Equality and Justice
For People With Disabilities

Raising Awareness of HoardingĀ 

Published on April 20, 2022

Raising Awareness of Hoarding 

Kelley Humber, JD Candidate, March 2022

Hoarding behaviour is complex and can negatively impact individuals who hoard along with their family, friends, and community. Hoarding behaviour can have consequences on people’s health, social and family relationships, their neighbour and landlord relationships, and their financial stability. This article offers a brief introduction to the impacts of hoarding on communities, the ways the COVID-19 pandemic has adversely impacted individuals who hoard, and some perspective on the value of collaboration across service providers when working with people who hoard.

This spring REACH is hosting a three-part conference on hoarding with the goal of increasing awareness of hoarding, legal challenges that can be associated, and how a collaborative approach can best assist in these situations. The first session onTuesday, May 10th, 2022 will  focus on increasing awareness of hoarding behaviours. On Wednesday, June 1st, 2022, our presenters  will address the  legal challenges faced by people who hoard. The last session, taking place on  Wednesday, June 15th, 2022, will focus on how community collaboration can help to better support those who hoard and their families, and their community. 

What is Hoarding?

Hoarding is more than a “collection of clutter.” It is a behaviour that comes with complex challenges; all of which cannot be exhaustively addressed here. This article is an introduction to how hoarding behaviour affects both the individual and their surrounding families and community. 

Hoarding behaviour is characterized by the excessive collection of objects and a persistent inability to discard any to the point of personal detriment, whether because the individual is unable to or unwilling to (Toronto Hoarding Support Services Network, 2020; Samuels et al., 2008; Nordsletten and Mataix-Cols, 2012) . Hoarding is not simply messy housekeeping, it is not simply collecting items, and it is not laziness about organization (Durham Region Hoarding Coalition pdf.). Often people who hoard feel very ashamed of the behaviour. 

This behavior can impact a person’s ability to use and function in their home, and often has a negative impact on their health and well-being, their social and family relationships, and their financial stability (Frost and Gross, 1993; Thobaben, 2006; Norsletten and Mataix-Cols, 2012).

Hoarding symptoms can be associated with a variety of mental health conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, dementia, autism spectrum disorder, depression, and anxiety (Norsletten and Mataix-Cols, 2012). Frequently, people who live with hoarding also experience multiple mental health conditions, which can make treatment more complex (Frost, Steketee, and Tolin, 2011). 

Impacts of COVID-19 Pandemic on People Who Hoard

For many Canadians who have hoarding behaviour,  the pandemic has created a unique constellation of challenges for managing and accessing help. The inability to receive in-person counselling, where they can work with a counsellor one-on-one to reduce the items in their home, has made daily life harder for many. People who hoard often feel a sense of shame about the state of their home and their hoarding behaviour.People who might  otherwise attend in person group counselling,  may be reluctant to do so in a virtual setting as this may mean exposing their home to the group (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/covid-19-people-hoarding-disorder-1.6000849 ).

Even logistically, the pandemic has made it more difficult for people who hoard to get rid of objects when they are feeling able to. Since many donation bins and thrift stores have been shut down during the pandemic it is more challenging to know how to dispose of objects (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/covid-19-people-hoarding-disorder-1.6000849). 


Challenges for People Who Hoard and their Communities 

Hoarding can present serious challenges for the individual, their family, neighbours and the broader community.  These challenges are not just with relationships. They also include safety issues and a variety of potential social and legal issues. Hoarding behaviour can cause individuals to be at risk of homelessness. Landlords and non-profit housing providers may seek to  evict tenants who hoard because of how hoarding can  impact the condition of the unit and other tenants. Hoarded objects can also create fire hazards, result in an unsanitary environment for others, or cause damage to the housing unit (https://www.homelesshub.ca/blog/hoarding-region-peel-collaborative-response-complex-issue). Intervention is often necessary.

Value of Community Service Collaboration 

Since hoarding behaviour is complex to treat and affects many different realms of a person’s life, there is a lot of value in collaboration between community service groups. It is important for people who work with someone who hoards to remember that everyone has their own preferences about cleanliness and clutter, but hoarding behaviour can become a problem when it begins impacting the quality of life and health and safety of the individual and those around them. As someone providing assistance to someone who hoards it is important to remember that the situation did not happen overnight, and it cannot be resolved overnight either. 

A variety of service providers need to be informed and aware of what role they can play in supporting those who hoard. For example, landlords, fire service officers, bylaw officers, police, paramedics, emergency medical services, mental health agencies, lawyers and legal professionals, organizations who work with older adults, and waste management officers may all find themselves working with someone who hoards. For people in these roles, it is useful to understand and clearly define their role and responsibilities in helping to support individuals.A recent (2021) policy study from the Coalition on Hoarding in Peel (CHIP) and the Homeless Hub  recommended training for service providers and the creation of clear protocols for supporting and referring clients (https://www.homelesshub.ca/resource/hoarding-region-peel-collaborative-response-complex-issue). Workshops and expanding the availability and accessibility of service provider-specific resources is essential for better meeting the needs of people who hoard.     

REACH 2022 Hoarding Conference

If you are interested in learning more, please register now!

Single Event - Individual Registration: $50.00
Full Conference - Individual Registration: $75.00

Contact reach@reach.ca for information regarding group rates.