(adapted excerpt from OVERCOME HOARDING AND TRANSFORM YOUR LIFE: How to Choose Hope and Life Instead of Things)


In my experience, hoarding is defined by:

  1. Volume – hoarders collect far more than any human being could use.
  1. Acquisition – hoarders continue actively searching for and bringing in new items even when the existing accumulation creates enormous problems.
  1. Storage – hoarders pile their collection high and/or pack it tight, rendering finding or using items nearly impossible, and usually disregard hazards and consequences.
  1. Denial – hoarders deny or ignore the risks and often the reality of their hoarding. Even people who recognize that they are hoarders are often in denial about various aspects of their problem, such as whether they over-acquire, whether they really need to get rid of most specific items or classes of items, and the hazards that hoarding creates for themselves and others.
  1. Heightened emotionality, especially anxiety, regarding objects – people who hoard experience intense anxiety at the prospect of having to part with items or not acquiring when the opportunity to do so exists. They also commonly feel intensely attached to their things and excessively responsible for the fate of objects. Touching a hoarder’s belongings often generates reactions that are far out of proportion to the triggering event.
  1. Potential – People who hoard frequently see only the possibilities of items without regard for their actual current state, what would be required to realize that potential, or the effect of living with another item or project. They also over-prioritize potential need, use for, or pleasure of things over the actual reality of the discomfort, consequences, and dangers of keeping so many things.
  1. Hiding – regardless of the level of denial, nearly all hoarders recognize that others frown on their behavior and/or they are ashamed of it, so they try to hide their accumulation. The result of hiding is increasing isolation which tends to exacerbate the behavior that becomes solace and refuge from social disapproval. Hiding is usually only partially effective as others may not know specifically what is happening but they recognize that there is something odd and unhealthy about the hoarder’s behavior. Signals like bad smells, constant acquisition, always carrying many bags, and refusal to admit visitors indicate something abnormal, even if the clues may not lead to the right answer.


The line between clutter and hoarding may be hard to distinguish, particularly if it’s your problem. Differentiating is made harder by the fact that there are some common characteristic between clutterers and hoarders: difficulty making decisions, feeling overwhelmed, managing time, and creating systems or organizing.

Here are some benchmarks to determine whether your accumulation has crossed the line. Any one of these behaviors is a probable indicator of hoarding; having two or more of them is conclusive for hoarding, and having all four means that the situation likely needs concentrated effort to overcome it:

___ Becoming upset or hysterical if something is thrown out or even touched
___ Becoming anxious at the mere thought of having to give something up
___ Staying upset for a long time (years even) after an item is lost or taken away

___ Sleeping on the couch because the bed is piled with belongings or sharing the bed with piles of objects
___ Having restricted walkways, entry, or fire exits because of piles of objects
___ Being unable to use the kitchen or bathtub in a normal manner
___ Having animal or insect pests that cannot be controlled because of the volume of stuff

___ Being at risk for or threatened with divorce, eviction, or many other adverse outcomes because of excessive belongings (and often still not taking any action to prevent the adverse outcome)
___ Missing income because the paperwork is lost in the piles of stuff
___ Being deeply in debt from acquiring things that are not used
___ Having a high risk for fire, falls, or falling objects because of the accumulation

___ Adding more things to existing piles, especially when items in piles are already difficult or impossible to access
___ Going deeper into debt buying things when there are already too many
___ Bringing in things from the street despite all the risks (germs, bedbugs, and cockroaches, among others)
___ Spreading out from storing things in an over-flowing home to the porch, yard, car, or a storage facility

___ Having lots of cleaning supplies even though little cleaning is done or lots of books when little reading occurs
___ Buying many duplicates of the same item of clothing, even though there are already unworn articles of the same type
___ Buying duplicates of an item when the first one has not been tried to find out if it is helpful


The TV programs on hoarding show that some people living amidst piles and squalor defend their practice as being collecting rather than hoarding. So let’s look at the hallmarks of collecting and show how that differs from hoarding.


This one is harder. In my experience, 80% of hoarders consider themselves artists or artistic and that the items in their piles are materials for future art projects. Confounding clarity is the fact that many working artists live or work in spaces that look like the aftermath of a tornado. However, I have seen enough examples of artists who are meticulous with their materials to know that mess does not equal creativity and creativity does not equal mess (at least, not long term). So what does differentiate between artistic accumulation and hoarding? My list will doubtless provoke many objections, but let’s explore anyway:

The point of the above list is not to put down anyone’s artistic aspirations or abilities but to underline that if one truly wants to express oneself artistically, hoarding must stop to make it possible.


The point of labeling hoarding is not to stigmatize it but to shine a light on the truth and show why different strategies are needed to remedy the problem than for dealing with clutter, collecting, or accumulating art supplies:

© 2012 Gloria Valoris. All rights reserved


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Two of my housemates are artists, and one of them has a staggering collection of objects. However, none of his items sit in piles – instead they are transformed as soon as they enter the house into what he calls ‘kachinas’, exquisite expressions of both his artistic impulses and deep interest in San Francisco history. Our entire 4-story house (and the yards and garage) is one enormous canvas / museum for his output. Even his storage and work areas are art works.