How to Help a Hoarder

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Hoarders may have houses filled with newspapers and other clutter.
Hoarders may have houses filled with newspapers and other clutter. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

If a friend or loved one compulsively accumulates material goods, she may have a hoarding problem. It can be difficult to help a hoarder, because affected individuals often do not see their behavior as problematic. Helping a hoarder takes longer than just one day of cleaning her house; the person must acknowledge the problem and take an active role in her recovery. Hoarding is a mental disorder that requires professional treatment, so be understanding of the hoarder's situation when helping her to seek care.

Assess your loved one's hoarding problem. Identify the three hallmark characteristics of hoarding: acquisition of a large number of useless possessions that he is unable to discard; living in a space so cluttered that rooms cannot be used for their intended purposes; and significant distress or inability to accomplish basic daily activities. Simply owning a lot of stuff does not make someone a hoarder.

Ask to speak with the hoarder about her lifestyle. Discuss the excessive clutter, and ask how the hoarder would like to proceed. Speak calmly without blaming the hoarder or labeling her behavior as crazy or disturbed.

Request that the hoarder see a psychologist or psychiatrist about his problem. Make an appointment as soon as possible, and ensure that the clutter and the hoarder's behavior does not pose an immediate danger to himself or others.

Make a detailed list of the hoarder's symptoms, mental health history, past trauma, medical history, medications, questions for a mental health provider and other relevant information. Accompany the hoarder to her appointment to provide emotional support.

Take an active role in the hoarder's mental health treatment plan. Help the hoarder discard unneeded items, attend therapy sessions, take medications and practice relaxation techniques. Offer your emotional support to keep the hoarder motivated to improve.

Tips & Warnings

  • You cannot convince a hoarder to change her behavior until she recognizes hoarding as a problem. Clearing out her living space without permission may antagonize the hoarder and jeopardize your relationship.
  • People with extreme cases of compulsive hoarding may pose a risk to themselves or others. A hoarder's living space may be unsanitary or a serious fire risk. Someone with severe hoarding problems may require psychiatric hospitalization.

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