Researchers believe that 1 in every 50 people around the world is affected by compulsive hoarding disorder.
If you think your loved one may be suffering from a hoarding mental illness, you are not alone. Whether you’ve noticed early symptoms of hoarding or are dealing with a hoarder in denial, helping these individuals can be a highly sensitive matter.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to help those in your life with this obsessive collecting. Follow along to discover the signs and symptoms of hoarding disorder and how to help a hoarder recover.
What Is Hoarding Disorder?
Before you can offer assistance to an individual with any level of hoarding disorder, it’s important to understand what this condition is and what it isn’t.
Hoarding disorder is a mental health condition that is deeply emotionally driven. For those around the hoarder, obsessive collecting can seem like a ridiculous and completely avoidable thing. However, for the individual, these habits feel normal, necessary, and sometimes even unnoticeable.
Hoarding can show up in many ways and for many reasons. The best course of action for a hoarder is to seek professional help to address the psychological side of the illness and begin to heal rather than force change. This is because the condition is often influenced by trauma and instability.
Signs of Hoarding
Most people who develop hoarding tendencies will have at least one member of their family who has struggled with the illness as well. These people tend to be perfectionists and may even show signs of OCD in other areas of their lives. Hoarding is more common in individuals who live alone, however, it’s not exclusive to these parties.
A hoarder doesn’t necessarily live in a home full of garbage. Although waste hoarding is an extreme case of this illness, you’ll likely notice the behavior can be more specific to categories. The habits may spread to include more categories or snowball to create intimidating amounts of ‘stuff’.
The common items you’ll see hoarders collect include:
- Paper such as newspaper, magazines, or mail
Because all of these categories are things that we all may have in our homes, it can be difficult to decern the difference between collecting and hoarding. Besides the sheer volume of the items, you’ll notice that hoarders don’t collect these things because they want them, they hold onto them because they feel they need them.
As you can imagine, this need for physical items makes it much more difficult to let go and clear out the mess.
How to Help a Hoarder
So you’ve noticed these signs and you want to help. Before you dive in with garbage bags and a firm hand, take a moment to consider what’s really going on in your loved one’s life. This process will need to be handled with patience and understanding by taking the following steps.
Don’t Be Confrontational
Holding an intervention or ‘surprising’ the hoarder with confrontational acts will actually work in the opposite way you hope. Instead of realizing they have a problem, the help will feel like an attack. This is because their mental state is grasping the hoarding as a necessity, not just a habit that makes them feel better.
Their hoarding is actually a way of life and by questioning this, you’ll make them feel insignificant and threatened. Instead, you’ll need to approach the issue with love and understanding.
Listen and Empathize
Rather than passing off judgment, try to empathize with how collecting these things makes the hoarder feel. You can gain more perspective on their unique situation by creating a safe and supportive environment for them to share and explain.
When they begin to open up, never shut down their feelings with statements like ‘that doesn’t make sense’ or ‘just clean out the stuff’. Instead, ask questions about the emotional reaction to these things.
This could include questions like ‘how do you feel about your home?’, ‘do you feel embarrassed when others see your home in this state?’, or even ‘would you enjoy being able to use your (livingroom, kitchen, bathroom, etc.) again?’.
Be there for them in whatever way you can but know that seeking professional counseling and therapy for hoarding is a helpful and often necessary step.
Let Them Decide
Taking things away from a hoarder will not help them let go of the behavior. Instead, you’ll need to allow the individual to make the choices and set goals for themself. You may feel that they need to clear their entire home of the mess but this is a massive endeavor for their mental state.
No matter how big or small of a commitment they make, it’s important you don’t push them further than they are ready to go. If clearing one room is their end goal, support that rather than hoping for more.
Celebrate Small Wins
Recognizing the problem is a huge step for a hoarder. Rather than using this momentum to shift their focus, celebrate the fact that they have taken the first step.
When it comes to clearing out items, celebrate the 1 item that they parted with rather than the 50 they kept. This makes the process encouraging rather than confronting or intimidating and ensures them that you are there for support, not punishment.
How to Help a Hoarder Clean
When it comes to hoarder cleanup, the process is incredibly delicate. There may be hazards in the home that threaten health risks or situations where you just don’t feel comfortable.
If you and the hoarder are ready to welcome professional help for cleaning, you’ll want to ensure your selected helpers are experienced and sensitive to hoarding disasters. Professionals such as the folks at Spaulding Decon understand what to do to bring comfort, discrete service, and valuable resources into the cleanup process.
Be sure you take the time to source these sensitive services so that the clean up doesn’t set the hoarder back and spark psychological trauma.
Helping a Hoarder
Although this journey will be emotional and difficult, taking the steps and learning how to help a hoarder in denial is a worthy mission. Through patience, understanding, and professional help, your efforts will be valuable to the healing of your loved one’s mental health condition.
Want to learn more about mental health? Read our blog to discover tips and tricks you can use to approach these delicate situations and promote a healthier life.