Compulsive Hoarding

Compulsive Hoarding

What is Chronic Hoarding Disorder?

Compulsive Hoarding Disorder (CHD) is strongly linked to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Researchers disagree as to whether it is a symptom of OCD or a condition in its own right.

CHD occurs when a person attaches emotional value to objects that are often financially worthless. They collect these items over many years and can’t bear to part with them so they store them around the house. Sufferers may initially be considered eccentric, lazy or greedy and their condition may not be diagnosed until they are well into adulthood.

Eventually the build-up of clutter can restrict movement around the house or even block off whole rooms. This makes cleaning and gaining access to plumbing and wiring difficult if not impossible. Many sufferers live in squalor. Some homes have even been found to contain dead animals or insect infestations.

It is estimated that more than 1 million Australians may suffer from CHD.


What causes Chronic Hoarding Disorder?

There several theories regarding the cause of CHD. People with other anxiety disorders are more at risk including those with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Agoraphobia.

Possible causes include:

  • Abnormal brain activity – Studies show a definite link between CHD and abnormal activity in the part of the brain that controls rational thinking and decision-making, sometimes following head injury.
  • Genetics – Those with relations who have diagnosed forms of anxiety or obsession may be more at risk.
  • Emotional connections to childhood toilet training – Sigmund Freud theorised that sufferers have an underlying need to ‘hold onto things’ to maintain control or fill a void in their life. He believed this stems from early anal toilet training. Children told to hold on for long periods in order to be ‘good’ could grow to exhibit anally-retentive behaviours as adults.
  • Major trauma - The death of a loved one, migration or chronic illness can trigger anxiety-related conditions like Chronic Hoarding Disorder. In order to avoid facing the real situation sufferers create an entirely new problem.


What are the symptoms and risks associated with Chronic Hoarding Disorder?

Chronic hoarding affects almost every aspect of a sufferer’s life.


Buying objects of little value can reflect the person’s sense of self-worth. They may also feel embarrassed or ashamed of themselves and their home.

Having OHD may increase the risk of a person developing other mental health conditions such as depression and dementia.


OHD can cause a person to withdraw from their family and social situations. Daily activities may be limited due to junk dominating the living areas. In severe cases sufferers may develop Agoraphobia and be unable to leave the house.


The lack of hygiene and limited mobility can lead to ill health. The excessive clutter can pose a number of safety risks including fire, falling or getting stuck for long periods or it may cause structural damage to the building. This risk extends to family members, neighbours and animals.


Hoarding comes at a huge financial cost. In some cases the person may become bankrupt or homeless. They may also receive legal action against them for things like property damage.


What are the main treatment options?

Treatment for Chronic Hoarding Disorder often requires an integrated model of care. Counselling, social services, peer support groups and professional decluttering services all help to give the person the best chance of overcoming their condition.


Talking to a professional counsellor/therapist the most effective form of treatment for CHD.

Your counsellor may use talking therapies to create a customised program. The most widely used of these is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This is based on the premise that our thoughts govern our behaviour. By changing our thought patterns we can improve our response to challenging situations.

A therapist will help to explore the beliefs that may be underlying your CHD. Together you may devise a plan to gradually disassociate the objects from your emotions and reduce your clutter. Through addressing these unhelpful behaviours you can develop new coping strategies and create positive changes in your life.


Why seek professional help?

Mental illness can be frightening and isolating, especially if you are in a depressed or suicidal state. Talking to friends and family may help but having the support and guidance of a professional counsellor is usually more beneficial. Therapy sessions are confidential and non-judgemental. Seeking help early gives you a greater chance of overcoming your condition and getting your life back to normal.


Where to find help

Our directory lists hundreds of psychotherapists, psychologists, counsellors and other therapists from around Australia. These mental health experts offer counselling over the phone and online in addition to one-on-one consultations. Many also offer workshops and seminars. 

Enter your postcode or suburb into our search box to see a comprehensive list of the health care professionals near you.


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