What Are The Beginning Stages Of Hoarding?

Hoarding is a deeply intricate behavior that goes beyond mere clutter, revealing a complex tapestry of human emotions and habits. Despite its portrayal in the media, real hoarding disorder often differs significantly from sensationalized depictions.

Research shows that hoarding exists on a spectrum with five levels. It’s important to note, though, that the levels of hoarding are not universally standardized and can vary slightly based on different assessment systems or experts. Level 1 represents the lowest level of hoarding and is characterized by clutter and dysfunction. At Level 2, individuals might show tendencies that hint at the escalation of hoarding. 

Hoarding disorder typically emerges in early adulthood but can develop at any stage of life. It may be alarming to start to suspect someone close to you is developing a hoarding problem, but it’s important to show compassion and sensitivity. It’s even more important to be able to recognize the early signs as they develop.

Recognizing Early Signs

  • Excessive Acquisition: The initial stages often involve acquiring items that aren’t essential. This can manifest as a level 2 hoarder’s inclination to bring home unnecessary items like giveaways and discounted goods. This behavior can stem from a desire to fill emotional voids or anxieties, often resulting in a growing accumulation of possessions that far exceeds their immediate needs.
  • Difficulty Discarding: People at this stage struggle to discard possessions, especially those they deem with sentimental value. The emotional significance attributed to objects can intensify, making it even more challenging to let go.
  • Decline in Functionality: Organized hoarding begins affecting functionality, making daily tasks challenging due to cluttered spaces. Items may start to pile up in ways that obstruct pathways and impede the effective use of different areas, leading to a disruption in daily activities.
  • Social Isolation and Secrecy: Hoarders might experience the shame of hoarding, leading to social withdrawal and secrecy surrounding their living conditions. Hoarders might avoid inviting friends or family over due to concerns about judgment, leading to increased isolation and further exacerbating the problem.
  • Emotional Attachment to Possessions: Emotional hoarding surfaces as objects gain deep emotional value, inhibiting their removal. Objects become intertwined with memories and emotions, creating a barrier to decluttering as the act of letting go feels like relinquishing a part of oneself.

Insights into Later Stages

As hoarding progresses, understanding the transition from level 2 hoarding to more severe stages provides essential insights.

Severe hoarding poses health risks due to hygiene issues and fire hazards caused by blocked exits. As the stages of hoarding progress, living spaces deteriorate further, affecting everyday functions and interactions with those living with hoarders. Hoarding counseling might be necessary as hoarding disorders often coexist with conditions like bipolar disorder, amplifying emotional distress. Counseling can also offer the chance to discuss other potential concerns such as, “is hoarding hereditary?” 

Types of Hoarders

Hoarders exhibit a diverse range of behaviors and motivations, and many “types” may overlap. One that is commonly known is the “sentimental hoarder,” who attaches strong emotional value to possessions, making it challenging to let go. The compulsive shopper hoarder constantly acquires items, often driven by the belief that these objects will provide comfort or security. Additionally, animal hoarders accumulate a large number of pets, sometimes to the detriment of the animals’ well-being. Other types include food hoarding, garbage or trash hoarding, and media or paper hoarding.

Each type reflects unique psychological intricacies, contributing to the complexity of hoarding disorder.

Hoarding and OCD 

While hoarding has been observed in some patients with OCD, it has not been shown to share a specific, consistent correlation with OCD. A difference between hoarding disorder and OCD is that hoarding often involves a fear of throwing things away rather than obsessions and compulsions associated with OCD. 

OCD-based saving and clutter does exist, but these individuals do not get any pleasure out of it nor do they have much interest in the objects saved. 


Understanding the 5 stages of hoarding allows us to approach this topic with empathy, but recognizing the beginning stages of hoarding and its progression is essential. Those with real concerns they or their loved ones may have a hoarding disorder should always explore resources for hoarders. This greatly helps provide a well-rounded perspective, and makes it easier to intervene when deemed necessary.

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