Lots of skeletons in several closets: Hoarding and teenagers


The mountains of junk are cluttered all over their space, ranging from old clothes to trash. The closet, countertops and carpet are littered with items of little or no use to the owner, but don’t tell them that. They swear each item is important to them even if something is still new in box or broken. This situation may sound all too familiar to those who have loved ones struggling with hoarding.

Many view hoarding as only affecting adults later on in life.  Hoarding can in fact start at a young age in teenagers and spread into adulthood.

What is hoarding?

Hoarding involves a person with an overt or secretive obsessive need to acquire a great deal of possessions, even if the items are worthless, never used, hazardous or unsanitary. Mayoclinic explain signs and symptoms, “often surface during the teenage years.” As the person grows up, “he or she typically starts acquiring things for which there is no need or space.”

Other signs and symptoms of hoarding can include:

  • Keeping stacks of classwork or notes; aside from keepsake artwork or projects
  • Being uncomfortable with anyone touching items
  • Collecting trash, napkins or other items for worry of future need
  • Having difficulty making decisions and organizing items

These are only a few symptoms, which can reach severe levels as the teenager reaches adulthood if left untreated. Mayo Clinic adds that people need these items to feel safe and insulate their lives. In some cases, items have significance to emotions, “serving as a reminder of happier times or representing beloved people or pets.” For the hoarder, the items are more of protective padding for their memories instead of just junk.

The mind behind the hoarder

The signs for hoarding can be seen at an early age, just not always in obvious ways. A study, published in 2013 by Volen Z. Ianov finds the prevalence of hoarding signs can be seen in adolescents. Hoarding can be a co-occurring symptom with other mental disorders, yet this study also reveals, “Hoarding symptoms were prevalent among adolescents and usually appeared without co-occurring ADHD, ASD and OCD.” The findings also suggest constantly changing, “developmental genetic and environmental effects operating from adolescence into adulthood.”

Causes of hoarding seem to stem from the child’s cognitive development and life circumstance. Genetics and brain function are also areas of study in searching for the cause of hoarding. A significant life-changing event is a possible cause as well. In part two of a Psychology Today piece on elementary school children and divorce, the revelation 8-year old Jaden was hoarding subconsciously to deal with the divorce of his parents was analyzed. “Jaden was hoarding as an attempt to deal with his out of control feelings. He felt left behind, angry, sad, lonely, abandoned, and terrified — a combination that overwhelmed him. He held on to manage his anxiety and feelings of loss. He dreamed of robbers because he wanted to steal to replace what he had lost.”

Collecting is not hoarding

A teenager’s comic book collection or stack of video games is not the same as hoarding. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, or ADAA, explains the difference between hoarding and collecting. Collectors have a sense of pride about their possessions and enthusiasm in presenting possessions. A hoarder will express shame and seclusion over possessions.

Collectors will find value in the items they collect and keep things organized. A hoarder will be unable to organize the items and continue to gather items of limited or no value to them. For hoarders, “Their clutter often takes over functional living space, and they feel sad or ashamed after acquiring additional items.” Treatment for hoarding varies on the severity of the symptoms.


Mayo Clinic explains treatment for hoarding includes cognitive behavioral therapy to help the patient:

  • Understand the compulsion for hoarding
  • Learn and improve organization and decision-making skills
  • Learn how to determine which items are important and which can be discarded
  • Attend family therapy possibly

Treatment may also involve medication if the hoarding disorder is severe and extensive treatment is needed. Attempting to force a hoarder to just get rid of items may cause arguments and more drama than it is worth. Seek out a therapist or doctor if a teenager appears to show early signs similar to hoarding. Treat the signs early and help your child avoid a life of shame and misery.

If a teenager is dealing with behavioral issues and struggles with day to day life, a change of scenery may do some good. White River Academy is a therapeutic school for troubled boys ranging from ages 12 to 17, providing aid for boys struggling with issues at school and interpersonal problems. The academy provides treatment and care for the young men, continues a strong education program and instills good character values. For more information or to register, feel free to call 866-520-0905.

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