Is It Hoarding or Collecting?

Many of us have possessions that we would hate to throw away, but the main difference between someone with hoarding disorder and someone with hoarding behavior is the number of items kept and the value seen in those items. For example, a hoarder may pack their house to the ceiling with items from a thrift store, but then bury sentimental items, like family photos or their wedding ring.

Well, why does this happen? For hoarders, items create a false sense of security; the higher number of items, the more security. However, a hoarder does not get a greater sense of security when they purchase expensive items or view sentimental possessions. This backward perspective can cause rifts between families and even cause a hoarder to be financially, mentally, or physically hurt.

In this article, I will help you find out if you should be concerned about your friend or family member that you believe has difficulty discarding items, see things from the perspective of someone with compulsive hoarding, and supply you with a list of useful resources.

* Please note that this article cannot officially diagnose someone with hoarding disorder and is only a guideline for helping hoarders. *

Hoarders Test: Is your Friend or Family Member a Hoarder

Below, is a test that will help you find out if you should be concerned about your friend or family member that you believe has compulsive hoarding. Start by observing the “Living Room” set of photos and writing down the number of the image that best represents your friend or family member’s living room. Once you’ve written down this figure, continue to the kitchen images and write down the number of the scene that best represents your friend or family member’s kitchen. For any bedrooms in your house, use the set of bedroom images to rate each bedroom. Continue this process for all rooms. To rate any rooms that are not a living room, kitchen, or bedroom (i.e., dining room, hallway, garage), use the living room set of images.

Here’s an example of what this looks like:

  • Living Room (used living room photos):   3
  • Kitchen (used kitchen photos): 4
  • Bedroom 1 (used bedroom photos): 3
  • Bedroom 2 (used bedroom photos): 3
  • Dining Room (used living room photos):  4
  • Bathroom (used living room photos):  2
  • Garage (used living room photos): 5

To find out your results, reference the end of the exercise. * NOTE* You’ll receive more accurate results if you do the exercise first and then look at the results section.

Living Room


Gail Steketee, Randy O. Frost Treatment for Hoarding Disorder: Assessing Hoarding Problems. Copyright © 2013 by Oxford University Press



Gail Steketee, Randy O. Frost Treatment for Hoarding Disorder: Assessing Hoarding Problems. Copyright © 2013 by Oxford University Press



Gail Steketee, Randy O. Frost Treatment for Hoarding Disorder: Assessing Hoarding Problems. Copyright © 2013 by Oxford University Press

Hoarders Test: Results

Once you have rated all rooms, look at your list and note the rooms rated above a three. Any rooms rated above a three (4-9) are cause for concern.

The Champaign Urbana Public Health District states that you should report a room rated a 4, 5, or 6 and report a room rated 7,8, or 9 immediately.

Understanding Someone with Hoarding Disorder

You just took the “Hoarder Test” found out that you should be concerned about your friend or family member. Your next step is to try to understand their impulses. This step is essential if you ever hope to help your friend or family member.

Relatability Exercise:

To those without hoarding disorder, I would like to create a scenario to help you see things through the eyes of a hoarder.

Imagine you’re eight years old and every night before you go to bed you watch your father clean coins from his coin collection and place them into his coin book. Every day, you and your father would look for coins to add to the coin book, whether it was just walking down a street or looking into abandoned houses; these adventures were some of your happiest childhood memories. Unfortunately, these happy times could not last forever. Your father suddenly became ill and passed away. Everything of his was sold or donated, and the only thing that you had left was his coin book. What if someone told you to get rid of that book? What if the book got damaged and people pressured you to throw out the book? Would you do it? If you wouldn’t do it, then you’re thinking like a hoarder.

Hoarders have attachments like this to all their items. That is why it is next to impossible for them to get rid of any of them. They see significance in their items and are emotionally attached to all them. So, the next time you ask a hoarder to give up an item, imagine someone asking you to give up your prized possessions, realize how hard it is for them, and try to support them in the process.


If you’re still reading at this point, you have identified your loved one as a potential hoarder, and have tried to see things from their perspective. You’re probably thinking “I think they’re a hoarder and I get that change will be hard for them, but how can I help.” First, let your loved one know how much you care about them and that you are concerned. But it is important that this concern comes from a place of love, rather than anger. If you become frustrated and angry at this point, this will only hinder their progress. Once they feel comfortable talking to you about their home or their items, suggest that they seek out a few of these resources:

If you would like more information on selling a cluttered house with or without an investor, we recommend reading Life as a Hoarder: Trapped Inside a House I Can’t Afford


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