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Peggy Fossen DNP, RN, CNE

Hoarding and Collecting: What is the difference?

Some may ask the question, isn’t hoarding just a form of collecting? While both hoarding and collecting share similarities, there are some very distinct characteristics separating the two. It is true that both collectors and those that hoard keep many items or possessions that may seem useless to others. However, the differences soon become apparent. Collectors are organized and very intentional in the acquisition of what they are collecting, and they will also display their collection in a neat and organized manner.  Sometimes, displaying their collections at certain times, and then putting them away. Hoarders, on the other hand, are very disorganized and messy, and do not usually display their possessions. The appearance of their possessions is very cluttered. While collectors will seek out specific items to acquire, those who hoard tend to be compulsive and random when obtaining more and more possessions. And, perhaps one of the most significant differences is that those who hoard have extreme difficulty parting with their possessions. Any efforts made to have possessions discarded results in extreme distress.

Who Hoards?

Hoarding Disorder in not uncommon and it is estimated that  2-6% of the population suffers from this condition. Hoarding Disorder can be found in all ages, with symptoms surfacing as early as the teenage years.  Unfortunately, the condition does not resolve on its own, and the symptoms and problems related to hoarding disorder can develop and worsen over time.

While the exact cause of hoarding disorder is not clearly identified, there are risk factors associated with hoarding, which include family history. There is a strong link between developing hoarding behaviors if other family members have also had this condition.  The occurrence of a stressful life event can also trigger symptoms of hoarding.

So how can you identify if someone has a problem with hoarding? Those who hoard will typically display some of the following signs or behaviors.

  • Accumulating items and possessions.
  • Rooms are cluttered and messy.
  • Cannot use certain rooms in house, as they are cluttered, running out of space.
  • Unable to sleep in bed or access bedroom.
  • Buildup of trash and/or food.
  • Avoiding family and/or friends.
  • Feels a need to keep things and becomes upset if confronted with getting rid of possessions.

What happens when someone has Hoarding Disorder?

While some develop hoarding behaviors earlier in life, hoarding can develop in later years also. As individuals age, hoarding can worsen or develop. The development of hoarding disorder in the older adult is linked to several factors. Social isolation is a significant factor contributing to hoarding behaviors in older adults, as the presence of familiar possessions creates the feeling of being connected and may even decrease feelings of loneliness.

So, some would see this as a good thing and may think, what is the harm in collecting if it makes them feel less lonely. Unfortunately, the negative risks outweigh the benefits in the situation of hoarding. While hoarding may provide feelings of control or purpose, it can also be an unhealthy coping mechanism for older adults, resulting in dangerous and risky behaviors such as:

  • Risk of falling.
  • Shame and embarrassment.
  • Decrease in social functions.
  • Risk of fire.
  • Risk of health problems.
  • Pest infestation.
  • Poor personal hygiene.
  • Loss of family and friends.
  • Potential legal issues, court actions or eviction.

It is very evident that hoarding disorder impacts an older adults’ relationships, socialization, mental and physical well-being, and is a very complicated condition.

Why is Hoarding Disorder such a complicated condition and is there help?

A significant risk of hoarding, for the older adult, is the tendency to isolate themselves, refusing to talk about their situation and refusing to seek professional help to discuss their condition of hoarding. To complicate the situation further, it is not uncommon for someone who hoards to also experience depression or anxiety.

While those suffering from hoarding disorder are often reluctant to seek help from professionals, those that do often experience relief from their symptoms. Studies confirm the use of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for hoarding disorder.

There are also resources available online which increase awareness, provide education and support for those with hoarding disorder and their family and friends. Online Help for Hoarders provides resource options for social media, online hoarding disorder resources, research, therapists, and hoarding blogs.

While hoarding can be an isolating experience, it is important to know that help and resources are available. Also, it is imperative to remain empathetic and nonjudgmental when encountering someone who hoards. Hoarding is a very confusing, and often misunderstood, condition and those going through this experience deserve compassion and kindness.


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Mayo Clinic (2023). Hoarding Disorder.

Weir, K. (2020). Treating people with hoarding disorder. APA. 51(3) 36.

Zaboski BA 2nd, Merritt OA, Schrack AP, Gayle C, Gonzalez M, Guerrero LA, Dueñas JA, Soreni N, Mathews CA. Hoarding: A meta-analysis of age of onset. Depress Anxiety. 2019 Jun;36(6):552-564. doi: 10.1002/da.22896. Epub 2019 Apr 8. PMID: 30958911.

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