Hoarding OCD can cause someone to amass a variety of things. It may disrupt someone’s day-to-day life or ability to maintain a clean living space.
Hoarding happens when you have difficulty discarding or otherwise parting ways with physical or digital possessions. Hoarding leads to a level of clutter and mess in a person’s living space that makes it difficult to function, which can severely affect your quality of life.
Hoarding OCD is an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) subtype, or theme, in which someone experiences obsessions and compulsions related to hoarding. Although there are some similarities between hoarding OCD and hoarding disorder, these are two separate conditions with different symptoms, treatments, and more.
Below, we’ll discuss the relationship between OCD and hoarding, and cover what you need to know about the symptoms and treatment for hoarding OCD.
Hoarding and obsessive-compulsive disorder have a long history of being related ― to the point that experts used to consider hoarding a type of OCD, according to a
But in 2013, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) published an updated version of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-5. Based on the new DSM-5 criteria, hoarding disorder became a distinct condition under the heading of “obsessive-compulsive and related disorders.”
One of the reasons why experts have historically considered hoarding as closely related to OCD is because of the overlap between the two conditions.
In one study published in 2007, researchers found that roughly
Hoarding OCD vs. hoarding disorder
According to 2008 research, there are two distinct types of hoarding: compulsive hoarding as a disorder and compulsive hoarding as a symptom of OCD.
When a person has hoarding disorder, they typically hoard items that they perceive as sentimental, useful, or valuable to them. Hoarding these items can bring a sense of satisfaction and discarding hoarded items can cause extreme distress.
When someone has hoarding OCD, hoarding is a compulsion that helps relieve the anxiety and discomfort that obsessions can cause. Hoarded items aren’t always useful or sentimental, and a person with this condition may also engage in other compulsions.
Obsessions in OCD describe any intrusive and unwanted thoughts, images, or even sensations that cause someone to feel anxiety, fear, or discomfort. Hoarding OCD obsessions revolve around thoughts and urges related to acquiring or throwing away items.
When someone experiences obsessions related to hoarding, they might believe that:
- Something bad will happen if they throw out childhood mementos.
- They will lose a part of their identity if they get rid of personal items.
- Throwing out gifts may put the person who gifted the item in danger.
- Every item in their home is contaminated and can contaminate others.
- They need to purchase or own a certain “lucky” number of items.
As a response to the anxiety that these obsessions cause, people with hoarding OCD engage in compulsions. Hoarding is the most common compulsive behavior in this type of OCD, but people with OCD may engage in many different compulsions.
Compulsive behaviors that someone with hoarding OCD might engage in can include:
- hoarding broken, unusable, or otherwise useless items
- buying only a certain number or amount of items
- refusing to get rid of or throw out any personal items or mementos
- holding onto “contaminated” items instead of throwing them away
- purchasing items they believe they may have contaminated
- constantly checking that they haven’t lost or thrown out items
- performing certain rituals before buying or getting rid of items
One difference between hoarding OCD and hoarding disorder is that these hoarded items don’t always hold value. For example, a person with hoarding OCD may hold onto childhood mementos because discarding them would make them anxious ― not necessarily because they value them anymore.
Whether you have hoarding OCD or another subtype, OCD treatment typically involves a combination of therapy, medication, and other approaches:
- Therapy: One of the most common therapy techniques for OCD is a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approach called exposure and response prevention (ERP). Research has shown that ERP may be
more effectiveat treating OCD than just treating the condition with medication alone.
- Medication: People with OCD may also benefit from taking medications to help manage their symptoms. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most common class of medication used to treat OCD, but some people may also benefit from taking tricyclic antidepressants.
- Other options: Other procedures, like transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and deep brain stimulation, may also be helpful for reducing the symptoms of OCD. These approaches can be especially helpful for people who haven’t responded to other treatment options.
If you have both hoarding disorder and OCD, many of these treatment options overlap to treat both conditions. However, it can take some time to figure out what treatment approaches work best for you.
Is there a test for hoarding OCD?
While there’s no one specific test for hoarding OCD, doctors can use a variety of mental health screening tools to diagnose conditions like OCD and hoarding disorder.
One of those screening tools is the DSM, the manual that almost all mental health professionals in the United States use to diagnose mental health disorders. By reviewing your mental health history and current and past symptoms, your doctor can determine whether your experiences and symptoms are due to hoarding OCD or another condition.
Hoarding OCD is just one of the many subtypes of OCD that people with this condition can experience, and it’s characterized by obsessions and compulsions related to hoarding. Like other types of OCD, doctors treat hoarding OCD with therapy, medication, or a combination of treatment approaches.
If you’ve been experiencing hoarding behaviors, reach out to a doctor or mental health professional to discuss your concerns. With the right diagnosis and treatment, you can learn how to manage compulsive hoarding and improve your quality of life.