Dr. Craig Sawchuk of the world-renowned Mayo Clinic is an authority on hoarding disorder, One area in which he focuses he works with clients and family members is appreciating when clutter has crossed the line and become hoarding. Understanding the difference between clutter and hoarding is imperative in order to take a proper approach to address a particular situation. In other words, dealing with clutter requires certain tactics while addressing the needs of a person with hoarding disorder necessitates a broader spectrum of assistance and interventions.

Hoarding Disorder From a Clinical Standpoint

Dr. Sawchuk and the Mayo Clinic define hoarding disorder as:

“Hoarding disorder is a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. Excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value, occurs.”

Dr. Sawchuk makes note that acquiring things is a perfectly natural aspect of being humans. He explains that humans are hunter-gatherers by their nature. Hence, even generations removed from a point in time that humans did spend their time literally hunting and gathering, Dr. Sawchuk maintains that they remain wired to gather and store items that might be needed at some juncture in the future. When it comes to a person with hoarding disorder, that individual is experiencing a dysfunctional type of hunter-gatherer response.

Evidence That What Was an Issue With Clutter May Have Become Full-Blown Hoarding Disorder

Dr. Sawchuk suggests that a very simple initial warning sign that a person may have gone from having an issue with clutter to suffering from the early stages of hoarding disorder if that individual has a room in his or her home that becomes unusable. In other words, a person may fairly be said to be in an early stage of hoarding disorder.

Dr. Sawchuk further notes that an unusable space in a home in and of itself is indicative, but not necessarily conclusive, of the onset of hoarding disorder. There are other factors that need to be considered as well. Chief among them is a person in this position who is also incapable of readily parting with accumulated items.

Another earlier sign of hoarding disorder is an effort to conceal what is occurring in a person’s residence. A hoarder will keep people away from his or her residence. A hoarder is also likely to avoid social interaction in a growing number of instances.

Underlying or Associated Mental Health Conditions

In discussing when clutter crosses a line and becomes hoarding also involves a consideration of different mental health conditions that can underpin hoarding disorder. According to the presentation made by Dr. Sawchuk, there are four primary mental health conditions that oftentimes are found underlying a hoarding situation. These are:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

There is also evidence that a traumatic life event can trigger hoarding behavior in a person. Examples include the death of a spouse or a divorce. More women than men appear to suffer from hoarding disorder.

Multifaceted Approach to Treating Hoarding Disorder

Dr. Sawchuk explains that treating hoarding disorder involves more than just “cleaning up” a hoarder’s home. Although eliminating hoarded objects is necessary, when the only real step taken in regard to a person with hoarding disorder is cleaning the premises, the individual that is the subject of the effort is likely to return to hoarding again. Indeed, in the absence of a multifaceted approach to treating hoarding disorder, about 95% of hoarders do hoard again.

It is important to note that a residence where hoarding exists can be a dangerous place. One of the types of hazards in such a residence is the potential presence of dangerous pathogens – bacteria and viruses that can cause serious and even fatal disease. As a result, part of the professional team developed to assist a person with hoarding disorder is a professional, experience hoarder property cleanup company.

Dr. Sawchuk noted that a person laboring under hoarding disorder is to participate in psychotherapy. Talk therapy is demonstrated to be vital to assisting a person in addressing an immediate hoarding problem. Therapy of this nature is also useful in laying an emotional foundation that prevents a hoarding relapse once order is restored to a home.

There are also organizational specialists that are helpful to people suffering from hoarding disorder. These professionals assist a person in developing strategies and tactics that are designed to keep a residence in order going forward into the future.

Finally, when it comes to a multifaceted approach to hoarding disorder, Dr. Sawchuk underscores the importance of involving a trusted family or friends in the treatment process. These types of individuals can provide invaluable support to a person laboring under hoarding disorder as he or she attempts to reclaim his or her home and life.


Emily Kil

Co-Owner of Eco Bear Biohazard Cleaning Company

Together with her husband, Emily Kil is co-owner of Eco Bear, a leading biohazard remediation company in Southern California. An experienced entrepreneur, Emily assisted in founding Eco Bear as a means of combining her business experience with her desire to provide assistance to people facing challenging circumstances. Emily regularly writes about her first-hand experiences providing services like biohazard cleanup, suicide cleanup, crime scene cleanup, unattended death cleanup, and other types of difficult remediations in homes and businesses.