Tips for Helping a Hoarder

Written by Jeff Cohn of Address Our Mess
Updated June 15, 2021
cluttered salvage antique shop
Help a hoarder find a way to love their home again. Cleaning and organizing are great ways to pitch in, but you must remember the thought process that drives hoarding behavior. (Photo by Eldon Lindsay)

Someone you know overwhelmed by clutter and living in a hazard zone? It's important to address the emotional component of hoarding.

Hoarding can be dangerous, producing hazardous conditions and negatively impacting the lives of all exposed. Helping an individual who is hoarding will likely lead to a significant improvement in his or her home and life, but it can be a complex process. One that's just as much mental as it is physical.

When working with a person who hoards, here are several things to keep in mind.

Be patient and understanding

The individual may only be open to assistance because they realize the dangers involved or they’re forced to clean up their home due to the threat of eviction.

These are their possessions, their treasures, so when someone comes into their domain and threatens to throw out all of these valuables, they may become defensive. Even if the individual is open to a clean out, it is still difficult to go through the actual process.

Prepare to compromise

Entering someone’s home and removing every item you deem “junk” will cause resentment and make the individual more resistant. It is important to try to work with the person and compromise.

If there are 15 rain coats within the home, let the owner choose the top two coats to keep. This allows for the individual to feel comfortable and more open to the change.

Talk with the hoarder

This is an emotional process. Talk with the individual and explain why you are doing what you are doing and the benefits of the clean out to ease anxiety and anger that may arise.

Don't forget to listen

Talking with the hoarder is important, but listening is just as crucial. Listening and empathizing with the individual builds trust and consolation.

If there is no trust involved, the clean out process is not going to be successful.

Treat with respect and offer support

When working with a person who is hoarding, whether you are a family member, friend, neighbor, or professional, it is important to be aware of the individual involved and not just focus on the home’s conditions.

Hoarding is a mental condition that the individual is undergoing, rather than just a life choice. It is important to treat an individual with the respect they deserve as a human being and to make efforts to help improve their overall life.

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