One of my relatives is a hoarder, and a friend has two middle-aged sons also affected by this condition known as hoarding. Being someone who loves to research social issues, the topic piqued my interest enough for me to investigate hoarding disorders for myself.
Famous brothers Homer and Langley Collyer, well-known wealthy Manhattan residents, are recognized as hoarders. After the death of their parents in the 1920’s, the two men withdrew from the public. They split their time between the family’s Manhattan residence and their Harlem brownstones.
In 1947, a neighbor notified the police about an overpowering odor coming from their home. When the police arrived, they found Homer, who was blind and crippled, dead and surrounded by trash. David K. Israel, author of “7 Famous Hoarders” said, “His corpse was amid tons of junk, including an early X-ray machine, the jawbone of a horse and bundles upon bundles of old newspapers.”
After a full and lengthy search, Langley’s dead body was found in one of their brownstones, buried by newspapers. His death had occurred weeks before. Israel noted that Langley “had been dead for weeks and rats had eaten most of his body. It was ultimately determined that Homer died of starvation when Langley, who fed his crippled, blind brother, was crushed to death under . . . a bunch of junk.” ¹
History of Hoarding
The study of hoarding is a relatively new study. In the 1990s, many psychologists and neurologists assigned hoarding into the category of an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) for lack of a better classification. However, owning many possessions makes a person with OCD feel anxious and unnerved while a hoarder finds extreme delight in finding bargains and purchasing a good deal. In 1993, psychology professor Randy Frost at Smith College attempted the first methodical study on hoarding. Now 24 years later, there has been an obsession with TV shows such as TLC’s Hoarding: Buried Alive and A&E’s Hoarders.
Hoarding is a brand-new disorder. In The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: DSM-5 published in 2013, hoarding is now listed among other psychiatric diagnoses.
In the article “Why Do You Hoard?” by Bonnie Tsui states that most scientists believe hoarding has three defining characteristics:
- the excessive acquisition of things that appear to be of little or no value
- the inability to discard possessions; and
- the disorganization of those possessions, which clutter up living spaces and make them impossible to use for their intended purposes.” ²
Hoarders often live alone and other people are frequently unaware of their hoarding. Other times hoarders are just considered “pack rats” by those who know them.
Hoarders may save newspapers, papers, plastic bags, pill bottles, shoes, food, mail, photographs, magazines, household supplies, flyers, bottle caps, beer bottles, clothing, or more. Some people even hoard animals.
Jill, a recovering hoarder whose last name was withheld, says about her hoarding:
“I just have too much stuff. I’m a “packrat.” There is stuff everywhere in plastic containers and in drawers. I have enough clothing to dress all the neighbor women for a couple of weeks each. This stuff is mine and I see a use for all of it. I just can’t bring myself to throw away any of it. I like it all! I really wish every space in my house wasn’t a collect-all.
We don’t even get to sit at the table as a family. My husband complains we hate to have unexpected family, we eat out because there is no space on the counter to cook, important papers get lost and we buy more stuff because so many things get misplaced. Everyone passes the blame on someone else. To top it all off, we live in a small ranch home with little closets. How will I ever overcome all of this hoard? I want to live like the normal tidy person—Stuff is ruining MY LIFE.” ³
Types of Hoarding
Many types of hoarding occur because of one’s background, education level, different personality, DNA, and other factors.
The “Address Our Mess” website discusses five main types of hoarding. ⁴
Shopper or Shopping Hoarder
This individual might shop daily. Many of the items purchased find themselves years later in the hallway or closet with the original price tags still on – unused. They might purchase clothing, collectibles, technology. They may feel incapable and experience severe anxiety if they pass up this “basement bargain.”
Some shoppers make runs to the grocery stores even when their refrigerators, freezers, and pantries are at full capacity. Throwing away outdated food seems wasteful and rarely occurs. Dealing with spoiled food, diseases, and unsanitary conditions may lead to severe illnesses and possibly death.
Garbage and Trash Hoarding
This type of hoarder is unable to discard their waste and trash. Some hoarders are known to go through other people’s garbage to see if they find valuable items. One might find trash hoarders storing garbage in their homes, garages, yards, or storage facilities.
Many animal hoarders believe that they are helping animals by keeping them safe and loved in their living quarters or on their land. However, they fail to take into account that the lack of grooming, accumulation of waste, and non-existent exercise creates an unsatisfactory environment. Due to deplorable situations, animals are being starved and/or disease-ridden.
Paper hoarders cannot throw away, shed, or discard anything on paper, i.e. bills, flyers, magazines, newspapers, forms, books. Stories abound of people who have been missing and later found injured or dead from being hidden under an extraordinary amount of paper products.
An excellent article written by the National Study Group on Compulsive Disorganization was reprinted in the Dec. 1, 2010, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper issue. The article was titled, “Levels of Hoarding: Some Guidelines for Recognizing the Problem.” The organization created a scale for professional organizers making their initial contact with their clients. Although the study took place in the early 1990s, it is still relevant and informative today. Click here to read the article:
Causes of Hoarding
Genetics, anxiety disorders, lack of organization skills, loss, being raised in poverty, fear, psychotic tendencies, and even dementia are reasons why someone might hoard.
For many hoarders, it is incomprehensible to pass by a bargain. They love to shop or purchase items online which they don’t need. They feel they might need the item one day in the future. Hoarders pile things up around their home, office, or yard in an unorganized fashion. Afterwards, they become emotionally attached to these things to the point of being unable to part with them. A vicious cycle occurs with purchasing and saving items. Year after year, the hoarding becomes more harmful and unhealthy.
However, hoarders rarely realize the extent of their hoarding. While it may be obvious to an outsider, the hoarder’s mind may not see the devastation and destruction occurring due to their accumulating and stockpiling.
Carol Mathews of the University of California, San Francisco, and others have studied the cognitive patterns of hoarders. Mathews’ MRI studies try to simulate emotions relating to hoarding, i.e. how a hoarder sorts, categorizes and thinks about discarding items. ⁴
Signs and Symptoms of Hoarding
Hoarders may not recognize how much of a burden their possessions create on their physical, social, emotional, psychological, and spiritual life. Many signs and symptoms indicate potential or established hoarders struggle to pay bills because they keep repurchasing items or devices they have “misplaced.” A few hoarders even lose custody of their children when their environment creates a needless safety or health hazards for their family.
Other indications of a hoarder may include having . . .
- Limited or no livable space in their home.
- An isolated and depressed life.
- A regulated or non-existent social life.
- Things replace human relationships.
- Marital problems. (Many divorces occur due to the spouse’s inability to deal with the appalling living conditions.)
- Children who will not invite their friends over to their home.
- Financial problems.
- An inability to organize their possessions.
- An unfounded fear of running out of items, i.e. shampoo, boxes, food.
- An inability to sell, give away, or part with their possessions. (This often creates an intolerable anxiety in hoarders.)
- No power to keep their home functioning due to their clutter, i.e. not being able to reach a light fixture to replace a light bulb.
- To live with broken household items in their home for fear of inviting repairmen into their extremely cluttered home.
- An inability to bathe or reach their toilet.
- An inability to cook due to broken equipment or being able to reach their stove, oven, or microwave.
Hoarding vs. Collecting
Hoarding and collecting are different entities. Both are characterized by acquiring possessions, but their purposes and intentions are different. Having a collection involves a sense of pride about what a person amasses in their acquisitions. Collectors usually display their items in an orderly fashion—on a shelf, in a curio cabinet, over the fireplace. A collector loves to talk to others about their collections.
On the other hand, a hoarder may be embarrassed by their “prized” possessions and they may be uncomfortable with others seeing their accumulation of “stuff.”
Recovery for Hoarders
Ample reasons abound regarding why hoarding should be addressed and why hoarders should be treated. However, the most important reason is that all the accumulation affects the health and safety of the individual and those around them. Hoarding can lead to hospitalizations, children being taken away from parents, fire, evictions, homelessness, and even death.
Help is available for hoarders. A clutter specialist, accountability partner, a 12-step program, and/or a physician is often needed to help with the remediation of this disorder. Understanding that recovery is a continual process is imperative. If someone came into a hoarder’s home and cleared out everything so the home was relatively clean and orderly, the home would quickly become ‘unlivable’ to the average person unless the emotional aspects of hoarding had been dealt with. To overcome a hoarding lifestyle, group involvement must occur. A hoarder needs to find a friend, family member, or support group to help with the initial stages of cleanup.
Many great articles are available on the Internet where support groups and help can be found. Talking to one’s family physician about the problem is an excellent starting point.
Christian Perspective on Hoarding
Just like any other difficulty we face in life, we need hope to overcome it. Making wise choices give us hope while addressing the problem and reaching an actual solution. Hoarding is difficult to treat. God is willing and waiting to help. Nevertheless, there must be a desire in the individual to want to do something about their hoarding problem. God and others will help hoarders free their attitudes regarding possessions and He will help in maintaining a clutter-free lifestyle. This is accomplished through God, therapy, friends, and PRAYER!
GotQuestions.org speaks to hope on its website. “No matter where a hoarder falls of the spectrum, there is hope. A hoarder needs to learn how to make healthy decisions that will lead to resisting the urge for more buying/acquiring, disposing of unneeded items, and putting things in a regular place . . . The underlying cause of hoarding is our human tendency to want things and our inability to discern what is truly valuable. For those with severe compulsive hoarding, anxiety or loss or genetics may prompt the behavior and limit a person’s ability to discern value and worth. But for all of us, Jesus is the most precious treasure we can possess, and His followers should value what He values. Trusting in Him means we no longer should rely on ourselves in a hopeless effort to meet our needs or satisfy our souls. Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)” ⁶
Informational blogs like this one sometimes lack the compassion which should accompany them. My desire for believers is to have compassion for those unable to free themselves from anything they find themselves in bondage to—including hoarding. When held in bondage, we are unable to be a useful witness for the Lord to others. But, when we are released from that bondage, we open ourselves up to living a full and meaningful life. Let’s be compassionate and caring. At times in our lives, we might find ourselves in difficult situations. We don’t need judgment during those times. We need love, compassion, and help.
If you like this article, let me know, because the flip side to hoarding is when people possess an extreme and excessive need to PURGE themselves of their possessions. It’s a tough concept to comprehend, but it will make for an interesting blog topic someday! And just remember, we are all on the spectrum between the two extremes!
Where do you find yourself?
Thought: We live in a word filled with idolatry. Our cars, our homes, our stock portfolios, and our vacations have become idols to us. It’s not rocket science to see how a person can become a hoarder. But believers should be set apart from idolatry no matter what form it takes. The Bible tells us not to love our money or possessions but to serve the Lord with our entire heart. The verses below will help us to see God’s perspective on storing possessions, greed, compassion, and how to overcome any problem we might be facing.
You shall have no other gods before Me. (Exodus 20:3)
There is a grievous evil which I have seen under the sun: riches being hoarded by their owner to his hurt. (Ecclesiastes 5:13
Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God.” (Isaiah 40:27)
Ah Lord God, Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You. (Jeremiah 32:17)
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. (Matthew 6:24)
Then He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15)
Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:33-34)
You, in Your great compassion,
Did not forsake them in the wilderness;
The pillar of cloud did not leave them by day,
To guide them on their way,
Nor the pillar of fire by night, to light for them the way in which they were to go. (Nehemiah 9:19)
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king. (1 Peter 2:17)
My heavenly Father. Thank you for teaching me daily more about Your people. Help me in the areas I struggle with and give me compassion for those who are different from me. Give me Your wisdom and grace. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Member Inspirational Writers Alive; Bible Gateway Blogger Grid Member
Edited by E. Johnson; Bible verses are taken from the NASB if not noted otherwise.
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¹ Israel, David. “7 Famous Hoarders.” Mental Floss, 22 Oct 2009. http://mentalfloss.com.
Accessed 11 Aug 2017.
² Tsui, Bonnie. “Why Do You Hoard?” Pacific Standard, 29 Apr 2013. https://psmag.com.
Accessed 10 Aug 2017.
³ “How to Recover from Hoarding—Getting Organized.” Living on a Dime. Livingonadime.com.
Accessed 10 Aug 2017.
⁴ Types of Hoarders. Address Our Mess. https://www.clutterhoardingcleanup.com/types-of-hoarding/
Accessed 17 Oct 2017.
⁵ Got Questions. “What Does the Bible Say about Compulsive Hoarding?” Accessed 10 Aug 2017.
⁶ “Types of Hoarding.” Address Our Mess. Clutterhoardingcleanup.com, 18 Sept 2013. Accessed
August 9, 2017.