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How to tell if someone is a Compulsive Hoarder?

Updated: Oct 5, 2018


How to tell if someone is a Compulsive Hoarder?

Did you know that there are almost 1.2 million people in the UK living with a hoarding Disorder? Like most human actions collecting precious items may seem normal but what about when this behaviour becomes excessive and problematic to the point where it’s affecting a person and their family mentally and emotionally.


In May 2013, hoarding was finally recognized as an illness and rightly documented in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual for Mental Health Disorder (DSM-V) to help professionals and Clinicians alike, diagnose people with hoarding tendencies. Hoarding is said to be a symptom of other psychiatric disorders like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). However, there is some debate around this issue as other research suggests that hoarding appears to be independent of other psychiatric disorders, including OCD, see the full report here.

People with hoarding tendencies tend to have great difficulty with discarding or parting with their possessions regardless of their monetary value or attribute. In severe cases of hoarding the person may have very strong urges to collect items and could become distressed at the thought of discarding them.


Speedy clearances, have cleared many hoarding houses and flats and have firsthand experience in distinguishing what is hoarding behaviour and normal behaviour. They have seen cases that are mild to damn severe. They state that hoarding is a debilitating illness, and if it isn't treated, it could put a person in immediate danger. For example, hoarding can create deathtraps. Listverse.com wrote a compelling article about the top ten hoarders who were killed by their hoard; this highlights the significance of this problem and the immediate dangers of hoarding overall. To help you Identify if someone is a hoarder or not this blog post will signpost you to the relevant information to help you become more acquainted with the facts of hoarding.

1. Become familiar with the symptoms of Hoarding First

How to tell if someone is a Compulsive Hoarder?

There are normally tell-tale signs that someone is a hoarder. As stated earlier in this post one of those signs is the compulsive urge to buy and collect items with little monetary value or attribute; this, however, means nothing because we are all guilty of collecting unnecessary items from time to time. But, if you know someone that keeps collecting and starts to fill up their entire living space to the extent where they can’t move freely, cook, or even sleep in their bedroom, then that is the classical sign of a hoarding condition.


The National Health Service (NHS) has put together a fantastic hoarding fact sheet to help you understand hoarding as a condition. Their fact sheet outlines a simple definition, why it may be a significant problem and even why a person may hoard. Click here for more details.

2. Are they collecting or hoarding?

How to tell if someone is a Compulsive Hoarder?

One way to distinguish this according to leading researchers is how well their items are stored and organised. For example, someone who collects items tends to be more organised and takes the time to show off their possessions. On the other hand, someone with a hoarding condition who collects possessions tends to be more disorganized and unfocused. Their assets become cluttered to the point where it prevents them from carrying out normal day-to-day activities. To help you distinguish between the two, Psychology Today outlines What is the Difference Between Compulsive Hoarding and Collecting?

3. Do they become distressed and suffer from severe anxiety when attempting to throw away any of their possessions?

How to tell if someone is a Compulsive Hoarder?

If this is the case, then this is another classic sign. Most people do get upset if an item of theirs has to be thrown away because it has broken, but in hindsight, they will get over it. Someone with a hoarding condition with a comparable situation will become so anxious and panicked that it would affect their ability to function in their daily activities. In extreme cases, some hoarders may even want to commit suicide.


4. Unwillingness to let anyone in their home

How to tell if someone is a Compulsive Hoarder?

Most people who have a hoarding condition often feel ashamed to let anyone in their home. They feel that their clutter has got so bad to the point that they begin to isolate themselves; this can cause more problems because their isolation often transpires into depression, which then adds further complexity to the issues they currently face.

5. Are they in denial that they have a problem?

How to tell if someone is a Compulsive Hoarder?

Many hoarders are in denial. The best way to approach someone with hoarding behaviour is to try and understand their illness first. Try listening to them rather than dictating to them. Instead of saying that they have a problem, maybe try to approach the situation uniquely, maybe try to ask them questions about their hoarding behaviour. In this way, you might help the hoarder analyse their behaviour and see the potential issues with it. Getting a hoarder to face their problems can be a challenge as their possessions mean the world to them, despite if those possessions have no real value. The best way around this problem, in severe, stubborn cases, would be to show them literature and videos of the dangers of hoarding and its effects. The popular American TV show Buried Alive, shows a fantastic episode of a hoarder being in denial. You can gain access to this video here.

6. Getting the appropriate hoarding help