It may be a joke to some, but hoarding is a serious problem for tens of thousands of New Zealanders.

An Otago University study has found 35,000 people across the country collect things on an unhealthy scale.

Eighty per cent of those are women, 70 per cent are single and 50 per cent have clinical depression.

Canterbury Age Concern chief executive Simon Templeton is surprised by the sheer numbers found in the study.

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But, he said, they see severe cases of hoarding every week and it is never a laughing matter.

"It does affect every single part of their lives. It is a mental health issue, it affects their physical health, a lot of the people we help have been alienated by their families."

But Templeton says there is help available.

"Psychological treatments, cognitive behavioral therapy, some studies overseas have shown group work for some people to work really well."