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How to Reduce Acquiring in Hoarding Disorder

How to Reduce Acquiring in Hoarding Disorder

One of the things about getting organized is that the less stuff you have the easier it is. One of the ways to reduce acquiring is to avoid high-risk situations that typically lead to getting more stuff. While this is a helpful tactic, you can't always avoid these situations. You have to make a weekly grocery run, you have to drive down a street with a tag sale, you have to take the exit near the mall. 


A long-range solution to reduce acquiring is to practice not doing it altogether. The way to do this is to gradually expose yourself to these situations. You start small by putting yourself in situations with a low level of urges to acquire and then build up from there. This is called an Exposure Hierarchy. 


An example of this hierarchy is like learning to swim. You started off wearing floaties. Then you progressed to using a kick board. You moved on to doggy paddling and then putting yourself under and eventually diving right in. You built up your confidence at each level to the point that you could swim from the shallow end to the deep end independently. 


If you struggle with acquiring items, my suggestion would be to create a Non-Acquiring Exposure Hierarchy. The ratings would be as follows:

0       1       2       3       4       5       6       7       8       9       10

None         Mild                Moderate           Severe         Extremely Severe


Then you make a list of situations from easiest to hardest. For instance:

  • Looking at your favorite store's latest catalog
  • Driving past a tag sale 
  • Driving past a pet store 
  • Flipping past a sale show on the home shopping channel
  • Entering into a consignment store without any money 
  • Stopping at Target with $20
  • Picking up items at a tag sale but not buying them


Then you rate the degree of discomfort or urge to acquire (0-10) you would experience if you DID NOT acquire in the given situations. You can make situations easier or harder by having money on you or not, looking at or touching items, etc. Although you will more than likely experience a degree of discomfort in each scenario, the intent is to gradually increase your tolerance for being able to refuse to acquire items in trigger situations. 


During your experiences, you should have some rules or questions to ask yourself when posed with the challenge of whether to get an item. The book Buried in Treasures has a helpful tool called the Non-Acquiring Help Card on page 137. Here are the sample questions:

I can't get this unless:

  • I plan to use it within the next month.
  • I have enough money right now to pay for it.
  • I have a place to put it so it doesn't add to the clutter now.
  • I am sure I truly want this and will not return it.
  • Acquiring this item is consistent with my goals and values for my life.
  • I have a true NEED, not just a wish, for this item.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Do I already own something similar?
  • Am I buying this because I feel bad (angry, depressed, etc.) right now?
  • Will I regret this in a week?
  • Could I manage without it?
  • Do I have enough time to fix/use this, or do I have more important priorities?
  • Do I want it just because I'm looking at it now?
  • Will not getting this help me solve my hoarding problems?


When you practice not acquiring, it takes time for your level of discomfort to diminish. Ideally, it would be helpful to have someone accompany you, someone who can help you resist the urge to buy, not encourage you, of course. And it would be helpful to keep a record of your discomfort scores throughout the process so you can note progress. Your goal is to leave feeling better than when you started the non-acquiring exercise. 


Using an Exposure Hierarchy will gradually help you to feel more in control of your acquiring urges. As your tolerance for not getting stuff builds up, your urges will go down. 


What do you do when you're faced with the urge to acquire?



Categories: Mental Health / Hoarding


  • What a great post, Sarah! The pattern you shared of learning NOT to acquire is so useful. One other thought is about kinesthetic sympathy. When we pick-up or touch things, we generally feel more emotionally connected and attached to them. This is a strategy that I use when needed while working with my organizing clients that are struggling with decision-making and letting go. Maybe this concept can be used when we're "shopping." Refrain from handling things. That might prevent us from bringing things home. I have to admit that I'm a tactile shopper. I don't always buy what I touch, but I like to feel my way through the stores.
    12/11/2017 5:30:03 PM Reply
    • @Linda Samuels: Yes, the touch factor is huge for a lot of people! Isn't that why they make tech gadget stores like Apple so user-friendly? You touch the buttons and swipe the screens so much that you get hooked on the item. I completely agree that refraining from touching items can help reduce buying.
      12/12/2017 12:54:08 PM Reply
  • I know these tips are for people with a medical issue, but your ideas could be helpful to anyone prone to impulse shopping. People share a lot of really cool tools in a WordPress community I belong to, and asking those questions, or some variation of them, could save a lot of people a lot of money!
    12/11/2017 10:07:31 AM Reply
    • @Janet Barclay: Agreed, Janet! These tips could help a number of people who struggle with impulses. The more you can start the dialogue in your head using those guiding questions, the more you'll be able to shape your response to things in a much healthier way.
      12/11/2017 10:15:02 AM Reply
  • Sometimes if I can walk away from the decision for awhile, I find that the item is less appealing when I return. That momentary impulse can be very tempting, but time can help me see that it wasn't the object, but the thrill of the moment that was most appealing. This is such an important topic.
    12/10/2017 8:26:23 PM Reply
    • @Seana Turner: That is very true, Seana. If you can delay the gratification you may find that you don't need it in the end. The "buy high" is hard to walk away from, but when you step away you can often bring yourself down and think clearer about the potential purchase.
      12/11/2017 10:13:34 AM Reply

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