How to Tell if You’re a Hoarder

How to Tell if You’re a Hoarder

Marie Kondo, the bestselling author, and star of the Netflix hit show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo has inspired millions of Americans to declutter their homes with her revolutionary KonMari Method. Basically, you hold each item and see if it “sparks joy.” If it does you keep it, if it doesn’t you toss it. Although the tidying craze has taken the country by storm, it strikes fear and panic in some people. You may be one of them. Answer the following questions to find out:

  • Does just hearing the name of decluttering expert Marie Kondo fill you with panic?
  • Does the idea of parting with your possessions spark dread rather than joy?
  • Do you consistently have trouble tossing out things most people would consider to be of little to no value?
  • Do you feel like you have little control over your desires to acquire more possessions?
  • Is there so much clutter in your home that it is difficult to access certain areas or countertops?
  • Does the clutter interfere with your daily life, work, or relationships?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have a problem with hoarding.

What is Hoarding Disorder?

A 2018 study shows that hoarding affects approximately 1.5% of Americans or about 4.5 to 5 million people. People with hoarding disorder have trouble getting rid of things due to a perceived need to keep them. The thought of discarding items causes distress, which leads to unwieldy quantities of “important” things piling up. People with hoarding disorder may engage in compulsive shopping; buy things they don’t need or really want simply because they are a great bargain; and stockpile freebies and giveaways, such as pamphlets, pens, and tchotchkes. The hoarding process is similar to an addiction.

Some of the most commonly hoarded items include:

  • Newspapers
  • Magazines
  • Books
  • Mail
  • Paper bags
  • Shopping bags
  • Plastic bags
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Photographs
  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Animals

Many hoarders think these items may be useful in the future— “I might need this box to mail something,” “I might have to reference that article,” or “I might get invited to an event where I could wear those shoes.” Some hoarders cling to items because they were such a good bargain— “I know these shoes are a size too small, but they were 80% off!” Others can’t part with photos or other mementos that have sentimental value—” I can’t get rid of that beer can. It’s from the game when we hit a grand slam in the 9th inning to win.” Sometimes people can’t decide what to do with an item or where to put it, so they just leave it wherever it is and then it gets covered by a pile of other things—“I can’t decide if I should put that on the bookshelf or the mantle, so I’ll just leave it here on the dining room table for now.”

How is Hoarding Different from Collecting?

People who are collectors—whether they collect wine, comic books, or coins—typically organize their collections meticulously, display them proudly for others to see, and are very aware of their dollar value. Hoarders, on the other hand, generally amass large quantities of items that have no real value, store them in haphazard disarray, and are often embarrassed to let anyone else see their living space. Some hoarders, however, are ultra-fastidious about their belongings, stacking a year’s worth of newspapers in a perfectly neat row, arranging stacks of books alphabetically on each stair of a staircase, or organizing magazines by date in precise piles on a desk.

Consequences of Hoarding

When hoarding behavior goes unchecked, it can negatively impact nearly every aspect of your life.

Relationships and families suffer: When one person is a hoarder, it can be extremely stressful for the entire family. Research shows that hoarders are more likely to get divorced, and family members may feel resentment, frustration, and anger toward the hoarder. For example, one elderly hoarder named Bob had kept every single bill he ever paid—starting in the 1950s—in a methodical system of filing cabinets that eventually took over the bedroom he shared with his wife, then the dining room, and then the garage. This caused conflict with his wife, who resented the loss of space in her bedroom, and it created a situation of social isolation for his children who were so embarrassed by all the filing cabinets in their home that they never wanted to invite their friends over.

Financial trouble: Some hoarders get into financial trouble, either because they compulsively make purchases or because they shell out cash for storage units to keep their growing amounts of stuff.

Legal issues: Legal troubles are also common among hoarders. They may face eviction or lose custody of children, and in cases of animal hoarding, people may be arrested and do jail time.

Unsafe living conditions: When clutter blocks access to certain areas of the home, it can lead to malfunctioning appliances, plumbing problems, and heating and air conditioning issues. This can leave people without access to hot water, without heat in cold winter months, and limits their ability to cook. This can lead to nutritional deficiencies, poor hygiene, and increased risk of illnesses. Hoarding can also present a fire hazard and is responsible for 24% of fire deaths, according to one study.

Hoarding, Mental Health, and the Brain

People with hoarding disorder tend to have issues with indecisiveness, obsessive thoughts, compulsions, perfectionism, avoidance, procrastination, disorganization, and difficulty concentrating. Although hoarding disorder is considered a unique diagnosis, these are symptoms are also associated with other mental health conditions, such as obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, depression, or ADD/ADHD. Research also shows that hoarding is seen in people with dementia.

Brain imaging studies, including one in the Archives of General Psychiatry, have shown that people with hoarding disorder have abnormal activity in areas of the brain involved in decision-making, impulse control, emotional regulation, attachment, and reward processing.

Treatment for Hoarding Disorder

There is hope for people with hoarding disorder. A comprehensive treatment plan designed to normalize and optimize brain activity, coupled with specific types of psychotherapy, and medication (as needed), can help people find their way out of the clutter so they can once again find some joy from their possessions.

At Amen Clinics, we perform comprehensive evaluations that include brain SPECT imaging to make an accurate diagnosis so you can get the right treatment plan for your needs. We believe in using the least toxic, most effective solutions, including helpful forms of therapy, nutritional supplements, and lifestyle changes, as well as medications when necessary.

If you want to join the tens of thousands of people who have already enhanced their brain health, overcome their symptoms, and improved their quality of life at Amen Clinics, speak to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.


  1. Thank you for the article on hoarding. At first I associated hoarding disorder with my elderly mother, who enjoys thrift shopping and buys endless things she does not need and ends up either keeping these things in her closet, or eventually donates them back to the thrift shop, lol. But then, as I read on, some of the symptoms of hoarding pertained to my own habits as well. Anyway, I have tons of bills that I have paid, but the paperwork is stashed away in a filing cabinet. Plus I have clothing I don’t wear anymore, cds and dvds I don’t use anymore, and magazines I have stashed away, which are also of no use to me. After realizing this, the next step is to go through all that stuff, toss it or give it away. Thank you for the awakening articles. S. Smith.

    Comment by Sandra L Smith — April 20, 2020 @ 5:05 AM

  2. Whoever wrote this article has been watching me for a good number of years. I’m 86. When I was in my 20s my piano teacher was a hoarder. Belongings she inherited from an uncle filled her front porch, the inside living room, which had only a path back to the rest of her house, and the music studio, which was comparable, with only room on the sofa for one, maybe two, to sit. In adult years I was okay, with only hoarding tendencies. In retirement everything got worse. Now my house is cluttered from top to bottom for the very reasons mention in the article. I don’t like to stay at home. Going out in the morning for coffee with a book or two and sitting where there is no clutter and nothing around me is mine is such a treasure. I usually stay a few happy hours reading. I will mention this: both of my parents be born in the very early 1900s in the country on farms, each in a family of 10 children. I remember clearly as a youth asking Mother what to do with something. The answer always was “Put it in the attic. We might need it sometime.” So here I am at 86 with this “deformity.” But this I know: I fight letting it get me down with depression, etc. I still seek to do as I’m able in this. People who are “normal” can’t understand why one can’t just throw out stuff. I realize it is a brain problem and I want to say to them it’s the same reason you are not a concert pianist. All one has to do is hit the right notes at the right time–and there you are. Lastly, though really firstly, I do pray abouit it–and a lot of other problems in me and the world. But I work to keep a joyful and thankful heart. Thanks so much for the article. I’m saving it. “I may need it some day.”

    Comment by Hugh Waddy — April 22, 2020 @ 7:31 AM

  3. Excellent article!
    My only disappointment is the stereotypical comments that hoarding is primarily ‘useless’ objects to others. This could subliminally give justification to individuals of financial means or someone who collects priceless antiques that hoarding is more about others behavior.
    Perhaps most research has been done primarily on individuals whose physical environments and lives got so out of control that there were legal troubles or health & safety violations. The media tends to sensationalize behaviors and events that are not well understood by the general public.
    Frequently it is working class or low income people that are openly discussed, publicly analyzed and criticized. Periodically we may hear of a professor or a mid-level business executive with hoarding disorder.
    The more intelligent or financially secure someone is there is probably more people or systems in their personal orbits to protect them from dealing with hoarding behaviors. They are viewed as eccentrics.

    Comment by J.G. — April 24, 2020 @ 4:51 AM

  4. I have this hoarding as well as anxiety and depression. My father and sister also have so I always thought it might be genetic or biochemical. Its affected my relationships and make me more anxious and depressed because I want to not do it but can’t help myself I’m on anti an8and depression meds but my therapist keeps insisting I see a psychiatrist. Please help. My mother was bipolar and hospitalized for months and years at a time in the 60’s and 70s.please let me know if u can help me. Cant live like this anymore. In my 60’s and going thru a divorce. Thank you.

    Comment by Francine Stern — April 24, 2020 @ 6:14 PM

  5. I too have clutter in various spots in my house but I do not feel I am a hoarder. As we get older I’m 74, it is harder to work, do laundry, clean house, pay bills, take care of the yard, take care of family, my pets, and sometimes myself. Unfortunately I have to pick my priorities so some projects just never get done. I believe I am like a lot of people who do buy items to start or complete a project but never seem to get to it. My intentions are much bigger than the time I have to spare. Very sad too if a person gets sick, laid up for some reason, etc, as then you are forever playing catch up with daily chores. Some of us too were very tidy until a spouse became incapacitated and then we added caregiver to the mix. I am now a widow so I am slowly but surely attacking various cluttered areas. I notice too that now that I am older it takes me longer to accomplish chores and there are days that I am just too tired to do anything. I’ve lived in the same house for 43 years and I only have the past 10 years worth of stuff to address so I know that I can get caught up in the next 5 years! Ha!

    Comment by Carol Burson — April 24, 2020 @ 6:58 PM

  6. Try not to be hard on yourself and enjoy your retirement, you deserve it. I do not think you have a deformity, your disposition is amazing! Good luck!

    Comment by Ann — April 25, 2020 @ 12:13 PM

  7. I feel nothing but contempt for Marie Kondo: her understanding of the issues is inexistant, as is her compassion. There is a LOT of stigma around hoarding. A great deal of it having to do with wealth: Howard Hughes did not have mental health issues, He was ” Excentric”.
    My sample is not large enough to be scientifically valid, but I have noticed that eating disorders have something in common with hoarding: an attempt to reclaim some power over one’s life, one’s body, one’s territory. I’ll concede these attempts are as unhealthy as they are efficient (you can’t make me).
    The word clutter describes two realities, one is an accumulation, the other is disorganisation. My issues are related to the protection of my territory. I deliberately kept my room looking like Oscar Madisson’s as it forced everyone to ask ME for what they wanted, instead of just grabbing what they wanted (stamps, typing paper, dictionary,whatever) leaving me with no idea where to start looking for what they had borrowed. My system was fool proof. Later, as a survivor of sexual assault, my strategy was already in place. The men heard “may be” when I said NO!! This is rude but so clear and succinct: So to keep at bay the men who wanted to fuck the house-keeper at the end of a busy day, I had an apt that screemed: don’t walk, run from this place. With the sexual assaults, came severe depression, eventually loss of employment and povrety. Which shifted the hoarding from disorganised to accumulation coupled with disorganisation. Being poor means therapies are out of my reach. Fortunately, I have a sense of humour: Nietzche maintained that great kaos always precedes the birth of a star.

    Comment by Thérèse Belisle — April 25, 2020 @ 3:50 PM

  8. I’ve been accused and will concur, yet the ADHD suffered since I was 5 falling down a flight of stairs outside our Navy housing in El Toro Ca added more because I have a dime size scar on the back of my head. Both parents were to some degree, yet I’ve done the,”You can try this or that medicine “ since I was 13, and though diagnosis have been varied, I wish I could afford a spect scan as I’ve seen many of Dr Amen’s specials on the brain and know I have serious issues at 64, yet I’m physically ill, which makes it more difficult and yes, I’m on my 4th marriage so nice to see the article and offer for appointment, just wish you had a sliding scale to help us who are disabled and fixed?

    Comment by Isbell Glenda — April 28, 2020 @ 12:03 PM

  9. I would disagree. My aunt is a hoarder with cats and things. She had a very good paying job and was always single, and a very cultured woman. My dad, a lawyer and inventor, I feel is also a hoarder with projects and items as he anticipates to fix things. He does but he also gets too much going and before he knows it he is in too deep. I find that I am a collector= hoarder of things that I find are useful or needed for a project “someday.” After moving recently, I see I need to let some things go and I do. But like my dad, I like to create and I really love knowledge. So, I have too many books. I think hoarding needs to be defined more. I do not think that it is unwise to keep something that is of value (like books), though I may not have the time yet to read them… Plus, for people like my family, we need principles to live by provided maybe. I could barely answer yes to the questions above, but I also struggle to find “joy” in any object. For me it is more so a matter of the price I had to pay for the books, or the money I saved by keeping a useful item.

    Comment by Biz — April 30, 2020 @ 1:25 PM

  10. Hugh, your comments were SO well written, down to the last line. You must be a writer! Thank you for sharing.

    Comment by Joy — May 6, 2020 @ 5:57 PM

  11. I am not a hoarder. I am disabled and cluttered. The clutter drives me nuts but I can only do what I can. I was saving boxes, a lot of them in anticipation of a move that didn't materialize. I did get rid of those boxes. Another problem I downsized from a 2000sq ft home to a 610 sq ft apt. I got rid of a lot of things but I'm still cluttered and somewhat disorganized. Right now I have a problem where maintenance fixed a leak in my bathroom ceiling and left a large hole that hasn't been fixed in 6 months. So a lot of what was in the bathroom is in boxes on the floor, creating clutter and I still have a leak. Before that, it was well-organized. I've always had quite a large wardrobe but always lived in homes with huge walk-in closets so that was never a problem. My kitchen is highly organized. I only have 6' of counter space so that can get a bit cluttered but it's functional and I use everything that's in my kitchen since gourmet cooking is a hobby. I do collect certain valuable things and used to display but can't now since every shelf I have is functional, not decorative. I keep hoping I'll move into a bigger place so I can display those items again. My physical therapist agreed that disabled clutter is not hoarding. She essentially said if you can't do it, you can't do it. Trying to get a home health aide through my insurance is like pulling wisdom teeth; my care coordinator is useless and lazy, never returnes calls, doesn't follow up so I need to ask for different one.

    Comment by Ann — March 24, 2023 @ 2:43 PM

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