How To Help A Hoarder

Is the state of your loved one’s home causing you concern? Are you worried about the impact of potentially destructive behaviour on their health and safety?

We all want the best for those we care about, and when we notice signs of hoarding disorder, we want to do everything we can to help.

Compulsive hoarding disorder is a unique disease, but that doesn’t make its impact any less devastating for the people affected – and those who love them.

To help shed some light on the condition, we spoke to hoarding disorder experts:

They shared some insights into providing help for hoarders.

 

What is hoarding disorder?

Compulsive hoarding disorder is a psychological disorder recognised in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Studies show clinically significant hoarding currently affects between 2% and 6% of people.

Hoarding disorder is categorised by extreme saving and collecting behaviour, leading to cluttered homes and causing distress and/or issues carrying out daily activities.

The DSM-5 criteria for compulsive hoarding disorder include:

  • Difficulty discarding items regardless of their value
  • An apparent need to save the items and related distress at the thought of losing them
  • Clutter that prevents the home being used for its intended purpose.

“People often are unable to sleep in their own beds or cook in their kitchen, or sometimes even shower in their own bathroom,” Angela and Wendy say.

It’s important to remember that just because your home is a bit cluttered, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have compulsive hoarding disorder.

“The types of things saved are much the same as everyone else – newspapers, books, clothing, containers and paper top the list,” Wendy and Angela describe. “The difference is in the sheer volume, the way it is managed, and the way it affects their comfort and safety.”

It’s also important to note that compulsive hoarding disorder doesn’t always influence personal appearance.

Veronica notes, “I’ve worked in hoarded homes where squalor doesn’t exist and personal self-care looks normal.”

Properly diagnosing compulsive hoarding disorder requires a mental health professional.

 

How to Help Someone with Hoarding Disorder

There are several ways to lend a hand and show your support with compassion and kindness.

Understand the Disorder

If your loved one has been diagnosed with compulsive hoarding disorder, you should take steps to learn about the condition. Knowing a bit more about hoarding disorder can help you be more understanding and empathic.

You could research relevant websites and forums, attend a support group, or speak to a health professional.

You can learn more about the psychology behind hoarding disorder in this article on our Australian site.

Don’t Pressure Them to Discard Items or Clean Up

Trying to ‘help’ by pressuring your loved one to part with items, or tidying their home yourself, can cause more harm than good.

“Clearing out does not fix a hoarding problem,” explain Wendy and Angela.

“This can lead to frustration, hurt feelings and the breakdown of relationships,” they say.

“It all ends in mistrust, and actually exacerbates the urge to collect.”

After all, compulsive hoarding disorder is a mental illness, and the associated behaviours have deeper causes that require treatment to heal. Throwing out their things isn’t going to fix the root cause.

Encourage Them to Seek Help

The good news is compulsive hoarding disorder it treatable.

Veronica suggests encouraging support from a professional such as a psychologist.

Wendy and Angela agree mental health professionals can help, but there are other options if you’re seeking support.

“Some people feel most comfortable speaking to a mental health professional,” they say. “Others like group support, while some prefer hands-on help from a professional organiser. There is no right or wrong way to start to deal with a hoarding problem.”

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