The piles of newspapers, boxes, junk, and other insignificant objects. The rooms you can’t enter, let alone walk through. The clutter that’s too overwhelming to clear away.

The piles of newspapers, boxes, junk, and other insignificant objects. The rooms you can’t enter, let alone walk through. The clutter that’s too overwhelming to clear away.

You’ve seen the television shows about hoarders and may even joke about knowing a hoarder. But for an individual suffering with a hoarding issue, it’s no laughing matter but a serious health concern.

People are even taking notice of the issue in Delaware as the Delaware Hospice held a workshop in the spring with more programs planned for the future.

What is hoarding?

According to the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF), hoarding is a complex disorder with three connected problems: collecting too many items, difficulty getting rid of items, and problems with organization.

The foundation, which has a Hoarding Center, states there are a variety of reasons a person hoards from the desire to not waste things to fear of losing important information to emotional connections to objects.

However, Dr. Angela D’Antonio, an assistant professor of psychology at Wesley College, said researchers haven’t narrowed down an exact cause. D’Antonio spoke at the Delaware Hospice workshop on hoarding because of her previous experience working for the non-profit.

What could cause hoarding?

D’Antonio said that while it was originally believed that hoarding was related to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, researchers are now looking to see if it’s a diagnosable disorder on it’s own. Researchers do believe hoarding could be a result of genetics, growing up with a hoarder, or the result of a traumatic loss. D’Antonio said hoarding typically starts in the early teens years but tends to get progressively worse over the years.

Delaware Hospice decided to hold a workshop on the topic because in their area, grief counselors tend to see signs of hoarding in older adults suffering from grief.

Vicki Costa, Delaware Hospice Associate Director of Family Support, agrees with D’Antonio in that it can be difficult to determine a cause for the problem.

“It’s so multifaceted that it’s hard to pinpoint one [cause] that created it,” Costa said. “It’s almost like addiction. How do you say the cause of an alcoholic or an addict; it’s not one thing.”

Signs you’re a hoarder

Hoarders have difficulty discarding items and keep things that most people wouldn’t see as valuable. The IOCDF website states items people tend to hoard include newspapers, clothes, containers, junk mail, books and crafts. People also hoard food and animals.

An example given during the hoarding workshop was that of a hoarder keeping a 7UP soda bottle. Costa said a hoarder would save the bottle because of the beautiful image created by light shining through the green bottle.

The problem with hoarding is that as things begin to pile up, the health of an individual becomes a concern.

“Hoarding becomes a health concern when it begins to start to impair their functioning,” D’Antonio said.

Illuminating the problem

The workshop Delaware Hospice held in the spring was an unexpected hit; they expected roughly 15 people and had more than 65 people in attendance.

The workshop was seen to be so helpful they’re holding a second one in the fall. D’Antonio has been asked to speak at a workshop in Easton, Md. There’s even talk of a state task force.

As people at the workshops expressed their gratitude and desire to get help, Costa hopes the workshops will encourage people to get help for a problem that tends to be laughed at and minimized.

“This is overlooked and it’s time we put the spotlight on it and get people the help they need,” Costa said.

Email Jennifer Dailey at