The Human Person in Hoarding’s Hellish Trap


There are many programs currently on cable dedicated to the issue of hoarding. For those of you who are unaware of what hoarding is, let me try and explain. Hoarding is the collecting and or keeping of possessions. The common word would be “stuff”. 

The “stuff” that hoarders keep is piled up so high that, in some cases, the people must hold onto their ceilings to steady themselves as they walk from room to room. As a viewer of these shows, I see the piles of junk for what they are, junk. I see rotten food, urine in bottles, dolls, diapers with feces in them or feces tied into shopping bags, crafting supplies, clothes, knick knacks, boxes and in some cases chickens, pigs, and rats making a house unlivable to most persons — but not to the person who is a hoarder. 

People who hoard have failed to use or discard the many items they collect. They do not see the items surrounding them as hazardous or unsanitary, rather they see them as their possessions, for better or worse. People who have a compulsive need to hoard are impaired in more ways than just the basic activities of life like cooking, cleaning, bathing, sanitizing their homes, etc. It is my opinion, based on a personal observation and a degree in Psychology, that compulsive hoarders are impaired in their ability to love and be loved. 

Hoarders surround themselves with “things” because they believe that the things do not judge them, do not hurt them, and will never leave them. Because many of them are deeply wounded, perhaps even suffering from emotional affirmation deprivation disorder, they have no understanding or experience of unconditional love. These human beings made for love, these wounded souls, create their own relationships of unconditional love — not with people, but with things. People also sometimes do the same with their pets. And the more of them -– pets or things — the more love they believe they are experiencing.

I often wonder why the therapists on these shows do not think to take the compulsive hoarder to another hoarder’s home. You see each hoarder forms an attachment to his or her own pile of garbage. The onlooker sees paper wrappers with rotten food in them. The hoarder sees the item he opened last Thursday and ate while thinking about happier days. He laid it aside thinking he wanted to keep that memory and so the food rots in the wrapper. The viewer sees bottles of urine in old juice bottles all over the floor. The hoarders see a necessity of life, once their toilets are broken. The bottles allow them to cope with a situation they have no power to rectify since they truly are powerless in this dysfunctional love relationship they have united themselves to. 

It is almost like a very dysfunctional marriage. Based on this premise, I wonder if a hoarder saw another person’s pile of dysfunction, a home filled to the ceiling with 8,000 pounds of garbage, wouldn’t he see it as garbage? After all, if the stuff is about a personal connection to things, if the personal element were removed, wouldn’t this facilitate an opportunity to bring understanding of the dysfunction to the hoarder? It seems like it could be a possibility, yet every therapist and counselor on the show fails to see this is more than a behavioral response to stress. This is a dysfunction and a wound to the very soul of the individual. This is the soul making visible the invisible. This is a demonstration of the Theology of The Body. 

Theology of the Body is the teaching of Blessed Pope John Paul II and one of the important things to remember from it is that not only are made male and female but we are also made for relationship. We are made for union and communion. We are made for love. We are also body and soul and the body is the way in which we live out our call to love and be loved. When a soul is deeply wounded, the body will make visible this woundedness. I believe hoarding is just one of the physical manifestations of a wounded soul and a person’s inability to love and be loved.

The nature of the Triune God is love and this love is revealed through the three Divine Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As men and women made in His image, we too are made to love and be loved.
When persons suffer deep wounds from childhood, generational sin, abuse, addictions, or some other cause, their understanding of how to love and be loved becomes disordered. To a wounded person, other people can become so frightening, yet the call to love so strong, that they replace people in their lives with “things” and so begins their dysfunction. The hoarders believe they are united to their hoards; they believe they are in communion with them and in a very unhealthy and disordered way they attempt to live this out. They live in the pile of garbage, use it to cover themselves to stay warm, hide behind it to stay safe, safeguard it to stay needed. Every choice they make and every minute of every hour is consumed and affected by their stuff. It cuts off their ability to be in relationship with other people and so they become trapped and bound by it. The garbage becomes all that they know, all that they love, and all that they serve. 

When someone arrives to help them clean out their homes and rid them of their hoard, the hoarders seem receptive. As they show the TV crew around their homes, I notice a lightness of heart and quickness of step that seems to indicate a feeling of liberation. Perhaps revealing the hoard to an outsider allows them to see with new eyes what has always been before them. Usually the person with them is a trained counselor and so it is my belief that it is the non-judgment and willingness to “love” on the part of the counselor that causes this receptivity. Imagine it: you walk through your pile with a stranger who sees it for what it is, yet does not leave you, but promises to stay and help you. 

It must be a breath of fresh air to the person who has been hiding for so long. However, as fast as the feeling of hope that this breath of fresh air brings into their lives, it is promptly replaced with the distress symptoms of the deep wounds that caused this dysfunction in the first place. They begin to feel hopeless, fearful, powerless, rejected, shameful, and more. These manifest through many forms though anger seems to be the big one. Anger is actually a need for control and is based on a deep abandonment wound. At some point in their lives, they were abandoned and in that moment the enemy proposed an idea. That idea was that they were unlovable and that they would always be alone. If they consented and agreed to that idea, it became a stronghold. Strongholds are the way the enemy gets his foot in the door. Once we have come into agreement with the enemy, we begin to experience all the disorder that being in agreement with the devil would bring. 

Some become hoarders to cope, some become addicts, some neurotics — we are all unique and unrepeatable human beings and so our reactions to disorder and dysfunction will be as unique and individual as our very person. The reason the hoarders go from happy to angry and fearful once their hoard begins moving from their house to the dumpster is because each of the items being removed has a great significance to them. The thought of taking away their hoard feels like a stripping away of their safety net, a stripping away of a sort of relationship. The relationship they had with their hoard had soothed and comforted them in some way for a very long time and the thought of being parted from it opens up the wounds of abandonment once again. 

If these shows truly want to help these people and not just provide us with entertainment, then they would stop treating the symptoms and begin addressing wounds. If a person has a brain tumor, you don’t give him an aspirin, you remove the tumor. These people are manifesting distress symptoms by hoarding. To clean up the hoard and to talk about how to organize gives them some coping skills but does not bring any healing to the wounds that have generated this disorder to begin with.

Distress symptoms are a Mercy from God. They are like a neon sign that you see when you are driving down the highway looking for a motel vacancy to stay the night. The flashing sign with the arrow pointing the way to warm bed for the night is a perfect example of what a distress symptom is. God gave every human being free will; this means we are not robots but that we can freely choose to live out our lives however we wish. We can love or not love; we can believe in God or not. He does not force himself on anyone. However, for every action there is a reaction. If I drop a ball it will hit the floor and bounce. It will follow the rules and natural order of things. If a person abuses another, free will allows that to occur. However, God always brings a better good out of every situation. When a person is abused, God’s permissive will allows it, NOT his active will. I have been abused, however, because of the breakthrough therapy that I experienced at the Theology of The Body Training and Healing Center, I have been healed in ways I never thought possible. 

You see when you experience a distress symptom –, something in your life that is causing distress, inordinate emotional reaction or negative belief in yourself or others — this is that neon sign. It is God’s way of pointing you to a place where you have, of your own free will, come in agreement to a judgment about yourself.

“I can’t do this” — a powerless wound.

“I will do this alone! I don’t need anyone!” –- a wound of loneliness.

These strongholds are patterns of behavior that persists in our lives and we just can’t seem to change these things. They become a taste of hell. They become the barriers and the moats that lock up our hearts in this hell. Anger’s roots are in abandonment; lust is rooted in rejection; greed is rooted in fear and mistrust. The neon sign, the distress symptoms, show us what and where we are really wounded because Christ desires us to receive healing and freedom in this area. He will not trample on our free will but invites us to come and rest in His motel, His Sacred and Merciful Heart. 

If you know someone who has a problem with hoarding, share this article with him or her. The next time you watch the show, contact these places and tell them to look into inviting someone from The Theology of The Body Training and Healing Institute because unless they deal with the cause, they will only be treating a symptom.


About Author

Speaker for Catholic Answers, CMG Booking, TMG, St. Joseph Communications and others. Freelance writer and mother of 8 children ages 2 to 21. Married to Shawn King for 17 years who is a convert from Jehovah's Witness.

  • OneWeeSpark

    First, I wanted to say that as the child of a hoarder, one featured on one of the hoarding shows, I agree with most of this article. I have fought for my mother’s treatment afterward to include therapy far beyond CBT which deals only with a broken logic process and anxiety, yet rarely seems to get to the root.

    You said:
    “When someone arrives to help them clean out their homes and rid them of their hoard, the hoarders seem receptive. As they show the TV crew around their homes, I notice a lightness of heart and quickness of step that seems to indicate a feeling of liberation. Perhaps revealing the hoard to an outsider allows them to see with new eyes what has always been before them. Usually the person with them is a trained counselor and so it is my belief that it is the non-judgment and willingness to “love” on the part of the counselor that causes this receptivity. Imagine it: you walk through your pile with a stranger who sees it for what it is, yet does not leave you, but promises to stay and help you.”

    I think you misunderstand what the film has captured. Most of the children who have gone through this process saw this apparent motivation as another attempt to control and manipulate a situation that scares them to the core.

    My mother has found healing, and she continues to do therapy and accepts cues from me and others when she starts to struggle. I have also found healing in my life, overcoming the effects of my childhood amongst her many things. I blog about my faith and personal recovery and healing because I truly believe that without God there can never be full healing. We have even done some therapy together to rebuild our relationship together.

    I would challenge the statement about “emotional affirmation deprivation disorder” and say that preliminary research being done right now indicates that the majority of hoarders suffer from some sort of personality disorder. What information I could find about emotional affirmation deprivation disorder indicated that co-morbidity with other personality disorders would likely be high.

    Thanks for writing this article. I’d love to see more psychologists, therapists, laity, social workers address spiritual healing of the root issue!

    Yours in Christ! Ceci/Judi’s daughter

    • Thank you so much for sharing your personal story. Perhaps I did not convey in the article exactly the point you graciously shared. I agree that when a stranger steps into a persons “hoard” I did notice that the person who has been hoarding become defensive and at times want to defend their things or hold on to them. However, I have also noticed that at first, there seems to be a sigh of relief that someone has come to help. I am thinking specifically of a woman who collected dolls. At first she seemed elated, over joyed at the prospect of cleaning out the thousands of dolls. However, once they began to be piled on the lawn in her yard to be taken away, she became angry, defensive and even began saying things like “I should just die” or “just throw me in the trash with them!”. I very much felt that what they were keeping was not junk but was some kind of a relationship to things. A relationship that is meant to be between people not a person and things. As for Affirmation Deprivation Disorder, Dr. Conrad Baars has led the way in this and I hope you look into this more. I am interviewing his daughter on my show tomorrow Wednesday, July 27th at 5pm central time. so please, check it out.

    • One last thing. Please consider reading or checking out the material on Emotional Deprivation Disorder, what you cited is not the definitive on this and since it is Dr. Baars who has identified and propagated the understanding and treatment of this I would have to say he or his daughter would be the only authority I would accept on the subject. I do not think that it is a diagnosis, rather I think it can be a reason why attachments are made with things rather than persons.

      Peace! Please share a link to your blog, it may help someone with this!

  • Mary Kochan

    Thank you so much for your validation of this article. No one knows like one who has been there.

  • OneWeeSpark

    For anyone who might have interest, my blog can be found at:

    I will look into emotional deprivation disorder, but I know that the co-morbidity of hoardign with other mental illnesses and trauma is very high. Thanks for writing this!

  • By co-morbidity you mean more than one disorder or illness, I would concur. However, Emotional Deprivation Disorder is something that can be the catalyst of further disorders. That is the point I was trying to make. It is my belief, based on the fact that I myself have a degree in Psychology with graduate courses in Family and Individual counseling as well as the numerous books I have read by Dr. Conrad Baars and other reputable sources on Psychological Disorders.

    I am about getting to the source or the root of the wounds and disorders not the presenting disorders or symptoms of a disorder.