LIFE GOES ON: Hoarding: It’s Never Enough


Dear Doctor Kathleen,

I love my husband very much but I moved out of our home 6 months ago because of his hoarding. To get from the front door to the kitchen, I had to a pathway through his clutter of STUFF. There are newspapers, magazines, unworn clothing on the floor with price tags still on, corks from wine bottles, 56 pairs of shoes, over 100 baseball caps, computers and printers that no longer work. I could go on but you get the picture. We could not sleep in our bed as it was covered with “important papers.” There would be bowls and cups from meals he had taken to the bedroom weeks ago. When we were first married, I picked up after him but he would become livid if I touched his things. It only got worse. I was too embarrassed to have people over as the house looked like it should be condemned. I pleaded with him to clean up. I even found a service that helps people de-clutter. He refused. He said all of his belongings are necessary. Although he says he loves me and wants me to return to our home, he has done nothing to change. What should I do?


 Dear Hurt,

It is understandable that you feel hurt that he would rather live without you than to clean up your home. However, his behavior is a mental illness that has nothing to do with you.

Hoarding is one form of an Anxiety Disorder called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

The Obsession is the thought: I need these things. I want more. I can’t throw anything away as I may need it in the future.

The Compulsion is the behavior: collecting, buying, hoarding.

I recently watched the reality TV show called “Hoarding.” It showed a family of hoarders going through their possessions with an expert who tried to help them decide what to throw away, what to keep, and what to donate. Trucks from 800-GOT-JUNK arrived to haul most of it away. The people cried, had anxiety attacks, and felt threatened by the whole process of parting with their belongings. It was sad to watch, but more importantly, it was a missed opportunity to help educate the public. Not once did this show address their behavior as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Not once did they enlighten the viewers that the reality of this mental illness is heart-wrenching and harmful to the physical and emotional health of the people. It disrupts lives and creates chaos and dysfunction.

OCD can be successfully treated with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and medication. Antidepressants have shown to be very effective with this disorder. I encourage everyone who knows someone with this problem to seek help. An excellent resource is


Kathleen Cairns, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in West Hartford, Connecticut. She works with adults, adolescents, and couples. You may call her at 860-236-5555 to make an appointment. She is the author of “The Psychotherapy Workbook.”  You may email her at and she will try to answer as many of your questions as possible.

Life goes on… and every day matters…

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