Hoarding is a far more prevalent problem than people typically realize. Approximately one in 50 people will suffer from hoarding disorder at some juncture in their lives. If you discover that a person in your life is afflicted with hoarding disorder, you undoubtedly will want to be emotionally supportive of that individual. There are some important dos and don’ts associated with providing meaningful emotional support to a family member or friend laboring under hoarding disorder.

What Is Hoarding Disorder?

Before digging deeper into understanding how to emotionally support a loved one who hoards, you need to have a basic understanding of hoarding disorder. Hoarding is a recognized mental health condition. The world-renowned, highly respected Mayo Clinic has developed a concise definition of hoarding disorder:

Hoarding disorder is a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. Excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value, occurs.

Five Statements Never to Make to a Person With Hoarding Disorder

As part of providing a person with hoarding disorder the emotional support needed, there is a set of five specific statements that you should never make to that individual. 

  • Why don’t you just get rid of this stuff?
  • You don’t need this junk.
  • I am going to throw this junk away.
  • Why don’t you just stop collecting this stuff?
  • How can you live like this?

Making one or another of these statements will only serve to aggravate an individual’s hoarding behavior, in most cases.

Why don’t you just get rid of this stuff?

A hoarder develops strong emotional attachments to items and objects. By being dismissive of this attachment, a hoarder will become defensive. Moreover, you close the door to a hoarder opening up at least a bit to explain why certain items or objects mean something. By shutting this portal, you remove an opportunity that a person with hoarding disorder my make progress to realize underlying realities driving hoarding behavior.

You don’t need this junk.

A hoarder doesn’t perceive items and objects as rubbish. Even what truly can be classified as garbage holds value for a person with hoarding disorder. Minimizing the value of things a hoarder amassed places you in opposition to that person. You will be perceived as a threat to a person who is hoarding and not a person intent on providing meaningful assistance. 

I am going to throw this junk away.

One of the worst statements you can make to a hoarder if you want to provide meaningful emotional support is that you intend to throw hoarded items and objects away. The only real way you can effectively emotionally and otherwise support a person with hoarding disorder is to get that person “on board” with the proposition of eliminating accumulated things. A hoarder needs to be part of the process of addressing a hoarding situation or meaningful progress will not be made. 

Why don’t you just stop collecting this stuff?

You must keep in mind that underlying hoarding disorder is an irresistible compulsion or urge to accumulate and hold on to “stuff.” A person with hoarding disorder cannot just “flip off a switch” and stop accumulating items and objects. In addition, a hoarder cannot simply instantly make the decision to begin getting rid of accumulated items. In order to provide a hoarder with meaningful emotional support, you need to understand this significant reality of hoarding disorder.

How can you live like this?

A person with hoarding disorder typically goes to great lengths to hide what he or she is doing. There are a number of motivations for being elusive about hoarding. A person with hoarding disorder oftentimes believes accumulated items and objects are at risk if someone else finds out about the trove or hoard. In addition, many hoarders are embarrassed about the state of their lives. Asking a hoarder how he or she can live like this will shame that person. Shaming a person with a mental health condition like hoarding disorder is not productive or emotionally supportive. 

Emotionally Supporting a Person with Hoarding Disorder: You Can’t Go It Alone

If you discover a family member or friend suffering from hoarding disorder, you need to fully understand that you can’t truly assist them on your own. If you want to appropriately provide emotional and other support for an individual with hoarding disorder, you need to recognize the reality that a team effort is required to provide meaningful and lasting assistance to a person with this mental health condition. 

At the heart of really providing emotional and other support to a person with hoarding disorder is accessing mental health assistance. You must recognize the reality that without mental health intervention, a person with hoarding disorder nearly always is not able to permanently cease accumulating items and objects in a pathological manner. Indeed, nearly all individuals who hoard return to hoarding within a year without proper mental health assistance. 

In addition, part of the “hoarding team” needs to be an experienced hoarding property cleanup company. You need to bear in mind that addressing a hoard requires more than just “throwing stuff away.” As a hoarding situation develops, a biohazardous situation nearly always develops in a residence. This includes everything from the accumulation of rotting food to a buildup of human waste. Fully supporting a person with hoarding disorder (emotionally and otherwise), typically necessitates the professional assistance of a hoarder property cleanup company

Finally, you will also want to enlist the assistance of other friends and family members of a person with hoarding disorder. Truly, fully emotionally supporting a person with hoarding disorder demands a willingness to involve others in the process of helping that family member or friend.