What Is the Difference Between Clutter and Hoarding?

Medically Reviewed on 10/6/2021

What is clutter?

Clutter and hoarding are often used interchangeably, but they are very different. Clutter is a less severe form of hoarding, but both should be taken seriously.
Clutter and hoarding are often used interchangeably, but they are very different. Clutter is a less severe form of hoarding, but both should be taken seriously.

Clutter and hoarding are often used interchangeably, but they are very different. Clutter is a less severe form of hoarding, but both should be taken seriously. Clutter and hoarding can affect your health and quality of life if left untreated.

Clutter can refer to disorganized piles of objects that collect over time in places meant for other uses, like tables, the floor, in the hallway, etc. Clutter is a common sign of hoarding, but it doesn’t mean that someone has hoarding disorder. You might go through busy periods of life where cleaning isn’t a high priority and clutter builds up, but this isn’t hoarding.

Some of the differences between clutter and hoarding include excessive disorganized piles of objects and extreme difficulty getting rid of items. Location is also important in separating clutter and hoarding. You probably have clutter somewhere in your house right now. The basement, attic, or closet are common areas for clutter to accumulate.

If clutter starts to take over common areas in your home, this is a signal of hoarding disorder. When your kitchen, living room, bedroom, and other living spaces become so overcome with clutter that your everyday activities are hard to carry out, this is a hallmark of hoarding disorder.

What is hoarding?

If your clutter makes it hard for you or others in your life to carry out normal life or creates living conditions that pose health problems, you’ve transitioned from clutter to hoarding. If you have a hoarding disorder, it might be difficult to recognize you have a problem or ask for help. You probably have really strong reasons why you collect belongings and let them sit around.

Hoarding becomes a serious problem when your living conditions become cramped. It’s gradual, but eventually you’ll notice that you keep on bringing things home that you don’t need or have the space for. Your hallways are full of stacks of clutter. Every possible surface is covered in piles, and your garage, vehicles, or storage facilities might be filled to the brim, too. Symptoms of hoarding include:

  • Inability to get rid of things, even if they have no value
  • Emotional distress when thinking about discarding things
  • Belief that there’s no other option but  to keep your things
  • Unable to use parts of your home because of the buildup of items
  • Signs of indecisiveness, perfectionism, avoidance, procrastination
  • Trouble planning and organizing

Hoarding can happen for several reasons, but the most common include:

  • Belief your belongings are unique, valuable, or will be needed in the future
  • A sense that your items are emotionally important, remind you of better times, or represent people or pets that you love
  • A sense of security because you’re surrounded by belongings
  • Belief that by keeping everything you’re wasting nothing

How hoarding affects health

You might think that excessive clutter couldn’t put your health in jeopardy, but it can. Your physical and mental health are at stake as your collecting habits continue to grow:

If you or someone you know has a hoarding disorder, your long-term health could be at risk. Treatment can be difficult to face, but your life could be safer and more enjoyable after overcoming hoarding.

Causes of hoarding

Health professionals aren’t sure what causes hoarding disorder. Possible causes are genetics, brain function, and stressful events. Hoarders typically show signs of hoarding as young adults but hoarding is more common in older adults. Common factors of people with hoarding disorder include:

  • Indecisive personality
  • Family members that have hoarding disorder
  • Stressful life event that was hard to cope with

How hoarding affects quality of life

Hoarding affects the quality of life in a number of ways. Hoarders are often distressed by the struggle to get rid of their belongings and to avoid collecting more. It’s common to experience financial difficulties because of excessive spending to acquire more things, adding another emotional stress.

It can be hard to make and maintain relationships with hoarding disorder. It’s common to have conflicts with family and friends because you’re unable to prioritize relationships over your belongings. This adds to a withdrawal from society in general.

Address hoarding

If you or a loved one is struggling with excessive clutter or hoarding disorder and you believe someone’s health is at risk, seek help immediately.


17 Everyday Ways to Ease Depression See Slideshow
Medically Reviewed on 10/6/2021

Cleveland Clinic: "Clutter Making You Crazy? How to Deal With Hoarding."

International OCD Foundation: "Is it Hoarding, Clutter, Collecting, or Squalor?"

Mayo Clinic: "Hoarding disorder."