5 Things NOT To Say to a Hoarder
Thanks to shows like AE's Hoarders many of us now know about this serious condition that is part of the OCD spectrum. Basically, hoarding is the compulsion to keep items to a degree that it interferes with the person's quality of life. This problem not only impacts the hoarder but also significantly impacts the people who love the hoarder - especially if they have to live with him or her in the hoard! Unfortunately, many of the things that you might say to a hoarder in frustration are unhelpful and actually counterproductive.
Here are five things that you should never say to a hoarder because it will likely make the situation worse instead of better:
1. You're so lazy.
It is tempting to accuse a hoarder in our lives of being lazy because their unwillingness to sort and clean their things seems like a sloth-like refusal to take action. However, that's not the case. Hoarding behavior is a mental health issue related to the way that the brain processes information. A person can be very active in many areas of life and still be a hoarder, having nothing to do with laziness. Furthermore, a person who does truly seem "lazy" may actually be suffering from depression and that could be linked to the hoarding behavior as well. Accusing the person of laziness will just make them feel bad and doesn't address the underlying problem that they have. Such negativity and personal attacks often makes them feel defensive of their hoard and less inclined to work towards a resolution of the problem.
2. You love your stuff more than me.
It can definitely feel like this is true when you're living with a hoarder. You feel like if the person really cared about your health and well-being then he or she would respect your need for clean personal space and clean up the hoard. But again, the issue isn't about the person's choices or what they prioritize. The issue is an underlying mental health problem that doesn't give in to logic. Accusing the person of not loving you when he really does care about you is going to go further towards making him feel bad. Moreover, the individual may feel that you are threatening to abandon him because you don't feel loved. This may make him feel even more like he needs his stuff, just in case that is all he will have left if you leave.
3. You don't need any more stuff.
That may very well be true. It's also probably true that you have said this again and again and again. Repeating the same old arguments about the hoard isn't going to change the hoarding behavior. The person isn't buying stuff because he or she needs it. The person isn't keeping stuff because it's actually a necessity. The stuff is being hoarded out of an emotional need to hang on to the stuff and not let go of it, so arguing about whether or not it's necessary just goes nowhere.
4. Just throw it out, it's not that important.
A true hoarder does keep things that all of the rest of us know are not important - things like old newspapers and expired food and mementos of times that weren't all that special in the first place. But these things are important to the hoarder, for one reason or another, and it's really hurtful to this person when you don't acknowledge the importance that they attach to their things. This shows a true unwillingness on your part to accept that the person's feelings about the stuff differs from your own feelings. On top of that, "just throw it out" is especially useless since the hoarder is incapable of taking that action or making smart decisions about how to let things go.
5. I'm throwing this out.
Worse than telling the hoarder to throw their things away is telling her that you're going to do it. This shows the same lack of respect for her feelings as if you told her to throw the stuff out. Plus it shows a lack of respect for her ownership of these things. Yes, this seems unfair, since the hoard feels like a lack of respect for your needs, but threatening to (or actually) throw away her stuff is going to backfire on you. She is going to be angry, hurt, defensive and likely to continue the hoarding behavior in the future, possibly even to an escalated degree. Creating more tension in the home is not the resolution to this serious problem
Basically, what I'm trying to show here is that there is very little use in offering negative feedback to a hoarder in your life no matter how much their hoard may be impacting you. This does not mean that you should say nothing, of course, but it does mean that you should take care when approaching conversations about the situation. You may want to seek the help of a family therapist to assist the entire household in resolving the issue in a mature, functional way.
Do you know a hoarder? Share your experience of living with a hoarder in the comments below!