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Why Are People Hoarders?

written by: Keren Perles • edited by: Jacqueline Chinappi • updated: 3/23/2011

Hoarding behaviors can lead to physical danger - such as fire hazards, rodents, and illness. So then why are people hoarders? The answer is more complicated than you might think.

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    Impaired Executive Skills

    Why are people hoarders? There are three main issues that hoarding may stem from. One of these issues is a lack of strong executive skills, which are the skills that help you plan and think about a task. Hoarders may have difficulty in making decisions, such as the decision about what they should do with each of their possessions, so they avoid the issue by simply storing all possessions. They also find it hard to categorize their belongings - for example, in deciding which of several belongings is most important - or in remembering where they have put possessions even after they are stored. In addition, hoarders may exhibit ADHD-like attention problems which may only exacerbate their impaired executive skills.

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    Beliefs About Possessions

    Hoarders also often have several unhealthy or untrue beliefs about their possessions. For example, they may believe that objects should never be "wasted" by being thrown out, and that all possessions have intrinsic value, even those that are old, broken, or never. They may also believe that holding onto possessions can help them stay attached to memorable events, or at least help them remember positive events in their lives. They may fear losing either items or information that will later be seen as necessary or valuable (which is one reason why people hoard newspapers and magazines - for the day that they "might" need something in them). Hoarders may also find that hoarding enables them to feel more in control of their environment, and they may feel that hoarding their own possessions to this excessive degree will make it easier for them to gain control over their lives in general.

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    Emotional Issues

    Emotional issues can also contribute to a person becoming a hoarder. For example, many hoarders have experienced depression or anxiety, and they use the objects around them to feel more secure. This may lead to them feeling anxiety when they are pressured to discard an object, so they may react to their anxiety by using avoidance tactics. People who become hoarders have sometimes been raised by perfectionist parents, and they react to the perfectionism by holding onto everything, no matter how imperfect. They may also use objects as a substitute for love that they have not felt from others, and they form emotional attachments to objects instead of to people.

    So why are people hoarders? The reasons behind hoarding are diverse, ranging from inadequate executive skills and unhealthy beliefs about possessions to emotional issues.

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    References

    Clark County Combined Health District. "General Information on Hoarding Behavior." http://www.ccchd.com/hoarding.htm

    Mayo Clinic. "Hoarding: Causes." http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hoarding/DS00966/DSECTION=causes

    Hartford Hospital. "Compulsive Hoarding." http://www.harthosp.org/InstituteOfLiving/AnxietyDisordersCenter/CompulsiveHoarding/default.aspx

    OCD Foundation. "Causes of Hoarding." http://www.ocfoundation.org/hoarding/causes.aspx

OCD Symptoms: Hoarding

Hoarding is one of the OCD symptoms that is hardest to treat, but there are treatment options available. This series includes articles on these treatment options, as well as articles about specific aspects that affect hoarders and those around them.
  1. How Are Hoarding and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Connected?
  2. Why Are People Hoarders?
  3. Five Types of Hoarding Behavior
  4. Insight into the Causes of Hoarding

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