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When Collecting becomes Hoarding

Collecting is something many people do as a hobby or just because they like to keep things that remind them of fond memories.

People collect everything – from stamps to antiques, cards to their baby’s first tooth.

But when does collecting become hoarding? This is a complex question and undoubtedly something that is subjective in many cases. However, for some people, the fact that they collect a lot of things can cause them a range of other problems that have a negative effect on their daily lives.

Hoarding is described as a disorder if someone collects too many things, have difficulty letting go or throwing out things that are no longer needed or wanted, and if they have considerable problems with organisation. Often, people who hoard have difficulty moving around their home due to the amount of things they have accumulated inside it or even around the outside of their home. It can also create a situation where the person can no longer maintain their home and keep it clean.

People who hoard often report that they shop excessively in order to acquire more things. This can cause financial difficulties and problems in their relationships. This compulsive buying has been found to be associated with OCD and depression. Even though the person may be aware that they have too many things, the thought of throwing things away, giving them away or even recycling them is too difficult.

The accumulation of things throughout the home causes many problems, and people who hoard have difficulty organising their home in a way that helps them to live a normal life. Often their home contains piles of things which contain both useful and worthless items together, making it difficult for them to find things and move around comfortably. The task of locating things that they do need becomes extremely time consuming. 

The three C’s is a simple way of looking at the stages of acquisition:


Clutter is easily shifted and is part of a lively, sometimes disorganized life. Some people are disturbed by small amounts of disorganization or disorder. Others thrive in the midst of a ‘creative mess’. What matters is: Are the things being used? And can the owner get rid of things easily?


Clots are when collections of clutter aren’t used or moved for 6 months or more. The household still works.  The rooms can still be entered and lived in but there are ‘dead’ places. The physical clots are often accompanied hoarder rationales, and avoidance. Touching clots or moving them can provoke the same cries and panic that hoarders have when their things are touched or moved.

An ever increasing laundry pile that is never completely folded or put away. Items are added the top layer is regularly churned by household members looking for things but the foundations can be untouched for 2 years or more.

Unfinished clearouts – the bags or boxes that have happened after a sort out but the rejects have never made it out the door to the charity shops or the rubbish bins.

Unfinished projects – collecting fabric for a quilt, cutting the first bits and then not touching it again for 5 years.

Unwanted purchases in their original packaging. These have sat there so long that they can no longer be returned, but the owner doesn’t know what to do with them.


Clogs are when clots all over the house have become stuck to one another.  For example a spare room can become a dumping ground.  Imagine all the clots described above have been carried into the spare room and left.  Eventually it is impossible to open the door or get into the room.  That is a clog. When a whole house is clogged it is a completed clog. The things have become a hoard.

Rather than a living space, the home has become a storehouse. Part of the description for compulsive hoarder’s houses includes semi-blocked and blocked doorways. It is very difficult to move through the spaces. Circulation has stopped. The possessions are no longer being used. The person is now serving their things rather than the other way around.


Recovery from hoarding can be difficult and requires a collaborative approach between the therapist and client. Primarily, treatment for hoarding involves cognitive-behavioural therapy with similar aspects to that used to treat OCD. CBT has been shown to be successful in treating people who hoard with recovery rates reported to be up to 80%. Group therapy can also be helpful as this reduces feelings of isolation and shame associated with hoarding behaviours and can even help motivate the person to seek individual treatment. Group therapy can help people develop their own skills, and understand the emotions and thoughts associated with their disorder. Self-help and peer-support groups such as on-line support groups can also be helpful in reducing feelings of isolation and help to increase the person’s self-esteem through sharing stories and skills which are helpful in the recovery process.

Finding help

If you know someone who may have problems with hoarding, you can call ARCVic’s helpline on 9830 0533 or 1300 269 438 for information and referral.

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