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How Do You Help a Hoarder?

Updated on December 1, 2012
Hope Truth Honor
Hope Truth Honor | Source

Hoarding Help

If you've seen the hoarding shows on television, you may be tempted to do a massive clean-out of your loved one's house. After all, you can see how the hoarding is affecting her life. You want her to be able to walk around the house without the danger of tripping over things and having an avalanche of stuff burying her. You want her to be able to find the things she need. You want her to stop wasting their money and her time acquiring things she doesn't need, looking for places to put it, and looking for the item as it gets absorbed among all the stuff in the house. You worry about her health as the dust, mold, and other allergens continue to accumulate.

You want to help, but helping her by cleaning out their stuff will not work. Why? Because she has formed attachments to her stuff. Even if you can get the house sparkling clean, she will miss her stuff, and she will get even more to replace it. In addition, she may not trust you around her belongings.

That doesn't mean that there isn't anything that you can do, however. Instead of focusing on their stuff,

Respect sign.
Respect sign. | Source


Instead of trying to find solutions that involve working around the hoarder, it is best to enlist his support and help. This requires open and honest communication. Tell him that you are worried about the situation, and offer your support and assistance. Discuss the matter in a calm and rational manner, focusing on the facts. "I'm worried that the fire department will have difficulty getting to you if there is a fire," is much better than "Why don't you throw out your crap?"

Ask the hoarder how you can help him. He may actually have some insight in his condition and may know what kind of support that he needs.

If he is resistant to the conversation, don't worry. Since you have voiced your concerns, he will at least consider whether he has a problem, and may now recognize that he is not the only one that is affected by the hoarding.

Compassion is Revolutionary
Compassion is Revolutionary | Source


Your loved one didn't get into this condition out of spite, nor did she want to upset you. Most likely, she acquired things because she felt that they would add beauty, use, or joy in her life. She bought into the marketing hype, or felt that she could do something to give them new life. She may have been so busy helping others that she forgot to make time to take care of her own belongings. She put away the items, for now, until she had time to make a decision of where to actually place them.

Then, before she knew it, she had a hoard, and people were getting upset. It now is an overwhelming pile of stuff, and she may feel helpless to fix it.

Instead of your criticism, she needs your compassion. She has a situation where she needs your help and support. Offer your help as you would to anyone who is going through a crisis. You don't yell at them; you forgive their moods and quirks because you know that it is more important to look at the big picture.

The sign says "No understanding any time"
The sign says "No understanding any time" | Source


After many failed attempts and feeling overwhelmed for a long time, the hoarder may not have acquired or may have forgotten the basic skills to prevent hoarding. He may need some help in learning how to make decisions about what to keep and what to throw away. He may be worried about the environment and feel that he is saving it by not adding to the landfill. Maybe the stress and effort it takes to make decisions about what to keep, where to store it, what to recycle, when and where to sell an item to maximize profit, and creative ways to reuse the item, and when to throw it away are too much work. He may need to learn to develop some processes and rules on the decision making, and learn habits like putting things away when he is done with them.

You can teach these things by being an example in how you handle your own things. Instead of simply doing things, you can explain what you are doing. Avoid the classroom lectures, but instead just narrate your activities. "Now that this container is empty, I am going to put it in the recycle bin."

Man holding patience sign.
Man holding patience sign. | Source


While you may be able to look at the pile of empty toilet paper rolls, and know that they have no value, your loved one may think differently. "I can make something out of them," he will say. There are some lessons that need to be learned the hard way. It will take patience on your part to help see him to the end. "Okay," you can respond. "Let's do some crafts and make something." You might worry at first that you are only encouraging more hoarding, but after several sessions, he may realize that there is a limit to how much enjoyment he gets in making things out of toilet paper rolls, or he may realize how much time it would take to make all the things that he wants to make. He will have to learn to prioritize the types of crafts he wants to make, and the number of items he needs to store to make those crafts.

Your loved one may want to save the old lamp because "it might be worth something." Remember, he has been treasuring and storing this item for a long time and has an attachment to it. Again, you can help him to that end. Help him check out the worth of the item on eBay, have a garage sale, or take items to the used book store, record store or an antique store. At first, he might be happy that he is receiving $10 for the item and he hasn't been storing it in vain. But hopefully over time, he will realize that it takes a lot of time and effort to clean it, price it, take it to the store, package it, wait in line, or ship it, and that he may be better off taking a loss or quickly donating it.

These are lessons that have to be learned by doing. Most hoarders will have a hard time taking someone else's word for the items that they know are diamonds in the rough.

The word Hope on a building.
The word Hope on a building. | Source


The hoarding may have begun as a response to a traumatic situation. The acquired items probably felt like they provided support during a stressful time, and it is difficult to let them go.

Sometimes, a tendency to hoarding is exacerbated by an underlying condition such as depression or obsessive compulsive disorder. A depressed hoarder may become overwhelmed and feel hopeless to change their condition. A hoarder with obsessive compulsive disorder may feel compelled to repeat patterns of behavior or have obsessive thoughts that make it difficult to break the cycle of hoarding. When these underlying conditions are treated, your loved one will be better able to take care of her belongings.

Take your loved one to a professional who is trained to deal with hoarding, depression, and OCD. Be sure to visit the therapist first to see if they seem like he seems knowledgeable and helpful so that you can avoid adding extra stress to your loved one.

There is hope in order. A person feels freer when they can move around and frustration levels drop when they can find what they are looking for right away.

Free Positive Thoughts sign
Free Positive Thoughts sign | Source


When you loved one does make an effort to clear an area, be positive and praise the hoarder. This is a big step, and it is easy to lose the momentum at the beginning. Don't overdo the praise, however, because he knows that it isn't a big step in your life, and too much praise might be condescending.

You can build up her self-worth by reminding her of her positive traits. It is quite possible that she has a low sense of self, and makes everything else a priority in her life. She may think "I need to clean my bedroom," but gets distracted by having to work, helping others, trying to meet financial goals, or anything else. The bedroom gets put off again and again as new needs crop up. By helping her understand that the daily work must get done before the projects, and understand that she has to include herself on the priority list, she may be able to find the time to tackle that bedroom.

The words "Take courage" on a building.
The words "Take courage" on a building. | Source


Change is difficult, and it takes bravery and courage to enforce change upon yourself. Even if the hoarder is aware of his condition, he may have a hard time initiating change. He needs to feel confident that he is capable of making a change, and that the efforts he makes in that direction will be positive. He may worry that it is too much work to clean the junk room, or may be resigned to the fact that it will just get filled again anyway.

He needs courage to let go of an item, knowing that he may find a need for it tomorrow. He needs to learn that the odds of him missing the item are very low, and if he does miss it, he will most likely easily be able to find a replacement for it.

Your support may help him find that courage.

Joy | Source


The key is to fill her heart with joy, especially the kind that doesn't involve things. You can offer to go on outings with her to the park, for example, or find a volunteer activity that you can do together, like tutoring. Steer clear from activities that could possibly provide sources of cheap or free stuff, such as working in a soup kitchen or thrift store.

When you give gifts, give gifts that will be used up, like food or movie tickets, so that you don't add clutter to the house. Don't offer the hoarder your own belongings when you are clearing your house.

By filling her heart and her time with joyful activities that don't involve things, she will be able to get a new perspective, and you will be able to enjoy her personality and presence without having to be around the stuff.

Helping a Hoarder

It can be quite frustrating to see a hoarder suffer from the weight of all of her accumulations, and you may wish to rush in and clear out all of the clutter once and for all. However, helping in this manner may backfire and cause even greater difficulty for your loved one, and with your relationship. That doesn't mean that you have to give up. There are ways that you can support your loved one by providing her with:

  • The hope of order
  • The understanding to begin
  • The courage to let go
  • The return to the flow of life
  • The joy of spending your time freely

© 2012 Shasta Matova

Comments: "How Do You Help a Hoarder?"

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    • Millionaire Tips profile imageAUTHOR

      Shasta Matova 

      8 years ago from USA

      Thanks Shell. I think everyone should be treated with dignity and respect even when they don't act the way we think they should.

    • EyesStraightAhead profile image

      Shell Vera 

      8 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      As always, a wonderfully written hub! You really share how to allow the person to keep their dignity while helping them to overcome their sickness.

    • Millionaire Tips profile imageAUTHOR

      Shasta Matova 

      8 years ago from USA

      Thanks Rajan. I am cleaning out a bedroom right now, and there is a lot of things in there that would be embarrassing to show if I was on a Hoarding show.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 

      8 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA.

      We often do not realize we have hoarded things till they become visible due to their clutter. I'm glad to have read some wonderful ways to help out others who have this tendency. voted up and useful.

    • Millionaire Tips profile imageAUTHOR

      Shasta Matova 

      8 years ago from USA

      Thanks CZCZCZ, it seems like we all know people who have hoarding tendencies, and I know we often want to help them. I think positivity is the way to break through.

    • CZCZCZ profile image


      8 years ago from Oregon

      Great ideas and suggestions for helping a person that hoards. We have a couple of friends / associates that are borderline hoarders and reading through this was an interesting perspective on how to start the process of trying to have a positive impact on this negative activity.

    • Millionaire Tips profile imageAUTHOR

      Shasta Matova 

      8 years ago from USA

      Thanks Availiavision. Starting small is a great idea. What seems like a small thing to us may be really huge for our loved ones. In your example, you are teaching them to 1. take action, 2. put like together, 3. learn how to decide how many to keep, 4. decide what to do with the rest. That's a huge amount of information that they can later apply to other things. I agree that most prefer not to live like that, and it is simply overwhelming to try to get out of that situation. Love your quote "it doesn't help to clean the outside of a dish if the inside is dirty."

      Very fitting!

    • Availiasvision profile image

      Jennifer Arnett 

      8 years ago from California

      I have a few hoarders in the family and one of the things I have found most helpful, if they are open to it, is to start small. Literally, if all of their paper clips are spread across the mounds of papers on their desk, begin by organizing them into a jar and narrowing down how many they will keep. If that is all that is accomplished that day, so be it! progress is the key.

      I have gained the impression that hoarding is a very sensitive and complex issue full of emotional and psychological issues. Every individual needs to be treated differently. In the cases of extreme unhealthy hoarding I feel that deep down people do not want to live like that, but feel too overwhelmed to begin. Sometimes they just need a little help and a counselor to work through the emotional issues that caused the problem.

      I like your approach of using positive encouragement and compassion to help a hoarder. At the end of the day, it doesn't help to clean the outside of a dish if the inside is dirty.

    • Millionaire Tips profile imageAUTHOR

      Shasta Matova 

      8 years ago from USA

      Thanks MKayo, it seems like most of us know at least one person who is a hoarder. You're right, there are usually deeper childhood issues and patterns of behavior and thinking that have caused this type of behavior, so it isn't something someone can just snap out of.

    • MKayo profile image


      8 years ago from Texas

      Wow, great deal of good information here. I have experience with family members hoarding and it is not easy to approach the subject or talking about helping them. One relative with whom I am especially close is a hoarder. I have determined (in my own amateur psychologist way) that she has deeper issues from childhood that have caused her to behave in this way. Thanks for the helpful advice, I think many people will benefit from this Hub. Voted up!

    • Millionaire Tips profile imageAUTHOR

      Shasta Matova 

      8 years ago from USA

      Thanks hecate-horus. You're right, people can't just turn off hoarding. They have many reasons behind saving things and may not realize until they have a problem that they have gotten carried away. Having gone through hard times or being brought up by people who have gone through hard times will make them want to save things for the next hard time.

      Thanks GTF, it is a common condition, and I think almost all of us have something that we save that don't really make logical sense. It is a sad show to watch, and you know that most of the people have suffered from some kind of trauma that made them start on this road.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Claudia Mitchell 

      8 years ago

      What an awesome hub! Voted up too. This is so useful for people to read. My guess is that there are a number of people out there that know folks that hoard. Every time I watch the show I get sad. There is always a reason that the people started hoarding and they always look so down.

    • hecate-horus profile image


      8 years ago from Rowland Woods

      Very good hub! I think hoarding is not something people can just turn off. There is a reason for what people do what they do, and we may not always see or understand it... Example: My father-in-law grew up with absolutely nothing, now he tends to horde everything. Awesome and voted up!

    • Millionaire Tips profile imageAUTHOR

      Shasta Matova 

      8 years ago from USA

      Thanks lanablackmoor. I hope these tips help you with your grandmother. Patience is indeed the key.

      Thanks Terrye. Hoarding can be frustrating both for the person who does it and for his or her loved ones.

      Thanks Abby. I agree that professional counseling is necessary. But when the person refuses to go to counseling, and /or for the rest of the time when they are home, it helps to have compassionate people who can help him/her through it.

    • abbykorinnelee profile image

      Abigayle Malchow-Rourk 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin

      Best thing to do from a psychological standpoint is call in professionals because you can do more damage than good if you are not qualified to deal with the disorder.

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 

      8 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      A wonderful guide to help those we care about who have issues, millionaire! Sharing this.

    • lanablackmoor profile image


      8 years ago from New England

      I'm so glad you posted these simple but far too rarely known tips for helping the hoarders in your life. My grandmother suffers from this form of OCD and no one else in the family understands how to be patient or compassionate with her, as you mentioned. Your suggestion to go along with the hoarder and suggest proactively putting the impractical hoarded items to use is brilliant. I'm definitely going to try that the next time I attempt to help my grandmother clean out her room.

      Wonderful advice! Voted up for useful and interesting.

    • Millionaire Tips profile imageAUTHOR

      Shasta Matova 

      8 years ago from USA

      Thanks Victoria Lynn, I too am a packrat, and have to hold back my hoarding tendencies. It is very difficult to accept help and I can easily see how it can get out of control.

      Thanks John, you're right, we should be treating people in all walks of life with compassion and understanding, no matter their condition.

      Thanks Rebecca. I see you too have had personal experience and see how it can affect the whole family. It does take constant vigilance to make sure it doesn't get out of control. I am glad your aunt was able to help your uncle with firmness.

      Thanks Kat, for your insight as well. Hoarding comes with a host of other problems as well. I am glad your grand-aunt was able to get help by moving to a new environment.

    • Millionaire Tips profile imageAUTHOR

      Shasta Matova 

      8 years ago from USA

      Thanks rfmoran for your insight. It must have been very frustrating to live with a hoarder. It really does affect everyone, especially the children.

      Thanks vespawoolf for your insight as well. You have seen first hand how hoarding can affect the whole family. It is difficult to help someone who has such an attachment to things that s/he is unable to let go of a single item.

      Thanks Audrey, I think that treating people with compassion goes a long way towards helping them.

    • Millionaire Tips profile imageAUTHOR

      Shasta Matova 

      8 years ago from USA

      Thanks Bill, hoarding is an illness that needs to be treated. Instead we enjoy laughing at the reality shows and berate the hoarders for being so lazy or incompetent.

      Thanks Keala. That is a good point - listening to them and hearing their story without judging would go a long way towards healing.

      Thanks Aurelio, it is a big problem, and since it is genetic, if one person has it, their family members may also have it. This makes it even harder since their "normal" is much different from the general public. Plus if your support system is also struggling with an issue, they won't be able to help you very much.

    • KatSanger profile image

      Katherine Sanger 

      8 years ago from Texas

      For my mother's aunt, the only way to finally get her over her hoarding was to move her out of her house and into a nursing home; sadly, it had to happen - she lived in a very bad neighborhood, and her home had fallen into disrepair because of the hoarding, and a man kept breaking in and stealing from her and threatening her. The police didn't help, and so we had to help her move and then clean out the house. Once she was away from the house, she did much better, and she enjoyed having the new, clean nursing home room. I think it was, for her, a lot about environment.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 

      8 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Very interesting. What a good idea for a subject to write on. I had an uncle that was a hoarder. It can be quite debilitating. I think my aunt finally put her foot down. You know, the old my way or the highway law. lol!

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 

      8 years ago from Winter Haven, FL

      Well done. I agree that it's always about understanding the individual instead of judging them. If only people did this when attempting to help a fellow man/woman.

      Voted up


      PS. Audrey, thanks for sharing!

    • Victoria Lynn profile image

      Victoria Lynn 

      8 years ago from Arkansas, USA

      Great job! Great ideas. Compassion is key. I'm a packrat, so I have a small inkling of what it feels like to want to keep things. :-)

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      8 years ago from California

      I love that this article comes from such a compassionate place. Really well done and sharing!

    • vespawoolf profile image

      Vespa Woolf 

      8 years ago from Peru, South America

      What a compassionate, understanding hub. I can really relate since we have a hoarder in the extended family. It's important to understand the reasons behind hoarding in order to help the person, and even then it's not easy especially if the hoarder doesn't want help. This gives me a lot to think about. Thank you!

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran - The Write Stuff 

      8 years ago from Long Island, New York

      My late mother was a turbo hoarder. I wish I had read you hub before she passed away. Hoarding can be a serious problem, and if it afflicts a loved one, it becomes your problem too. Voted up and useful.

    • alocsin profile image

      Aurelio Locsin 

      8 years ago from Orange County, CA

      This seems to be a much bigger problem than I thought, judging from all the news stories I've been seeing of late. Your compassionate suggestions will go a long way in dealing with it. Voting this Up and Useful.

    • hawaiianodysseus profile image

      Hawaiian Odysseus 

      8 years ago from Southeast Washington state

      Your compassionate voice comes through loud and clear in this article. It's easy to just see others from our respective comfort zones. What's challenging is to understand their unique journey getting to where they're at...and to help them find THEIR, not our, better way.

      Sometimes, it can be as simple as just listening to his or her special story.

      Thanks for gluing this piece together with a warm heart and an abundance of understanding.

      Aloha, Millionaire Tips!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      8 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I actually know a few hoarders and it is truly unbelievable and in my opinion a sickness. These are great suggestions on how to deal with a hoarder and still allow them some self-respect.


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