Dr. David Tolin, director of the Anxiety Disorders Center at the Institute of Living at Hartford Hospital, explains compulsive hoarding and the causes.
Is hoarding a kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder?
Right now, compulsive hoarding is considered by many researchers to be a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, for some people, compulsive hoarding may also be related to:  
  • Impulse control disorders (such as impulsive buying or stealing)
  • Depression
  • Social anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Certain personality traits
How common is compulsive hoarding? What are its features?
  • We don't know exactly. Some researchers have guessed that about half of 1 percent of the population suffers from compulsive hoarding, but the actual number may be much higher.
  • People usually start hoarding during childhood or early adolescence, although the problem usually does not become severe until the person is an adult.
  • Compulsive hoarding may run in families.
  • Many people with compulsive hoarding do not recognize how bad the problem really is; often, it is a family member who is most bothered by the clutter.
What causes compulsive hoarding?
Compulsive hoarding is thought to result from problems in one or more of these areas:
  • Information processing. People with compulsive hoarding often have problems such as:
    • Difficulty categorizing their possessions (for example, deciding what is valuable and what is not)
    • Difficulty making decisions about what to do with possessions
    • Trouble remembering where things are (and so they often want to keep everything in sight so they don't forget)
  • Beliefs about possessions. People with compulsive hoarding often:
    • Feel a strong sense of emotional attachment toward their possessions (for example, an object might be felt to be very special, or a part of them)
    • Feel a need to stay in control of their possessions (and so they don't want anyone touching or moving their possessions)
    • Worry about forgetting things (and use their possessions as visual reminders)
  • Emotional distress about discarding. People with compulsive hoarding often:
    • Feel very anxious or upset when they have to make a decision about discarding things
    • Feel distressed when they see something they want, and think they can't feel better until they acquire that object
    • Control their uncomfortable feelings by avoiding making the decision, or putting it off until later 
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