Hoarding is a disorder characterized by keeping unnecessary “junk” items, often to the point where the home is so cluttered that beds or entire rooms cannot be used. When the clutter reaches this point, the home can often become a hazard to anyone living in it.
If someone you care about is hoarding items, it can be frustrating and scary to see them in this situation. Hoarders often do not realize that their behavior is problematic and may need outside intervention to stop. Here are three steps you can take to help.
Understand Their Disorder
Since the advent of TV shows like Hoarders and Hoarding: Buried Alive, more people have become aware of hoarding as a disorder, but that does not mean everyone understands it.
First of all, although the idea of the hoarder as an isolated, agoraphobic hermit is popular in the media, the reality is very different. 700,000 to 1.4 million people are affected by hoarding disorder, and of that group, many lead normal lives. They have jobs and active social lives. They work to conceal the appearance of their homes from friends and family, embarrassed by the mess.
There is a difference between a cluttered home and a hoarding problem. One of the central diagnostic features is an inability to throw away any item, even if it’s useless or broken. This anxiety around throwing things away is one way that hoarding is distinct from collecting or sloppy housekeeping.
Talk To A Professional
Many people try to keep hoarding problems private and avoid the humiliation of bringing a psychologist into what they see as a family problem. This is part of a big misconception about hoarding – the idea that the hoarder is just messy and could clean up if they put their mind to it.
Dealing with a hoarder and fixing their problem is a job for a psychiatric professional. Hoarders are often resistant to the idea of cleaning up and doing so without their permission could cause them considerable distress, even plunging them into depression.
The intervention model has been successful in treating hoarding because it allows the family to be part of the process, while still bringing a psychologist into the mix to guide everyone.
Don’t Rush Cleaning
Cleaning up a large hoard is not only time-consuming, it can be downright dangerous. While you might be tempted to just go in and start throwing things away, this approach doesn’t work. As mentioned before, throwing things away without permission can upset the hoarder and cause them to become confrontational or depressed.
An extensive hoard can contain dangerous elements like rotting food, mold spores, human waste, and more. It is even possible that the floor could give way if the house hasn’t been maintained.
There are professionals who specialize in cleaning up hoarders’ homes. Rather than throwing things away en masse, these cleaners will work with the hoarder to donate, sell, and rehome items that are still useful. This helps with the anxiety hoarders feel when disposing of their loved items.
Clean With Compassion
Although this process can be frustrating, remember that you are doing it out of love. Try to understand and remain sympathetic to the hoarder’s mental disorder as you work with them to get the house clean and keep it that way.