How to Help a Hoarder, According to 5 Experts

What are the ways you can do to help a hoarder reclaim their space and their lives?

We asked experts to give light to these questions.

Natalija Rascotina

Natalija Rascotina

Registered Psychotherapist | Owner, Psytherapy

Hoarders experience extreme attachment to items seen as having no value. This can provide them with relief if they struggle to socialize or cope with the outside world. Hoarders often have issues with abandonment and are extremely indecisive, which is why they cannot bear to throw anything away.

The most important thing to remember is that you must never remove the items without the hoarder’s knowledge. This can cause them extreme anguish Instead, you must empower them to do it themselves.

Help them to realize that they are not defined by material possessions

This is the first step towards a hoarder regaining a sense of independence. You must help a hoarder realize that they are not defined by their possessions and that they are capable of taking action.

The love and support of friends and family can be a great asset in helping a hoarder understand they do not need to surround themselves with possessions to feel safe or comfortable. This means not only are you removing the physical problem of hoarding, but you are also resolving the underlying psychological issue.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

CBT helps hoarders understand why exactly they find it so difficult to throw things away. Hoarders act on illogical thought processes, driven by their feelings of attachment and anxiety. The goal is to recognize when these thoughts are occurring, acknowledge them but not act on them.

Katy Winter

Katy Winter

Founder, Katy’s Organized Home

Create a vision board

When working with hoarders, it helps to take extra time before you start to make a vision board. It can be Pinterest or cutting pictures out of magazines to have a very clear image of how you want your life to look.

What is your dream living room? Talk through the photos, is there clutter on the floor or countertops? How do you envision living your life? You will come home and what would you like to do? It could be knitting or reading or arts and crafts.

Whatever the person enjoys will get them excited about changing the space and creating an area to read, or an area to knit since they cannot even find their knitting supplies anymore. What emotions do they feel when they walk into their current house. What would you like to feel?

Related: How to Be More Organized

Sometimes it helps to put post-its around the house as you are working with the words the client has used as a reminder of what they would like the house to look like.

I also discuss donations before we even start. Often they will nitpick of every single item. This can go to this person, this can go to a different relative, multiple charities. When it gets to such a state of disorder, you have to do a clean sweep and cannot create any additional errands that will never be completed at the end.

Seek help from a professional, family, and friends

I also find it helps to enlist help. Everyone in the house needs to be involved. They need to agree to be nonjudgmental and remain positive. Always seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and remaining positive. It takes a lot of energy on how to declutter and to work on a job that has reached hoarders status, so many hands help.

I also strongly recommend a company like Junkluggers. They will come and do all the heavy lifting and remove any unwanted items and donate everything that can be donated to local organizations. I will go around the house and put bright post-its on everything to be picked up and let them do the work.

Adina Mahalli, MSW

Adina-Mahalli

Certified Mental Health Expert, Enlightened Reality | Family Care Professional, Maple Holistics

Hoarding is an addiction, and as such, you can’t just simply fix the problem by telling someone not to hoard.

  • Communicate to the person that you love them and that you are there to help them.
  • Don’t simply throw all of their stuff out, as this won’t get to the root of the issue and it will simply stress the person out.
  • Don’t enable the person’s hoarding tendencies by bringing them items that you think they would hoard.
  • Lastly, connect them with different treatment options when the time is right and they are ready to make a change.

Julie Finch-Scally

Julie Scally

Consultant in Hygiene Management & Cleaning

Hoarding is not about clutter. Neither is it filth that builds up until it becomes a health hazard. Hoarding is a medical problem for people who have a fear of throwing things away in case they throw out something of importance.

Seek professional help or assistance

People with homes filled with clutter, rubbish or hoarding will not seek professional help until it reaches the stage where they have no idea where to start to fix the problem. Having been called in to assist in all three cases I have observed that all surfaces and the floor of each property need to be empty before cleaning can begin. But this is what the homeowners really need.

  • The cluttered homeowner requires someone to help them work out in their mind what they should keep, can be thrown out or passed on to a charity.
  • The home full of rubbish needs to be emptied out into rubbish bags to be thrown away.
  • The house where the hoarder lives require things to be stacked and moved so there are spaces which can be cleaned.

The cluttered homeowner, once the clutter is removed and the property is cleaned, is happy to have had their mind made up for them and enjoys the tidy, clean surrounds the find themselves in.

Homeowners with properties full of rubbish are so amazed at the difference, most times turn over a new leaf and make an effort to keep the property tidy. That is if they are living on their own.

Homes with children who have grown up living under these conditions, sometimes revert back to old habits, thereby requiring another clear out at a later date.

Unfortunately, homeowners who are hoarders will never let anything be moved to even make space, and are reluctant to follow any suggestions that would assist in making the property tidy and more accessible. As tidying in most of these cases is never accepted, cleaning doesn’t take place.

Being a medical condition these homeowners need professional help so they can be more rational about what they are hoarding and learn to throw things away. Once their mind is clearer, cleaners can go in and assist.

Robyn Reynolds

Robyn Reynolds

Certified Professional Organizer | Owner & CEO, Organize2Harmonize

Seek therapy and a professional organizer

There are several things you can do to help a hoarder. People that hoard tends to be very fragile so you have to handle them with kit gloves. It is always best if they are in therapy because the hoarding behavior is not about the stuff. It is almost always about something else. And it is a behavior and not who they are.

Understanding when the behavior started and how long it has been going on and if it is affecting other areas of their lives is essential to the process. Having this information gives the organizer a better understanding of how to proceed.

Are there triggers, is there a particular thing that is hoarded, is there a family pattern, or others in the household, etc? With this, the organizer can work with the client to bring there home back to a livable space.