Why So Much Compulsive Hoarding?

Staying centered and sane in this consumer culture

Posted Feb 29, 2016

Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

There’s a house down the street with piles of debris inside and boxes stacked on the front porch. “The hoarders’ house,” a neighbor calls it.

According to the DSM-5, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 2013), compulsive hoarders cling to their possessions, unable to discard things they no longer use. Their homes are filled with newspapers, magazines, and old clothing. Their clutter is often piled so high they cannot use their living areas. In severe cases, hoarders are unable to cook in their kitchens or sleep in their beds.

Hoarding behavior affects both males and females, occurring most often in adults over 55. People typically begin hoarding after a traumatic life event or period of acute stress. Feeling unsafe, they accumulate possessions to feel more secure. Yet by living in these cluttered, unsanitary conditions, they compromise their health and safety.

Compulsive hoarding is an extreme, now classified as a mental disorder and treated with cognitive behavioral therapy (American Psychiatric Association, 2013; Tolin,  Frost, & Steketee, 2007).  But our busy consumer culture affects all of us by encouraging mindless acquisition. Advertisements urge us to buy the latest clothes, consumer products, and electronic gadgets, filling our lives with constant stimulation and noise.

Clutter subjects us to chronic stress. In addition to physical clutter, there’s time clutter—compulsively cramming our schedules with activity; noise clutter—radio, TV, and electronics that keep us plugged-in to outside stimulation; emotional clutter—old disappointments, worries and fears that increase our suffering; and mental clutter—hoarding old beliefs of inferiority and prejudice that separate us from ourselves and others. It’s exhausting just to think about all of it.

To begin releasing clutter from your life, you might start asking yourself, “Do I really need this?” You may be surprised at what you discover.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.) Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Tolin, D. F., Frost, R. O., & Steketee, G. (2007). An open trial of cognitive-behavioral therapy for compulsive hoarding. Behaviour Research and Therapy. 45, 1461-1470.


Diane Dreher is a best-selling author, positive psychology coach, and professor at Santa Clara University. Her latest book is Your Personal Renaissance: 12 Steps to Finding Your Life’s True Calling.Visit her web sites at  http://www.northstarpersonalcoaching.com/ and www.dianedreher.com