signs of a hoarding disorder

People have very different ideas about what it means to have too much stuff or a cluttered home.

Collecting things or having a messy house doesn't mean you have a hoarding disorder. If you're a collector, you'll often have your collection well organised. But if you hoard, you'll often have an overwhelming amount of stuff that is very disorganised. You may get very upset or anxious at the thought of throwing or giving things away.

Hoarded items are often things that others would see as worthless, but any type of object can be accumulated.

Clutter becomes a problem when all three of the following are present.

Information for families of someone with a hoarding disorder

Around half the people who hoard do not realise that their accumulation is a problem. Without this insight, the person doesn't want to change. For whānau (family) members, this lack of insight can be distressing and lead to conflict.

It may help to remember that we all value some objects in our life for different reasons. We would be upset if someone else threw out something that was precious to us because they did not realise it had sentimental value or we were saving it because it was useful. People with a hoarding disorder often feel this way about all the things they're accumulating.

Helping someone with hoarding generally works better when they're supported to make changes at their own pace. A big, forced clean-up can be very traumatic. Often the person will start accumulating things again afterwards.

Getting help with a hoarding disorder

If you're concerned about yourself or someone else who may be hoarding, talk to your general practice team.

Sometimes clutter can be part of another mental health issue such as severe anxiety, depression or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Someone may be accumulating clutter because they have a cognitive impairment or a physical impairment that makes it difficult for them to sort out what to discard. They may benefit from support for these other issues as well.

Many people who experience hoarding can get support to change their behaviour. They can also get treatment for the underlying problem if needed.

The links and resources below offer insights into what contributes to hoarding and steps you can take to help yourself or someone close to you.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed May 2023.


Page reference: 313114

Review key: HIHOA-313114