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Real Estate and Business

Signs of a Hoarder

It is important to know the signs of a hoarder because hoarding is a dangerous behaviour which can lead to fires, insect and rodent infestation, disease and other serious health, safety and legal consequences. Recognizing a hoarder will help prevent a situation which can be costly, if not disastrous for landlords, partners and housemates.  In my work as a Real Estate Professional and Property Manager, I sometimes come across homes where hoarders are living. Sometimes they are owner-occupied and sometimes they are tenanted, but in both situations they require a lot of time and effort to deal with the situation. This post will help you recognize the signs of a hoarder, understand the impact of hoarding and will provide some references for the process to deal with the situation and useful techniques.

Hoarding living room
Example of hoarding in a living room. Attribution: Shadwwulf at English Wikipedia

Definition of Hoarding

Hoarding is more accurately known as Hording Disorder or Compulsive Hoarding. It is a behavioural pattern expressed through excessive accumulation of, and inability or willingness to discard, large quantities of objects that cover the living areas of one’s home, causing significant distress, and/or persistent discontent resulting in impairment to one’s quality of life and ability to function. Hoarding behaviour is often associated with not just health risks and impaired functioning, but also workplace impairment, economic burden, as well as, adverse effects on family members and friends. At extremes, hoarding can prevent intended use of space to the point that it limits activities, such as sleeping, moving through the house, cleaning, cooking and entertaining.

Though in most cases, hoarders are aware of their irrational behaviour, the emotional attachment to the hoarded objects is much greater than the motive to discard the items. In fact, the underlying attachment may not be about the items themselves, but the need to simply accumulate items for a sense of security and/or stability.

Though it remains unclear whether compulsive hoarding is a separate, isolated disorder, or simply a symptom of some other condition, from my experience I have found that it is tied to some traumatic event or ongoing dysfunctional situation that occurred in one’s past. Regardless, it is considered to be a Compulsive Obsessive Disorder. Importantly, hoarding only gets worse with age. Getting to the underlying cause of this behaviour is essential to dealing with hoarders. However, you’re not likely to cure them and should recruit the help of a qualified and experienced mental health professional or coach.

Signs of a Hoarder

There are some red flags or signs that you should be aware of when identifying a hoarder. Some of these signs are easier to identify than others and they should never be considered conclusive proof that an individual is a hoarder. Use them as red flags to explore the possibility as part of your due diligence process in dealing with individuals.

  1. Avoid guests and visits to their homes.
  2. Indecision about what to keep or where to put things.
  3. Distress or feeling overwhelmed or even embarrassed by possessions.
  4. Wearing shoes, accessories or clothing that is worn beyond reason.
  5. Fear of contamination or superstitious thoughts.
  6. Fear of change.
  7. Suspicion of other people touching their items.
  8. Obsessive thoughts and actions, such as fear of running out of an item or needing it in the future, checking the trash for unintentionally discarded items.
  9. Significant difficulty organizing or categorizing possessions.
  10. Social Isolation.
  11. Family or Marital Discord.
  12. Financial Difficulties.
  13. Serious anxiety when attempting to discard items – watch people that save packaging or bits of leftovers.
  14. Take free items even when they don’t need them.
  15. Appears to be more common in those with psychological disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  16. Associated factors may include alcohol dependence, paranoid schizotypal personality and avoidance traits.

A Hoarder Home

Though it may be too late for landlords to avoid ahead of time, these are the signs of hoarders inside their homes (in addition to the above):

  1. They hold onto a large number of items that most people would consider useless or worthless, such as:
    • Junk mail, old catalogues, magazines and newspapers
    • Freebies and promotional items
    • Worn-out or outdated cooking equipment
    • Things that might be good for making crafts
    • Clothes that they might want to wear one day
    • Trash and broken items
  2. Their home is cluttered to the extent that many areas are inaccessible and no longer used for other than storage, such as:
    • Unsanitary washrooms
    • Showers, sinks, and tubs filled with items and can no longer be used for washing or bathing
    • Kitchens that cannot be used for cooking or food preparation
    • Beds that cannot be used
    • Tables, chairs, or couches that cannot be used for dining or sitting
  3. Their clutter and mess has reached an extent that it can cause distress, illness, and impairment, causing the hoarders to:
    • Keep the shades drawn to hide their clutter from the outside
    • Get into a lot of arguments with family members about their clutter
    • Not allow visitors in, even family and friends, or repair and maintenance workers, because they are embarrassed by the clutter
    • Are at risk of fire, falling, infestation, or eviction
    • Feel anxious or depressed because of the clutter
    • Be reluctant or unable to return borrowed items

It is estimated that between 2% and 5% of all adults are hoarders. So, if you deal with tenants or homeowners, you’re likely to come across hoarders more often than you may think. It is good that you be prepared by having a process, techniques and professionals in place to help deal with these situations.


I’m working on my next post to discuss the process, resources, and techniques in dealing with hoarders. Follow me on social media or visit my website regularly to be notified of when it is published.

Baldo Minaudo, M.B.A.  (Direct: 416-564-0245)

Real Estate Broker, Real Estate Homeward Brokerage Inc.

Property Manager specializing in downtown Toronto rental condos and Toronto east-end rental detached homes (not affiliated with Real Estate Homeward Brokerage Inc.)

#hoarding #hoarders #hoardingdisorder #compulsivehoarding

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