How To Help A Loved One Who’s Hoarding In Their Home

Photo: getty
woman decluttering hoarding
Health And Wellness

Are you worried that someone you love or live with may be hurting themselves by hoarding?

Hoarding is generally defined as holding onto items or even animals in an unhealthy manner. It can make the person feel like they need to “save” the discarded item or creature, even in cases of trash or rotten food.

RELATED: 4 Fun Ways To Teach Kids To Clean & Declutter

The thought of getting rid of something — even if it hurts them to keep it — can make someone who is hoarding feel physical and emotional pain. This is often a difficult and troubling situation for the loved ones of those hoarding, as well as the person affected by hoarding themselves.

Hoarding happens in a variety of ways for a variety of reasons, most of which stem from loss or trauma. So if you suspect your loved one is hoarding, then it’s important to work with professionals in order to help alleviate their pain.

Here are 6 steps to help a loved one who is hoarding in their home.

1. Keep safety in mind.

Always consider safety first. Clear hallways and the floor in general to avoid tripping hazards. If the person is older, a fall could lead to complications.

Ask before touching or moving anything. You may have many ideas as to how to deal with these things that are in the way, but never touch or move these things without asking. Always appeal to the person by explaining you're looking out for their safety.

If your husband or someone in your home is hoarding, look around and make sure you can open windows and keep air vents clear of clutter. Think about the air quality in the home.

Sometimes, things get piled near walls and windows. Try to make sure that the piles are not blocking air vents. You want the air to circulate freely in the home.

Clear things away from doors. If piles are preventing doors from opening completely, explain to your loved one that this is dangerous. You want first responders to be able to open the doors and windows completely in case of an emergency.

2. Always ask permission.

Before you go around moving piles to clear things, ask permission. Very often, people who are hoarding are sensitive about other people touching or moving their things.

This may be because they know what is in each pile in that place. When you move or rearrange the pile, you’ve disrupted the picture they hold in their mind.

Take a minute and ask, then explain why you want to follow through with the request. If your loved one pushes back and argues with you, back off. You won’t win the argument. All you will do is make them distrust you.

RELATED: What Your 'Clutter Personality Type' Is (And How To Finally Tidy Up Your Home)

3. Remove paper and flammable items from heat or fire sources.

We all know paper is combustible. Sometimes, people just look for convenient places to stash paper if they are cleaning up in a hurry.

No matter what, do not let your husband put paper piles in the oven. I know the oven is a big empty space, but it is not a good place to store paper.

What if someone didn’t look inside before turning the oven on and set the house on fire by mistake, because there was a huge pile of papers stored in the oven?

Think about safety first. Get a couple of bankers’ boxes and suggest that your loved one store their papers in the boxes, instead. These boxes can be safely stacked in a corner of a room.

Very often, someone who's hoarding papers thinks that every piece of paper is important to keep. You can help by downloading some guidelines.

Here is a resource from Suze Orman that tells you what personal papers are important to keep and for how long. There are others, of course, but this is a good starting point. Share this resource with your loved one if they're hoarding papers.

4. Clean bathrooms and keep them clear.

Bathrooms are also often used as places to keep things that don't belong there by the person doing the hoarding. The bathtub and shower can hold lots of newspapers, magazines, and piles of paper, not to mention clothes, plants, animals, or even dishes.

Since safety is your biggest concern, begin by talking about personal hygiene. If the bathroom is full of stuff, it cannot be used as a place to clean up.

5. Set guidelines and post them.

Have a non-confrontational, non-judgmental conversation with your loved one about their hoarding. The point of the conversation is to tell them that you are here to help.

One way to help is to talk about the collection of things and ask to set limits, so your loved one and anyone else residing there can live safely in the home. Ask if you can work together to create some rules about the variety of things being kept.

For instance, how many months (or years) should you keep the magazines? Can all solicitations that come in the mail be recycled? If clothes are too stained or tattered to wear, could they be tossed?

Create a list of guidelines that your loved one agrees to follow and post the list.

6. Maintain your patience and understanding.

Hoarding is a diagnosable disorder. As a professional organizer, I do not diagnose. Only a therapist or doctor can do that.

What I know from working with people affected by hoarding is that if you remove everything that has been hoarded, saved, or collected, you will cause harm.

Have patience. Work on one area at a time. Gradually reduce the bulk of the hoard with the person’s permission, so that the contrast from living in a full house to an empty space is not stark.

Be kind and always ask if they are willing and able to work on the hoard. If the answer is “No,” be understanding.

Walk away and try again another day. You want to offer options, not ultimatums.

RELATED: How To Live With Your Messy & Disorganized Spouse

Subscribe to YourTango's newsletter to keep up with us for FREE

- Our best articles delivered straight to your inbox
- The latest in entertainment and news
- Daily horoscopes and love advice

Diane N. Quintana is a certified professional organizer who focuses on chronic disorganization. She’s also a master trainer and the owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC based in Atlanta, Georgia. Diane teaches busy people how to become organized and provides them with strategies and solutions for maintaining order in their lives.

This article was originally published at DNQ Solutions. Reprinted with permission from the author.