How to help a hoarder

Are you worried about someone you know or love who is a hoarder?

Whether it's piles of old newspapers, clothes, paperwork or sentimental items, hoarding can seriously affect a person’s daily life.

Hoarding disorder is defined as a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions due to a perceived need to save them. It can range from severe to mild.

In severe cases, hoarding creates unsafe and unhealthy living conditions. The clutter can block pathways through the house, create a fire hazard and cause unsanitary conditions that are a risk to health.

Here are some tips to help a hoarder:

1. Be supportive

Let the person you want to help know you are there for them, that you care and will help them with whatever support they need. Approach them with compassion and understanding, not judgement. Encourage them to seek professional help if needed.

2. Write down some goals

Encourage the person to come up with some goals. For example: clearing the kitchen table or hallway or cleaning out their wardrobe. Then suggest they write their goals down – this helps them to visualise their goals and focus on achieving them.

3. Be patient

People with hoarding disorder may not see it as a problem and be resistant to change. Be patient and don’t expect them to change overnight.

4. Don’t take over

Don’t touch, move or throw things out for them without their permission. It may be tempting, but it could upset them and cause them to shut you out and not accept any help at all. Tidying up against someone’s wishes or behind their back can make things worse.

5. Respect their decisions

It may be hard to understand why they are keeping certain things but remember the items they are hoarding feel important to them. Try not to describe the items as junk or rubbish.

6. Don’t add to the pile

Try not to add to the pile by giving birthday or Christmas presents. Instead, a voucher for an outing, meal out or a show is a good alternative.

7. Celebrate the small things

Be super encouraging if they achieve what seems like a small step. Even if they clear out a small space such as a draw or table give them credit for their achievement.

If you’re concerned about someone’s hoarding behaviour, or your own, please contact your GP or healthcare provider for more information and support.

References

  1. Hoarding disorder Mayo Clinic, US
  2. Hoarding Mind, UK
  3. How to help a hoarder Attitude Mag, US
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team.