Homelessness and mental health go hand in hand. People with mental health problems are more likely to experience homelessness, while being homeless can increase the chance of developing mental health problems.

Hoarding disorder is just one of the mental health problems we come across in our work. It’s misunderstood and often overlooked. But we want to change that.

We spoke to our hoarding specialist, Ronie, about hoarding, why people do it, its link to homelessness, and why we need to change the way we think about it.

Understanding hoarding disorder

For people who suffer with hoarding disorder, hoarding is a constant struggle. It's like being an alcoholic – the compulsion to collect and keep things is always there. It helps the person feel safe and secure. Sometimes hoarding is related to a person’s experience of loss, like losing a loved one. Other times, it’s related to something that they cherish and value, even if they can’t explain why.

What is the difference between hoarding and messiness?

A main difference between hoarding disorder and messiness is that people who struggle with hoarding behaviours often aren’t aware of what they’re doing and the negative impact their behaviour is having on their life. Whereas someone who is messy can recognise when it’s time to clean up and get rid of things that are no longer useful.

How we support people with hoarding disorder

My team and I support people with hoarding disorder by working with mental health professionals and social services to determine why someone might be hoarding. Once we understand the situation, we put a long-term plan in place to help them manage their Hoarding Disorder.

If someone's hoarding disorder is creating an unsafe environment, which results in them being forced to lose their belongings, it's my job to explain why this is necessary and to work with the client to create a safer, more comfortable living space. We know that building a trusting relationship with our clients is key to this process, as we know that it can feel very invasive and embarrassing to talk about this issue.

How homelessness affects hoarding disorder

When someone who has experienced homelessness finds a place to live, hoarding behaviours might manifest as that person finally has a place to keep their things. When this compulsion does manifest, it’s likely the person has always had a hoarding disorder but hasn’t had a place to store their possessions before.

The compulsion to hoard is often linked to a person’s experiences of homelessness. Sometimes people who have experienced homelessness hoard to feel more in control of their life, especially if they’ve felt insecure and unsure about their future before.

Understand and addressing hoarding disorder

It’s important to understand that hoarding is not a deliberate choice. It’s likely something has happened in that person’s life that has led them to their situation. We need to change the way that hoarding disorder is represented. Everyone can clutter in their life, it’s just that some people struggle with managing it. Hoarding is often linked to poverty, a lack of education or deprivation. But it can happen to anyone, and the more people who understand hoarding disorder, the easier it will be for people who suffer with it to live without stigma and find the help that they need.