How To Help Someone With Hoarding Disorder

Helping someone with hoarding disorder is not an easy thing to do. With our guide, we can help you help them with their recovery.

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How to Help a Hoarder

Hoarding Disorder is a complex condition that can be incredibly destructive to a person’s life and overwhelming for loved ones to deal with. It is an especially difficult disorder to deal with because sometimes, hoarders aren’t able to recognize that their hoarding habits are a problem. If they do recognize it’s a problem, then they often feel overwhelmed by the thought of seeking help. They can feel an intense attachment to everything they own, whether it has a practical use or not. They let their homes fill up to the point where they can barely move around. These conditions make the home a breeding ground for mold and bacteria, and insect and rodent pests like mice and bed bugs. These conditions are detrimental to the health of all inhabitants and extensive decluttering and cleaning is necessary to improve living conditions in the home. Anyone who has dealt with a loved one with hoarding disorder knows how difficult it is to help them. First Response is here to help with this guide to help a hoarder. Follow these tips to improve your ability to help.

disorganized items in a hoarder's home
Hoarding in a small apartment

Do: Educate Yourself

Before you can help a hoarder, you need a good understanding of what hoarding disorder is and what behaviours a person with hoarding disorder can exhibit. This will help you be prepared for what is to come as you help a hoarder towards recovery and be a much better support system for them.

Don’t: Touch Their Belongings Without Permission

Hoarders are incredibly possessive of their belongings. Even with the best intentions, it is not a good idea to touch or try to get rid of anything without permission. Doing so will cause a hoarder distress and damage your relationship with them. Putting a hoarder in this state will cause them to distance themself from you, be less likely to seek professional help and continue engaging in their unhealthy patterns.

pile of unorganized items
packed storage hoarding

Do: Focus On The Person

Hoarding disorder is not usually about the stuff that a hoarder keeps. There are often much deeper underlying issues which cause a hoarder to engage in these behaviours. You should not focus on removing the stuff a hoarder has kept. Instead, you should try to determine why the person feels like they need to keep these things. Understanding the factors that lead to hoarding behaviours will allow you to empathize better and help guide them towards overcoming their issues.

Don’t: Be Judgemental

Being judgemental with a hoarder will cause them to feel shame and distress that makes them become even more reclusive. Don’t let your frustration get the better of you and express it to the person you are trying to help. It is important to be empathetic, supportive and encouraging when trying to get a hoarder to agree to clean and declutter their home and seek professional help.

junk kept by a hoarder

Do: Listen And Empathize

Empathy is crucial to helping a hoarder seek help. In many cases, hoarders fear being judged for the state of their home, and often end up socially isolated because of that fear. They need a person who will listen and empathize with them so they can feel safe talking about their issues.

Don’t: Expect A Quick Process

Extreme hoarding cases don’t happen quickly. It usually takes years or even decades for a home to become virtually unlivable due to hoarding. When a hoarder agrees to get rid of some of their stuff, it is important for you to understand that the process will take time. Expecting to get the home completely cleaned and decluttered in one go can cause a hoarder to become frustrated and can slow down their recovery process.

Hoarding Mess in a Storage Room
cluttered mess during hoarding cleanup

Do: Set Reasonable Expectations

Instead of trying to get the job done quickly, it is better to plan and set goals and milestones that are realistic and attainable. Sticking to a planned process, and remaining flexible in case there is a setback in a hoarder’s recovery will yield far better results by setting a good balance between getting the job done, and allowing the hoarder to recover at a more comfortable pace.

Don’t: Enable Their Behaviours

Enabling the behaviours of a hoarder simply reinforces in them that their behaviours are acceptable. You can’t control their behaviours, but you can control your own. Think about ways you may be enabling a hoarder’s behaviour. Do you give them gifts for special occasions? Do you go shopping with them? Do you offer to hold on to some of their items? These may seem like short-term solutions to help a hoarder, but they are not helpful for someone with hoarding disorder, so avoid doing anything that will enable their behaviours.

pile of furniture, clothing, blankets and more in a hoarder's home
A room in a hoarder's house is cluttered with objects

Do: Recognize Positive Changes

When a hoarder agrees to get rid of their stuff and declutter their home, they embark on a very stressful and emotional journey towards recovery. An important way that you can support them in their recovery is to recognize and celebrate positive steps that they take towards recovery. Doing so will encourage them to keep moving forward and make more significant changes.

Don’t: Expect Perfection

Expecting a hoarder to completely declutter and clean their home right away is unreasonable.  Their recovery will be a long and difficult process and expecting perfection at any point in this process will be more harmful than helpful. Small and gradual changes are incredibly valuable even if they don’t seem like it. A hoarder can experience setbacks during their recovery as well which can be frustrating to you if you expect perfection from them. Rather than becoming frustrated and potentially doing something that can set their recovery back further, remain empathetic and help them get back on track.

An Ottawa Garage shows the early signs of hoarding
Hoarding Visual Representation

Do: Offer Help

If a hoarder has decided to clean their home, they will need help getting the job done. After all, years of hoarding can make cleaning seem like a completely overwhelming task for them to complete. You can offer assistance in many ways. You can help them sort and clean their home with their permission, but it is important that they take part in this process as well. Don’t just do it for them. You could also help by looking for professional help with them, or going with them to a support group meeting.

Don’t: Clean Up After Them

If you are constantly trying to clean up after a hoarder, you are giving them one less reason to seek professional help and change their behaviours on their own. It may seem like cleaning up is helping them overcome their disorder, but it doesn’t address the underlying cause of their hoarding disorder.

black and white image of stored junk
boxes and bags in a pile

Do: Encourage Them To Seek Professional Help

If a hoarder is aware of their problem, they may have trouble finding help because the state of their home seems like an insurmountable mountain to climb and they feel overwhelmed, not knowing where to start. There are many options available for hoarding disorder treatment and help a hoarder by researching which options are available in your city and sharing your findings with them if they are ready and willing to change.

Bonus – Do: Hire A Cleaning Company

Homes that have been subjected to years or decades of hoarding are in need of an incredible amount of work to declutter and clean. It is important that the hoarder takes part in the cleanup process to help with their recovery, and offering your assistance can help. However, an extremely slow process can cause frustration for everyone involved. Hiring professional hoarding cleanup specialists, like First Response, can bring in extra hands to help get the job done more quickly. It is important to consult with the hoarder you are trying to help first and make sure they are okay with the decision to hire a cleaning service, and make sure they take part in the cleaning process as well, but a professional hoarding cleanup service understands the intricacies of hoarding disorder and will work with the hoarder patiently and empathetically to get more done. If your loved one with hoarding disorder wants that kind of assistance in cleaning their home, then contact First Response today! We’re here to help with the stuff so you can focus on the person.

kitchen mess

First Response Can Help With Hoarding Cleanup

Hoarding cleanup is a long and complex process. First Response can help with professional, supportive and empathetic service.

First Response Cleaning is Eastern Ontario’s leader in hoarding cleaning services. If you are trying to help a loved one with hoarding disorder, then contact us today to help with the cleanup!


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