ADHD and Hoarding

By Jeff Copper, MBA, PCC, PCAC, CPCC, ACG – August 15, 2022

What is hoarding? TV shows have brought hoarding into the public so that people now know about it, but what is the difference between clutter and hoarding? Is there a connection between hoarding and ADHD?

First, it’s important to note that there is no direct relationship between ADHD and hoarding, but the disorganization in ADHD can easily ramp up after a trauma that could then move into hoarding.

The most recent change in the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V) is that hoarding is no longer considered a subset of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). It now has a diagnosis of its own.

Given the world we live in, consumerism pushes us to buy more and more stuff, and the impulse control of ADHD plays into this accumulation part. Then, on the other side, there’s the failure to discard anything because the item is very often seen as something they might need or can use or repair in the future (but never do). TV shows have had an effect on public perception mostly for the good. Years ago, hoarders would be very embarrassed about their home, even to the point of not letting anyone inside, but now they don’t feel so bad because they say, “It may be bad but not as bad as those people on TV.”

Hoarding involves areas of the home that have become unusable because of the accumulation of things, but yet, the person avoids any reduction of its accumulation and refuses to discard any of it. Things come in but nothing leaves. Over time it builds up so that areas get clogged and congested and are no longer available for their intended purpose. It is a continuum over time and does not necessarily have anything to do with the value of the items. It can be anything from masses of old newspapers and empty food containers to designer shoes and handbags and everything in-between.

Hoarding is not an issue of organizing; it is generally from trauma in the person’s background. Very often, either they are building a “cave” for protection, or they feel isolated so that possessions become their friends. They can’t be hurt by possessions while people have hurt them in the past. While ADHD can play into it because those with ADHD tend to be very creative but often leave projects unfinished, hoarders have a lot of anxiety at the thought of getting rid of things. People with clutter can clean it up, but hoarders cannot do it. Organization means being able to find what you want when you need it.

For more on this topic, read my article in the October 2014 issue of Attention Magazine, “Ugly Organizational Systems” (https://digcoaching.com/ugly-organizational-systems), or check out my blogpost, “Ugly Organizing Systems Are Not All Bad,” https://digcoaching.com/ugly-organizing-systems/.

Additionally, you can find the free clutter hoarding scale online at the Institute of Challenging Disorganization (https://www.challengingdisorganization.org/clutter-hoarding-scale/)

If this topic speaks to you, check out my podcast, “ADHD and Hoarding,” on Attention Talk Radio:  http://tobtr.com/7865467. My thanks to Alice Price (www.OrganizeLongIsland.com) who is an expert on the topic of hoarding.

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