Everything You Need to Know to Help a Hoarder

Hoarding disorder, a disorder characterized by excessive accumulation and an almost immobilizing inability to get rid of possessions, is said to occur for a variety of reasons. For one, a hoarder may believe that the objects in question will be necessary at some given point in time. Or, the hoarder may feel a sense of safety due to holding on to their items. It is also far from uncommon for a hoarder to hold onto their possessions because the item carries a certain emotional significance to them. Regardless of the reason for their hoarding behavior, a person that hoards can feel extreme distress at the mere thought of parting with their possessions. This is why, amongst other reasons, helping a hoarder recover can be particularly difficult.

At Hoarding Help Central, we believe that helping a hoarder must be informed by all of the information that is known about the disorder. Those looking to help a hoarder must also know the proper guidelines to follow in order to intervene. This is crucial in a successful intervention. Today, we will be highlighting everything you need to know to help a hoarder. With this information, it is our hope that you will have an easier time helping a loved one in your life recover from their disorder.

What is Hoarding Disorder?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, hoarding disorder is defined as a person’s “persistent difficulty getting rid of or parting with possessions, leading to clutter that disrupts their ability to use their living or work spaces”. It should be noted that hoarding is not the same as collecting because, while collectors look for specific items in order to organize or display them, people with hoarding disorder often save random items of little perceived value and store them haphazardly.

Hoarding disorder occurs in an estimated 2 to 6 percent of the adult population and can often lead to problems functioning in everyday life as well as substantial distress. Some research shows that hoarding disorder is more common in males than it is in females and it is also thought to be much more common in older adults- three times as many adults 55 to 94 years are affected by hoarding disorder compared to adults 34 to 44 years old.

In order to be diagnosed with hoarding disorder, an individual must experience certain specific symptoms. For one, they must have lasting problems with throwing out or giving away possessions, regardless of their actual value. Secondly, these problems must be due to a perceived need to save items and to some amount of distress associated with the thought of parting with them. Hoarders also must have items filling, blocking, or cluttering living spaces so that they cannot be used properly or, rather, the use of these areas must be hampered by the large amount of items.

Tips to Help Someone With Hoarding Disorder

It should be noted that, more often than not, it can be incredibly difficult to help someone with hoarding disorder. One reason that hoarding is so hard to treat is that people derive great joy from their belongings. While people with mental disorders such as depression or anxiety often feel very distressed, causing them to seek treatment, people with hoarding disorder often do not feel distressed by their behavior- unless they are faced with the thought of getting rid of their belongings. For this reason, one of the biggest challenges to treatment is found in the fact that hoarders are often very motivated to continue hoarding.

Today, we will be highlighting some tips that you should know if you are trying to help someone with hoarding disorder. Because of the reason highlighted above, it is essential that you take on the act of helping someone with hoarding disorder delicately. If you do not follow the tips that follow, you may only make the behavior worse as opposed to alleviating it. Following these tips, you are likely to have a much more successful experience when trying to help someone with hoarding disorder. Let’s get started!

Acknowledge the Limitations

The first step you should take when trying to help someone with a hoarding disorder involves acknowledging the limitations that lie before you. After all, if someone’s house is filled to the brim with items, you need to realize that this isn’t a problem that can necessarily be fixed in the course of a single weekend. You should, rather, be prepared for it to take a significant amount of time.

Further, you should also forget about a one-size-fits-all approach. That won’t work when it comes to helping someone with a hoarding disorder. Every case is unique and should be treated as such. “This is not a condition that if you do these six things, you’re going to have success,” says Robin Zasio, director of the Anxiety Treatment Center in Sacramento, California and author of “The Hoarder in You: How to Live a Happier, Healthier, Uncluttered Life.”

Do Not Shame the Hoarder

The next step that you should take in order to help someone with a hoarding disorder involves avoiding playing the shame game. After all, hoarding tends to promote a lot of judgement from others on the outside. In fact, this is one of the many reasons that hoarders so often do not seek treatment for their hoarding behavior. With that judgement, anger and many misconceptions can also arise. 

You will be much more successful in your quest to help someone with a hoarding disorder if you approach them with non-judgement and a supportive attitude. Without the hoarding individual in question feeling comfortable enough to openly discuss the problem with you, it’s much less likely that the problem in question can be solved. According to a variety of experts on hoarding disorder, approaching the issue of hoarding behavior without judgement is key to recovery.

Never Start By Just Throwing Things Away

Although it may seem like common sense to just start throwing away the items that are causing the clutter, this is the last thing you want to do if you genuinely want to help someone with hoarding disorder. This is because the hoarding individual needs to feel as though they can trust you. Trust is key. A super quick way to lose that trust with the hoarding individual is to march in and start filling the trash can with items. Further, this is likely to cause the hoarder significant distress.

You have to remember that the items that a hoarder has collected tend to be extremely important to them, holding immense emotional value and making them feel secure. For this reason, the act of someone coming in and taking control by easily dispensing these items will feel like a betrayal to them. In remembering this tip, it is crucial that if someone asks that certain belongings not be touched you honor that and leave those items alone. After all, it is their stuff. By just throwing things away on sight, you will lose trust in the eyes of the hoarder and this is the worst possible thing you can do when attempting to help them. Trust should be treated as the foundation of everything you do when attempting to help a hoarder.

Ask About the Objects in Question

It is important to remember that hoarders typically hold on to items because they’re meaningful to them in one way or another. In order to show that you respect the importance of the items to this person, it can be very helpful to ask the hoarder about their connection to an item. Once you are made aware of what that object symbolizes to them, frame that object’s value in terms of the person’s overall life.

You may want to ask, for example, what the hoarder’s long-term goals and plans are. Does he or she have hopes to ever get married or change careers? Further, how does this particular item factor into those plans and goals? Is it possible that the item in question actually serves as a barrier to achieving those goals? By framing the object in this way, you will likely have a more successful experience in trying to convince the hoarder to let go of the object.

Always Start Small

When actually starting the process of cleaning up the clutter in a hoarder’s home, it’s crucial that you start with baby steps. You may want to, for example, start with one room and take time to examine each object. You could also take another approach by taking a walk throughout the home in its entirety, taking note of similar things such as books. The hoarder can then decide which books stay and which books go. Another helpful tip that we can offer would be to let a nearby neighbor keep things in a garage for a couple of weeks so that the hoarder can see what the absence of that object in their home feels like.

Encourage Skills

Finally, when attempting to help a hoarder, it is fundamental that you focus on the encouragement of skills such as organization and sorting. Encourage them to practice these skills by having them put items in piles designated for trash, donation, recycling, or selling. This encourages them to truly think about which items matter and which do not- a crucial skill for someone with hoarding disorder to learn. This can help them to develop key skills that they will need to use regularly in order to truly recover from a hoarding disorder.

Use These Tips to Help a Hoarder Today!

Using these tips, you can work more effectively to help a hoarder in your life. Remember, helping someone with hoarding disorder is all about taking the right approach. Using these strategies promoted by experts, you will be much more successful in the intervention process. Remember, if you need help assisting a hoarder in your life with the cleanup process, call us here at Hoarding Help Central! We have years of experience implementing the same strategies outlined here and will be happy to help in any way that we can. Contact us today!