⋅Helping a Hoarder⋅
When we are called to clean up hoarding sites, we are often on site with the hoarders and their families who are trying to persuade the hoarders to get rid of their possessions. I have therefore observed many of the interactions between hoarders and their families and friends, have interacted with these folks myself quite a bit during the process, and have learned a considerable amount about hoarding disorder. In a previous blog A Day on the Job with ABT – The Horrors of Hoarding, we describe a day on the job with Advanced Bio Treatment as we clean a particularly infectious hoarding site.
Hoarders are not collectors, although they often see and describe themselves this way.
Collectors organize and display their collections, keep them neat and clean, and enjoy talking to others about them. Hoarders, on the other hand, have a psychological disorder that renders them incapable of discarding any of the possessions, clutter, and garbage in their homes.
Because their homes are filled with mountains of garbage and clutter, the environment quickly becomes dangerously filthy, structurally unsound, and infested with insects and vermin. A non-hoarder’s response almost always exacerbates the problem.
Non-hoarders inadvertently shame and threaten the hoarder because they don’t understand the hoarder mentality.
The first step in helping a hoarder is to understand the disorder and to recognize the symptoms.
Hoarders usually have a great deal of trouble making decisions. When faced with what a normal person considers an easy decision, such as whether or not to throw away an old food wrapper, hoarders find the decision overwhelming. Decision making creates extreme anxiety for hoarders, and they therefore refuse to make the decision. Hoarding is also linked to perfectionism. Afraid of making the wrong decision, the hoarder makes no decision.
Hoarders consistently believe an item may serve a purpose in the future, has sentimental value, is unique or valuable in some way, or is a tremendous bargain.
- Personality: hoarders often struggle with indecisiveness, anxiety, and a need for control over their lives.
- Genetics: some hoarders have a genetic predisposition to the disorder.
- Trauma: some hoarders have experienced one or more traumatic events in their lives for which hoarding becomes a coping mechanism.
- Social Isolation: hoarding becomes a comfort to people who socially isolate. Their hoard insulates them and protects them from the outside world and its pain.
Source: Mayo Clinic
Recognizing Hoarding Disorder
How do you know whether your friend or loved one is just a packrat or is afflicted with a true hoarding disorder? The Mayo Clinic lists these common symptoms of hoarding disorder:
- Persistent inability to part with any possession, regardless of its value.
- Cluttered living spaces.
- Letting food or trash build up to unusually excessive, unsanitary levels.
- Keeping stacks of newspapers, magazines, or junk mail.
- Moving items from one pile to another without discarding anything.
- Acquiring unneeded or seemingly useless items, such as trash or napkins from a restaurant.
- Difficulty managing daily activities, procrastinating, and trouble making decisions.
- Difficulty organizing items.
- Shame or embarrassment.
- Excessive attachment to possessions and discomfort letting others touch or borrow possessions.
- Limited or no social interactions.
How You Can Help a Hoarder
First, accept that nothing you say or do, no amount of “reasoning,” can convince the hoarder to discard the hoard. Hoarders do not see the hoard the way you do. The condition is deeply psychological and usually requires psychotherapy and sometimes medication. Here are a few things that you can do to help:
- Educate yourself about hoarding. At the end of this blog is a list of resources to help you learn about this disorder and get help for yourself or a loved one.
- Contact a mental-health professional who can assist you in approaching the hoarder.
- Have realistic expectations and be grateful for very small steps.
- Approach your loved one with compassion, respect, and understanding. Never shame, threaten, or attack your loved one.
- Stay in the moment rather than focusing on the long-term plan. Instead of “How wonderful it will be when all this clutter is gone and you have a beautiful home in which to entertain your friends!” try “Would you like to take a shower? Let me help you move the boxes and newspapers out of the bathtub.”
- Offer choices and alternatives, which give the hoarder a sense of control. For example, instead of throwing something away, offer the alternative of donating or giving it away.
- Support and encourage your loved one as he or she goes through a treatment plan.
Because hoarding environments are almost always contaminated with decomposing garbage and food, rodent and insect droppings, feces and urine from animals and humans, and sometimes dead animals, we urge you to call Advanced Bio Treatment to help with the cleanup. We make sure that the environment is thoroughly cleaned, sanitized, and decontaminated, and we are always respectful, patient, and compassionate throughout the difficult process.