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7 reasons why people become hoarders

Chris Macdonald - Sales Director - SafeGroup


Chris Macdonald

3 min read

CleanSafe Services is regularly called upon to use its expertise in extreme cleaning to help individual people and social care agencies deal with the consequences of the compulsion to hoard.

The condition has become a lot better recognised and researched in recent years, in part, because of the many TV programmes about cleaning – some of which CleanSafe Services has participated in – which feature hoarders.

But, why do people compulsively hoard belongings to such a degree that eventually they cannot cope, their lives are even put at risk, people living nearby are inconvenienced, and care agencies have to step in to take action?

Cleaning up after hoarding


To start with, though, what’s the definition of a compulsive hoarder? According to US doctors Randy Frost and Tamara Hartl, they are people who:

• Acquire and fail to discard a large number of possessions that appear to be useless or of limited value

• Have living spaces sufficiently cluttered so as to preclude activities for which those spaces were designed

• Show significant distress or impairment in functioning caused by the hoarding.

And, if calculations about the number of hoarders in North America are anything to go by, there are more than 200,000 compulsive hoarders in the UK, many with homes full to the brim with items that most other people would consider to be only worth throwing away.

So, why do people hoard? Here at CleanSafe Services, we’ve done some research and, based on the opinion of psychologists and other experts, we have come up with 7 reasons why people become compulsive hoarders.

1: A personal trauma. Many experts agree that there is often a link between compulsive hoarding and experiencing an emotional trauma, often going back to childhood. Interestingly, Prof Randy Frost says hoarding behaviour (but not disorder) typically starts at the age of 13.

2: Emotional irregularity. Hoarders can suffer from depression and anxiety disorders. Hoarding is one of their coping mechanisms.

3: Difficulty processing information. Jessie Sholl has written a best-selling book about her mother’s compulsive hoarding. She talks about ‘under-inclusion’, the inability to categorise items into those that are valuable, and those that are not. So everything is equally valuable, and has to be helpful.

4: Perfectionism. This appears strange when you see a house full of what you think is rubbish. But a hoarder’s perfectionist tendency means they fear making the mistake of throwing away something that MIGHT be valuable.

5: Creativity. Jessie Sholl, again, quotes academics who found many hoarders consider themselves to be artists. They often think their belongings are beautiful, and so valuable. They also have many different ideas about why their belongings are important, which contributes to their decision to keep them.

6: Emotional attachment. Compulsive hoarders can become more emotionally attached to belongings than people who don’t hoard, says Prof Randy Frost, often giving inanimate objects human-like qualities.

7: A dread of waste. Many compulsive hoarders see themselves as being highly responsible for keeping items that may one day be useful.

Compulsive hoarding is a unique and complex disorder, which can cause the people who have it a great deal of stress and anxiety. That is why when CleanSafe Services is called in to help resolve issues related to hoarding, we always respond sensitively and with discretion.

Hoarding can lead to environmental concerns, including pest infestation and bacteriological and viral infection, but these have to be resolved with due respect for the people identified as being hoarders.

For more information about CleanSafe Services, telephone 0800 668 1268. Or email us on: [email protected].

Chris Macdonald - Sales Director - SafeGroup
About the author

Chris Macdonald

Chris has strategic responsibility for sales development and major accounts management at SafeGroup. He was a professional footballer with Southampton FC until a series of injuries ended his career while still a teenager. Chris began working as a helpdesk controller for a national FM company in 2004. By 2013 he was its managing director. From there he joined SafeGroup in 2018, bringing with him huge expertise plus the energy, enthusiasm and drive that would have surely made him a success in the Premier League. He does, however, still enjoy playing football.