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What is hoarding disorder?

Hoarding disorder is a mental health condition that causes kids to collect random things like rocks, papers and even food. Children with hoarding disorder become emotionally attached to their things and get very upset when asked to throw them away. They worry so much about their stuff that it gets in the way of living a normal life and causes conflict with their parents, especially if the parents try to clean up.  

What are the symptoms of hoarding disorder?

Signs that a child might have hoarding disorder include: 

  • Collecting things that might not be seen as valuable or useful by others 
  • A very strong emotional attachment to possessions  
  • A lot of difficulty throwing away possessions 
  • Cluttered living spaces 
  • Worrying about possessions so much that it interferes with life at home and at school 

Unlike a child who collects a specific object like baseball cards, kids with hoarding disorder collect all kinds of things, seemingly at random. It’s common for kids with hoarding disorder to keep their collected possessions in contained spaces, like a closet or under a bed.   

How is hoarding disorder diagnosed?

In order to give a child a diagnosis of hoarding disorder, a mental health professional looks for three things: 

  • The child has ongoing and serious problems getting rid of possessions, even if they seem to have no actual value 
  • The child’s living space is very cluttered from having so many possessions  
  • The child shows serious worry, anxiety or problems coping at home or at school 

Since lots of kids are messy and disorganized, the main sign of hoarding disorder is often getting very upset at the idea of getting rid of possessions. 

What are the risk factors for hoarding disorder?

Hoarding disorder tends to run in families. About half of children who have hoarding disorder have a relative who also has it. Anxiety, stress and trauma can also increase risk of hoarding disorder. 

What is the treatment for hoarding disorder?

Therapy for hoarding disorder depends on the age of the child. For children eight and younger, therapists work with parents to manage the child’s behavior. The goal is to help prevent the child from collecting more things and to use rewards to get them to slowly get rid of some the items. 

For older children, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with a therapist trained in treating hoarding is helpful. CBT helps children understand why they feel the need to hoard. CBT also teaches them how to make choices about which things are worth keeping and which should be thrown away. 

Sometimes medication is used along with therapy, usually selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Medication doesn’t always work for children who have hoarding disorder. 

Risk for other disorders

Children and teens with hoarding disorders often experience OCD, other kinds of anxiety disorders or depression. 

This guide was last reviewed or updated on December 18, 2023.