Addressing Hoarding Issues in the Home: A Guide for Family

Author Image

By Deirdre Mundorf

Updated: May 15, 2024

8 min read

High angle house interior with clutter
Photo: Freepik

Table of Content

    Have you ever walked into a relative's home, only to find every corner stacked with items? From newspapers that are several years old to empty food cans, magazines, clothes, electronic gadgets, among other things, everything is hoarded. The home is practically difficult to navigate. Welcome to the world of a hoarder. Hoarding is a largely misunderstood psychological disorder that affects millions of people worldwide, causing significant distress to the individual and their family and friends. This guide aims to help people understand and begin addressing hoarding for family members.

    Unraveling the Complexity of Hoarding Disorder

    Hoarding disorder is a recognised mental health condition signified by an excessive accumulation of items, regardless of their value, resulting in densely cluttered living spaces that are difficult, if not impossible, to navigate. These individuals often find it challenging to part with these possessions due to an anticipated need for items or perceived sentimental value. This behavioral pattern can lead to severe emotional, physical, financial, and even legal implications for the hoarder and those living with them.

    Distinguishing Hoarding from Clutter

    Understanding this disorder requires distinguishing it from general disorganization, collecting, or simply living within a cluttered environment. Individuals with hoarding disorder feel a need to save their items and are often distressed when trying to discard them. A large part of the problem is the fact that many hoarders do not recognise their behavior as problematic, further complicating the process of seeking professional help.

    Recognizing the Signs

    A cluttered room
    Photo: Unsplash

    Signs suggestive of hoarding disorder manifest as significant difficulty in parting with possessions, leading to an accumulation of clutter that renders living or working spaces virtually unusable. Individuals afflicted often exhibit an intense emotional attachment to their belongings, making it arduous to let go. Moreover, they may react strongly, even defensively, when others try to intervene by handling or disposing of their items, further exacerbating the situation.

    Triggers and Underlying Causes

    Hoarding tendencies can be influenced by various factors, including attempts to cope with trauma or emotional turmoil, triggered by significant life events like divorce, or a desire to mitigate the fear of forgetting vital information. Additionally, certain personality traits, particularly indecisiveness, can predispose individuals to hoarding behavior. These factors underscore the multifaceted nature of hoarding disorder, illustrating how psychological, environmental, and personality factors can interact to exacerbate the condition. 

    Navigating the Emotional Terrain

    One of the key challenges in addressing hoarding for family members is that it is a deeply personal and often emotional issue. Most people who hoard have strong emotional attachments to their possessions, complicating the process of cleaning up, as they often experience great distress during attempts to declutter. It's important to note that it's not about the volume of items an individual owns, but rather, an intense need to save items, and discomfort in getting rid of them.

    Approaching with Patience and Understanding

    For family members who are trying to help, patience and understanding are essential. Giving ultimatums or threatening is likely to breed more resistance, not cooperation. Instead, open communication with respect and compassion can help. Relate with them on their level, understanding their emotional connection with their hoarded items and explaining the health, safety, and lifestyle implications.

    Seeking Professional Help

    Engaging a mental health professional who is experienced with hoarding disorders should be highly considered. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) specifically provided for hoarding has been shown to have the most impact. Its primary focus is to help the individual understand the reasons behind their hoarding behavior and learning new ways of thinking about possessions. Professional organizers, or licensed individuals specializing in cleaning out homes, can also be engaged.

    Practical Steps for Intervention

    Woman cleaning the house
    Photo: Freepik

    There are several practical steps that can also be taken when addressing hoarding for family members, each targeting different areas of the disorder. These include setting achievable decluttering goals, understanding the need for professional help, exploring various treatment options, sticking to a regular cleaning schedule, and providing emotional support.

    A Journey of Understanding and Compassion

    It's essential to remember that hoarding disorder is a serious mental health issue with considerable implications for the person affected and their families. It's intense and often an emotional journey, requiring patience, understanding, and professional help. It's not something that can be handled overnight or alone. By understanding the disorder and how to address it sensitively and effectively, individuals and their families will be better equipped to manage it in a much more compassionate and considerate way.

    Final Thoughts

    Supporting someone with hoarding disorder entails grasping the issue deeply and offering unwavering, empathetic assistance. It's crucial to handle the matter with patience, sensitivity, and a willingness to seek professional assistance as needed. Hoarding, entangled with myriad emotions, poses a complex challenge, yet with persistent effort, empathy, and professional guidance, it can be effectively addressed, especially within the home environment.

    Table of Content

      Get daily updates to your inbox!

      Subscribe to our mailing list to receives daily updates!

      Related Stories