What is compulsive hoarding?

Hoarding involves the compulsive buying of things, or collection of free things, with the inability to discard possessions when appropriate.  Clutter - often severe - is the result of hoarding, and can cause numerous health and safety risks to the hoarder, including the inability to use sleeping and cooking areas, fire hazards, fall hazards, potential unsanitary conditions and infestations. 

Hoarding is a neurological disorder that affects men and women of all socio-economic and ethnic groups.  It is not a result of being lazy or "weak-willed".  Hoarding is often seen in conjunction with various mental illnesses.

Drs. Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee have defined hoarding as:
  • The acquisition of, and failure to discard, a large number of possessions that may appear to be useless or of limited value; resulting in:
  1. Living spaces that can’t be used for their intended purpose due to the clutter; and
  2. Significant distress or impairment in functioning caused by the hoarding.
The components of hoarding are:
  • Acquiring possessions compulsively - compulsive buying, collecting free things, stealing
  • Saving all these possessions and not discarding when appropriate
  • Not organizing and maintaining all the saved possessions

If you are concerned about a family member or friend, and are looking for assistance, we urge you to call Protective Services for Adults at the Tompkins County Department of Social Services for information and support at (607) 274-5323.

Remember that this is a problem that has probably been developing for a long time, and there is no quick cure.  It is important to keep in mind that it is not helpful to remove possessions, or do a "clean-out" of the property without the person's consent and participation.