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Hoarding behavior

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Compulsive hoarding (or pathological hoarding) is a term which is used to describe extreme hoarding behaviour in humans. It involves the collection or failure to discard large numbers of objects even when their storage causes significant clutter and impairment to basic living activities such as moving around the house, cooking, cleaning or sleeping. Hoarding rubbish may be referred to as syllogomania.

While there is no definition of compulsive hoarding in accepted diagnostic criteria (such as the current DSM), Frost and Hartl1 provide the following defining features:

  • the acquisition of, and failure to discard, a large number of possessions that appear to be useless or of limited value
  • living spaces sufficiently cluttered so as to preclude activities for which those spaces were designed
  • significant distress or impairment in functioning caused by the hoarding

Case study

The following (edited) case study is taken from a published account2 of compulsive hoarding:

The client, D, lived with her two children, aged 11 and 14, and described his/her current hoarding behaviour as a 'small problem that mushroomed' many years ago, along with corresponding marital difficulties. D reported that her father was a hoarder and that she started saving when she was a child. In addition to hoarding, she reported several other obsessive-compulsive symptoms, such as fear of hurting others due to carelessness, an over-concern with dirt and germs, a need for symmetry and a need to know or remember things. D also suffered from a handwashing compulsion and engaged in lengthy cleaning rituals of household items. The volume of cluttered possessions took up approximately 70 per cent of the living space in her house. With the exception of the bathroom, none of the rooms in the house could easily be used for their intended purpose. Both of the doors to the outside were blocked, so entry to the house was through the garage and the kitchen, where the table and chairs were covered with papers, newspapers, bills, books, half-consumed bags of chips and her children's school papers dating back ten years.

Related conditions

It is not clear whether compulsive hoarding is a condition in itself, or simply a symptom of other related conditions3. Several studies have reported a correlation between hoarding and the presence and / or severity of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Hoarding behaviour is also related to obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD). There may be an overlap with a condition known as impulse control disorder (ICD), particularly when compulsive hoarding is linked to compulsive buying or acquisition behaviour. However, some people displaying compulsive hoarding behaviour show no other signs of what is usually considered to be OCD, OCPD or ICD.

See also

External links


1Frost RO, Hartl TL. (1996) A cognitive-behavioral model of compulsive hoarding. Behavior Research and Therapy, 34 (4), 341-50.
2Hartl TL, Frost RO. (1999) Cognitive-behavioral treatment of compulsive hoarding: a multiple baseline experimental case study. Behavior Research and Therapy, 37 (5), 451-61.
3Steketee G, Frost R. (2003) Compulsive hoarding: Current status of the research. Clinical Psychology Review, 23 (7), 905-27.
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