Despite the popularity of the TV show Hoarders, being a hoarder or living with one is far from entertaining. In fact, hoarders and their families face significant risks.

If you collect antiques, books, old tools, and the like, it doesn’t mean you’re a hoarder. People who collect things enjoy their possessions, take pride in displaying them, and share their interest with others.

In contrast, people who hoard things are embarrassed by the amount of objects they amass. They tend to be ashamed and defensive. Other symptoms of hoarding include:

  • Inability to get rid of things by any means; hoarders won’t throw out, give away, recycle, or sell things
  • Amassing vast amounts of anything; newspapers, magazines, plastic bags, household supplies, boxes, food, and clothes are most likely to be hoarded
  • Severe disorganization in the home; piles may mix worthless items with important or valuable possessions
  • Feelings of intense distress when faced with getting rid of possessions
  • Restricted living space due to clutter
  • Social isolation and family stress due to hoarding

What are the risks of hoarding?

Hoarding can pose the following risks:

  • Health problems, including falls, injury, respiratory illnesses caused by mold, and infestation
  • Safety concerns, including fire hazards, structural damage to homes, and blocking emergency medical personnel as they enter the home to treat or transport a resident in need of care
  • Homelessness due to eviction or condemnation of the property by the local health department
  • Removal of children or dependent relatives for health and safety reasons
  • Criminal prosecution if animals are hoarded and neglected

What can I do to help someone who hoards?

Due to the psychological complexity of this disorder, the person will likely need help from a mental health professional.

If you’re directly involved with helping a hoarder, try to express patience, compassion, and kindness. That can go a long way toward a harmonious working relationship. Praising the hoarder for progress in deciding what to discard and following through can often move the process forward.