Basic Characteristics of Hoarding

4 categories you need to consider when dealing with a hoarded home.


I was at a conference on hoarding disorder last week and one of the main speakers was Dr. Harry E. Morgan, President of The Center for Geriartric and Family Psychiatry Inc. and Medical Director of the Alzheimer's Resource Center, both in CT.


One of the first things he said when he started his talk was that "Hoarding is a human symptom, not a diagnosis." He went on to say that if any of us were to see his basement in its current state that he would be considered a "hoarder." And he joked that most professionals in the medical field hoard scientific journals!


It's true that we all collect stuff. Dr. Morgan even referenced the comedy routine of George Carlin on stuff.


Dr. Morgan equated how we get stuff to the laws of fluid dynamics:

  • Stuff flows in.

  • A reservoir of stuff is created.

  • A vacating canal takes stuff out.


He said when there's a breakdown or blockage in any of the steps mentioned above, that's when one can start down the path of hoarding.


Dr. Morgan talked about the characteristics of hoarding in that they seem to fall under 4 umbrellas:


1. Organized vs. Disorganized

There are homes where piles of things are in every room and stacks of stuff are toppling over and spilling out onto every available surface. On the flip side some homes have bins and boxes neatly labeled that run floor to ceiling in every room.


2. Hygienic vs. Contaminated

I call this dry versus wet. There are the homes where yes there's a lot of stuff and it's cluttered, maybe the floors need to be mopped and the surfaces a dusting, but you'd probably feel okay eating a sandwich from the kitchen. In other homes there's the wet stuff - dog feces, cat urine, rotting food, mold, etc. No go on the sandwich here!


3. Risk vs. Safe

In homes with risk factors you'd see items heaped on the stove, piles surrounding the furnace, and extensions cords snaking between stacks of newspapers. In other hoarded homes you'd be able to access all rooms and get to all windows with few hazards being noted.


4. Visible vs. Hidden

Hoarding can be one of those disorders that you know it when you see it. But sometimes, not always. If the front door can only open 12-inches, there's knee high paths to get to each room, and there's items strewn about the yard - you get the sense that it's a hoarded home. Other times the outward appearance is one of normalcy, but it's not until you delve deeper into drawers and closets that you see the true nature of things crammed behind closed doors or maybe an attic, basement, shed or garage (or all of the above) filled to the brim.


These are all characteristics that one should keep in mind when assessing a hoarded home. It's important to look beyond surface appearances.


Have you noted the distinction in these characteristics with your loved ones who hoard?