Clean Earth Restorations Blog: We Rebuild and Repair

What To Do When A Loved One Is A Hoarder

Posted by Jackson Short on Sun, Jun 16, 2019

Hoarding is an incredibly difficult issue to deal with. Whether you are the one affected, or if it is someone you know, it is not always as easy as cleaning everything up and being done with it. Knowing someone with a hoarding disorder (HD) can be challenging, and sometimes heart breaking. For many it can seem frustrating and can cause relationships to break apart. However, something crucial to keep in mind is that hoarding is a real mental disorder, and cannot be solved in one fell swoop. Like most mental disorders, it requires support, and typically forms of therapy. Family and loved ones are crucial when it comes to this support. Because the sensitivity of the subject matter, we've put together a short list of ways you can help if someone you know is being affected by HD.

Hoarding sign, seek help

How To Go About Cleanup

First off, the most important thing to start thinking about when you discover someone you know is a hoarder is that the situation they are currently living in can potentially be quite dangerous to their health. It is important to eliminate the clutter and perform any restorative work as quickly as possible to ensure the health and safety of everyone in the home, including the property itself.

However, what is the best way to go about this kind of cleaning? Do you just pick a corner and work from there? Our recommendation: don't do that. Hoarding, like we mentioned before, is a serious mental disorder and just cleaning can cause extreme amounts of stress and anxiety for the person affected. This can cause the person with HD to experience mood swings, lash out and become angry towards people trying to help. Additionally, cleaning alone is not going to solve the problem. HD typically is a manifestation of deeper problems in the individual, and the behavior will most likely continue after the cleanup has occurred. This is frustrating for loved ones to see, and can make the situation and the individual seem hopeless.

So, how do we help?

  1. Take a step back. Look at how you and others are trying to help.

This may sound strange, but you'll want to take into consideration the way you are currently involved with this individual. If they are a family member, do you currently help pay for a storage unit for them? Do you save newspapers or other items for them? Yet do you still know there is a problem of them accumulating items? While it may seem as though you're helping this person, this help could be causing more bad than good. Small activities of gestures such as these can be feeding into their hoarding behavior.

It is important to list all of the ways you are involved with this individual and to find any of these areas which may be contributing to the problem. Ask yourself, how can I change the way I help, or what can I do differently? Make sure that any steps taken are small at first. By removing all accommodations at one can make the individual with HD feel alienated and abandoned. At this time you'll want them to feel as supported and loved as possible. It is also important to include the loved one with HD in this process. That way they can find ways to cope and to plan how to move forward.

2. Become communication experts.

While you are focusing on removing harmful actions you may be taking, work on increasing communication with this individual. Be open with them about their hoarding in a way that is accepting and empathetic. A big reason people hold onto objects is due to a hedonic value that they attribute to that item. The item may remind them of an event or a person, making it difficult to get rid of. So the individual that you respect their attachments to the things they own, and be able to talk to them about this. This shows that you respect their reasons for holding onto these items, and that you care about them as a person. This is important for them to know when it comes time to clean house.

You can also talk about their wants. It is clear that their current lifestyle is unhealthy for them, and I'm sure they have dreams about ways they would like to live. Talk to them about their dreams, about what their ideal life looks like. Make them want to reach towards positive change. Talking about these things and ambitions can help paint a picture of how big the gap is between the way they are currently living and the way they want to live. True change is hard to make happen until the affected individual is aware of it. However this may not happen in a single conversation. It may require some patience. It is also important to make sure that you are not telling the loved one what to do. Instead, ask them questions and talk in ways that helps lead them to their own conclusion. You'll have to put yourself in their shoes, and listen well. This approach, although not guaranteed, can give the affected individual the chance to seek treatment.

Changes don't happen overnight. Instead of monitoring the individual on a day-to-day basis, focus on the long term goals. There will be ups and downs, which is entirely natural when helping someone fight a disorder. Don't lose hope. Continue to show support and to keep your eyes on the long term healing.

3. Make sure your expectations are appropriate.

When it comes to dealing with a mental disorder, you don't want to force expectations upon the individual. Instead, try to set goals for the individual. Focus on reducing the consequences of HD through harm reduction. Focus on their safety instead. This makes it easier for the affected individual to see that you are there to help and not shame them. Have harm reduction become the main focus of the cleanup. And as mentioned before, make sure the individual with HD is fully included throughout.

room overfilled with things from hoarding

Finding The Right Treatment

There are many ways to help with treating the affected individual post-cleanup. We've outline a few below:

1. Cognitive Behavioral Thearpy

This type of therapy examines the way an individual thinks and behaves. It focuses on their way of thinking and problem solving, and works to chance the habits that may be more dangerous or problematic. This is typically done through a licensed professional therapist.

2. Skills Training

This puts the focus on living activities in their home. It helps to teach organizational skills and ways to address problems when it comes to clutter in the home. It also help with decision making so that unwanted or unnecessary items can be discarded.

3. Group Therapy

This is a common practice when it comes to individuals seeking help for certain types of addictions. Typically these are lead by a professional, but they can also be led by other peers in the group. Individuals meet together to help understand that they are not alone in their journey, and to share experiences and help each other find ways to cope and become better. These environments provide common ground, and are a judgement-free zone.

4. Medicinal Routes

Some individuals experience anxiety and stress when it comes to discarding items. This can sometimes be helped with the use of medications. These medications can help make it easier to cope with clean-ups, and can help the individual to become more involved with the treatment process. This would require the individual to see a certified medical professional.

5. Family-As-Motivators

Family as motivators is a training designed to involve family member in the help of a loved one affected by a kind of disorder. These are specific skills and strategies that are taught to the family by a professional. Typically, these skills help to increase the likelihood that the affected individual will gain the motivation to seek out help themselves, and to also improve the quality of life of the surrounding family members.

Hoarding can be confusing and difficult to deal with, but when it comes to dealing with an individual who is affected by HD, one of the most important things to keep in mind is to stay empathetic and to provide your love and support. We're not here to tell you how to handle your family situations, but we are here to help in any way. If you know of anyone who is affected by hoarding and is in need of help with cleanup and restoration, or for more information on hoarding, give us a call at 619-284-4239, or contact us at

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Topics: hoarding clean up, hoarding clean up services, help for hoarders in san diego

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