When Parting With Possessions Becomes Problematic

Available with English captions and subtitles in Spanish.

Most everyone knows what it’s like to struggle with getting rid of one thing or another. It can be hard for any of us to part with an old photo album or perhaps a favorite sweater or book.

But what if discarding items as trivial as newspapers and junk mail caused you great distress? And what if that anguish led you to accumulate so much clutter that your living space became almost unusable?

Unfortunately, this scenario is all too real for the millions of people living with hoarding disorder (HD)—a serious but treatable condition that can create not only mental health concerns, but also physical dangers.

So, what should you know about hoarding disorder and its treatment? What are some of the signs that someone is struggling with HD? And what can concerned loved ones do to help?

Audience Questions

Jeff Szymanski, PhD, explains what hoarding disorder is and how it’s treated, offers tips for supporting someone living with HD, and answers audience questions about clutter and the key distinctions between collecting and hoarding.

  • How would you define hoarding disorder?
  • Are there common elements that are part of a hoarding disorder diagnosis?
  • How does clutter factor into hoarding disorder?
  • What is the difference between hoarding and collecting?
  • What is squalor relative to clutter?
  • Wasn’t hoarding once considered a subtype of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)? Why did that change?
  • Is it possible to have both hoarding disorder and OCD?
  • Are there cases of OCD that mimic hoarding disorder?
  • Are there items that are more commonly hoarded than others?
  • What do we know about the size of the hoarding disorder population?
  • What are some signs and symptoms of hoarding disorder in its early stages?
  • Are obsessive compulsive disorder and hoarding disorder hereditary?
  • Is there a socioeconomic component to hoarding?
  • At what point in adulthood does someone with hoarding challenges typically begin showing more physical signs of hoarding behavior?
  • Can certain life events or stressful times trigger hoarding behavior?
  • What do we know about relationships between the brain and hoarding?
  • What are the various treatment options for somebody with hoarding disorder?
  • Is medication a part of the process for treating hoarding disorder?
  • Why are forced cleanouts considered a bad approach to addressing hoarding issues? What are some constructive ways for family members to help a loved one with hoarding disorder?
  • What is harm reduction and how is it applied in the treatment of hoarding disorder?
  • How do professional organizers factor into hoarding disorder treatment?
  • What can loved ones do to support somebody who is hoarding and perhaps denying that they have a problem?
  • What are some of the more common disorders that co-occur with hoarding disorder? And how do they complicate treatment?
  • Where does one start when seeking treatment for hoarding?
  • What is animal hoarding and how is it treated?
  • Can early loss or attachment disorder factor into hoarding?
  • Are there correlations between hoarding disorder and gambling disorder?
  • Is there a connection between eating disorders and hoarding disorder?
  • Hypothetically, what would the treatment process look like for someone hoarding newspapers?
  • Generally speaking, how long does hoarding disorder treatment take?
  • Is the goal of treatment to cure oneself of hoarding disorder or to learn how to manage it? Is this a chronic condition?
  • Is an over-attachment to money considered a form of hoarding disorder?
  • Are there international hoarding disorder resources available?
  • What are researchers looking into in terms of hoarding disorder treatment advances?
  • What do you want somebody impacted by hoarding disorder to know about the hope that is available through treatment and support?

The information discussed is intended to be educational and should not be used as a substitute for guidance provided by your health care provider. Please consult with your treatment team before making any changes to your care plan.


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About Dr. Szymanski

Jeff Szymanski, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and leading expert on obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). For 15 years, he served as executive director of the International OCD Foundation. Prior to that, he was the director of psychological services at McLean’s OCD Institute.

As a part-time lecturer on psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Szymanski supervises pre-doctoral psychology interns through McLean Hospital. He is the author of “The Perfectionist’s Handbook” and founder of Getting to the Next Level Consulting.

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