Hoarding OCD: Understanding the Disorder and Seeking Help

Girl busy reading a book in a cluttered space with books

Many people love keeping things that they might never need, because of a memory associated with it or a special attachment. That’s normal. But sometimes, this habit of keeping and storing things escalates to a point that throwing anything seems like a struggle. 

And it could be anything, from a mere box of an appliance to a jar of peanut butter. Even the thought of throwing things away gives anxiety or triggers a panic attack. Keeping unnecessary items that clutter physical space entirely, and having difficulty to throw anything away is associated with hoarding OCD or hoarding disorder. 

 According to International OCD Foundation, an estimated 2% – 6% of the population suffers from hoarding disorder. It is a universal phenomenon, that affects people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds and has consistent features.

Is Hoarding a Mental Illness? What is Hoarding OCD Definition? 

Hoarding disorder, also known as hoarding OCD, is a mental health condition characterized by persistent difficulty discarding possessions, regardless of their actual value, due to a perceived need to save them. Individuals with this disorder often feel intense anxiety or distress at the thought of getting rid of items, leading them to accumulate large amounts of possessions and clutter in their living spaces.

Symptoms of Hoarding OCD 

Hoarding OCD symptoms may or may not be realized by the person suffering it, and many times the people around them notice the symptoms. Common hoarding OCD symptoms include: 

  • Obsession with keeping and storing things.  
  • Trouble getting rid of possessions, even those that are no longer of any use 
  • Feeling intense distress or anxiety at the thought of getting rid of possessions 
  • Inability to organize possessions in a way that allows for safe and functional living spaces 
  • Social isolation and avoidance of visitors due to shame or embarrassment about the state of their home
  • Improper living conditions and health risks such as mold or infestations
  • Difficulty making decisions or prioritizing tasks
  • Fear of losing important information or items
  • Irrational attachment to possessions
  • Difficulty with daily activities, such as cooking or bathing, due to clutter and disorganization

Causes of Hoarding OCD

The exact causes of hoarding OCD are not fully understood, but research suggests that a combination of genetic, environmental, and neurological factors may play a role. Trauma or stressful life events, such as the death of a loved one, can also trigger the onset of hoarding OCD. Some individuals with hoarding OCD may have a history of other mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety.

Diagnosis of Hoarding OCD

Hoarding OCD test performed by a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, is helpful diagnosis of hoarding OCD The test is conducted thorough evaluation – a clinical interview, questionnaires, and other assessments. Generally, questions from The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) are used to diagnose the disorder.

Messy office table with laptop and stationery items

Hoarding OCD Examples 

A person suffering from this mental health illness exhibits signs of hoarding obsessions OCD as well as compulsive hoarding. Here are a few hoarding OCD examples:

  1. Holding on to items for fear that they might be needed sometime in the future, such as books, newspapers, school papers, clothing. 
  2. Having intense emotional or sentimental attachment to objects, called, such as childhood toys or something left by a deceased loved one, and cannot bear to part with them. This is often called sentimental hoarding or memory hoarding OCD. 
  3. Hoarding animals, which can lead to living in unsanitary conditions and an inability to care for the animals’ basic needs. 
  4. Having difficulty organizing your possessions, leading to disorganization and clutter that can interfere with one’s ability to perform daily tasks. 
  5. Having intrusive images of one’s cluttered living space and experiencing social isolation due to embarrassment or shame about it. 
  6. Feeling overwhelmed with a sense of responsibility for possessions’ welfare and become anxious when items are not adequately cared for. 
  7. Buying foodstuff at a grocery store in multiples of 3 (e.g., 3 oranges, 9 apples, etc.) because it’s his magic number.

Treatment for Hoarding OCD 

There are several options that can be considered for hoarding OCD treatment. Some of the options are:

Intervene early  

An early intervention is always the best step in any mental health disorder. When someone starts exhibiting signs of hoarding OCD. It is important to intervene early, to find the right cause and right treatment at the earlier stages of life. This will get hold of the problem so that it does not progress further. 

Develop habits that have positive impact  

Try to keep the mind at ease by developing hobbies and interests that are interesting and entertaining. Exercising regularly and going for long walks in the morning can clear the head. It is also important to get enough sleep and eat a balanced diet. A lifestyle prescribed by the doctor should be followed, to gain maximum benefits. 

Rationalize your extreme thoughts  

Sometimes a person is already aware that their hoarding obsessions and compulsions are baseless. Rationalizing the extremely obsessive and compulsive thoughts with logical explanations helps to get rid of the issue. 

Use affirmations to create a healthy thought pattern  

Affirmations have special powers to turn them into reality. Repeating affirmations throughout the day, helps the subconscious mind to find reality. Keep repeating the affirmations throughout the day.  

Focus on meditation and mindfulness techniques  

Another hoarding disorder treatment is meditation and mind power techniques. These treatments work on stress management and can help in coping with hoarding obsessions and compulsions. These are one of the therapy techniques that can be started alone. 

Take baby steps to organize your space 

Once the mind is calmed about obsessions and compulsions, try some easy practical interventions of decluttering and organizing the things. Make a list of 5 items per day to get rid of. Clean a 5 feet area daily. While doing this activity, keep the mind focused on the good effect it will bring to the life quality once the space is completely tidied. A friend or family member can also be taken in to help him do it. 

Join a support group 

There are several support groups for every mental illness. Joining a support group of people with hoarding OCD can provide a sense of community and understanding among everyone – realize that they are not alone, and that help is available. 

Use talk therapy (psychotherapy)  

In psychotherapy, a therapist discusses the disorder and considers the views and feelings as described to them. It helps to identify and challenge unhelpful thoughts and behaviors that contribute to hoarding. There are many types of psychotherapy and the therapist will decide which one is suitable for them. 

Try medications 

If the intensity of the disorder is high, the doctor can recommend certain anti-depressant medications to help cope with the extremity of the problem. 

Living with hoarding OCD can be challenging, but with the right treatment and support, an individual can learn to manage their symptoms and improve the quality of life. No one should struggle alone, get the right hoarding OCD help, immediately.

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