If you are like many people, you have some familiarity with the term “hoarding.” You may have watched one or another of the television programs that feature hoarders. With that said, you may also be like many people and not have a complete, accurate understanding of what is meant by hoarding. Thus, a discussion of the comprehensive definition of hoarding may be helpful.

Medical Definition of Hoarding

The world-renowned Mayo Clinic has developed a useful, essential definition of what technically is known as a hoarding disorder. As a prelude to presenting that definition, it’s important to understand that hoarding is classified as a mental health condition, identified as a specific disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, more commonly known as DSM-5.

The Mayo definition of hoarding disorder is:

Hoarding disorder is a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. Excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value, occurs.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary offers some useful definitions of hoarding in slightly different contexts. For example, this dictionary provides a definition of hoarding in a psychology setting:

The compulsion to continually accumulate a variety of items that are often considered useless or worthless by others accompanied by an inability to discard the items without great distress.

The dictionary offers an associated definition that is used on a more wide-spread basis among the public at large:

The practice of collecting of accumulating something.

This more basic definition of hoarding doesn’t particularly reference a psychological malady.  However, it does reflect the fact that individuals can glom onto goods of different types, and sometimes for a bona fide reason. For example, some people store up food and other basics in the event of an emergency. These individuals might even state that they are hoarding in the event of an emergency. However, if there is a true purpose to accumulating certain items – like food for an emergency – that activity might meet the Merriam-Webster broader definition of hoarding, but it would not be pathological hoarding of the type contemplated by the Mayo Clinic definition of the term.

Sign and Symptoms of Pathological Hoarding or Hoarding Disorder

Having identified different ways in which the term “hoarding” fairly can be defined, you’re well served having a general appreciation of the signs and symptoms of hoarding. The reality is that you may learn that someone in your life is afflicted with hoarding disorder. And, the way in which this will come to your attention is by identifying the signs and symptoms indicative of a person laboring under hoarding disorder.

Before more closely considering the signs and symptoms of hoarding disorder, bear in mind that a person with this condition nearly always goes to great lengths to conceal the issue. In fact, the strident effort to conceal hoarding gives rise to some of the signs and symptoms associated with a person afflicted with hoarding disorder.

Commonplace outward signs and symptoms of hoarding disorder include:

  • A person with hoarding disorder may begin to isolate from others
  • An individual with hoarding disorder will stop inviting people to his or her home and will not permit others to enter the residence
  • A person who hoards will begin to show signs of not paying proper attention to hygienic practices
  • An individual with hoarding disorder will exhibit indecisiveness, procrastination, and significant issues with organization and planning
  • The exterior of a hoarder’s residence will begin to exhibit a lack of proper care

Within the residence of a person suffering from hoarding disorder, there will be obvious signs of the affliction. Because of a hoarder’s desire to shield the accumulation of “stuff” from other people, a person with hoarding disorder may be well into the condition before another person becomes aware of the state of affairs within a house. Signs of hoarding in a residence include:

  • Disorganized stacks or piles of items, including objects of no value (including trash)
  • Objects crowd and clutter walking and living spaces, the residence progressively becoming more unlivable
  • Accumulation of food, trash, and even human waste, creating an unsanitary condition in a house
  • Appliances in unworkable condition
  • HVAC system not properly functioning
  • Damage to the physical structure of the house itself

Professional Intervention and Assistance

In order to truly assist a person with hoarding disorder, a team approach typically is needed. Such a team needs to include trusted family members or friends (trusted being a relative term inasmuch as a hoarder is likely to be suspicious of many people). In addition, professionals are also recommended, including mental health professionals and an experienced hoarder property cleanup company. Experts on hoarding disorder make it abundantly clear that a person with hoarding disorder will return to accumulating objects – return to hoarding – in the absence of suitable mental health assistance.