Connecting People to Services


What is compulsive hoarding?

In 2013, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, states that Hoarding Disorder is present when the following criteria are met:
1. Persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value. (Difficulty discarding)
2. This difficulty is due to a perceived need to save the items and distress associated with discarding them. (Strong urges to save things)
3. The symptoms result in the accumulation of possessions that congest and clutter active living areas and substantially compromise their intended use. (Excessive clutter)
4. The hoarding causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. (Distress or impaired functioning, reduced quality of life.)

What are the signs of compulsive hoarding?

• Difficulty discarding or getting rid of items

• A large amount of clutter in the office, at home, in the car, or in other spaces (i.e. storage units) that makes it difficult to use furniture or appliances or move around easily

• Losing important items like money or bills in the clutter

• Feeling overwhelmed by the volume of possessions that have ‘taken over’ the house or workspace

• Acquiring free items, such as advertising flyers or sugar packets from restaurants, compulsively

• Purchasing objects because they are a “bargain” or to “stock up” at home

• Avoidance of inviting family or friends into the home due to shame or embarrassment

• Refusal to let workmen into the home to make repairs

What are the characteristics of hoarding?

• Difficulty organizing possessions

• Unusually strong positive feelings (joy, delight) when acquiring items

• Strong negative feelings (guilt, fear, anger) when considering discarding items

• Strong beliefs that items are “valuable” or “useful”, even when other people do not want them

• Feeling responsible for objects and sometimes thinking of inanimate objects as having feelings

• Denial of a problem even when the clutter or acquiring clearly interferes with a person’s life

Who struggles with hoarding behavior?

Hoarding behaviors can begin as early as the teenage years, although the average age of a person seeking treatment for hoarding is about 50.  Hoarders often endure a lifelong struggle with hoarding.  They tend to live alone and may have a family member with the problem.  It seems likely that serious hoarding problems are present in 2 to 5% of the population.

Are hoarding and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) related?

Compulsive hoarding was commonly considered to be a type of obsessive compulsive disorder.  Some estimate that 19 to 25% of people with OCD also have compulsive hoarding.  Recent research suggests that 17% of people with compulsive hoarding have non‐hoarding OCD symptoms.  Compulsive hoarding is also considered a feature of obsessive compulsive personality disorder and may develop along with other mental illnesses, such as dementia and schizophrenia.

 Can compulsive hoarding be treated?

Yes, compulsive hoarding can be treated.  Unfortunately it has not responded well to traditional treatments that work for OCD.   Strategies to treat hoarding include:

• Challenging thoughts and beliefs about the need to keep items and about collecting new things

• Curbing acquisition by practicing restraint with non‐shopping and non‐acquiring excursions

• Discarding and recycling clutter: practicing the removal of clutter, first with the help of a clinician or coach and then independently

• Finding and joining a support group or teaming up with a coach to sort and reduce clutter

• Understanding that relapses can occur and developing strategies to prevent future acquisition and clutter

 Can’t compulsive hoarding be solved by simply cleaning out the home?

Attempts to “clean out” the homes of people who hoard without treating the underlying problem usually fail.  Families and community agencies may spend many hours and thousands of dollars clearing a home only to find that the problem recurs, often within just a few months.  People with hoarding whose homes are cleared without their consent often experience extreme distress and may become further attached to their possessions.  This may lead to a strong reluctance to let others help them in the future.

How do I have a conversation with my friend of family member who is ready to talk about hoarding?

When a person shows willingness to talk about a hoarding problem, consider the following guidelines:

• Respect.  Acknowledge that the person has a right to make their own decisions at their own pace.

• Empathize.  Understand that everyone has a degree of attachment to their belongings.  Try to understand the importance of their items to them.

• Encourage.  Help generate ideas to make their home safer, such as moving clutter from doorways and halls.

• Collaborate.  Don’t argue about whether to keep or discard an item; instead, find out what will help motivate the person to discard or organize.

• Reflect.  Help the person to recognize that hoarding interferes with the goals or values the person may hold.  For example, by de‐cluttering the home, a person may host social gatherings and establish a richer social life.

• Ask.  To establish and nurture trust, never throw anything away without asking permission.

Where can I find further information and help?

  • Falmouth Hoarding Task Force,  Coordinators/Contacts (C/C): Karen Cardeira, Director of Human Services; Mel Trott, Fire Prevention Officer C/C Agency/Address: Falmouth Human Services 65A Town Hall Square Falmouth, MA 02540 Phone: 508-548-0533 x16 Email: [email protected]; [email protected] Brief Description: Multi-disciplinary case assessment, community resource development 
  • Call Falmouth Human Services, 508-548-0533 x16 to learn more about Buried In Treasures and Unburied Support Groups in Falmouth.
  • Mass Housing (
  • Hoarding: Best Practices Guide Hoarding_BestPracticeGuide (2)
  • Obsessive Compulsive Foundation (
  • Boston University School of Social Work (
  • San Francisco Mental Health Association (www.mha‐
  • Smith College Department of Psychology (
  • The Institute of Living /Hartford Hospital (


Source: Boston University School of Social Work, Compulsive Hoarding Research Project, MassHousing,


Falmouth Hoarding Task Force

The Falmouth Hoarding Task Force brings together several Falmouth Town Departments and agencies in a multi-disciplinary approach in order to:

  • Provide a coordinated and collaborative response to community and/or resident concerns about hoarding that utilizes best practices
  • Reduce potentially life threatening fire, safety and health situations for residents and/or first responders
  • Expedite an individualized intervention process that is respectful of the need for reasonable accommodation
  • Prevent homelessness or displacement while ensuring a safe living environment

Members of the Falmouth Hoarding Task Force

Services can be accessed via any Hoarding Task Force Member.

  • Building/Inspectional Services – Zoning Enforcement Officer – 508-495-7468
  • Fire Rescue – Fire Prevention Officer – 508-495-2533
  • Health Department – Health Agent – 508-495-7485
  • Human Services Department – Director – 508-548-0533
  • National Resources/Animal Control – Animal Control Officer – 508-457-2536
  • Police Department – Captain DeCosta – 508-457-2526
  • Senior Center – Outreach Coordinator – 508-540-0196
  • Falmouth Housing Authority – Outreach Coordinator – 508-548-1977
  • Visiting Nurse Association – Falmouth Town Nurse – 508-957-7400
  • Board of Health – Board of Health Liaison – [email protected]

Download a copy of the Falmouth Hoarding Task Force Brochure