How to Help a Hoarder

Hoarder room packed with stored boxes, electronics, files, business equipment and household items.

Because of greater visibility, in part due to shows like A&E’s Hoarders, more people than ever are aware of the psychological condition commonly known as “hoarding”.  Hoarding is where someone compulsively saves items that other people may see as having no value. Someone with this disorder will typically have problems getting rid of any possessions, even broken items or trash. The result is unsanitary and unsafe clutter that negatively affects the person’s living space and quality of life. If you suspect someone you know may be a hoarder, there are ways you can assist them in getting the help they need and taking control of their life again. 

Hoarding vs Collecting 

Before you take any action, it’s important to know the difference between hoarding and collecting. There are several important distinctions, including: 

  • Collectors have a specific focus (baseball cards, POP vinyl’s, Star Wars memorabilia), while hoarders keep random items with seemingly no relation to one another. 

  • Collectors usually keep their items protected and cataloged while hoarders stack items haphazardly and unprotected. 

  • Collectors may have a favorite collectible they don’t want to part with, but they usually have no trouble trading or selling items. Getting rid of anything—even what others would perceive as trash—causes a hoarder severe anxiety. 

  • Collectors enjoy their collections, but don’t feel the need to have the items with them all the time. Hoarders feel unsafe unless they are surrounded by their items. 

An estimated 2–6 percent of the population has some kind of hoarding disorder. It’s also more common among older people and affects men more than women. 

First Steps  

If you suspect someone you know is hoarding, it’s important to know what to say to them—and how to say it. Hoarders can have a great deal of anxiety, shame, and fear about their situation. They may realize their actions have gotten out of control but pushing them to make major changes all at once can alienate them and destroy their trust in you. Start slowly with the following suggestions: 

  • Educate Yourself—Before talking to a person you suspect of hoarding, learn as much as you can about this complex condition. The more you know, the more likely you are to be supportive and empathetic.

  • Focus on the Person and Their Language—Understand that hoarding disorder isn’t really about the “stuff” and focus on the person and the underlying causes of their behavior. Try to use the same language they use by saying “collection” or “items” and avoiding words like “junk” and “garbage.”

  • Set Reasonable Expectations—Most people didn’t suddenly start hoarding and they can’t just stop quickly either. Recovery will be slow, so celebrate small victories.

  • Encourage Therapy—Therapists, support groups, and treatment programs are available for hoarding disorder in most areas. If the person doesn’t feel safe when they’re away from their items, help them find an online therapist.

  • Offer to Help—Never clean up a hoarder’s home without their permission. But if they agree, you can help them sort and clean. The key is to work together and work at their pace, even if it seems slow.

Don’t be discouraged if very little changes right away. The process of recovering from a hoarding condition is more than just throwing out objects—it involves emotional healing and sometimes confronting some painful truths.

Related Topic: Basement Storage Ideas and Solutions

Enabling Behavior

At times, well-meaning friends and family members can enable hoarding behavior without even realizing it. Although you may be trying to help, examine your own behavior to make sure you’re not inadvertently making the hoarding behavior worse.

  • Don’t take a hoarder shopping or scavenging—whatever they buy will just add to the problem.

  • Don’t clean up after the hoarder. Assist in cleaning and organizing if they ask, but don’t do it yourself.

  • Don’t offer them extra storage space at your house or pay for a storage unit.

While you can’t control a hoarder’s behavior, you can control your own. Even if these enabling behaviors may seem to help in the short-term, they’re going to be damaging for someone with a hoarding disorder in the long run.

Success! Now What?

After a lot of hard work, the person who’s been struggling with a hoarding disorder has reached a point where they’re ready to do some serious discarding and cleaning. But as you examine the damage that’s been done to their living space, you both realize that it’s a much bigger job than either one of you can handle. Don’t get discouraged—bring in the pros! The technicians at Rainbow International are trained to provide superior deep cleaning services, leaving even the most extreme hoarding environments clean and sanitized. In addition to our sanitizing process with an EPA-registered disinfectant, we can also do Air Duct Cleaning, Carpet Cleaning, Upholstery Cleaning and Tile, Grout, and Hard Surface Cleaning. We can help those recovering from hoarding disorder to start over with a clean, sanitized, and healthy environment. To find out more, call (855) 724-6269 or request an appointment online.