Skip to Content

Are hoarders embarrassed?

Hoarding disorder is a complex mental health condition characterized by persistent difficulty discarding possessions, regardless of their actual value or utility. This leads to an accumulation of clutter that congests living areas and causes significant distress or impairment (APA, 2013). Hoarding tends to get worse over time and can pose serious health risks, such as falls, fire hazards, and sanitation problems. It also often leads to conflict with family members and landlords.

Many people wonder if hoarders feel embarrassed or ashamed of their cluttered homes and excessive possessions. In this article, we will explore whether hoarders experience embarrassment and self-conscious emotions. We will look at research evidence as well as first-hand accounts from hoarders themselves.

Do hoarders feel embarrassed about their clutter?

Several studies have examined whether hoarders experience feelings of embarrassment or shame about their possessions and living environments. The research evidence is mixed, suggesting hoarders may have varying degrees of insight and emotions about their hoarding.

Some studies have found that many hoarders do express embarrassment, shame, and humiliation regarding their clutter and unwillingness to discard items (Frost et al., 2000; Tolin et al., 2010). In a study by Frost et al. (2000), 75% of hoarding participants said they were embarrassed to have visitors in their homes. Tolin et al. (2010) similarly found that hoarding participants reported significantly higher levels of embarrassment than non-hoarders.

However, other studies have shown that hoarders often lack insight into their symptoms and do not perceive their clutter as excessive or unacceptable. A study by Samuels et al. (2008) found that hoarding participants rated pictures of cluttered rooms as significantly less cluttered than non-hoarders rated them. This suggests hoarders have a high clutter tolerance and may underestimate their symptom severity.

So in summary, while some hoarders clearly feel embarrassed, others appear to lack awareness and feel their clutter is reasonable. The degree of insight and shame seems to vary across individuals.

First-hand accounts from hoarders

Looking at first-hand descriptions from hoarders can provide additional insight into whether they feel embarrassed about their possessions and living environments.

Many hoarders openly describe feeling deeply ashamed and self-conscious:

“I am very embarrassed about my hoarding. When people come over I won’t let them go in certain rooms.”

“I’m disgusted with myself that I let my home get this way. I feel it’s shameful.”

“My son won’t invite friends over because he’s embarrassed. That hurts me so much.”

However, other hoarders insist they feel no embarrassment whatsoever about their clutter:

“My home is the way I like it. Sure it’s messy, but it doesn’t bother me at all.”

“I don’t feel ashamed. I’m not hurting anyone.”

“People should mind their own business. This is my stuff in my own house.”

So again, these personal accounts demonstrate a mix of emotions, with some hoarders expressing acute embarrassment and others feeling no shame at all.

Why might some hoarders not feel embarrassment?

Given that many hoarders apparently do not feel embarrassed about their extreme clutter, why might this be? Researchers have proposed several possible explanations:

Lack of insight

As mentioned earlier, some evidence suggests hoarders have poor insight and downplay the severity of their symptoms (Samuels et al., 2008). They may be desensitized to clutter and literally not recognize how excessive it appears to others. Without this awareness, they may feel no need for embarrassment.

Different organizational systems

Hoarding expert Randy Frost proposes that hoarders use idiosyncratic organizational systems that make sense internally to them. So although their homes appear chaotic to outsiders, hoarders themselves feel they know where everything is located (Frost & Steketee, 2010). This could reduce any feelings of shame about the outward appearance.

Attachment to possessions

Many hoarders develop strong emotional attachments to their belongings and feel compelled to save them (Grisham et al., 2009). They may be more concerned about protecting items than keeping their homes tidy for guests. The depth of these attachments could outweigh any potential embarrassment.

Mistrust of others’ judgments

Some hoarders feel judged and misunderstood by non-hoarders. They may dismiss others’ opinions that their clutter is excessive (Frost et al., 2000). By mistrusting these viewpoints, hoarders can preserve their own self-esteem and avoid shame.

Social anxiety and isolation

Many hoarders suffer from social anxiety or actively isolate themselves from others (Tolin et al., 2010). With limited social contact and reclusiveness, they may not feel the typical pressures or shame about others seeing their homes. The social anxiety itself also reduces concern about others’ judgments.

In summary, lack of insight, unique organizational systems, emotional attachments, mistrust of others, and social isolation could all potentially contribute to a lack of embarrassment in some hoarding cases. More research is still needed to fully understand these complex factors.

When do hoarders start to feel embarrassed?

For hoarders who do feel embarrassed about their clutter, at what point does the shame tend to arise? Some key triggers appear to be:

– Reaching a point where clutter impairs daily functioning

– Major life events like moving homes, illnesses, or the death of loved ones

– Increased pressure from family members concerned about safety and livability

– Facing eviction or home condemnations due to hoarding

– Outsiders like social workers or firemen seeing the home’s interior

– Major clutter-related accidents or injuries

So in many cases, hoarders feel able to rationalize and minimize their clutter, until it starts to significantly disrupt their lives. Major events that expose the home’s interior to outsiders or lead to negative consequences often act as turning points, triggering self-conscious emotions like embarrassment. But the onset of shame varies across individuals and situations.

Do feelings of embarrassment motivate change?

When hoarders do start to feel embarrassed by their clutter, is this likely to motivate positive change? Research suggests the answer is complicated:

**Potential benefits of embarrassment:**

– Could prompt self-examination and awareness of problem severity

– May increase desire to improve home environment

– Can lead to reaching out for help from loved ones

– Sense of shame could deter acquiring more unneeded possessions

**Potential downsides of embarrassment:**

– Shame often leads to concealment rather than openness

– May motivate hoarders to isolate themselves even more

– Could lead to painful self-criticism without actual change

– Feeling judged can damage self-esteem and increase resistance

So in some cases, feelings of embarrassment or shame may spark a turning point and desire for change. But in other instances, excessive self-criticism can backfire and worsen hoarding behaviors. Therapists emphasize the need for self-compassion when working with hoarding clients experiencing intense shame.


In summary, research and personal accounts reveal a mix of emotional reactions among hoarders. While some clearly express embarrassment and shame regarding their clutter, others report feeling no distress about accumulated possessions and disorganized homes. Possible explanations for this include poor insight, unique organizational systems, strong emotional attachments, mistrust of judgments, and social isolation. For those hoarders who do feel embarrassed, this often arises after major events or consequences expose the severity of their condition. Feelings of shame have the potential to motivate change, but also carry risks if excessive self-criticism leads to further withdrawal and dysfunction. Overall, more work is needed to understand the complex psychology of hoarding disorder and how to compassionately treat the suffering it can cause.