Hoarding or Collecting?


I love watching shows on addiction and alcoholism, but for some reason I had a hard time watching a Hoarding reality show. The photos can be disturbing, since hoarding often creates horrible living conditions. Homes may be filled to capacity, with only tiny pathways winding through garbage or clutter. Some people also collect animals, keeping dozens or hundreds of pets in unsanitary conditions.

What is it? Hoarding is the excessive purchasing, acquiring, searching, and saving of items that have little or no value. It is different than collecting. The hoarder has a compulsive need to save things. A person with hoarding disorder is upset at the thought of getting rid of things. The items make them feel safe. In contrast, collectors have a sense of pride about their possessions, and it creates happiness. It’s a hobby.  They keep their collection organized, and only purchase things in their budget.

TLC’s show Hoarding: Buried Alive

Hoarding ranges from mild to severe. In some cases, hoarding may not have much impact on your life, while in other cases it can prevent you from living a normal life.

Do you have a problem – use the following scale and take a short quiz and rate the answers a score of 0-10:

0 = no problem

2 = mild problem, occasionally (less than weekly) acquires items not needed, or acquires a few unneeded items

4 = moderate, regularly (once or twice weekly) acquires items not needed, or acquires some unneeded items

6 = severe, frequently (several times per week) acquires items not needed, or acquires many unneeded items

8 = extreme, very often (daily) acquires items not needed, or acquires large numbers of unneeded items

1.Because of the clutter or number of possessions, how difficult is it for you to use the rooms in your home?

2.To what extent do you have difficulty discarding (or recycling, selling, giving away) ordinary things that other people would get rid of?

3.To what extent do you currently have a problem with collecting free things or buying more things than you need or can use or can afford?

4.To what extent do you experience emotional distress because of clutter, difficulty discarding or problems with buying or acquiring things?

5.To what extent do you experience impairment in your life (daily routine, job / school, social activities, family activities, financial difficulties) because of clutter, difficulty discarding, or problems with buying or acquiring things?

People with hoarding problems: score about 22. The clinical cutoff score is 14 (you might have a problem).

Also look at a score of 4 or greater on questions 1 and 2, and a score of 4 or greater on either question 4 or question 5.


People with hoarding disorder often don’t see it as a problem, and that makes treatment a challenge. But intensive treatment can help people with hoarding disorder, live a more comfortable life.

Cluttered home
In a hoarder’s home, the countertops, sinks, stoves, desks, stairways and virtually all other surfaces are usually stacked with stuff. And when there’s no more room inside, the clutter may spread to the garage, vehicles and yard.
Symptoms of Hoarding

Clutter and difficulty throwing away things are usually the first signs and symptoms of hoarding disorder. It normally starts to show in the teenage years. As the person grows older, he or she typically starts collecting things (even though there is not space). By middle age, symptoms get worse and may be harder to treat.

Hoarding disorder affects emotions, thoughts and behavior. Signs and symptoms may include:

inability to part with any possession, even when it has no value
Excessive attachment to possessions
Cluttered living spaces
Keeping stacks of newspapers, magazines or junk mail
Letting food or trash build up to unsanitary levels
Acquiring useless items, such as trash or napkins from a restaurant
Difficulty managing daily lives because of procrastination and trouble making decisions
Moving items from one pile to another, without throwing anything away
Difficulty organizing items
Shame or embarrassment
Limited or no social interactions

The hoarders believe these items will be needed or have value in the future. They feel safer when surrounded by the things they save. Note that, hoarding disorder is different from collecting.

Hoarding animals

People who hoard animals may collect dozens or even hundreds of pets. Animals may be confined inside or outside. Because of the large numbers, these animals often aren’t cared for properly. The health and safety of the person and the animals are at risk due to unsanitary conditions.

Risks caused by hoarding

Significant hoarding can put individuals who hoard and their family members at serious risk of heath problems, injury, removal of at-risk children or older adults from the home, homelessness or in the worst case, even death.


Homelessness can result if the local Department of Public Health must order the person out of or condemn the dwelling or if the landlord demonstrates in court that the level or type of hoarding seriously violates the lease. Shelters have also been known to bar individuals whose hoarding puts other shelter guests at risk.

Health Problems

Health problems include falls or accidents and inability of emergency personnel to enter or remove an ill person. Clutter, garbage, animal or human feces and resulting mold or infestation can also cause respiratory and other health problems. Lack of sanitation can be particularly unsafe for some individuals. Ammonia levels from accumulations of urine and feces can easily exceed maximum occupational exposure limits, and can be harmful to persons with cardiac or respiratory dysfunction.

Personal Safety

Blocked exits or heating vents can also pose a fire hazard and occasionally the nature or extent of hoarded items creates structural dangers due to excess weight. Hoarding of dangerous or flammable items poses great health and safety risks.

Risk to Children and Dependent Adults

The Department of Children and Families can remove children from a home that poses serious health and safety risks to them. The Disabled Persons Protection Commission may also take action on behalf of a dependent family member with a disability.

Animal Safety

Improper care or neglect of animals can put people at risk of committing felony-level crimes, resulting in forfeiture of animals, fines, and imprisonment.

Treatment is the Solution for Hoarding

If you or a loved one has symptoms of hoarding disorder, talk with a doctor or mental health provider as soon as possible.

Our 800RecoveryHub site offers free and confidential help

Check out this detailed resource:

Institute of the Challenging Disorganization 

2 thoughts on “Hoarding or Collecting?

  1. Thank you for sharing. I think people who don’t experience hoarding tendencies don’t really understand the NEED to keep the items around. For me, symptoms showed up in elementary school. I saved everything, even empty toilet paper rolls, because I thought they’d be useful some day. I would have a complete meltdown if my parents tried to throw them away, experiencing panic and anxiety. Over empty toilet paper rolls or other garbage. What changed my life was reading a certain book called, “Living in the Light of Death: On the Art of Being Truly Alive” by Larry Rosenberg. I studied every word of that book and practiced all of the meditations for an entire year. I don’t know if it would help everyone, but it absolutely changed my life. I still have initial impulses to save everything, but I talk myself through parting with some things now. It’s hard, but possible.


    1. When a recycling program came to our city, that helped me too. For example, I was able to bring all of my saved toilet paper rolls to the recycling plant. I had saved them for nearly 8 years and they’d never come in handy like I was so sure they would.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s