Take a Look Inside the Mind of a Hoarder

At Hoarding Help Central, we believe that one of the best ways to truly understand and provide better treatment options for those experiencing the effects of compulsive hoarding behavior is to get inside the mind of a hoarder. In doing so, we can better understand the compulsions, motivations, and factors that are found in compulsive hoarding disorder. In having a better understanding, it is possible that we will be able to more effectively discover new treatment options for this disorder, benefiting those that are struggling.

As the nationwide leading resource on hoarding cleanup specialists, Hoarding Help Central strives to have a better understanding of the minds of hoarders. We use this information to better assist not only the hoarders themselves but also their loved ones in overcoming the damage done by a hoarding compulsion. Today, we’ll be highlighting the demographics, developmental stages, types of hoarders, and a slew of other enlightening information. Let’s get started!

What is Hoarding?

Before we take a closer look inside the mind of a hoarder, it is crucial that we first define hoarding. The term “hoarding” originates from a term used to describe certain animals that stored their food for future use.

In order for hoarding behavior to be considered as such, there must be evidence of acquisition of and failure to discard of possessions that appear to be of little to no perceived value to most people. Hoarding is also characterized by living spaces that are so cluttered with the buildup of items that it cannot be used as originally intended. Finally, hoarding is also characterized by significant stress or impaired functioning in everyday life due to the behaviors associated with the disorder.

The American Psychiatric Association classifies hoarding disorder as a compulsive need to collect and it should be noted that hoarding isn’t the same as normal collecting behaviors. Instead, compulsive hoarding is a need to collect items and store them even if they are of no perceived value. While collectors look for specific items of value, whether sentimental or monetary, hoarders tend to save random items and store them haphazardly.

Demographics of the Average Hoarder

There are a few demographical characteristics that seem to pertain to most hoarders according to hoarding research completed within the past decade. In taking a closer look at the demographics of the average hoarder, it should be noted that hoarding disorder affects people of all ages and demographics. Although hoarding behavior tends to first emerge in childhood and adolescence, it does tend to get worse with age. Hoarding behavior has a prevalence of approximately 1.5 percent in the general population. Hoarding tends to be more prevalent in older age groups and symptoms tend to increase in severity as the individual gets older.

Compulsive hoarding disorder is a nondiscriminate condition, affecting people of both genders. Hoarders tend to predominately be nonmarried with 67 percent being single. Hoarders are also considered to be more likely to be impaired by a current physical health condition (52.6 percent) or a co-morbid mental health condition (58 percent). That being said, hoarders are also likely to report a lifetime history of the use of mental health services.

Developmental Stages of Hoarding

So how does hoarding develop in individuals? The emergence and increasing severity of hoarding behaviors can be observed in every major stage in a hoarder’s life. In order to better understand the developmental stages of hoarding, Hoarding Help Central will be breaking down each stage individually, offering a description of the severity of symptoms in each stage.


In childhood, hoarders tend to already display challenges with discarding things. Kids who develop hoarding disorder tend to get very emotionally attached to certain items, saving things that most would often discard. Although children displaying hoarding behaviors do not have run of the entire home in order to cause serious issues, they do tend to compulsively stash items in their rooms, similarly to adults, filling up them up until functioning is impaired.

It is important to note that children displaying compulsive hoarding behavior are distinguishable from children who are simply a bit unorganized. This distinction is found in how the child feels about the items that they are hoarding as well as his or her reaction when these items are forcibly thrown away. A child who hoards forms a significant emotional attachment to the items that they stash and will display extreme behaviors when these items are thrown away.

Teenage to Adulthood

In the teenage to adulthood years of a hoarder’s life, we tend to see a gradual buildup of items. Although hoarding in adolescence is not characterized by the accumulation of clutter as it is in adults, it can still bring tragic consequences for patients and their families. What we see instead in adolescents exhibiting hoarding behaviors is the gradual accumulation of items.

In a study completed by Mr. Ivanov, a PhD candidate at Karolinska Instituet, Solna, Sweden, 8,455 adolescents were observed for hoarding symptoms. In this study, Ivanov found that 2 percent of the Swedish population of adolescents exhibited “clinically significant” hoarding symptoms. This provided further evidence to the fact that an established accumulation of items was not necessary for teens to be classified as compulsive hoarders, but rather, a slow, gradual buildup of items counted as hoarding behavior.

20s to 30s

By the time a compulsive hoarder reaches the ages of their 20s to 30s, their hoarding behavior is most observably categorized by saving an excessive number of items that hold little to no perceived value. Considering the fact that hoarding behaviors have been found to increase in severity with each decade of life, those in their 20s and 30s typically show much more severe hoarding behavior than children or adolescents do, yet not as severe as those middle-aged or older.

Interestingly, in most studies on compulsive hoarding behavior, few hoarders report an onset of symptoms after their 20s. This provides further evidence to support the fact that hoarding behavior begins as early as childhood, increasing in severity as the individual ages. That being said, there are a number of individuals exhibiting hoarding behavior that have reported an onset of their symptoms in their early to mid-20s.

Middle Age

When a hoarder reaches middle age, we typically see a severe increase in the severity of their hoarding symptoms. Things tend to take a major turn as hoarders reach middle age, resulting in a severe accumulation of items. At this age, hoarders tend to start being functionally impaired by their behaviors and begin to withdraw from friends, family, and loved ones out of shame of their compulsions.


Finally, by the time hoarders reach old age, the severity of their symptoms has commonly increased to its peak. This is the stage of life that we most commonly associate with compulsive hoarders, resulting in rooms filled with items. This clutter can make it nearly impossible to navigate from one room to the next and the accumulation of items as reached its fullest extent up to this point in the hoarder’s life.

Types of Hoarders

Now that you understand the way that hoarding behaviors develop during each major stage of a hoarder’s life, it’s time to talk a bit more about the different types of hoarders observed in compulsive hoarding research. There are three main types of hoarders and we will talk about each of these in greater detail.

Clinical Compulsive Hoarding

Clinical compulsive hoarding is the most common form of hoarding. This type of hoarding tends to run in families with several studies showing that approximately 50 percent of hoarders report having a first-degree relative who also exhibited compulsive hoarding behavior. Some of the most recent advancements into compulsive hoarding have included a glimpse into the genetic factors associated with hoarding behavior.

Clinical compulsive hoarding is characterized by the excessive acquisition of and inability to discard of items of little to no perceived value. This results in the accumulation of items in a home, making the area nearly unnavigable for the patient and their friends, family, and loved ones. This results in a complete disruption in their ability to function normally in their everyday life.

OCD/Perfectionist Hoarding

OCD/perfectionist hoarding is characterized by the diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder, resulting in perfectionist tendencies. This type of hoarder may exhibit perfectionist tendencies in several facets of life while not in others. Interestingly, many hoarders are perfectionists. They tend to have a fear of making the wrong decisions about what to keep and what to throw away, resulting in an unhealthy accumulation of items in their homes.

Animal Hoarding

The term “animal hoarding” refers to a compulsive need to obtain and collect animals. This typically extends from a compulsive need to care for the animals but generally results in an accidental injury to or unintended neglect of the animals in the care of the hoarder. These are considered some of the most severe cases of hoarding.

Risk Factors for Hoarding Disorder

There are a number of risk factors associated with a greater chance of developing a hoarding habit.  When taking these risk factors into account, it is much easier to get inside the mind of a hoarder and makes it easier to determine the reasons that hoarders develop their behaviors. Here are a few of the most common risk factors associated with hoarding disorder:

  • Comorbidity: Comorbidity is one of the most common risk factors for the emergence of hoarding behaviors. After all, an overwhelming number of hoarders also experience other mental health disorders. These include anxiety disorders, depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and, most commonly, obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • Personality: Personality is also thought to play an important role in whether or not an individual develops a compulsive hoarding problem. Most notably, many people with a hoarding problem exhibit particularly indecisive personalities. This may play into the fact that they have difficulty deciding on which items to discard of, resulting in an accumulation of items.
  • Family History: As highlighted previously, there is much scientific evidence to suggest a genetic link in the emergence of hoarding behaviors.
  • Stressful Life Events: Finally, some individuals develop compulsive hoarding disorder due to stressful life events. These stressful life events created a situation in which the individual had a lot of difficulty coping and may include divorce, eviction, or the death of a loved one.