Hoarding is a more widespread issue in California and across than the United States than most people truly understand. You may have a family member or friend in your life that you feel may be hoarding. Having said that, if you are like most people, you really are not sure how to identify a hoarder. In addition, you may wonder how you can go about helping an individual who hoards if you to determine that someone in your life is struggling with this issue.

What is Hoarding Disorder?

Hoarding is now a recognized mental health disorder and has been since 2013. Before that time it was classified as a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Hoarding disorder is defined as:

A chronic or persistent inability to discard possessions as the result of some perceived need to keep these items. An individual with hoarding disorder experiences sometimes overwhelming distress at the idea of parting with these items. This can include items that have absolutely no value or that can even be classified as trash or garbage. The excessive accumulation of these objects ends up rendering a residence and items inside it largely unusable.

Identifying a Hoarder

Before delving into some of the specifics associated with identifying a hoarder, you need to understand that the vast majority of people who hoard strive mightily to keep their activities a secret from others. Ultimately, maintaining secrecy is likely to fail as a hoarding problem becomes more severe. However, you are not alone if you are struggling to ascertain if someone in your life is hoarding. With that said, there are some signs that oftentimes are indications that a person is hoarding. These signs of hoarding include:

  • Increasing social isolation
  • Excessive acquisition of items
  • Persistent difficulty in disposing of items even objects with no value
  • Distraught at the thought of disposing of items
  • Accumulation of clutter in a way that renders a house ever more unusable
  • Planning problems
  • Organizational issues
  • Refusal to let others inside a residence
  • A decline in personal hygiene
  • Decline in health
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Talking With a Family Member or Friend About Hoarding

At the heart of helping a hoarder is the commencement of a meaningful conversation with that individual. If you feel a person in your life with hoarding disorder has reached a point that he or she is ready to at least talk about hoarding, there are some specific conversational techniques that you need to follow. A key factor to always bear in mind is that the individual must be willing to talk to you about a hoarding situation. You must never try to force a discussion. You must not press a discussion if a conversation commences and then a person with hoarding disorder desires to bring it to an end.

The components of a conversation with a person dealing with hoarding need to include:

  • Respect
  • Sympathy
  • Encouragement
  • Partnership
  • Reflection
  • Permission

Respect

At the top of any conversation with a person dealing with hoarding disorder, you must make clear that you fully understand that the individual has the absolute right to make his or her own decisions about addressing a hoarding situation in his or her home. You must stress that if the person elects to begin to take some action to address the accumulation of items in the home, that process will go at whatever pace that individual desires.

Sympathy

You might have a hard time understanding how a person can end up hoarding to the point that his or her life fairly can be described as a disaster. You may not understand why a person can fill up a great deal of a house with objects, some of no value, and even garbage. Nonetheless, you must be sympathetic to a person struggling with hoarding. You need to do your best to come to an appreciation that the items accumulated in that individual’s home have value to that person, even when some or nearly all of these objects may literally have no value whatsoever.

Encouragement

In addition to demonstrating sympathy with a hoarder, you also need to be encouraging to that individual. You can take a practical approach to encourage a person with hoarding disorder. For example, you can encourage them to take what you privately might consider “baby steps” in addressing a hoarding situation. You might begin by encouraging the person to consider clearing clutter from doorways and hallways. Don’t dive into discussing throwing items away. Moving clutter from passageways in a residence actually is a reasonable first step and actually makes the residence at least somewhat safer.

Partnership

As best as you can, attempt to partner or team up with the hoarder. Don’t direct the hoarder to do this or to do that. Find out what that individual’s thoughts are about the situation in his or her home. Find out what the individual thinks about the kind of role you can play with him or her when it comes to the possibility of bringing a sense of order to the home.

Reflection

You undoubtedly will need to have more than one conversation with a hoarder in order to make progress on bringing a sense of order to that individual’s home and life. As the conversation progress, take time for reflection. By that, it is meant you should assist the person in recognizing how hoarding interferes and negatively impacts that individual’s life. In a non-accusatory manner, visit about how eliminating a hoarding situation will improve that individual’s life.

Permission

Hopefully, the conversational process ultimately leads to a point at which a hoarder is willing to entertain the idea of eliminating at least some of the items accumulated in his or her home. At this juncture, you are in a position to obtain permission from the hoarder to remove and perhaps even dispose of certain items in the house. You cannot embark on a rapid cleanup endeavor; rather, you can begin a methodological process of bringing order to a hoarder’s home and life.

Don’t Go It Alone

If you’re committed to helping a hoarder, you must recognize that you cannot set yourself up as a one-person cavalry. Hoarding is a complicated mental health condition that necessitates the involvement of multiple individuals in order to achieve success. The team of individuals that typically need to be created to assist a hoarder to include:

  • Friends and family
  • Hoarder cleanup up specialist
  • Mental health professional
  • Organizational expert
  • Primary care physician
  • Clergy member
  • Social worker
  • Financial planner

California Children of Hoarders is a solid resource, not only for children of hoarders. The organization provides access to supportive services and other resources for people from all walks of life that desire to support and assist individuals suffering from hoarding disorder. You can access the full array of resources available through this organization by clicking on this link.

You need to bear in mind that helping a hoarder may end up being an exercise in fits and starts. You may feel like you’re making at least some progress and then find the person with hoarding disorder shutting you out altogether. As was noted previously, you simply cannot force a hoarder to change.