I'm afraid my parents are hoarders, but they say collecting is their hobby. What's the difference?

Answers from Daniel K. Hall-Flavin, M.D.

Hoarders keep an excessive number of items because they're unable to let go of them. Clutter often accumulates to the point that piles of clutter fill every room and cover every surface. In contrast, collectors are generally more discerning about what they acquire and invest time and effort into organizing and displaying their treasures.

It can be difficult to sort out whether someone has a compulsive hoarding problem. For one thing, hoarders typically deny that they have a problem. However, there are warning signs that you can look for. Hoarders will typically:

  • Constantly acquire things they don't need, including duplicate items.
  • Have piles of clutter everywhere, making it difficult for them to get around in their homes.
  • Cannot sort, organize or make decisions about their possessions.
  • Have great difficulty throwing anything away.
  • Close off areas of their homes or try to keep others from entering their homes.

In severe cases, hoarders may not be able to comfortably or safely live in their homes. If you're concerned that a loved one has a hoarding problem, seek assistance from a mental health professional.

Aug. 17, 2010