When Does Hoarding Start?

Hoarding disorder is a condition in which people compulsively acquire possessions that they then find themselves unable to discard. Hoarding can harm people’s health, their relationship with others, and their everyday functioning, and it often goes hand-in-hand with other mental health conditions like depression.

Hoarding is a condition that effects people in the long-term, but it’s also one where working with a mental health professional can make a difference. It’s worth asking, then: when do the signs of hoarding show up?

Recently, a group of researchers shed some light on this question by doing a meta-analysis looking at previous studies of hoarding’s age of onset.

They found that, overall, compulsive hoarding tends to show up first during adolescence. Across all the studies they considered, the average age of onset was between 16 and 17 years of age.

There’s a complicating factor, though: left untreated, compulsive hoarding tends to get progressively worse with age. So while signs of hoarding often show up during adolescence, the most severe symptoms don’t necessarily appear until later in life. Some of the studies that were analyzed suggested that when compulsive hoarding first shows up in the teens and 20s, the more impairing effects don’t become obvious until the 30s or 40s.

Although the average age of onset was in the teens, not everyone with compulsive hoarding shows signs that young. In fact, there may be a subgroup of people with hoarding disorder whose symptoms appear later. For example, one of the studies the researchers analyzed found some evidence for two distinct groups of people with compulsive hoarding: one with an age of onset in the teens and one with an age of onset around 50.

The studies tended to find that stressful life events such as death in the family, divorce, or illnesses can contribute to the onset of hoarding. This might also explain some of the variance in when people’s symptoms show up.

Compulsive hoarding’s link to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is another factor that can influence age of onset. In their meta-analysis, the researchers found that hoarding symptoms tended to show up four years earlier on average when OCD was also present.

Generally, these findings point to a pattern of hoarding symptoms appearing relatively early and getting worse over time, with substantial individual variation in when exactly symptoms show up. For this reason, early treatment may turn out to be especially helpful in preventing the more severe effects of hoarding from occurring later.


  1. Yvette Wright on April 13, 2019 at 3:35 pm

    Hello. I was wondering can hoarding be heritiary. Although the child has never lived with the father but are displaying all signs of that from the father. Actually, the grand parents as well. I’m concern that at 15 she will carry this on throughout life. She states as the father and grand parents says they do not have a problem with hoarding. It’s as if they are most satisfied and content when every aspect of a room is in shambles, or turned upside down with stuff(nice things) I’ll add piled and scattered everywhere. The unfortunate of this is when they cannot find something they go out and purchase it again and end up having several of the same item trapped underneath hoardes of stuff lost, collected or denial to get rid of it. I think they all need counseling including my daughter. This will never happen because they are advanced conservative, private southerners. Is there help for my daughter?

    • Neil Petersen on April 13, 2019 at 4:11 pm

      Hi Yvette. I’m not a mental health professional, but I can tell you what I know about some of the research that’s been done on hoarding. Hoarding, like many mental health conditions, does seem to have a large genetic component. This study suggests that about 50 percent of the variance in whether someone develops compulsive hoarding is down to genetics.

      It’s common that people with hoarding behaviors say they don’t have a problem. As I mentioned in this post, hoarding often starts in the teenage years and gets progressively worse with age. Therefore, I’d strongly advise you to meet with a mental health professional about the situation with your daughter. Ideally, this would include your daughter meeting with a mental health professional, but it would also be helpful for you to meet with a mental health professional on how to support your daughter and navigate the situation with her grandparents. Best of luck!