Why Do Hoarders Hoard Things? Asked and Answered

Hoarding is something that almost everyone is familiar with in some way. Either you’ve seen a TV show about it, you know someone who hoards, or—gasp—you’ve been called a hoarder. Have you ever wondered why people hoard? Apparently, there are several reasons.

Hoarding Disorder is classified primarily as a form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and sometimes overlaps with Anxiety Disorder. It can also be a symptom of people with depression or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The Institute for Challenging Disorganization actually created a hierarchy for Hoarding. Check out this infographic which explains Levels 1 through 5.

It can get pretty bad. Like, people organizing the hoarder’s space need N95 masks bad. Animals can go missing, bug infestations arise, things get unsanitary. Eventually, mental and emotional health go out the window—if you can find it.

People hoard for different reasons. One common misconception is that someone who collects something is automatically a hoarder. Conversely, that same collection could be considered hoarding depending on the circumstances. In fact, the primary difference is “Why.”

If you collect something and have the space to put it, whether it’s visible or not, you might just be a collector. Do you have art on your walls? Indeed, it’s likely a collection. If you have boxes and boxes of art preventing your cat from reaching the litter box, it could be hoarding.

Some of the common reasons why people hoard are:

  • Severe anxiety over where to place an item
  • Confusion and anxiety over how to organize an item or items
  • A survival mechanism that creates a doubt and fear of whether or not an item could be obtained in the future
  • A perceived sentimental value in certain possessions that keeps a person from being comfortable with getting rid of it

But there are some other reasons why people hoard which might surprise you. VICE interviewed several people who claim to be hoarders and here is what they said:

“We have all these small gadgets in our house that use electric batteries,” one man says. “But when the batteries die off we don’t like to throw them away because they contain chemicals which are not good for the environment.”

What do we do with old batteries? For some people who care about the environment, it makes more sense to hoard the things so that they don’t end up in a landfill.

One woman mentions how she and her family collect cords because they don’t know if they’ll need them again:

“Every electronic device comes with a set of wires, but we often don’t know where to connect them. So, we just keep it because you never know when it will be of use. I’ve also kept cables of phones long after I’ve stopped using the phones.”

For others, it’s partly a cultural thing.

For instance, in India, people are expected to keep their plastic bags. This one woman with OCD says she tried to travel abroad with all her saved plastic bags and customs wanted to charge her so much money that she finally realized she had a problem.

“I had so much excess baggage… they said I’d have to pay Rs 35,000 ($463) for it… So many of the things I hold on to are because of the memories attached to them as well.”

Another woman talks about her obsession with hoarding price tags. The habit wore off on her mother, and seeing her mom do the same thing is what finally opened her eyes.

“She removed the tag and threw it away… I created such a big scene that she had to go through the trash to find it. After that, she too started keeping her tags, no matter how lame they were. When I had a baby, she started to keep the price tags of my baby’s clothes as well, but by then, I’d started to feel like the habit was getting too much.”

A female writer told VICE about her goo-hoarding habits. She’d kept a drawer under her bed just for chucking in almost-empty bottles of things. Her reasons were that there was still useful product inside them, plus she might forget what the names of her favorite products were.

“One day, though, that drawer actually cracked and broke from the weight of everything I had thrown in,” she said. She now tries to throw things away more often.

If you or anyone you know suffers from Hoarding Disorder, the Mayo Clinic has some suggestions. They recommend psychotherapy as well as lifestyle and home remedies to get back to a healthy living situation.

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