Is it Hoarding, Cluttering or Collecting?


I often hear clients say, “I am a hoarder” or “I’m not a hoarder (like on TV).” I also hear people calling themselves hoarders, clutter-bugs or collectors.

Hoarding is not the same as cluttering or collecting.  Dr. Randy Frost and T. Hartl define clinical hoarding as

  1. The acquisition of, and failure to discard, a large number of possessions that appear to be of useless or of limited value.
  2. Living spaces sufficiently cluttered so as to preclude activities for which those spaces were designed.
  3. Significant distress or impairment in functioning caused by the hoarding.



Clutterers and collectors, as opposed to people with Clinical Hoarding Disorder, are able to throw things away and take out the trash. Clutterers and collectors are unlikely to allow their clutter to build up to a point where it is debilitating to their lives. Their clutter or collections do not restrict their freedom or comfort to the extreme that a hoarder’s accumulations do.



Most frequently hoarded items include:  newspapers, magazines, old clothing, items from deceased family members, memorabilia of all sorts, notes and lists, mail, books, storage containers and bags. If someone is diagnosed with Hoarding Disorder, physically reducing the clutter from one’s house does not address the hoarding problem.  It only addresses the “house” problem.  Treatment for Hoarding Disorder is complex.  Treatment is most effective when the following factors are present:

  1. Some level of insight and willingness to change on the part of the person with hoarding behavior.
  2. Behavioral therapy with a licensed trained counselor in hoarding disorder.
  3. Physical help by a trained organizing professional working alongside the person to assist with decision making.

Regardless of whether a person has hoarding disorder, is a clutterer or a collector it is imperative that the decisions made are by the owner of the items.  Do not throw anything away that is not yours. Recognize that change for anyone is often challenging.  In my work with clients, I focus on the person first and then the stuff.  The fundamental challenge is rarely about the stuff, but more often about the meaning that the stuff holds for the person.  Changing beliefs about the meaning of possessions is difficult but it is the most important step to decrease clutter.

Adapted from fellow Professional Organizer Lynne Gilberg’s chart, here are some clear distinctions between Hoarding, Cluttering and Collecting below:







Lynne Poulton is a Certified Professional Organizer (CPO®), Level II Hoarding Specialist and Owner of Wholly Organized!® LLC.  Lynne partners with people of all ages to address the physical and emotional clutter in their lives to make room for what matters most.