5 Stages of Hoarding Disorder: 5 Signs to Know!

Hoarding disorders are characterized by feelings of obsessive accumulation and attachment to objects1. There are 5 stages of hoarding to understand and treat the problem. But what is hoarding?

Every so often, one of us has a messy room. It is quite common for us to put off doing dirty tasks for various reasons, including laundry, dishes, and floor cleaning. What happens when the unnecessary items keep piling up because you cannot or don’t want to discard them?

When such a situation occurs and persists long enough to become a compulsive behavior, it is known as Hoarding. Hoarding is the obsessive behavior of a person to keep items, animals, or trash regardless of the value and have difficulty throwing them away.

5 stages of hoarding
Image by Bill Kasman from Pixabay

5 Signs of Hoarding

Sometimes accumulating junk or being disorganized can cause a mess in the house. There may be clutter in certain areas, but otherwise, the house is generally functional and safe with nothing out of place.

In contrast, hoarders are blind to clutter and tend to adjust according to their environment, so naturally, they are not bothered by the mess. They even fail to recognize the chaos around them and experience excruciating pain when throwing away any object.

Along with the 5 stages of hoarding2, there are also different signs one can notice to find the hoarding problem.

1. Obsession

While collecting is an enjoyable hobby, hoarders have an uncontrollable urge to acquire things they may not even need. They have an obsession or a compulsive desire to have everything, even if it is of no use to them.

2. Indecision

Hoarders tend to lack the decision-making skills3 to solve problems on their own. This makes them avoid making decisions involving their belongings. Decisions involving keeping or throwing away objects can even lead to anxiety in a hoarder.

3. Disposophobia

It is the fear of getting rid of things. Hoarders have extreme anxiety when deciding to keep or throw objects, even if the object is no longer helpful. The fear is so much that they avoid the situation altogether.

4. Disorganization

Hoarders cannot be organized. As a result, all the collection of clutter they develop overflows in complete chaos. It is such that the clutter and chaos take over their house and may even have no more space for the person to stay.

5. Isolation

Extreme hoarders tend to show signs of depression 4that may lead to social isolation. This may arise out of fear or embarrassment of showing others their clutter.

5 Stages of Hoarding

Hoarding disorder is a more complex problem than just being a little messy. Knowing the difference between a cluttered home and that of a hoarder is crucial to identify issues and finding ways to solve the problem—the 5 stages of hoarding help us understand the issue more deeply.

People suffering from mental health issues like obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, and PTSD often suffer from poor decision-making skills and struggle to throw items resulting in hoarding.

The National Study Group on Compulsive Disorganization devised a clutter hoarding scale with 5 stages of hoarding that indicate the severity of the disorder. Understanding the level of the disorder can help identify the hoarding problem and help those affected by the condition.

Level 1

This stage may be hard to identify as the clutter is minimal. The person may shop for things they do not need and may have difficulty throwing objects away. This level can be identified as:

  • Minimal clutter with no unusual odors
  • All entrances and staircases are accessible
  • There are less than three areas with animal waste

Level 2

Clutter starts to take up 2 or three living spaces in the house with one blocked exit. There may be malfunctioning appliances, mildew in the bathroom or kitchen, and narrow pathways around the house. The person may avoid inviting friends or family into their home because of anxiety, embarrassment, or depression. Characteristics of this level include:

  • Mild odors and pet waste on the floor
  • Signs of rodent infestation
  • Overflowing garbage cans
  • Unclean kitchen with dirty plates or expired food
unclean kitchen
Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay

Level 3

The clutter is now found overflowing in the exteriors of the house. One area of the house may show structural damage or maybe be in an unusable state. The regulation for the number of pets is exceeded. The person may have weight issues due to poor diet and personal hygiene. Other indicators of this level are:

  • One or more unusable living space
  • Excessive dust
  • Noticeable odors throughout the house
  • Blocked electrical outlets
  • Minimal or no pet care

Level 4

People within this level have poor personal hygiene has not had a bath for weeks. Mental health is often worsening in these individuals. In addition, there may be an excessive number of pets with aging animal waste in visible areas. Other characteristics are:

  • Expired canned goods
  • Beds without sheets ridden with bugs
  • Rodents and bats noticeable in the attic and walls
  • Spiders and webs in abundance

Level 5

This is the most severe type of hoarding involving severe structural damage to the house. Due to the amount of clutter, many people within level 5 hoarding do not live in their own homes but rather stay with a friend or family member. The person may also show noticeable signs of depression. Other signs include:

  • The visible presence of human feces
  • A non-working refrigerator filled with rotting food
  • Broken walls and no electricity or running water
  • Rodents and non-pet animals found in the house


The 5 stages of hoarding give a refined look at the severity of the disorder. It is crucial to identify and receive help for the problem to improve the health and safety of the person.

Hoarding is a disorder that affects several parts of life. It is a condition that induces financial strain reducing the quality of life of a person. Family relations can also be strained to the extent that they may be unrepairable over time.  It can also stem from other mental health issues like anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder; or in turn, may even lead to these issues.

cleaning after hoarding
Image by Michael Tavrionov from Pixabay

A person suffering from hoarding disorder can plan a treatment action on their own or get professional help for the problem. In addition, support from family or friends for the cleanup process can help immensely.

A professional can help determine which of the 5 stages of hoarding the person is suffering from and help devise a treatment plan accordingly. Professional help can also be sought for hoarding cleanup as it can be a very intensive process.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What Stages of Hoarding Disorder Are There?

Clutter, collecting, stagnant clutter, unmanageable clutter, and filth are the typical 5 phases of hoarding disorder.

2. What Does the Hoarding Disorder “Clutter” Stage Entail?

The hoarding disorder’s initial stage, known as the cluttered stage, sees an accumulation of clutter that is typically confined to specific parts of the home. It’s possible that the person’s regular life isn’t yet being hampered by this mess.

3. What Stage of Hoarding Disorder Is Called “Squalor”?

The squalor stage of hoarding disorder involves significant clutter and filth, which can present substantial health and safety issues. It is the most severe stage. It’s possible that the home’s living circumstances are hazardous and unhealthy.

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  1. Yap, Keong, and Jessica R. Grisham. “Unpacking the construct of emotional attachment to objects and its association with hoarding symptoms.” Journal of behavioral addictions 8.2 (2019): 249-258. ↩︎
  2. Timpano, Kiara R., Jordana Muroff, and Gail Steketee. “A review of the diagnosis and management of hoarding disorder.” Current Treatment Options in Psychiatry 3 (2016): 394-410. ↩︎
  3. Mettas, Alexandros. “The development of decision-making skills.” Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, Science and Technology Education 7.1 (2011): 63-73. ↩︎
  4. Hochberg, Mark S., et al. “The stress of residency: recognizing the signs of depression and suicide in you and your fellow residents.” The American Journal of Surgery 205.2 (2013): 141-146. ↩︎

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