hoarder characteristics

The month of May was to help raise awareness to mental health, and hoarder disorder falls in that category. There may be a house you’re trying to sell or buy, a neighboring house on your street, or perhaps it’s someone you know and love deals with this issue. Either way, if they decide to free themselves and seek support, IREP will treat the person with kindness, then properly dispose of their items.

Recently, we picked up a week long hauling job for someone with a hoarder disorder, not because we gave the cheapest bid, we didn’t, but we treated the person with kindness. These individuals need to be dealt with delicately because it is not easy for them, and we understand that. Please reach out if anyone fits this description, or perhaps you know a therapist that deals with people in this situation. We want to do everything possible to help people, and recycle items. About 2.5% of the general population meets the criteria for hoarding disorder, with similar rates found in men and women across developed countries.

Here’s some information on the disorder, and why it’s important that we are gentle in our approach, and action in dealing with these clients.

Defining a hoarder

Hoarder disorder is marked by three major characteristics.

Difficulty Letting Go

While feeling mental pain and conflict, hoarders don’t feel right when throwing something out. The same thing happens to smokers, or drug addicts trying to quit. Even shoppers with “sticker shock”  are hit in the same area. The more those regions are activated, the more they feel anxious and uncomfortable. This motivates a person to seek relief, and hoarders get relief by holding on to things. It can make them feel safer, or calmer, which that in of itself is addictive.

Hoarders often have an irrational conviction that something old and useless could have potential value in the future. The conflicting idea that they might need something, but have gotten rid of it, is painful.

Obsessive Compulsive

People who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder don’t really trigger the same brain circuit as hoarder disorder. Obsessions and compulsions are a response to the “something’s wrong” signal. Even though it may be a faulty habit of the brain, the mind searches for something to explain the feeling. OCD people can settle on irrational beliefs and behaviors. If they wash their hands, touch a wall three times, or repeat a mental mantra, they seem to “prevent” whatever harm their brain was expecting (though it doesn’t actually happen). Hoarding may be closer to ADHD, or depression, rather than OCD.

You don’t have to be a hoarder, or have OCD to know what it feels like to not throw out a favorite shirt, a gift you never used, birthday/Christmas cards, or every craft from when your kids were in grade school. Mindfulness of our own brain habits gives us more control over our choices. The technique of “surfing the urge” helps addicts resist cravings, and dieters resist temptation. It may also help us deal with the anxiety about getting rid of clutter. Taking a skeptical view of our impulses can help us distinguish between actual strength, and the lies your brain tells you.

Hoarders vs Collectors

Collectors are organized, know the value of things, and can be proud of the things they collect. There’s a method to the madness. Hoarders think they’re normal as they pile things, barely leave a path, and don’t think twice about whether it’s healthy. They keep doing what they are doing until there’s no room left, not even seeing the impact it has on their daily life. Some warning signs are if someone skips work because they can’t navigate through their house, they only eat microwave dinners because the stove is full of papers, or sleep on the couch because they can’t reach the bed.

hoarder disorder


After our job with this particular client, they said to us, “I feel so relieved. So much better.” 

Hoarders are in extreme distress. Wiping the slate clean is easier said than done. Like an addict becoming sober, they need to come off of it easily, and you can’t force it to happen. They need to make the choice themselves. Don’t remove anything without their consent because it could back fire, and then resent you for a long period of time. You shouldn’t clean up after them (it could keep them from seeing deeper issues), enable the behavior (buy things for them), or expect progress overnight (our job took a little over a week). Just know that when they do decide to seek help, they won’t be able to get rid of EVERYTHING. They’ll feel the need to hold on to some stuff.

What Can You Do?

lend a kind hand to hoarders

One thing IREP can do to help is send a mail-out for an entire street offering clean out services, and when they meet with us, we will comfort and relieve them of much stress. On top of that, we have the ability to offer referrals of businesses that can help them get organized. That way if they keep things, it won’t look cluttered.

You do want to encourage them to seek professional help. Take some time to research the disorder through sources like the Mayo Clinic, National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the American Depression and Anxiety Association of America. Listen to them without judgement. If they come to you for help, be willing and able to serve while giving recognition to the positive change. Kindness, love, and support will go a very long way with these individuals. Once steps are taken to get help, rid themselves of unnecessary items, and clean up, they will light up and let out a sigh of relief (which we’ve established can be addictive, but the good kind).

IREP assists in this area because we are experienced to do so. It also sets up optimistic thoughts when people realize that I Recycle Everything Possible. They will feel comfortable in the fact that these items are useful in some way, and not tossed to be forgotten. We “maximize space, while minimizing waste.” There is some value in that.

Check out all of our services and let us help the hoarder in your life. We serve the greater Austin area. Let IREP Help

*UPDATE: There’s another great article to read about hoarder disorder. It’s from the blog for Nobu, which is a mental health app you can download for free and watch video, listen to sounds, or even find a therapist that can help you gain more control over your mental health. We recommend checking it out because it could be beneficial to you, or even your employees.

Nobu Mental Wellness & Therapy
IREP Garage and Hoarder Clear Outs
before and after hoarder



Organizing Partners

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