Hoarding as a coping mechanism


Hi, and welcome to our series on Hoarding – practical and psychological support.

In this week’s blog post we will be looking at other mental health problems which were mentioned here: possible causes (and consequences) for hoarding.


Mental health issues aren’t straighforward to spot, and neither is it straightforward to pinpoint their causes, consequences, or what might have triggered particular behaviours or conditions.

Dealing with the topic of hoarding is a sensitive issue, as it’s not just about “the stuff.”

It’s about the trauma, the life story, the way the individual is dealing with their past and current life issues, and how thing might have gotten out of hand and overwhelming for them and their loved ones.


The mental health charity Mind mentions that a person might start hoarding due to another mental health problem, for example:

In these situations, hoarding is usually seen as a symptom and acts as a coping mechanism and is not the main or “precipitating” issue.

Note: Diagnosing is good in some cases, but we work with the individual as a whole. A diagnosis is helpful to frame the work somewhat, but the main issues discussed in the therapeutic work are the issues the client brings. The client leads the work, and this means we are addressing the aspects of hoarding and their current life situation that need to be worked through.


According to Jo Cooke of Hoarding Disorders UK

“Hoarding is a coping mechanism.

There can be a number of reasons, but it’s about filling a void, an emptiness, with stuff.

Bereavement is one of the biggest triggers.

It acts as a sort of nest, a security blanket, a form of emotional insulation.

You can’t just put a skip outside someone’s house and tell them to get rid of stuff.

You need to work in a sensitive way, because it’s very much anxiety-based.”


Dr. Jessica Grisham (University of New South Wales) has found that the link between hoarding behaviour and traumatic events – such as losing a spouse or child – is especially important to consider in individuals exhibiting a late onset of hoarding symptoms.

This is especially important if those symptoms first appeared at the time of the event or shortly thereafter.

It’s also important to note that people react to different events at different paces, so there might be a delayed reaction to a life event that might mean the link to hoarding might not always be as clear as mentioned above.

Still, looking at the immediate aftermath of a life event will still help us start to pin-point a possible cause.


Accumulating “stuff” fills the emotional hole left by the trauma and allows individuals to avoid dealing with the pain.

Later removal of these items can trigger high levels of anxiety, especially if someone else gets rid of these items without the hoarder’s permission.

When discussing their behaviours, many hoarders describe the “rush” they experience when purchasing new items, especially if the item is free or on sale

They can also go to great lengths to justify purchases when questioned by friends or family members.

This reinforces the fact that hoarding as a coping mechanism is a complex issue that requires time and working through different aspects of the hoarding experience so that they are replaced with healthier habits.


It’s important to understand the things mentioned above are very sensitive and personal to each individual hoarder.

Removing items without the person’s permission are a breach of their autonomy – even if we believe their decisions to keep seemingly useless or value-less things aren’t the right ones.

Something I learned during my (Karin) time in care work, was that we can’t stop people from carrying out actions or making decisions just because they might not seem like the best for us, or just because we know the consequences will affect them negatively.

We all take risks every day in our lives. Some result in positive things, others we might regret or want to amend or take back somehow. But we still go ahead and test them out without anyone stopping us.


Hoarders deserve the same courtesy, even if it’s harming them – the work might take a long time, while the hoarder comes to terms with the reality in front of them, and the imminent dangers they might be putting themselves into by not having clear paths to leave the house, or a safe place to sleep or relax, or even do work.

Be patient, as you support your loved one through the hard process of coming up with better coping mechanisms than hoarding and it’s consequences.


If you are living in a similar situation or know anybody that is, please do not hesitate to contact us today so that we can provide you with the support that is needed.

Declutter & donate your unwanted items to Shelter.

You can make a difference to improving someone’s life.

Contact Stacey for more info! 


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