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Do you find it very difficult to get rid of things? Does it cause suffering and affect your daily life? If so, you may be suffering from collector's syndrome. Here we explain what the problem is and how you can get help.

What is collector’s syndrome?

In collector’s syndrome, also known as horder’s syndrome, people have considerable difficulty getting rid of things, partly because they feel uncomfortable and think they need to keep them. They may collect different types of things, some of which may have objective value but others may seem less valuable to an outsider. The syndrome is similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder, where you have different types of compulsive behaviors.

Collector’s syndrome cause

Collector syndrome usually develops early in life and studies have shown that the problems have often been present since childhood. The problem is distressing and can get worse with age. There are currently no reliable statistics about the prevalence of hoarder’s syndrome. Both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the development of the syndrome. Many people with the problem have been found to have experienced trauma, but it is not possible to say that trauma is the direct cause of the syndrome; many factors are involved.

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Collector syndrome symptoms

Collector’s syndrome is a separate diagnosis in the DSM-5 diagnostic manual, but the symptoms are similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is only if the behavior causes great suffering and affects how you function in everyday life that a diagnosis can be made. The home is often messy and cluttered, which can make it difficult to do everyday things like using the bathroom and cooking. They may collect things by looking for free stuff, buying or stealing. They may not always be aware of their behavior and it may be pointed out by others around them. But others around the person can also make recovery more difficult by perpetuating the problems. Collector’s syndrome can lead to feelings of shame and stigma, so it is important to get the right help. If diagnosed, these symptoms can be reviewed:

  • Presence of extreme collecting
  • Degree of insight

If you have hoarding syndrome, you often also have depression, anxiety and ADHD. It is also common in OCD, Prader-Willi syndrome and autism spectrum disorder. It is possible to get treatment for these problems as well.

Collector’s syndrome treatment

So what can you do if you have collector’s syndrome? The only treatment that has been researched for the problem is CBT for adults. There are few studies on children and adolescents, so it is not yet known which treatment is most helpful. There are different levels of the syndrome with mild, moderate and severe symptoms, and treatment is adapted accordingly. It is common for the problems to be identified through contact with Irish social services and housing organisations, as people do not always seek help themselves.

Treatment with CBT for hoarder syndrome is usually between 16-26 sessions and can be given individually or in groups. The treatment includes techniques to work on motivation and thoughts and feelings related to things you have. It also includes training skills to organize, sort and make decisions about what to do with the things you have accumulated. People can bring items to the clinic or the practitioner can make a home visit. There are few studies on drug treatment, so it is unclear whether it helps with hoarding syndrome.

Seeking help can change your life

Collector’s syndrome is not something you need to deal with on your own. Talking to a licensed psychotherapist or psychologist can not only help you understand your condition better but also offer effective ways to move forward. You are not alone and it is okay to ask for help. On our website, we have qualified therapists and psychologists who are happy to help you get out of compulsive behaviors.

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Your next step

If you or someone you know is struggling with collector’s syndrome, it’s a good idea to talk to a professional therapist or psychologist. We assure you that all therapists and psychologists on our platform are qualified and that your conversation is always confidential. Don’t be afraid to take the first step.

Living with collector’s syndrome can be difficult but there is help available. With the right support and tools, you can significantly improve your quality of life. If you are ready to take the step, we are here to support you. Book your first session today and start your journey towards a better future.

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12 frequently asked questions about Collector’s syndrome

What is collector’s syndrome?

Collector’s syndrome means that people have considerable difficulty getting rid of things, partly because they feel uncomfortable and believe they have a need to keep them. People may collect different types of things, some of which may have objective value but others may seem less valuable to an outsider.

How is collector’s syndrome diagnosed?

A diagnosis of hoarding syndrome is usually made by a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist through various tests and assessments. This may include questionnaires and clinical interviews.

Is collector’s syndrome hereditary?

Research shows that Collector’s syndrome may have a genetic component but it is not the only factor. Environment and upbringing also play a role.

What are the symptoms of collector’s syndrome?

Symptoms often include having a messy and cluttered home, such as difficulty doing everyday things like using the bathroom and cooking. They may acquire things by seeking out free stuff, buying or stealing. They also suffer from the problem but may have difficulty with insight.

How is hoarding syndrome treated?

Treatment often involves Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

Is there a cure for collector’s syndrome?

There is treatment for Collector’s syndrome that can be helpful for many people, although it may not help everyone.

Can children get Collector’s syndrome?

It has been found that people with Collector’s syndrome have often had symptoms since childhood. It is important to seek professional help as soon as possible for the best possible treatment outcome.

How common is collector’s syndrome?

Collector’s syndrome increases with age and for people over 70 years old, about 6% of the US population has the syndrome.

Does it affect everyday life?

Yes, in severe cases it can lead to disability with difficulties in hygiene and cooking. However, it is possible to return to normal function with proper treatment.

How is collector’s syndrome different from regular habits?

Unlike regular habits and saving of memorabilia, hoarder syndrome involves a large number of items that cause distress and affect function. Often it is other agencies such as Social Services that also notice the problem before people come to the health service, especially in the case of more severe problems.

Can you have other problems at the same time as having collector’s syndrome?

It is also common to have other psychological conditions such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, OCD and other problems. It is important to get an assessment by a professional in order to get the right treatment.

How do I get help with my collector’s syndrome?

At Lavendla, we have experienced psychologists and therapists who work with CBT and can help you feel better if you have mild symptoms. If you have more severe symptoms, you can contact your healthcare center to get a referral to a specialist psychiatrist. If you have thoughts of self-harm or suicide, contact 112 or the nearest emergency room.

What does treatment for collector’s syndrome involve?

Seeking help is a big step towards better health, it’s a positive thing to decide to take control of how you feel. Here is an overview of the steps usually involved in CBT treatment.

Step 1: An initial assessment session

The first meeting with your psychologist or therapist is an assessment to review your mental and physical health. You may be asked questions about your life situation, feelings, thoughts and behaviors. You may also be asked to complete assessment forms.

Step 2: Goal setting

This is where you and your therapist set concrete goals for the therapy, both short and long term.
It can define which areas of your life are most affected by your wellbeing and how you would like to change them.

Step 4: Treatment with different techniques and tools

This is the start of the actual treatment phase, which involves exercises aimed at giving you tools to overcome and work through the problem you are suffering from. You often work with motivation to get rid of things, for example, and practice this with the therapist. CBT also works with thoughts and feelings about the problem behavior.

Step 5: Monitoring and evaluation

Treatment is monitored regularly to see how well the therapy is working. If necessary, the treatment plan can be adjusted or renewed.

Step 6: Ending and looking ahead

As the therapy comes to an end, it is time to reflect on the progress made. You will also receive a maintenance plan for how to use the tools and strategies you have learned in the future. It is also important to monitor the results over time.

If you or someone close to you is looking for professional help, don’t hesitate to book a session with one of our licensed psychologists or therapists.

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Written by Ellen Lindgren

Licensed psychologist

Ellen is a licensed psychologist and has experience mainly in clinical psychology where she has worked with various conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, crises and trauma in primary care and psychiatry. She has also worked with research while studying in the US and with affective disorders and insomnia at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.