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Collecting Treasures: Understanding Hoarding Behaviors

Ask the Experts by Joanne Corbo Cruz

Q: The time has come for my elderly mother to downsize from her home and move into a condo. She has so many possessions and is having a hard time letting go of items that belonged to my father and other family members that have long passed. How can I help her prepare for the upcoming move? I’m not sure if it’s just clutter or she might be a hoarder?

A: I’m sure some of us have closets full of clothes, some may be too big or too small. We’re hoping to fit into them one day or have clothes for just in case we grow 2 sizes too big. They’re in hangers and dry cleaning plastic bags tucked and shoved in your closet for the last 5 years or more.

Maybe some of us keep magazines or interesting articles in a folder tightly inserted in an office drawer to hopefully read one day when we have the time. However these clipped articles are from 2005, and they haven’t seen them since then and you’ve forgotten that they’re even there.

I worked with an older patient before who kept all of her deceased husband’s clothes—bags and bags of clothes for years. They sat in her living room since his passing and haven’t moved them and refused to move them.

Are these behaviors considered hoarding or clutter? It depends. Hoarding is defined by the DSM V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition) as: Persistent difficulty discarding possessions regardless of value, accumulation of large number of possessions that often clutter living areas where those living areas cannot be used for its intended purpose, and the behavior result in physical, emotional, social, financial and even legal consequences.

When one’s kitchen can no longer be used for cooking, and the bathtub is filled with boxes and used as storage, or the bed is topped off with storage boxes and the recliner is now used as a place to sleep, this has now affected how one lives. Despite this safety due to no living space, the person who hoards may not have the insight to recognize that it has been a chronic problem. Others clearly understand that this is a problem and are ready to receive help/ assistance. In either case it’s not always necessary to know why the person hoards at that moment, but take the opportunity to connect them to the appropriate resources when they are ready.

Joanne Cruz, MSW, LMSW, ACT is a Clinical and Medical Social Worker. She has worked in the skilled home care industry for over a dozen years and was a Behavioral Health Therapist from 1997-2012, specializing in Substance Abuse and Dually Diagnosed patients. As a Medical Social Worker, she has incorporated these skills in working with seniors to help them facilitate an improved quality of life. Cruz works with seniors and their families who have issues with hoarding and clutter in trying to connect them with resources, coordinate care and aid in reducing clutter in the home for safety. She can be reached at 248.709.7423 or

Written March 2015

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