Up to 14 million people in the United States have a compulsive hoarding disorder.
Hoarding disorder is a severe mental health condition recognized by the DSM V that can take a significant toll on people’s lives. It can be an overwhelming disorder for everybody involved, the hoarder, their friends, and their family. This is particularly true of children of hoarders who have to live in the same space and find their homes less livable over time.
If you have someone in your life that you believe may have a compulsion to hoard, and you want to know how to help keep reading. We will take you through the dos and don’ts of helping someone with a hoarding disorder.
Recognizing The Signs
There are several signs of hoarding that you first need to be able to recognize before you begin to approach them about their condition. It would be best to be sure that the person is indeed suffering from hoarding disorder before you approach them; otherwise, you risk damaging your relationship.
The usual signs that someone has become a hoarder are a physical inability to reduce their collections. They have stopped throwing things away to the point that their belongings have blocked their living space. Surfaces are cluttered and cleanliness issues develop leading to piles of clutter filling rooms and passageways becoming unusable.
Blocked passageways become fire hazards and a lack of cleanliness leads to serious health hazards. These combined with a deep-seated lack of desire to throw away anything is a clear indicator of hoarding disorder. Hoarders will often become visibly distressed if they are asked to remove their belongings.
Hoarders tend to collect items with no actual reasoning behind the decision. They will often present reasons for why they can not let the item go but also have no real reason for why they wanted to keep it in the first place either.
On the other hand, collectors tend to collect specific items with an end goal of having all of a particular item. There can sometimes be an overlap in some characteristics between obsessive collectors and hoarders in that they may have too much stuff. However, collectors tend to be more rational about what and how they store their belongings, but they can become obsessive hoarders over time.
How You Can Help Someone With Compulsive Hoarding Disorder
There are several steps you can take at first to approach someone you suspect has a compulsive hoarding disorder in an attempt to help them recover. The first is to educate yourself as much as possible about the condition thoroughly. You need to fully understand that this is a mental illness, and you will not be helping them by simply stripping them of their possessions.
Become their support group and start to focus on the person, not the possessions. It may be difficult to see the person for their belongings, but the core of the problem is really them, not the items. The clutter is simply a symptom of the disease, and you must help the person get better if you want to fix the problem.
Isolation is often a significant factor in people suffering from compulsive hoarding. They fear judgment and believe that people may not listen to them seriously. Listen to their needs empathetically and without judgment and take the time to hear what they are really saying.
Set small goals with them at first. You can not realistically expect to change someone’s hoarding disorder around overnight. So, ask them to set small goals for themselves and let go of just a few items at first. Once they have begun to heal, then you can bring in professional cleaners and people with expertise in cleaning up hoarding sites.
Offer to help them tidy and remove items with their full permission. Show them that it is possible to organize the clutter and start making decisions about what things they can remove. It won’t be easy with a lot of pushback at first, so do not challenge them or act without their consent.
Suggest that they seek professional help. Once you have reached a point of acceptance that there is an issue, try broaching the subject of seeking counseling and therapy services. Compulsive hoarding disorder is a mental health issue that doctors can treat, but you will need the assistance of a licensed therapist.
What You Should Not Do
You must not enable a hoarder in their obsession. This means stop buying them gifts year on year and do not take them shopping. They should not be adding additional items to their collection without first dealing with the clutter that they already have.
Do not touch or remove any of their items without their full consent. This will be seen as the ultimate betrayal and will undo any of the work you have done at this point to empathize and understand them. If something has to be removed for safety reasons, you must get them to understand why and ask their permission.
Don’t expect things to change rapidly. Even when a hoarder is seeking professional help, it may take a lot of time and care for things to start to change for them. Be patient and work with their therapist on slowly reducing the amount of clutter in their home.