The Do’s and Don’ts of Helping Hoarders
If you’re working to help a loved one address a hoarding problem, it’s important to address the issue in an intentional and sensitive way. Although you may have initially approached the problem from of a place of concern, frustration, or even anger, the hoarding behavior can only be changed by offering patience and unconditional support. If this is a process your loved one is ready to begin, here are a few important do’s and don’ts to keep in mind as you move forward as their support system:
DO acknowledge to the hoarder that each item in their space is important and valuable in some way. Listen to him or her tell you why things are important, even if they may appear as junk to you. Always respond with empathy and never with a tone of judgment.
DO consider enlisting outside help. A third party can help ease any emotional tension between family members and can be very valuable in creating a plan for organizing and sorting items. They can also provide guidance for how to remain safe while dealing with any potential health hazards that may have been created by the hoarding.
DO dispose of trash in a safe manner. For example, animal waste, hazardous materials, or very large items should be thrown away in appropriate ways or by companies equipped to dispose of certain items or haul them away.
DON’T touch or move items without permission. Doing so can lead to outbursts of emotion or anger and can lead to a loss of trust between you and the hoarder. If you receive permission to move certain items, make sure the communication is clear between each of you as far as what the next step with each item will be.
DON’T expect a clean-up to happen over a day or a weekend. Besides the extreme volume of things you may be helping them sort through, you can expect the process to be emotional and sometimes difficult. It may sometimes feel like you take one step forward and two steps back, but know that this is normal. Cleaning up and changing behavior can take a very long time.
DON’T share information about the hoarder’s problem with other family members, neighbors, or acquaintances. This is likely a source of embarrassment for him or her, and you maintaining privacy and confidentiality throughout the process is vital for maintaining trust.
If you’re already part of the process of cleaning out a hoarder’s home, be proud of yourself and be proud of your loved one for taking the steps to address the issue. If you think a hoarder in your life is ready to accept help and you’re looking to move forward with a next step, consider scheduling a consultation with a hoarding advisor and determine the best way to get started.