How to help a family member who is a hoarder

What is Hoarding?

Hoarding is a difficult and complex mental health condition that can possess a real danger to a person’s well being and family relationships. Psychiatry.org reports an estimated 6% of the population have this mental health disorder. Unfortunately only 15% of Hoarders recognize that this behavior is irrational. Here at Bio-One we have helped countless families and those suffering from hoarding disorders navigate this challenging issue. Through all this experience we have curated a list of things to keep in mind when trying to help someone who has too much stuff.

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#1 Don't take their possessions

If your loved one’s home is filled with unused clothes or old electronics that don’t work it may be tempting to “cure” them by throwing all their stuff away when they're not looking. This seems like a rational thing to do because it’s just “junk” but we strongly encourage you not do this. It will actually end up hurting your relationship with the loved one and make overcoming this issue much more difficult. People who have compulsive hoarding disorder (CHD) have a strong emotional connection with their stuff and will experience stress if their things are unknowingly being thrown away. 

#2 Educate yourself 

From an outside perspective, Hoarding just doesn’t make any sense. One of the most important things you can do to help a loved one is educating yourself on the complexity of CHD and putting yourself in the other person's shoes. We recommend checking out the Multnomah Hoarding Task Force and Dr. Tompkins Webinar for further information on the complex nature of this disorder.

#3 Match their language 

One of the best ways to reach someone with CHD is to not refer to their possessions as “Junk” or “Trash.” If your loved one refers to their possessions as “my collection” or “my things” try to match that language. This will help build a more trusting environment for progress to be made.

#4 Use Encouraging language

Oftentimes when people are spoken to in a harsh or judgmental tone they shut down and can’t solve problems. The best way to help a loved one move from being on the defense to cooperating with you is to use encouraging language. Finding what motivates someone with CHD and using that to rationally explain the consequences of Hoarding can go a long way. Here is an example of how we use encouraging language to make progress with our clients. I see that you have a pathway from your front door to your living room. That’s great that you’ve kept things out of the way so that you don’t slip or fall. I can see that you can walk through here pretty well by turning sideways. The thing is that somebody else that might need to come into your home, like a fire fighter or an emergency responder, would have a pretty difficult time getting through here. They have equipment they’re usually carrying and fire fighters have protective clothes that are bulky. It’s important to have a pathway that is wide enough so that they could get through to help you or anyone else who needed it.”

#5 Highlight strengths

One of the key ways our mental health technicians break through with our hoarding clients is by highlighting their interests, positive attributes...ect. If the client has collected art we will make note of that and mention how they have a great taste in art!. If they have a 10 year supply of dish soap we might say something like “looks like you‘re well prepared for any dishwashing need for the rest of your life! Maybe we could box some of these up and donate them to a shelter?”   

#6 Seek professional help

Sometimes family intervention just isn’t enough to get the results you are looking for. It can be draining and emotionally taxing to spend weeks or months at a time helping a loved one declutter their home. At bio-one we complete hoarding clean outs as well as the sorting aspect of it in 1-3 days. If you would like to share with us about what's going on feel free to do so HERE. We also recommend all our clients to the Portland anxiety clinic to have a professional help the individual along the path to healing.

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