I’ve been asked a couple of times recently how to help people who have a problem with hoarding. Hoarding is very different than the types of clutter that most people have. Everyone has some clutter (yes, even me!) but it’s when clutter grows to the extent that it affects your lifestyle drastically and compromises your safety that it becomes hoarding.

What Is Hoarding?

Clutter can be classified as hoarding when it gets out of control. Many people have a junk drawer or two, but it’s typical for a hoarder to have entire rooms that they cannot use. Clutter can be stacked from the floor right up to the ceiling in every room, so that rooms cannot be used at all in any normal sense.

In some extreme cases a hoarder may not have a single room that is free of their hoard and may have to crawl through narrow gaps between their possessions in order to get from room to room. This means they cannot cook properly, have a shower or bath, or even sleep in their own bed.

In some cases, the whole of the upstairs can be impossible to access due to the sheer amount of junk there which blocks the stairs. Often the garden becomes taken over with clutter too, becoming an eyesore and an annoyance to neighbours.

What Causes Hoarding?

Hoarding, like drastic weight gain and alcoholism, is usually caused by some type of psychological issue. There is sometimes an event, such as a bereavement or redundancy, that can trigger hoarding; because the real issue is not about collecting excess possessions, the real issue is usually much deeper and the hoarding is a type of displacement activity.

How Should Hoarding Be Dealt With?

It’s because of this deep-rooted psychological cause that hoarding can be so difficult to deal with. Professional help is usually needed, and by professional I mean that the hoarder would benefit by seeing a doctor. The doctor may then be able to recommend a therapist or counsellor who could try and uncover the root cause of the behaviour and help the patient to deal with this.

What Not To Do

It’s very common for a person who hoards to deny that they have a problem and to refuse practical help to de-clutter, as well as any type of medical consultation. Relatives can then be at a bit of a loss as to know what to do.

I would recommend that you don’t nag or become angry with a person that hoards, and don’t de-clutter their home when they are absent, as this could be counter-productive. Nagging and anger will make them defensive. De-cluttering without their knowledge will stop them from trusting you in the future and is not tackling the root cause of the hoarding. De-cluttering without the hoarder’s consent could also trigger an accelerated hording compulsion, so I would never recommend it.

How You Can Help

Instead be persistent but diplomatic in offering to to help them to clear some of the worst clutter. Remind them that it’s putting their own safety in jeopardy, as well as causing worry and concern to their relatives. Even if they won’t consult a doctor, you could always consult one on their behalf and ask for their advice on how to tackle the problem.

Don’t Give Up

Ultimately, there may be little you can do apart from this; but always make sure that the hoarder knows that you are there for them, that you haven’t washed your hands of them, and that if they need to talk, or need any practical help to deal with their hoard, then you will always be available.