4 Signs of Hoarding Disorder & the 5 Levels to Be Aware of

By Tatenda


Last Updated: June 20, 2022

Have you ever thought that you might have a hoarding disorder because of the random stuff you have laying around?

Well, you’re not the only one who has had such thoughts, I’ve been there myself. To validate my self-diagnosis, I went on to research and learn more about hoarding disorder and this is what I found. 

There is a fine but blurry line between having a lot of things and being a hoarder.

The media has made it even more complex to identify hoarding tendencies as the term is loosely used. We’ve seen panic buying being referred to as hoarding and people with more clutter than usual being called hoarders. Guess what, that is not necessarily a hoarding disorder. 

The DSM-5 is a tool and reference guide for mental health clinicians to diagnose, classify, and identify mental health conditions. According to this, hoarding disorder is the compulsive need to collect and keep items regardless of their value (or lack thereof).

People with hoarding disorder find it difficult to discard possessions because they feel the need to ‘save’ the items. The thought of getting rid of items causes them distress so they end up with clutter that compromises the access and use of living areas. 

Having a lot of stuff because you’re a bit lazy or busy to get rid of the items does not make you a hoarder. Hoarding disorder is a mental condition that is often comorbid with other conditions such as depression, OCD, ADHD and anxiety. 



4 Signs of Hoarding Disorder

Hoarding can begin as early as in the teens and over time, it worsens.

It starts off in private and by the time others recognize the problem, significant clutter would have been accumulated. As a result, most people get diagnosed when they are older.

This explains the claim by the American Psychiatric Association that adults between the ages of 55 and 94 are three times more likely to get diagnosed with hoarding disorder than those between 34 and 44. 


1. Unlike collectors, hoarders end up with a lot of items that are poorly organized and not well taken care of.

The cause of distress people who hoard experience when they try to get rid of some of their items is varied.

For some, it is because they have sentimental attachments. To others, it’s because they anticipate that in future the items will be useful. As a result, they hold on to these items.  


2. They will start to socially isolate themselves, or areas of their home.

At some point, most people who hoard realize that they need to get rid of some of their items or they will risk losing some of their loved ones. In most cases, they go for the second option and do their best to avoid having people visit their house or at least, some rooms.

They will keep their curtains drawn so that no one sees what is inside the house. The embarrassment and secrecy around hoarding results in these people being socially isolated. 


3. They will have difficulty finding things and will be unlikely to lend out any of their possessions. 

It becomes increasingly difficult to find useful items around the house.

Despite having a lot of possessions, an individual with a hoarding problem will not lend anything to others. This is because they fear others do not value their possessions, and might lose them.  


4. They may fiercely avoid getting rid of anything or admitting they probably should. 

Often loved ones will try to have conversations regarding getting rid of some of the possessions. These conversations go on for a long time due to the resistance from the hoarder. Just like those with any other mental conditions, people with hoarding disorders require patience. 

Types of hoarding include: 

  • Animal hoarding
  • Digital hoarding
  • Food hoarding
  • Paper hoarding
  • Garbage hoarding 


The 5 Levels of Hoarding

Depending on the severity of the disorder, there are 5 levels of hoarding. 

Level 1:

Level one is the least severe level with the least indicators.

It is characterized by light clutter around the house. All rooms and areas of the house will be accessible and there won’t be any noticeable odors. 


Level 2: 

Level 2 hoarders will have noticeable hoarding characteristics.

Clutter will begin to pile up in walkways and some rooms. Due to inaccessibility, some parts of the house will not be getting cleaned. The individual starts avoiding visitors. 


Level 3: 

At level 3, the hoarder will have poor personal hygiene and there will be noticeable odors around the house.

There will be visible clutter outside the home and in some cases, an excessive number of pets. 


Level 4: 

Here there will be structural damage, excessive animal waste, rotting food in the kitchen and major pest infestations. 


Level 5: 

Level 5 is the final and most severe one.

Here there will be extreme clutter that poses a risk to people. Sometimes containers with animal and human waste are found around the house. The house will be covered in fire hazards and often there won’t be any electricity or running water due to neglect. 



You know someone who may have a hoarding disorder. What’s next? 

Usually, hoarding disorder becomes a concern when it is in the extreme stages.

However, noticing signs like having difficulties getting rid of possessions because one believes they will be useful in future and constantly accumulating stuff should not be ignored. 

Risk factors include personality, family history and PTSD. Unfortunately, there aren’t any known measures that one can take to prevent it. But, identifying the signs soon and seeking help can help put a stop to the progression of the condition. 

If you or a loved one is dealing with hoarding disorder, remember you’re not alone and there are professionals out there who can help.

Photo by Roberto Carlos Román Don on Unsplash


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