Examining the psychology of hoarding can provide insight and answers to the question, “What makes an individual hoard objects?” Understanding the thoughts and behaviors of a hoarder helps researchers to understand that this behavior is a coping mechanism that is a symptom of a mental health issue and a means of retaining control when the circumstances of life seem out of control. While hoarding is often a way of dealing with fear it can also result from feelings of insecurity. Hoarders do not save objects because of their intrinsic value or because of the joy of collecting. Instead, their behavior frustrates and embarrasses them even while they seem unable to stop amassing clutter all around them.
A “hoarder” lives in an environment of disorganization that may border on being unsanitary. Many hoarders find themselves unable to part with things that generally have no meaning and may even be considered trash. Hoarders allow junk, magazines, books, empty containers, old newspapers, screws; the “stuff” of life to simply pile up around them.
Hoarding has historically been a coping mechanism for a whole generation of people who lived and survived the Great Depression era of the 1940′s. Lack was so great for many of these individuals that the fear of not having compeled them to save even the most useless of objects.
A common behavior frequently found in adopted children suffering with varying degrees of attachment disorder is that of hoarding. Follow-up studies on adoption of these children have revealed a high incidence of hoarding amongst them. Why? Because many of them have come from lives and backgrounds where need, hunger, and insecurity has characterized daily life due to famine and abuse. Even when these children have been placed in homes where needs are met with regularity, they still hoard because doing so allows them to retain some control over the persistent fear of going without.
According to the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation, hoarding is a compulsive behavior. Hoarding disorder (HD) is the newest member of the OCD family to be included in the DSM V. Those who suffer with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder share many of the characteristics of a hoarder. OCD sufferers frequently procrastinate because of a fear of failure. Rather than show initiative and end up failing, they will simply do nothing. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is also described as a behavior of individuals who feel largely out of control of their lives. These two commonalities, fear of failure and fear of losing control seem to be shared by hoarders and those who suffer with other compulsive forms of behavior. While the psychological community is still studying the behavior and psychology of hoarding, research has shown a substantiate link between hoarding and OCD.
Future studies will focus on the association between emotional attachment, empathy and hoarding. It may well be that hoarders form emotional attachments to things more easily than to people.