Please Explain: Hoarding

Friday, January 06, 2012

Almost everyone has closets full of stuff, favorite mementos, and expanding collections of books or shoes or spices or hotel shampoos. But sometimes our emotional attachments to stuff can spiral out of control, and people become not just pack rats but compulsive hoarders. Dr. Robin Zasio, therapist who specializes in treating hoarding and other anxiety-related disorders, explains what compulsive hoarding is and how to treat it. She’ll also give advice about how to live a less-cluttered, better-organized life. She’s the author of The Hoarder in You: How to Live a Happier, Healthier, Uncluttered Life.


Dr. Robin Zasio

Comments [57]

Gail Enid Zimmer from Fair Lawn, NJ

I tried to call in while this discussion was on the air to remind listeners and even Leonard that many libraries provide access to periodical databases with not only indexing to citations but often full-text articles, so it's worth checking your library's Web site to see what they have and to find out if articles in magazines you are thinking of discarding can be accessed free of charge!

Nov. 22 2012 05:33 PM
Blossom from Long Beach, New York

As a professional organizer, I see hoarders and clutterers from every point in the spectrum. The saddest cases involve people who have become isolated from their families and friends due to their chronic disorganization. Adult children refuse to visit parents with their families, holiday invitations disappear, family meals at the dinner table become an exercise in carving out a reasonable space to set a plate and glass down. My experience is this: the average American has too much stuff, is dependent on too much stuff, defines himself/herself by their possessions, i.e. designer handbags, shoes, electronics,. We have become a society possessed by our possessions to the extreme. Then we have hoarders who fear loss of information and keep magazines, books, newspapers, outdated pay stubs etc. I understand the importance of finding old pay stubs that helped Estelle from Brooklyn claim per session pay. My suggestion to a client like Estelle would be not to keep the actual paper pay stubs but scan them thus reducing the clutter. What we must always remember when helping hoarders/chronically disorganized people, is that we must teach them as we help them make the decisions about their stuff. Patience and compassion is key.

Jan. 08 2012 04:31 PM
john from nyc

Therenis a difference between hording, an illness and collecting. Example if you love doing home repairs there is a difference between a person living in a hestoric home and an aoartment dweller. without going into great detail, screws, old replacement sash and trim full cut lumber are all part maintaining an old house.

The artist/sclpture is always collecting bits and pieces, materials that may or not ever find its place in the craftsmans next project.

Then there is the massing of shoes for the their designs. Fashon is a big problem for many. I buy expensive clothing and never throwing them out. your always dressed and in fashon as fashion repeats itself and of course style is forever. I have english shoes that are over 30 years old with bukles and are fashionable again. To purchase them today at five times the original cost, and a lesser quality of leather..

Perhaps I should write a book on being frugle and whats worth saving.

Jan. 07 2012 12:09 PM

Someone tried to get me to pay a debt I had already paid ten years prior - and luckily I still had the cancelled checks to prove it - my bank at the time had been swallowed up several times and there was no way I'd be able to to retrieve copies from those banks...

Jan. 06 2012 07:40 PM
Estelle from B rooklyn

I keep old tax and employment records just about forever. When NYC decided to include per session pay in calculating a teacher's pension, I received a letter that I had no such eligible pay. I dredged up my pay stubs from the 1980's and sent in copies. The reward for that bit of hoarding was substantial.

Jan. 06 2012 04:26 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Oops, I meant *in*ability to let go in my comment below.

Jan. 06 2012 02:42 PM
cheryl from manhattan

This is a follow up to what I wrote earlier: most food expiration is more about looking good rather being safe to eat so it's usually OK to eat stuff a bit after expiration. There is stuff online that advises when food etc actually go bad and are unsafe. Sugar, salt, spices that are already in food are preservatives, as well as added preservatives. And if the food is in an airtight container it will keep a long time. Freezing food that isn't usually frozen keeps them much longer but can change look, quality, and taste in ways that aren't always do great. I almost threw away some mushrooms that turned black and mushy in freezer but I put it in soup instead and it was great! Fruit does not fare well in long freezing. But whatever it looks like remember it probably is still good and has nutrients. Would be good for smoothies!

Jan. 06 2012 02:27 PM
NYC Informed from New York

Regarding the idea of chemicals in the brain causing hoarding, or any other mental illness for that matter, this is a disproven theory.
Dr. Friedman, Director of the psychopharmacology clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Dr. Nierenberg, Director of the bipolar clinic and research program at Massachusetts General Hospital have publicly stated, "The chemical imbalance theory of mental disorders is 'outdated and disproven'.”

In the "New York Review of Books" two-part article by Dr. Marcia Angell, Senior Lecturer at Harvard Medical School and former Editor in Chief of The New England Journal of Medicine, she summarizes their findings and all the related unethical and illegal nonsense plaguing the mental health field extremely well.

Jan. 06 2012 02:12 PM
Amy from Manhattan

If compulsive hoarding is a mental illness, is a family member's need to be confrontational about it & sometimes to throw out the hoarder's stuff also a mental illness? Is it something like a codependent relationship (e.g., AA/Al-Anon)? It seems as if both have an ability to let go.

Jan. 06 2012 02:00 PM
Book Lady from Central New Jersey

I thought this program applied to me, but not quite. All my "stuff" is good. My house is just too small! I will admit to being a clutterer -- there isn't enough space to put it all away.

I am serious.

I have a new plan: buy nothing new without giving away at least as much as I buy. It is making a dent...

Jan. 06 2012 01:59 PM
Diane Thomson

Can the author speak on working with Professional Organizers and the Institute for Chronic Disorganization?

Jan. 06 2012 01:56 PM
Gabrielle Lesser from Westchester

What about hoarding withdrawal. My 76-year-old mother just moved from upper west side to a great independent living facility. She was willing to move and start over as long as she knew that we would sell or give away (to good homes) her 30 years of crafts materials. but now she's seems very depressed and I wonder if it's because (partially) she doesn't have these potential projects to look forward to.

Jan. 06 2012 01:56 PM
Bob from NJ

Is there a 'compulsive purging' syndrome ?

Jan. 06 2012 01:56 PM
Kate from Brooklyn

Isn't the fear of permanently letting go of objects also a kind of fear of death?

Jan. 06 2012 01:55 PM
Marie from Brooklyn

As your guest points out, this phenomenon exists on a spectrum, and almost all of us struggle with our junk. Materialism in our society is so out of control that the deck is stacked against us. Every year we get stuff from relatives for Christmas and our kids' birthdays that we just have to take to flea markets or Goodwill. I feel bad pitching stuff that people have bought for us (and fear that they might find out), but sometimes we have no choice. We tell people to buy less stuff, but some of them just can't help themselves. Any recommendations about managing extended families' excesses?

Jan. 06 2012 01:55 PM
Rah from Manhattan

And my advice for those trying is KEEP AT IT: one year, I can't throw something out, the next year, it's gone.

And don't beat thyself over it.

Jan. 06 2012 01:55 PM
Debbie from Woodmere

My mother has articles from the 1990s that she mails to me every week enclosing a note: "I wanted you to read this."
I receive a manila envelope weekly, we're approaching 1995 as of this week. We found cans in her house with the key on top of Chock Full of Nuts coffee from the 1960's! She doesn't even have a coffee pot to brew the coffee! She's saving birthday cards from over 50 years ago.

Jan. 06 2012 01:54 PM

My mother is a hoarder and I've see hoarding behavior in my daughter from a young age. She's only 7 and doesn't want to get rid of anything. I try to come up with excuses of where the unused, or outgrown stuff should go. Or I get rid of it under the cover of darkness! Any suggestions?

Jan. 06 2012 01:54 PM
robert from NYC

what about digital hoarders? digital stuff doesn't clog the apartment but we need to buy more and more hard disks, which have more and more capacity, but the amount the stuff stored on them are unmanageable even for programmers. are we safe or should we look for help?

Jan. 06 2012 01:53 PM
sy from manhattan

i'm just now cleaning some of last two week's papers and bottles in the ref. just needed to be reminded, even though i'm not hoarding.

i went thru a big project to clean everything so not to put my son in a tough situation to go thru and decide what to keep.

Jan. 06 2012 01:52 PM
Jim B

How big is your email inbox?

Jan. 06 2012 01:52 PM

Does the guest think there is a problem making a television show about this issue? By broadcasting it to a wide audience, isn't there an element of shame to the individuals. I have seen the show and always felt they were exploiting the Hoarders. Isn't there a more sensitive way to help them?

Jan. 06 2012 01:51 PM
Rah from manhattan

I am appalled at the lack of compassion in some of these comments. I think PEOPLE WHO LIVE ALONE have worse hoarding.

My Aunt was a hoarder and a very sad situation. We dealt with her stuff after she passed.

I have trouble throwing things away, BUT I have a spouse. So I keep it under control because of my spouse.

Jan. 06 2012 01:51 PM

Maybe this will help:

I have an attachment to my out of date clothes because of memories associated with them, so I found I could free myself up to donate my clothes by taking pictures of them first.

Still have the memories that way but not the clutter.

Jan. 06 2012 01:50 PM
artist in nyc

My friend has this fantastic organization that does great things with other peoples garbage... She unites children's groups in schools, and communities. Michelle Del Guercio is amazing- a true force of nature! a part of

Jan. 06 2012 01:50 PM
cheryl from manhattan

The flip side is that people in NYC are always throwing out clothes, books,appliances and furniture that are still good and even valuable because they're too lazy to give it to charity etc. Their is so much outrageous waste in NYC! They put it out in a way to encourage others to take it but fear of looking poor and bedbugs keeps people from taking them.

As for food and expiration dates. One of my neighbors just put out a big bag food that was totally sealed but just reached their expiration. I've been feasting on it!

I'm not desperately poor but my eyes were open when I took a tour with the freegans who opened food bags by supermarkets with food that was still good to make room for new food.

People buy buy buy and waste too much. If they throw out take it to charity don't put it on the street to fill landfill and feed rats!

Jan. 06 2012 01:50 PM

Following the comment by artist in NY, how does one throw away random things, which can become materials for making art, especially when obsessive collecting of similar objects is highly valued in contemporary art?

A separate question is about saving things for our kids: How many paintings, drawings, samples of writing or pictures does one need to save for the sake of your kid? Having almost no pictures from my childhood and having just a few things saved from my childhood, I am always torn between my impulse to throw away my kids' toys and creations and the guilt of depriving them of memory.

Jan. 06 2012 01:48 PM
Bob from Westchester, NY

@ Anon A Mouse: FYI, Tekserve is co-sponsoring e-waste recycling events in January with the Lower East Side Ecology Center. This weekend in Manhattan at Bowling Green Park (Saturday) and Union Square (Sunday); later in the January at locations on Upper East Side, Harlem, Upper West Side and Chelsea (Tekserve store on W.23rd Street). Check either website for info -- Maybe Leonard can link, as Tekserve is a supporter of WNYC? Hope this helps.

Jan. 06 2012 01:48 PM
Karen from Long Island, NY

My friend had a great idea. Photograph the item and then get rid of it. You will always have the picture on your computer.

Jan. 06 2012 01:47 PM
Tom B. from Flatiron District

In other places, people "hoard" out of necessity. Is there some relation to rampant unchecked consumerism, merciless marketing and the glut of "stuff" in American culture.

Jan. 06 2012 01:47 PM
Joe from Monterey, CA

By world-at-large standards, most Americans look like hoarders. Doesn't it say something frightening about our society that having an overabundance of "stuff" is becoming a problem--even a condition? Is this yet another sign that Rome may be burning?

Jan. 06 2012 01:47 PM
Bee from Astoria, NY

My husband is an artist and has a studio so full of stuff that he plans to use "one day", he could build and furnish a whole house with it, to the point where he cannot work there and our home is full to the brim with things - all beautiful, creative materials, things to be used eventually, artworks, amazing books etc. . . HOW to choose what to let go of? Should we wait to buy some land where we build a home and move/use some of this beautiful stuff then . . .and clear out after ? or just do it now? HOW!!

Jan. 06 2012 01:47 PM
Anne from Connecticut, again

Hoarding + Politics.

Hoarding is perhaps the country's most unpatriotic act.
Even though it involves collecting + acquiring (fundamentally American activities),
what it DOESN'T involve is DISPOSING, which is needed to sustain a capitalist, consumerist, future-biased society.

And this is not an attack on hoarding, on the contrary, Americans can use a bit more holding and a little less disposing...

Jan. 06 2012 01:45 PM

The reason people think you are making light of it is because you had a chuckle in your voice when you asked the doctor for the worst examples she has seen for A & E.

Jan. 06 2012 01:45 PM
Kate from Brooklyn

What about people who have trouble throwing things out because they hate the idea of adding to landfills? There's a lot of guilt for some people in knowing that they are contributing to an ecological problem. There's only so much that can be recycled or given away.

Jan. 06 2012 01:45 PM
Debora from Stamford

I'm wondering whether your guest feels like the show is helpful to hoarders or borderline hoarders. I watched it a few times and felt very uncomfortable watching people going through very serious mental health issues. I felt like the audience were peeping toms and not understanding the disease aspect of someone's very serious conditions

Jan. 06 2012 01:44 PM
Artist from Tribeca

People in New York City have typically much less space than the rest of the country. We don't have basements or attics and many creative people don't have room for their work (as we usually work at home). It is easy to become overrun with stuff without being an actual hoarder in this city. That is why the loft movement started a half century ago. Alas most artists can't afford today's lofts and are back to being crammed into tiny apartments.

Jan. 06 2012 01:44 PM
Dianna from New York City

I am currently cleaning out a cabinet, trying to start out the new year by "getting clear".

I have spread all over the living room floor - EVERY calendar since 1978!!!!

Was just asking myself why I keep these?

I think they are hard to throw away, since most days have something written in the box and I guess to me they are a record of my life.

Jan. 06 2012 01:41 PM
J Reilly from Bellmore, LI

My problem is that, if something is broken, you should try to fix it before you throw it out. I have a lot of broken things in the basement.

Jan. 06 2012 01:39 PM
Anne from Fairfield, CT

LOVING this show.
I am quite nostalgic and have very VERY low grade hoarding tendencies.

I find it funny that hoarding is being seen in such a negative light. I actually think that most hoarding stems from a disproportionate sense of optimism: a sense that some random object, however useless, old, unwieldy, broken, may SOMEDAY SOMEHOW serve a purpose.

I bet that a good number of hoarders are also Luddites. I don't think most Luddites hate technology or what's new, I think they just like what's old and have faith + optimism in the usefulness of what's old.

Jan. 06 2012 01:39 PM
Anin Karmen from nyu nabe

The transition from even WAY too much stuff to living in filthy conditions--up to and including animal and human fecal matter not being dealt with---is that literally toxic chemical situation just an extreme case in DEGREE from the hoarder of jars, books, 'collectibles', memorabilia? Is the hoarding itself leading to the eventual inability to clean up?

I think I've had the inability to toss things based on the crazy notion of their usefulness eventually...but never stopped cleaning my apartment (especially bathroom & kitchen). Is it just a slippery slope?

BY THE WAY: the proram has helped me ENORMOUSLY. I have probably 25% less stuff than since before watching the program:)

Jan. 06 2012 01:39 PM
Kate from Washington Heights

EVERY time I throw something away that I've been hanging onto, I regret it. People say, "If you haven't used it for two years get rid of it." So, I gave some hand weights to a local Thrift Shop, since I hadn't used them in about five years. Only a couple of months later, I joined a "boot camp" program and on the first day, the first thing they said was that I was required to buy handweights. SAVE ALL YOUR STUFF! :-) Just kidding. But really, this is just one of many, many examples that holding onto stuff has saved me more trouble than it has cost me.

Jan. 06 2012 01:39 PM
V from BRONX

There is nothing in that last story that implicates a genetic basis for hoarding. Those people that hoard in her story all lived with another hoarder. Sounds like nurture, not nature.

Jan. 06 2012 01:38 PM
Anon a Mouse from Manhattan

I lot of keeping stuff is being unable to find a place or a way to recycle it. For example we can't get rid of electroncs like old broken tvs because there isn't any way to get them to the very rare electronics recycling events that are 4 times a year nowhere near here and it's irresponsible to put them into the regular garbage, or stuff we would like to see archived that pertains to the arts in recent times that there exist no archive for yet (but we hope there will be soon).

Jan. 06 2012 01:36 PM

When my father (a Puerto Rican writer who was on your show once) died, I ended up with all of his stuff. Losing my father led to my hoarding. I keep opening storage units.

Jan. 06 2012 01:35 PM
michael from Brooklyn

Why does Mr. Lopate think that the psychological syndrome of hoarding is a jokey, laughing matter? Would he do the same with depression, PTSD, and alcoholism? These people are in serious distress. Maybe if he interviewed someone who wasn't anchoring a show that used hoarding as entertainment. Or maybe it's just him.

Shame on the entire show.


Jan. 06 2012 01:35 PM
artist in nyc

I am an artist who makes things from old things- assemblages- and this is a type of art that creates this type of problem. I can find usefulness in nearly everything! How do I discriminate wheat from chaff?

Jan. 06 2012 01:35 PM
Jesse from Westchester

Sometimes people hoard things because they feel guilty about putting them into a landfill.

Jan. 06 2012 01:35 PM
Susan from Manhattan

Your guest pegged me! I hoard plastic that I hope to recycle. I can't tolerate the thought of sending plastic lids and bottle caps to landfill. How can I throw them away when I keep hearing about the plastic swirl 2 times the size of Texas in middle of the Pacific Ocean? What is an environmentalist to do???????

Jan. 06 2012 01:34 PM
kate from brooklyn

what is the best approach to reasoning with a hoarder when you share the living space?

Jan. 06 2012 01:32 PM
Suzie from Manhattan

This woman is so compassionate to these seemingly crazy people. The show has inspired me to sort through my things and get rid of useless stuff.

Jan. 06 2012 01:31 PM
dm from nyc

Jan. 06 2012 01:30 PM

How about the other way around?

I hate physical stuff, and I always try to own no more than I can fit in two suitcases.

I am reluctant to buy text books, and would much rather pay for a PDF computer file.


Jan. 06 2012 01:23 PM
Michelle from nyc

Isn't hoarding a symptom of feeling the future won't provide?

Jan. 06 2012 01:23 PM
Mark from Mount Vernon

If a family came in and cleaned out the apartment, what's the worst emotional reaction a hoarder would have?

Jan. 06 2012 12:00 PM

it's not that i have too much stuff. its just the my apartment is too small

Jan. 06 2012 10:59 AM
sumukha ravishankar from Short Hills, NJ

Can you also discuss how the culture of buying 'STUFF' or GIFTS for Mother's Day, Father Day, Christmas, Birthday etc etc etc adds to this problem. I have never known of this issue until I came to the US.
I had an interesting discussion with somebody just before Christmas. She was unable to find something for her 75 year old father for Christmas. She says he has everything and he is a hoarder.

don't we all fall into this category one way or the other?

Consumerism has taken over our better senses.

Jan. 06 2012 10:46 AM

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