How Hoarding Affects Families


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By its very nature, hoarding can have a huge impact far beyond the individual who suffers from it, much more so than other mental illnesses. Family members of those who hoard, whether or not they live with the person with hoarding disorder (HD), are affected by both the emotional toll of the disorder and the physical consequences. We have put together information to give you an overview of what you need to know if you have a loved one who is suffering from HD.


If you believe your loved one has hoarding disorder, the next step is to support them in finding effective treatment. There are many things you can do to help your loved one in their recovery.


Being the family member of a person with hoarding disorder (HD) can be very stressful. For those family members who live with the person with HD, such as a partner, child, sibling or dependent parent, living among the extreme clutter can cause a lot of physical and emotional difficulties. These same difficulties can also be present for family members who do not live with the person with HD, and all families affected by HD may experience friction and tension as a result. The following information and suggestions come from Fugen Neziroglu, PhD, ABBP, ABPP.


Increased Family Conflict

A major area of conflict arises when the hoarding results in a loss of usable living space, especially in shared areas (such as the kitchen, living room, etc.). “Usable living space” refers to rooms being used as they were intended, including being able to use furniture, appliances, countertops, etc. normally and without interference by clutter.

Another area of conflict is the financial strain that can result from excessive shopping in order to get more things, and the possible need to get storage facilities (chests, lockers, garages, sheds, etc.). Both can lead to debt, in addition to the potential tension — purchases are often not discussed, credit cards may be “maxed out,” and money therefore cannot be allocated to purchases that family members may need or want.

A third area of conflict can happen when the individual with HD “claims” parts of the home as their own, taking it over with hoarded items and controlling how the space is used. This extends to exerting control over how the hoarding items are handled, with the individual with HD not letting other family members make decisions about their own home. This can lead to feelings of helplessness, frustration, anger, and vulnerability among family members.

And finally, conflict can arise if family members get so frustrated with the hoarding that they attempt to clean or organize the home, especially if they do this without the individual with HD. The person with HD may feel deceived or violated by this action, and it can lead to arguments and loss of trust within the family.

Children of Those with HD

Young Children

Children of those with HD often cannot avoid living in the extreme clutter — especially if they are still minors — which affects their social lives and development. Children are often too embarrassed by all the stuff to have friends come over, or are not allowed to due to their parent’s embarrassment. This may lead to feelings of isolation, helplessness, and resentment. In severe cases, children may not have space to play or study to the extent that the parent with hoarding may be investigated by child protective services.

Children may also feel resentful, depressed, or angry about the lifestyle their parent’s HD causes them to lead (e.g. “sacrifices” they are expected to make in accommodation, etc.). They may come to believe that their parent with HD values their possessions more than their children, which can cause children to feel abandoned, rejected, and/or that they are not loved nor treasured as much as their parents’ things.

Due to the increased family conflict, children might feel torn between the parent with HD and the parent without it. Should the family conflict reach such a point that divorce is considered, children may blame the break up of their family on the person with HD.


Legal issues may arise should a neighbor become aware of the home situation and call child protective services (CPS). If this happens, an investigation may ensue — this may result in the removal of children from the home, unless one of the parents makes other living arrangements. Whether the child continues to live in the extreme clutter or is removed from the home, the end result can be devastating for the family.

Adult Children

Adult children often have a strained relationship with their parent with HD. As adult children move out of the home, they may become estranged from their parent with HD due to disagreements about how hoarding should be handled. Adult children may also blame the parent for the conditions in which they lived as a child. Parents with young children may be concerned about their safety in a grandparent’s home that is heavily cluttered. Therefore, grandparents may become isolated from their grandchildren — not only does this create distance within the family, but it causes the person with HD to become even more isolated.

Adult children of those with HD may experience a phenomenon called “caregiver burden,” commonly experienced in situations where people are required to provide emotional or practical care for another person. Being in the caregiver role may cause increased interpersonal conflict, chronic worry, anxiety, depression, and the inability to cope. Caregivers may also experience a number of negative life events, such as loss of self-esteem, disruption of finances, loss of competence, loss of hope and sense of security, and difficulty planning for the future.

Spouses of Those with HD

Spouses of those with HD typically put up with the hoarding behavior of their partner for years before deciding that they can tolerate it no longer. Frustration and hostility build over time when their partner is unable to make a dent in the clutter despite repeated requests. The spouse may consider separation or divorce when they become too frustrated or the family conflict gets too intense.

If there are children in the family, a custody battle may then ensue. Often, pictures of the home are taken to court to convince the court that the home environment is not suitable for bringing up a child. The parent with HD feels ashamed, guilty, and/or resentful, interfering with their ability to bring up the child jointly.

In rare cases, both members of the couple have hoarding tendencies and together fill up their home with items each considers indispensable. In such cases, intervention will be unlikely to be helpful unless both partners agree to work on the problem at the same time.

Coping Tips for Family Members

As a family member of someone with HD, it is important to remember to take care of yourself in the face of the stressful environment that hoarding can create. Some suggestions for family members include:

  • Seek support to help you manage your own feelings and learn coping strategies. Support may come from seeking out therapists, social workers, counselors, and/or peer support groups.
  • Express the impact your loved one’s HD has or has had on your life.
  • Seek out other ways of relating to or bonding with your family member.
  • Be assertive, neither passive nor aggressive in expressing your feelings.
  • Be aware that it is a disorder, but you do not need to suffer as a consequence.
  • Know that hoarding behavior is hard to change.
  • Do not force Change.
  • Remember you do have a choice not to live in the clutter at some point.
  • Acknowledge how hoarding has impacted your life and seek therapy to deal with its impact on you.
  • Validate your own feelings.

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