Hoarding disorder is characterized by an ongoing resistance to discarding one’s belongings, even those with no value, like junk mail, old newspapers, and materials that most people would consider to be garbage. Hoarders also hold on to personal possessions that they no longer use, either because they feel emotionally attached to these items or because they believe they will need them in the future.
People with this condition may give in to the urge to acquire excessive amounts of objects that fill up their living space. The accumulation of clutter and lack of order and cleanliness can cause health and safety risks within the home. In this way, hoarding disorder can create social, professional, and functional problems that affect not only the individual but also the people around them.
The hoarding tendency often begins in adolescence and worsens as a person gets older. Unlike a collector (someone who accumulates specific related objects generally recognized as collectibles with some established value), a person with hoarding disorder gathers up random items and is overly attached to personal possessions that may not have any value.
Even when they are convinced to give up or throw away some of the items, doing so causes the hoarder great distress. Ultimately, almost every surface in an individual's home, including floors, furniture, counters, and other fixtures, will be covered in piles of clutter, leaving the hoarder only a narrow path clear for walking through the living space, which for the most part is no longer usable.
Hoarders often experience difficulty with personal hygiene and are at greater risk of falling and their residences become fire risks. The more cluttered and blocked their home becomes, the more stress the individual feels, because of the chaos within the living space and complaints from family members, neighbors, and even local law enforcement.