Hoarding OCD involves preoccupation with repetitive, intrusive thoughts about something bad happening if certain possessions are thrown away. It can also involve purchasing rituals or ensuring a certain number or items are present in the home. It is normal to acquire or keep sentimental or useful items. People who want to keep all their possessions embrace the hoarding behaviours and act on them voluntarily.
People with hoarding OCD often feel very uncertain about whether the bad thing will happen and, in turn, feel responsible for preventing any possibility that the bad thing will happen by hoarding certain possessions. Hoarding OCD develops when an individual becomes consumed with obsessing over these thoughts, begins to feel anxiety, distress, doubt, confusion, or another difficult emotion because of these obsessions, and starts to hoard possessions to find short-term relief from these difficult emotions.
What are the symptoms?
Obsessions: The obsessions in hoarding OCD revolve around preventing bad things from happening (e.g., harm contamination to someone else, or being unable to get that item ever again) through hoarding. This can involve questioning their past actions or things that have happened to them. Some examples of the intrusive thoughts associated with hoarding OCD include: “I don’t need all these plates but if I throw them away, they might break and injure someone, so I should keep them.”, “I need to buy seven onions because seven is my lucky number”, and “There might be something wrong with those jeans because I touched them – so I should buy them”. The thoughts can take an infinite number of forms and are only limited by the brains capacity to imagine.
Compulsions: To manage the anxiety and distress associated with the thoughts about something bad happening if certain possessions are thrown away, people with OCD seek to reduce the amount of anxiety and distress caused by these thoughts by behaving in repetitive ways that provide short-term relief. They may find themselves attempting to prevent bad things from happening by keeping broken or useless items, keeping and/or storing certain items (e.g., receipts, papers, food or stationery, or clothes), buying a certain number of items or items in a set, and/or buying any items they have touched.
Why does it occur?
Hoarding OCD can occur when the thoughts clash with an individual’s morals or values (e.g., the wellbeing of others). This clash can cause anxiety and distress, and the individual may attempt to suppress the thoughts, causing a rebound effect where the thoughts come back more often and more intensely. Individuals with hoarding OCD may try to find relief from the anxiety and distress by hoarding items through certain compulsions. They may find themselves stuck in a cycle of obsessing, feeling anxious or distressed, and engaging in a compulsion to relieve the anxiety or distress for the short period until the obsession returns.