How to Live with a Hoarder and Keep Your Sanity

Protecting your own mental well-being

It's never easy to live with someone who hoards. A hoarder is someone who cannot distinguish the value of things and stores in excess. Today, hoarding is considered a form of mental disorder but there are many levels, some of which allow the hoarder to function in the home. Because the hoarder can manage day-to-day living, he or she remains in denial about the hoarding even though the conditions may cause emotional and psychological distress to others who live in the same environment.

Challenges of living with a hoarder

Living with a hoarder causes turmoil in non-hoarders' lives when the home is seriously cluttered. The social embarrassment and isolation lower self-esteem. Every physical task in the home, from cooking to retrieving clothing, requires unnecessary toil. Just looking at the unsightly mess makes one feel overwhelmed and depressed.

You may not be able to cure a hoarder of his hoarding compulsion but you can at the very least protect yourself from the negative effects of this mental condition. Moving out is preferable but when this is not an option, here are some tips that can help:

Boundaries

It is imperative that the non-hoarder draw a safe and healthy physical boundary for himself in the home. For example, his own bedroom, closet and a bathroom should be off-limits to any hoarding. Refuse to allow the hoarder to store junk inside the boundary line. If anything unwanted comes into the boundary line, it is within his right to dispose of it.

Keep a separate refrigerator and freezer. Claim a space in the garage for the non-hoarder's car. Simply say NO to hoarding within your boundary lines. Once the hoarder sees that you mean it and that items that cross those lines suddenly disappear, the hoarder will not use your space for storage.

Consider setting up a safe spot for yourself on the front porch, the back porch and the yards, too. Make it clean and pretty and spacious. Hoarders can get so used to seeing the clutter that they forget what clean and pretty looks like in the home environment. Juxtaposed next to the junk, the clean areas will entice hoarders to consider making the rest of their space just as beautiful.

Hoarders can be proud of their homes, too, and feel good about inviting others into their beautiful spaces. They simply don't know how to achieve this. They don't know where to begin. Seeing your beautiful space first can be a start.

Firmness

Those who allow themselves to get overrun or manipulated by hoarders are weak personalities with low self-esteem. There are husbands who must sleep in their cars or in a small chair in the garage or even their own separate apartments because they cannot deal with their spouses' hoarding compulsion. Giving in should never be an option. A healthy-minded person must stand up for his own mental well-being.

Being firm in setting your own psychological boundaries is a sign of your stable mental health. To give in to a person's mental disorder is to enable the mental illness. Again, you aren't trying to cure the hoarder; you are trying to maintain your own mental health!

Vigilance

Living with a pack rat that continually brings home more junk means you have to be on guard for incoming material goods. It can be exhausting to feel like a trash person, hauling out junk all the time. Put it into perspective: Everyone must drag out his trash weekly to the curb. Just add an extra two or three items each week.

Cutting off the hoarder's access to collecting

Is it cruel to take away the joy that the hoarder receives from gathering? Hoarding is a compulsion that he cannot control. Is it cruel to keep an alcoholic from drink? A true alcoholic will find a way to drink and a true hoarder will find a way to hoard but it is better to cut off easy access to the compulsion. It's easier to do when the hoarder cannot drive around to collect or buy junk but some manage to use mail order catalogs.

  1. Stop the subscriptions to mail order catalogs.
  2. Take away credit cards.
  3. Blocking shopping channels.
  4. Reduce shopping trips.
  5. Buy one, give one, toss one. This is an old shopping rule for compulsive shoppers. If you buy something, something else needs to go out (of the house) in the trash or donation bin.
  6. Ask friends and relatives to graciously accept any "gifts" from the hoarder and if these items are useless, to toss them out later.
  7. Ask people not to give material gifts but gifts of time or experiences. A lunch out will not add to the hoard.

Provide other healthy, happy social activities that do not involve shopping

Hoarders generally are trying to fill a void in their lives. The hoarding compulsion can be replaced with other activities such as visits with friends, crafting time, outings, reading, gaming, sports.

Challenge your hoarder to devote time to working on those hobbies that will use up his hoard materials. With a cleared home, he will have more space to focus on one project at a time. Invite his friends to join him to make it a social time.

Living with a hoarder takes patience, ingenuity and a hefty dose of assertiveness. The more you learn about this mental disorder, the more you'll be able to arm yourself with ways to maintain your mental health and the well-being of your hoarding loved one. Consider a forced emergency clean-up in the best interest of the hoarder who cannot make healthy decisions for himself. Please read "Why a Hoarder Can't Clean Up and How to Help" on Hubpages.

Do you live with a hoarder?

Do you live with a hoarder?

  • Yes. The unsanitary condition seriously depresses me.
  • Yes. The hoarding affects my daily life in a major way.
  • Yes. It is mild but still disruptive.
  • No, I wouldn't consider this hoarding. Just clutter.
  • No. We clean on a semi-regular basis.
  • No. Our home is extremely tidy and clean.
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6 comments

Carola Finch profile image

Carola Finch 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Well done. Good hub. I have lived with a hoarder in the past and it drove me nuts.


Lori P. profile image

Lori P. 3 years ago from Southern California USA Author

Thank you, Carola. How did you endure?


Carola Finch profile image

Carola Finch 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

I basically snuck stuff out of the house slowly. I moved out as soon as I could.


Lori P. profile image

Lori P. 3 years ago from Southern California USA Author

Good for you. How is your hoarding loved one?


Carola Finch profile image

Carola Finch 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Died a long time ago.


Lori P. profile image

Lori P. 3 years ago from Southern California USA Author

I'm sorry for your loss. :(

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