Hoarding: What to Look For

Signs your child might have hoarding disorder:

  • A bedroom floor that can’t be seen because of the clutter
  • A closet so packed that nothing can be put in or taken out
  • A bed that is used more for storage than for sleeping
  • A desk covered with so much stuff that it can’t be used for homework

Having a messy room isn’t unusual for children. But while most children don’t get upset if someone occasionally cleans up and throws things away, children who hoard do.

Hoarders tend to acquire and hold onto objects that most people consider useless (rocks, toilet paper tubes, paper, Happy Meal boxes, food). Children might also hoard toy boxes and toys. The objects may or may not have typically sentimental value, but hoarders have a strong emotional attachment to them. Whereas a rock or stamp collector will search out specific items for his collection, a hoarder will acquire items seemingly at random and then struggle when asked to part with them. Collector also show pride in their collections, organizing them, sharing them, and talking about them; hoarders often feel embarrassed or uncomfortable letting others see or touch their things.

Adult hoarders are often identified by the clutter they accumulate, which results in complete disorganization and unlivable spaces. Children’s hoarding tends to be more contained — for example, under their bed or in areas of their bedroom — and might not be immediately obvious to an observer because disorganization is common among kids. For children the most notable sign of hoarding is the emotional reaction to their possessions. Children will be constantly worried about them, so much so that it becomes impairing and creates a major source of tension with their parents. Kids who develop hoarding disorder may become severely anxious and distressed if things are taken away; they may cry, yell, have tantrums, even kick or hit parents or break things.