In today’s consumerist society, frankly, we’re obsessed with stuff. Whether it’s a new car, video game or jacket, who doesn’t get a rush out of buying something new and showing it off? Most people have a relatively healthy relationship with acquiring new things. But for some, it becomes a very serious problem called hoarding.

Sure, it’s one thing to have a collection. But, how do you know if it’s becoming something more worrisome? And if so, what do you do about it?

What Is Hoarding?

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, hoarding is defined as “the persistent difficulty in discarding or parting with possessions regardless of their actual value.” The problem also isn’t just about the clutter tied to hoarding. If severe enough, serious health issues can affect the hoarder themselves and those around them.

Typically, hoarding is the effect rather than the cause of a deeper, emotional problem. As stress mounts due to personal, professional or financial issues, once stable lives can quickly spiral out of control.

Difficult times often cause anxieties to rise. If not dealt with properly, this anxiety can lead to serious control issues. Sometimes, a strong desire to control translates into hoarding as many possessions as possible.

This anxiety can also result in social isolation. As sufferers continue to lose their connection with the outside world and spend excessive amounts of time alone, they sometimes lose interest in even the most basic things, like keeping their personal spaces clean and organized.

If you suspect that you or someone you love is a hoarder, keep scrolling to learn how to identify the problem, and what steps you can take steps towards fixing it.

Am I a Collector or a Hoarder?

We love collectors! Who isn’t enthralled with someone’s passion for seeking out rare, unusual or beloved objects like records, comics, shoes, action figures or 1920s bubble gum wrappers?

But what sets a healthy collector apart from a genuine hoarder? After all, aren’t they both gathering things that they don’t really need?

If you’re concerned that collecting might be turning into an unhealthy hoarding problem, keep an eye out for these symptoms:

Clutter

The biggest cue to indicate a serious hoarding problem is a cluttered home. This isn’t about being a little bit messy. Clutter in a hoarder’s home means that belongings are haphazardly stacked with no organization and it starts becoming challenging or unsafe to navigate the home. Unsanitary conditions may also arise.

Essentially, an individual’s livable space shrinks smaller and smaller until an entire room is filled with stuff. Without intervention, this can quickly encompass the entire house.

Severe Anxiety

We all have that favorite, ratty t-shirt that we struggle to part with—even if it hasn’t been worn in years. Maybe it’s tied to a favorite memory or was a gift from a dear friend. As long as only a few objects fall into this category, it’s not considered hoarding. It’s actually perfectly normal for people to have minimal anxiety when faced with giving away certain “useless” items.

In contrast, if parting with every shirt you’ve ever owned brings up intense anxiety or even panic attacks, there may be a cause for alarm. The same goes for objects that have literally no use, value or emotional attachment, like tax documents from 1972 or old, irreparable furniture.

If there is anxiety attached to getting rid of items like these, it’s a good time to take a step back and ask yourself why. Do you really need them—or is there an underlying issue?

A Lack of Organization

Most collectors are quite organized with their prized possessions. Though this doesn’t necessarily mean displaying everything in museum-quality cases, there’s almost always some organizational system designed to help them navigate their accumulating wares and keep everything safe.

In contrast, there is little to no order when it comes to a hoarder holding onto their things. Even if a hoarder insists that they understand their own, “special” organization system, to the outside eye, it’s clearly an excuse for clutter.

Paranoia

Paranoia quickly separates the collectors from the hoarders. Collectors are typically happy to show off their items. However, the opposite is usually true when it comes to hoarders. As anxiety plays a large role in most hoarder’s lives, it often spills over into them falsely believing people have moved or stolen their things.

This paranoia can also stem from shame and embarrassment about their situation. Even most hoarders know how others feel about a cluttered home so they’ll often do anything possible to keep witnesses away from seeing how they live. There’s additional fear that those witnesses could force the hoarder to get rid of their belongings.

Can Hoarding be Cured?

For mild to moderate hoarders, sometimes all it takes is a supportive friend or family member to be a guide them through the process. Unfortunately, that helping hand isn’t always easy to find. The best place to start is being honest with yourself or your loved one upon noticing the warning signs.

However, severe hoarding is often a difficult problem to solve without professional intervention. Though serious mental health issues may play a factor in milder forms of hoarding, it’s exceptionally common for severe hoarders. This means that on top of cleaning and organizing the home, most severe sufferers should also talk to a doctor and mental health specialist.

No matter the severity, all hoarding solutions begin with the acknowledgment that a problem does exist. From there, it takes planning, patience, and hard, emotional work to make real progress. With determination though, hoarding can become a thing of the past.

Also, storage options, like Livible’s On-Demand storage, can provide a great solution for anyone ready to clear out some space, but aren’t not quite ready to permanently part with all of their belongings. With Livible, a storage team will arrive directly at the home and transport anything to their secure facilities.

If the client ever wants their stuff back—or is finally ready to say goodbye—a few quick taps on the app will take care of everything.