What is hoarding and what causes it?

You may wonder if there is a difference between clutter, hoarding and collecting and the answer is that there is. They are very different and it is important to recognise and understand those differences.

WHO classification

In June 2018, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released its new International Classification of Diseases (ICD11) and hoarding is now classified as a medical condition:

“Hoarding disorder is characterised by accumulation of possessions due to excessive acquisition of or difficulty discarding possessions, regardless of their actual value. Excessive acquisition is characterised by repetitive urges or behaviours related to amassing or buying items. Difficulty discarding possessions is characterised by a perceived need to save items and distress associated with discarding them. Accumulation of possessions results in living spaces becoming cluttered to the point that their use or safety is compromised. The symptoms result in significant distress or significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.”

Reasons for hoarding behaviour

People hoard for many reasons, here are just a few of them:


It is well documented that hoarding tendencies can be triggered by specific events in people’s lives. Research indicates that trauma, as well as learned behaviour from being raised in a hoarded home, can contribute to hoarding tendencies. According to researchers at the Mayo Clinic, the medical research group based in Rochester, Minnesota, the death of a loved one, divorce, eviction or losing one’s possessions in a fire can all contribute to a person developing hoarding behaviours.

People also hoard because of perfectionism. Perfectionists generally procrastinate through fear of making the wrong decision. Procrastination leads to indecision, then to keeping everything “just in case”, then to a build-up of clutter, and this can turn into hoarding.

Hoarding issues can also be triggered by deprivation – by “not having a lot” when growing up, or from having had a frugal childhood in which nothing was ever thrown away. People with such childhoods sometimes make up for this later in life as a substitute for the feeling of having been denied books, toys, clothes, even friendships.

Lack of meaningful relationships can trigger hoarding which in turn leads to social isolation. In this scenario, objects assume a heightened importance in a person’s life because they are being used to fill a void and act as a substitute for interpersonal relationships.

Several mental health issues such as ADHD, OCD, depression and autism can also contribute to hoarding behaviours.

Reasons for general clutter

Many homes present as hoarded homes but this may not be because the occupant displays hoarding behaviours.

As with hoarding there are many reasons why people’s homes become cluttered. Here are a few of them:


Collecting is quite different.

What to do now

We have members who are experts at helping hoarders and can provide the services required to get the job done. Sometimes they need to work with individual hoarders over a long period of time because it can be a slow and delicate process. When decluttering a very cluttered home, many people feel a sense of relief as the clutter diminishes but, without sensitive support, hoarders can find decluttering very painful. Clearing space too quickly can cause more harm than good.

If you need advice on hoarding, or want to find out more about how APDO can help, please search our website for further information or use our directory to find your nearest professional organiser.

Other useful information

Hoarding UK: a charity for people affected by hoarding behaviours

Hoarding: article by Mind

Help for Hoarders: a charity for people affected by hoarding behaviours

Psychological Perspective on Hoarding (British Psychological Society)

Understanding Hoarding: a book by Jo Cooke (member of APDO)

Clutter Image Rating Scale: a visual scale to assess hoarding



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