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How to Spot a Potential Hoarding Problem


How to Spot a Potential Hoarding Problem

Hoarding is a problem that’s been getting an increasing amount of attention in the news, which has sparked a debate about how to differentiate simple clutter from problematic hoarding. The question of how to know when someone’s just messy or when they’re a full-blown hoarder can be difficult to answer.


Hoarding can result not just in piles of useless goods, but can also create perfect environments for mold or pests to grow out of sight, and in extreme cases, could contribute to cleanup costs in the tens of thousands of dollars. Stacks of books and piles of old belongings can also be dangerous if they topple, and have been known to injure or even kill people and animals they’ve collapsed upon.

Knowing how to help a friend or family member who may have a problem with hoarding is important, but even more important is being able to spot friends or family members who may need help. Understanding which of your friends may be hoarders involves knowing what exactly a hoarder is, what causes hoarding, and signs that a loved one may be struggling with a hoarding situation.

What Is Hoarding?

To understand whether or not somebody may have a potential hoarding problem, it’s important to first understand what can cause this sort of behavior. From there, you can begin to work on getting yourself or your loved one help with clearing out the mess in a non-traumatic manner.


Hoarding is, very simply put, the compulsive collection of miscellaneous items and an unwillingness to get rid of them. While it’s easy to think of hoarding as an addiction, there’s a very important distinction between compulsion and addiction as the terms relate to hoarding: compulsions rely on the avoidance of taking certain actions (disposing of old or useless items that the hoarder no longer needs, in this case), while addictions rely on the taking of a substance or performance of a certain action to relieve tension. Even the idea of cleaning may cause a hoarder discomfort or a looming sense of unease.


This is important because compulsions and addictions are treated much differently, and attempting to treat a hoarder like someone addicted to collecting miscellaneous items will not treat the underlying issue, the inability to rid oneself of even the most insignificant items for one reason or another.

What Causes Hoarding?

The exact cause of these hoarding behaviors are still being researched. Like many mental illnesses (or many behaviors caused my mental illness), a variety of factors may come into play. However, it has been noted that there is a lot of overlap between those who have problems with hoarding, and those with extreme Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).


There are as many specific “causes” of hoarding as there are hoarders. One of the most common is that an item — even an apparently useless one such as a flyer, old mail, or an old, worn-though item of clothing — might be vitally important one day, too important to risk getting rid of. So stacks of items that others may consider trash build up, and when it becomes too much to store, piles of these items may begin to build, and build, and build. Another may be that each and every item they own has some sort of value to the hoarder, even if they can’t quite explain what it is about an object that they specifically value. 

How Can I Spot A Hoarder?

The difficult part about this is that it isn’t always obvious. Many hoarders are aware and ashamed of their collections and will either shut themselves away or refuse to have visitors over because of it. It may also exacerbate substance abuse issues, which can also cause self-imposed isolation.


Look for some of the telltale signs:

  • They have clutter and mess that just keeps growing, but they just cannot seem to sort through it

  • They continuously acquire items they either don’t need or don’t have room for

  • The idea of cleaning — even in situations where pest infestations have occurred or similarly dangerous situations have manifested —  can cause anger, hostility, or extreme anxiety

    • This can include simply making sure bathroom or kitchen spaces are sanitary and free of mold

  • When rooms that have become unusable due to the collected items run out of space entirely, any open area of the house may serve as storage space, including living rooms, kitchens, hallways and more


If you suspect that a friend or family member may be a hoarder who needs help, be careful how you approach the situation: because the root of many hoarding problems is compulsion and the deep-seated fear that cleaning may lead to negative outcomes, attempts to get a potential hoarder help may be seen as an attack instead of a gesture of goodwill.

Return Living Spaces to Their Pre-Hoarding State

If you or a loved one are a hoarder ready to make that leap, you can get more information and request help directly from our Hoarding page. Bio-One Tucson specializes in hoarding cleanup, not only working with clients to help them sort through the massive collection of items that may be present but also address any potential safety hazards that may crop up such as mold, disease, or the waste left behind by pests.


We work directly with our clients because we know how difficult a decision this can be, and we make every effort to respect their wishes while ensuring that living spaces are made once again livable.