How To Spot Hoarding In Children

Wednesday 3rd November 2021

Sophie Rioch

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It’s hardly unusual for kids and teens to have messy bedrooms. But sometimes, clutter can be a sign of something more serious. 

Hoarding is a mental health issue that can start in childhood. It’s distressing for the children and teens who suffer from it, and for the family members who share living spaces with them. 

So what are the signs of hoarding, what support can you give your child, and how can our discreet hoarder cleaning services help restore order to your home? Read on for our guide. 


Key traits of hoarding

Hoarding often begins during the teenage years but can be found in children as young as six or seven.

If your child or teenager is hoarding, you’ll notice their bedroom becoming cluttered. They might stash things away in cupboards or drawers at first, but this could soon spill over onto the floor or beds. 

The things they hoard will be random – for instance, stones, empty cardboard boxes, broken electrical appliances, or food. Many of these possessions will be apparently useless. 

Importantly, however, your child will have a strong emotional attachment to these possessions: they’ll be distraught if you try to throw them away. 


What is the difference between hoarding and collecting?

Of course, many children love to collect things such as football stickers, conkers, or pennies. This is a positive part of normal development: it encourages children to learn to organise items, develop expertise, and share their knowledge with others. 

Hoarding, however, is disorganised behaviour. Children are often embarrassed by it, and try to prevent others from entering their bedrooms and seeing their piles of stuff. 

Hoarding is also not the same as regular mess! Many children hate tidying up, but won’t be upset if someone does it for them. They don’t have the same emotional attachment to the things they have accumulated as a hoarder does. 


What is the impact of hoarding?

Clutter is a significant health and safety issue. Piles of stuff are a fire risk and a trip hazard, and might contain broken items that could cause injury. Clutter is also unsanitary, as it prevents cleaning and might include rotting food that could attract rodents. 

Plus, the clutter could encroach on the rest of your home, creating an unpleasant living environment for your whole family. It can smell, too.

Then there are the emotional and psychological issues. Your child’s hoarding disorder could start to interfere with other areas of their lives: they might become reluctant to invite friends home, and could fall behind with schoolwork as they can’t find their equipment. Their personal hygiene and health could suffer, too. 

And when one member of the family has mental health issues, it has a knock-on effect on the entire household. In fact, hoarding behaviour often runs in families.


What to do if you think your child is hoarding

It’s tempting just to march into your child’s bedroom with bin bags, or remove treats such as screen time until they tackle the issue themselves. But that would ignore the underlying problem. 

In fact, getting angry with a child or trying to shame them can make their hoarding behaviour worse. Instead, you should try to tackle the problem calmly, without judging them.

Many children and adults who hoard don’t recognise they have a problem. They say that they need all their possessions, and get panicky at the thought of throwing them away.

So treatment involves helping children understand that it’s ok to get rid of things, and supporting them in developing the skills to decide what to throw away. 

You should also give your child some leeway. Cleanliness and tidiness are important – but you want your child to feel relaxed and supported too, so you can resolve the root causes of their hoarding behaviour together. 


Where can you get help for hoarding?

It’s important to understand what is driving your child to hoard. So it’s best to consult your GP, who can refer you to a mental health specialist. 

They might diagnose your child with hoarding disorder. Or they might think that the hoarding is a symptom of another condition, such as anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

You can also find advice and more information online – from the NHS, the mental health charity Mind, or the charity Hoarding UK

Hoarding disorder and related conditions tend to get worse with age, so it’s important to tackle the issues while your child is still young.


What treatments are available?

Treatment depends on the diagnosis your child receives. 

One therapy is called exposure with response prevention (ERP). A therapist will help a child rate their possessions according to how much the child thinks they need them. They then work together on letting the least cherished items go, perhaps by living without them for a week at first. The child will be rewarded for doing so, and will gradually learn they can manage without the items altogether. 

For older children or teenagers, another treatment is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). A therapist will work with the child to understand why they find it so hard to throw things away and help them develop ways to choose which items to keep and which to discard. 

You and your partner, if you have one, are likely to be involved in the process too, particularly if your child is still young. 

Sometimes your GP might prescribe medication along with therapy, for example, to treat underlying conditions such as depression. 


How we can help

Dealing with hoarded clutter is a very sensitive topic. 

On the one hand, throwing the items away will stress the child and possibly worsen their emotional condition. On the other hand, it is dangerous and unhygienic to just leave the clutter. 

Here at ICE Cleaning, we don’t judge you if you’re trying to tackle a hoarding problem. Instead, we want to support you while you support your child. 

Our friendly team goes above and beyond to provide professional, discreet and delicate hoarder cleaning services for our customers nationwide. Just give us a call on 0208 066 0360 today, or email us on to find out more. 

Zoe Dunning

Zoe Dunning

Sales Representative

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