STYLE Savvy: Is it Life, or is it Hoarding?


If you’ve been reading my posts, you know I’m not hard core when it comes to tidiness and that I believe a certain amount of clutter is inevitable in a busy, fulfilling life. Most of the time, when our stuff gets out of hand and overwhelms us, it’s part and parcel of that busy, fulfilling life, and not a cause for concern.

But sometimes, out-0f-control stuff is a sign of a bigger problem, especially if we can’t distinguish (true) trash from treasure. Though many of us joke about hoarding, true hoarding is more than an organizational issue; it has emotional elements that need to be dealt with for the health and safety of all involved.

Because hoarding isn’t simply a matter of opinion or strategizing, today, I’m sharing information from a source more informed than I. As I went in search of information on this topic, I found a fantastic PDF from the International OCD Foundation, which defined compulsive hoarding as ALL THREE of the following:

  1. A person collects and keeps a lot of items, even things that appear useless or of little value to most people and
  2. These items clutter the living spaces and keep the person from using their rooms as they were intended and
  3. These items cause distress or problems in day-to-day activities.

Let me begin with the emphasis placed on ALL THREE (capital letters theirs, bold mine) and the word “and” (italics mine). I cannot stress enough that all of these criteria must be met. If you are “simply” a collector or “simply” have a cluttered living space, that does not make you a hoarder.

Hoarding is distinguished by a pattern of symptoms that causes distress for the person experiencing them, but it’s treatable. Appropriate treatment, however, usually requires more than simply advice on organization and the good intentions of friends and family members. Tough love and forced removal of beloved objects can sometimes cause more harm than good.

It’s possible for any one of us to show symptoms of hoarding. But clinical hoarding, like any other clinical disorder, is typified by a pattern of symptoms — not just a few isolated symptoms that ebb and flow with stress and busyness.

If you’ve been successfully making progress with your organizational systems, even slowly, you’re probably not a hoarder.

If you understand that other people don’t see the same value in certain objects that you do, and you can distinguish true trash from true treasure, you’re probably not a hoarder.

If, prior to purchasing the super jumbo family pack at the warehouse club you ask yourself where you’re going to put it when you get it home, you’re probably not a hoarder.

If you have surfaces that collect clutter, but you can still move through your home and use the rooms and appliances for the purposes for which they’re intended, you’re probably not a hoarder.

If, however, anything in this post has you concerned, please click on the link at the top of the post to access a great, clear FAQ page from the International OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) Foundation that distinguishes common, non-clinical behaviors from those that are more concerning. Or, click here to read more information on hoarding from the Mayo Clinic.

Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

Copyright 2016 Lisa Hess


About Author

Lisa Lawmaster Hess has contributed articles to local, national and online publications, and blogs at The Porch Swing Chronicles, The Susquehanna Writers and here at She is the author of two non-fiction books (Acting Assertively and Diverse Divorce) and two novels, Casting the First Stone and Chasing a Second Chance. A retired elementary school counselor, Lisa is a lecturer in psychology at York College and enjoys singing with the contemporary choir at her church.

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