Useful Tips on How to Help a Family Member Who is a Hoarder
Having a relative who is a compulsive hoarder can be a very difficult experience to go through. Hoarders often find themselves slowly withdrawing from social interaction, which can be hard on family members and also their friends. Because of that, it can also heavily impact their emotional and mental health. A hoarder’s habits can also get to the point of being physically unhealthy, as overly cluttered homes can be difficult to keep clean and can harbor animal infestations. Here are four ways you can help a relative overcome a compulsive hoarding habit.
Have a Frank & Open Talk
One of the interesting things about hoarders is that, for the most part, they don’t think of themselves as doing anything out of the ordinary. Having an open conversation about why you’re concerned with that person can help him or her to see that there may be a problem. This is often the first step in getting someone to work on a hoarding habit. It may also help to have other relatives there with you at this stage for support.
Be prepared for the fact that your relative may not be too receptive to the idea of reducing the amount of clutter in his or her home. Start out by making small comments and getting to know the root of the issue. It may take more than one conversation like this to really open that person’s eyes to the fact that anything is wrong.
Don’t expect them to want to make all of the changes all at once. Give them some time and suggest working on the problem little by little—perhaps room by room. Help them to set small goals to help them get ready for the day when the band aid will be ripped off (the day when things will get cleaned up).
The next phase in helping a relative get past a hoarding habit is to start getting rid of the years of accumulated items. There are two different ways to go about this. One way is to get rid of things slowly, allowing your relative to ease into it. In many cases, however, it’s best to get rid of everything at once, rather than stretch the process out over weeks or months.
Many hoarders can be very emotional about the things they’ve saved over the years, so dragging it out can sometimes be worse than simply getting it over with all at once. To help, you can even bring in a specialized hoarding clean-up company that will help you dispose of the large amounts of garbage. Beforehand, though, you may want to decide to ask your relative to pick out the things that are the most meaningful to them.
They probably have thousands of items, and so becoming a minimalist overnight might be a challenge. However, let them choose 150-200 items that they can keep. Then, you can set those aside and let everything else go towards the donation or trash files. 150 or so items may seem like a lot, but really it isn’t. If you think about every fork or article of clothing that you have, it could actually be easy to pick out those items.
One of the most important things you can do at this point is to offer personal support for your relative. Getting rid of a lifetime of hoarded items will be unbelievably difficult, so try to be understanding. Continue reminding your relative that this is for the best, and that you and the rest of his or her family is there to help or just to talk if needed.
After you and your relative have gone to all the hard work of cleaning up the first time, you want to make sure that the hoarding doesn’t just continue as before. If needed, arrange with your family members to visit the relative with the hoarding habit more frequently, so that someone is around to check on that person regularly.
At this point, some counseling may also be helpful if your relative has a hard time adjusting and staying away from his or her former habits. Bringing in a professional who can help your relative manage the hoarding behavior and provide additional support can be a key component in preventing a relapse of hoarding. There are also support groups for former hoarders that might be useful to let your loved one know he or she is not alone.
Helping someone through a hoarding habit can be difficult, both for that person and for you. When it’s done, however, your relative will be far better off for it. Remember that you most likely won’t be able to do it alone, so don’t be afraid to bring in whatever help you need to get your relative through the process of breaking his or her hoarding habit.