Those Lonely Hoarders

What if hoarders talked to other hoarders? The hoarders we see on television or read about in various media do not all live alone, but they generally live with people who are not hoarders. Many have oppressed their closest family members for years with their sick habits, but their family dialogues run along familiar paths and get nowhere. Hoarders often play the sympathy card with their friends and relatives, claiming they are overwhelmed and helpless. The truth is that they are supremely in control of their environments. They fire up angrily if someone even dares to touch one of their piles of filthy cups or strewn clothing.

But what if a hoarder was taken to see another hoarder? What would happen? Would Hoarder A, the visitor, start telling Hoarder B, the mess-owner, what to do? Would Hoarder A make comparisons? (“My place is not as bad as this.”) Or would Hoarder A get a rude awakening of some sort?

The original Alcoholics Anonymous activists were alcoholics who made hospital visits to other alcoholics (back during Prohibition, when the alcoholism that led to the creation of AA happened, some people drank a lot of rotgut and ended up in hospitals). These visitors were not on an errand of mercy. Far from it; their intent was to save themselves by constantly confronting the negative effects of excessive drinking. The surprise side benefit was that the alcoholics they visited also tended to sober up and stay sober.

What if hoarders ventured out behind their happy barricades of stuff and talked to each other? No one else can possibly understand their mental and emotional state than other hoarders, after all. Wouldn’t it be a relief to talk about the intense gratification involved in buying fifteen or twenty of the same item? Wouldn’t they get nods of recognition as they described how triumphant they feel bringing home their new possessions culled from other people’s trash cans? And wouldn’t they get sympathy from the other hoarders when they tell how upset their families are with them?

When alcoholics talk to other alcoholics with a self-care purpose in mind, they don’t run out and go drinking. They stop drinking. Would hoarders who talked to other hoarders stop hoarding?

Curiously, we never see hoarders in group therapy sessions. We mostly see them struggling to perform the ordinary tasks of living despite their abnormal piles of garbage. Or we see them defending their crazed acquisitiveness against the efforts of anyone attempting to bring them to sanity. But we do not see hoarders talking to each other. Maybe, just maybe, that is why we also do not see hoarders getting sober and staying sober.

Most non-hoarders focus on the mountains of mess, and press hoarders to get rid of them, even though the excess possessions are merely the symptom of a mental disorder. What if therapy started focusing on getting hoarders talking to each other, healing each other through the empathy of fellow-suffering and joy?


  1. My understanding is that group therapy and self-help don’t work very well for extremely passive people with OCD, which is what most hoarders are. It’s a disorder that differs a great deal from addiction.

    • Don’t most hoarders overacquire? Isn’t that active? And don’t they actively hold onto completely useless possessions such as empty pizza boxes and outdated newspapers? Yes, and yes.

      I would love to hear about efforts to get hoarders into group therapy, because I’d be happy to pass that information on to the hoarders I know.

      As for self-help, that’s the only method that psychiatrists claim works–the hoarder must come to the decision that it is time to get rid of the items and then actively choose what stays and what goes. Supposedly, if anyone else removes items, the hoarder immediately starts rebuilding the piles. That’s what we are told. Where is the passivity in this? The hoarder is in control at all times.

    • More info from our friends to the north: group therapy for hoarders does exist! And it works!

      Check this out this story from

  2. I read somewhere that researchers have found brain anomalies in people who hoard. Unfortunately, I can’t recall where I saw that.

    I’m no hoarder myself, but I have known people who have been hoarders. Those of us who are not hoarders find a sense of satisfaction when disposing properly of items that are no longer needed, such as by selling an old car, donating usable clothes to charity, passing along books to a friend, or even hauling out the trash in a timely manner.

    A hoarder, on the other hand, feels confusion and anxiety, sometimes outright panic at the thought of giving away, selling, or discarding material objects, even worthless ones such as ragged worn-out clothes and old junk mail.

    Another problem is that hoarders get overwhelmed with the task of organizing and putting away the belongings that they DO need, so that they can find them again when needed. Everything ends up piled on the floor or on furniture rather than being put away.

    I think that, for some hoarders, their memories, emotions, and life history are all tied up with retaining the material goods that they had at each point in the past. Other hoarders hang onto anything that they find mildly interesting, even when they are not interested enough to pursue that interest any further. Either way, the pile-up of rubbish keeps them from having any life in the present.

  3. I wonder if the brain anomaly was there before the hoarding behavior, or if the behavior caused or strengthened the anomaly?

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