Hoarding is a tenacious disorder that strikes millions of people and affects families and communities.1 Few children reveal they are living in a hoarded home. Paradoxically, by encouraging the child to disclose the hoarding behaviors of the parent, clinicians are better able to create effective strategies for intervention and curtail long-term negative effects on the child.
Mental health professionals may consider asking questions to get the conversation started. Keep in mind that children suspected of living in hoarded homes are often frightened to tell the truth. This tipsheet serves as a sample only and is not to be used in place of State and Federal child protective laws.
TIPSHEET: QUESTIONS TO ASK CHILDREN OF SUSPECTED HOARDERS1
■ Definition: Compulsive hoarding is characterized by the following criteria2-4
• The acquisition of, and failure to discard, a large number of possessions
• Excessive clutter that precludes activities for which the living space was designed
• Significant distress or impairment in functioning caused by the hoarding
■ Sample questions1
• Where does your family prepare and eat meals?
• Where in your house do you study?
• Where does your family spend time together and what do you do?
• Where does your family put things if space is limited? The bed? The couch? Your room?
• If I were to walk into your house, what would I see in each room?
• Describe the neatest room and the messiest room in the house.
• Tell me about your bedroom. How is it different from the rest of the home?
• Does your family call people in to do repairs when things are broken?
• Tell me the main ways your house could be a better place to live.
• Do you have a yard to play in? What activities do you do there?
• Do you have pets? How many? Where do they stay? Outside? Inside?
• How do your parents feel about having guests?
• Would anything prevent your family from having activities in certain areas of the house?
• How often do you have visitors?
• How would you feel if a friend came to your home today?
• Where would be the best place to spend time with guests in your house?
• Would it be better to visit with friends and family somewhere else? Why?
• Do your parents celebrate birthdays or holidays at home or somewhere else?
Note: For provisional diagnostic criteria for hoarding disorder,2,5 click here. Criteria will require further study in the coming years.2 Adapted from previously published Psychiatric Times articles.1,2
1. Chabaud SA. The hidden lives of children of hoarders. Psychiatr Times. Published online November 10, 2011.
2. Otte S, Steketee G. Psychiatric issues in hoarding: strategies for diagnosing and treating symptoms of hoarding. Psychiatr Times. 2011:28(8);9.
3. Frost RO, Gross RC. The hoarding of possessions. Behav Res Ther. 1993;31:367-381.
4. Frost, RO, Hartl TL. A cognitive-behavioral model of compulsive hoarding. Behav Res Ther. 1996;34:341-350.
5. Mataix-Cols D, Frost RO, Pertusa A, et al. Hoarding disorder: a new diagnosis for DSM-V? Depress Anxiety. 2010;27:556-572.