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ADD/ADHD and Hoarding Disorder

Strategies to manage life when these two disorders co-exist.

Hoarding Disorder often co-exists with other mental and physical disorders.

They don't cause hoarding. They complicate life and the specialized work to recover from Hoarding Disorder.

Worldometer reports that the current United States population is 369,191,923 (as of Aug 20, 2020). Healthline statistics indicate that 4 percent of the North American adult population is living with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). This means approximately 14,767,677 people are currently believed to be living with ADHD or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

We conducted a random 10-year snapshot of cases and found that 2.8 percent of those who sought help were diagnosed with ADHD or ADD.

Photo by Suzanne Cronkwright
Source: Photo by Suzanne Cronkwright

How many ADHD/ADD sufferers who are hoarding are not getting help? I am astounded by how many of those who come to me for help have clear symptoms of adult ADD or ADHD and are undiagnosed and therefore untreated. Most have spent their life wondering what was wrong with them and believing their challenges are personal faults.

What Is Hoarding Disorder?

  1. Excessive accumulation and a failure to resolve proportionately (things and/or animals).
  2. Some or all living spaces cannot be used for their intended purpose.
  3. Distress or impairment in functioning to the person hoarding or others. Even if “others” don’t know about the condition of the property if they did, they would have a legitimate reason to be concerned.

The “others” can be mortgage and fire insurance companies, neighbours unaware of risks close by, Fire Department, Children’s Services, Services for the elderly, SPCA, municipal bylaw, and possibly property standards departments.

It is also important to note that:

  • Hoarding is found in all cultures, income, education levels, and happens for many different reasons.
  • Anecdotally, a disproportionate number of people, often unaware of their hoarding vulnerabilities, who have professions where the production, storage, and retrieval of documents (hard copy or digital) is key to their performance, also appear to be at higher risk for developing Hoarding Disorder. My 20 years of experience confirms that they are among the loveliest and unlikeliest people, who may also be your doctor, lawyer, accountant, teacher, banker, research scientist, language interpreter.
  • Hoarding situations do not remediate on their own given enough time. They will continue to deteriorate until the health and safety of the individual and community are put at risk.
  • Those who hoard are not homogeneous, even though the optics of a hoarded environment may appear similar.

Types of Hoarding

Refer to our blog post Hoarding 101 for information on the types of hoarding.

Three Paths to Hoarding

1. Genetics. Inheriting a vulnerability to hoard, either genetically and/or environmentally. Estimates range between 50 percent and 84 percent of those who hoard having a first-degree family relative who hoards. We also know that there are four chromosomes with markers in common in those who suffer from Hoarding Disorder. The chromosomes are 4, 5, 17, and Johns Hopkins conducted an OCD Collaborative Genetics Study and identified chromosome 14 as linked by an autosomal recessive pattern to OCD.

2. Having a high-risk comorbid factor. This speaks directly to the characteristics and challenges of those living with ADHD/ADD and many other identified disorders.

3. Being (even mildly) chronically disorganized and then becoming vulnerable, often due to life setbacks.

You can see that with the three paths, those living with ADHD/ADD tick off two of the three boxes, which places them at a significant risk of developing Hoarding Disorder.

What to Do About It?

I always begin by helping people restore their self-esteem. I believe that no one ever accomplished anything that is difficult by feeling less about themselves.

I ask people to:

  • Know your disorder and own it unapologetically.
  • List your strengths and achievements, as well as areas you have goals to improve and keep that list at hand.
  • Reflect and regroup if today was a bad day. Tomorrow you’ve been made wiser by those setbacks.
  • Be responsible for managing your own needs.
  • Ask for the help you need.
  • Find support that is a good fit. Remember that the times you least want to go, are probably the times you most need to go.
  • You are worthy of success. Everyone in this world has challenges to live with. ADHD/ADD is yours.

With respect to hoarding, here are three principles to remember:

1. Don’t put it down, put it away! Try to make the item’s home no more than four steps away from where you use it.

2. There is no “just for now.” That just delays you from doing it and is what creates piles.

3. Just do it now! It never gets easier. It really is the 15 minutes you do every day that will get you to where you need to be and keep you there.


Birchall, Elaine, and Suzanne Cronkwright. 2019. Conquer the Clutter: Strategies to Identify, Manage, and Overcome Hoarding. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Samuels, J., et al. 2007. “Significant Linkage to Compulsive Hoarding on Chromosome 14 in Families with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Results from the OCD Collaborative Genetics Study.” American Journal of Psychiatry 164 (3): 493-99.

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