If you love someone who hoards

A typical hoard before professional organizer
Professional organizer begins by helping sort out and box bundled items
Eventually the hoard gives way to usable space

Thank you for learning about hoarding and for caring enough about your friend or family member to want to help them. There are a few things that you should know:

  1. You cannot change the person’s hoarding behavior.
  2. No organizer or therapist can change the person’s hoarding behavior.
  3. Only the person who hoards can change their hoarding behavior, and they need a lot of help and support from people who are trained to help them. Pushing or pressuring them to get help will actually increase their hoarding behavior. It will not help them, and if you are paying for the organizing and/or therapy, reminding them of how much this is costing you just increases their anxiety and prevents them from getting better. The best thing that you can do is just love them the way they are!
  4. You can let them know that help is available, but don’t be surprised if your friend/family member doesn’t seem very grateful. People who hoard already know that they have a problem, and having you suggest that they need help is usually met with great hostility because they are so very embarrassed about their situation.
  5. Organized! by Romanic® spends a lot of money to be out in a booth at a show several times a year. Please do come to a show and bring your loved one by my booth. They will most likely avoid my booth like the plague, and that is OK! Just excuse yourself from their side, step in, say hello, and pick up 2 magnetic cards for the refrigerator (one for you and one for your friend), and pick up the handout in the booth. Do not indicate to me in any way that the person you are with is hoarding! They will never call me if you do that! Later, when you are home, just leave the flier out where the person who hoards can find it and read it when they have a few minutes alone and put the magnet on the fridge. If you do not live with them, when you are back in your car after the show, tell them you love them, that you are worried about them, that you will help them pay for help (if you can), and tell them that you hope they will read through the flier when they get home. Then drop the subject!It usually takes 2-3 years of seeing me out at a booth before a person who hoards will actually call me. It often takes another 6 months or more after that first phone conversation for that person to make and keep an appointment for their initial consultation and then actually let me in the door when I get there for the appointment. Unless they call and make the appointment with me by themselves, they are not even close to being ready for help.
  6. Never, ever, ever throw away anything without the full consent and knowledge and presence of the person who hoards! Often families want to rent a dumpster and throw it all away: doing so will actually increase your loved one’s hoarding behavior. Hoarding tends to be a way of coping with anxiety and/or depression. Violating a person’s space and betraying their trust increases their anxiety and depression so they use their familiar coping mechanism—they acquire more stuff, and they do it at a much more rapid pace. One of my clients had a 4-foot-deep hoard throughout her home. Her family treated her to a 2-week vacation cruise, completely emptied the hoard, and then put in new carpeting, appliances, and furniture while she was away. Her family thought they were doing a good thing and that she would be thrilled with their gift. They truly thought they were helping her. My client told me that she came home to a beautiful, clean space, but all she saw was that someone had thrown away all her things without asking her. It has been years since this happened, and now she struggles not only with being afraid to let someone into her home, she also struggles with being afraid to leave her home because something bad might happen again. What her family did made her very angry, but most of all, it hurt her so deeply that she still struggles to give consent to let go of any little scrap of anything. My client will never get over being given a trip only to be betrayed by the people she loved and trusted the most, and she will never, ever be grateful for what they did. It took my client just a few years from the vacation ambush to create an 8-foot-deep hoard throughout her home. We wiggled through her front door sideways, and we are both very small adults. The first bags that went out could not be anywhere close to full because we could not open the door far enough to get a single full bag out. Please, I am begging you, do not violate your loved one’s space or betray their trust. Doing so forever damages your relationship with them and makes it much more difficult than it needs to be for even a trained professional organizer to be able to help them.
  7. If your friend/family member does choose to hire a professional organizer and a therapist to help them, even if you are helping them pay for these services, please resist the temptation to ask them how an organizing or therapy session went. These people are truly suffering, and having you push and pry (that really is how they see your concern) does not give them the emotional space they need to get well. It may seem counter-intuitive, but if you resist the urge to ask them how it is going, they are far more likely to tell you about their progress. As they start to feel proud of their home and themselves for dealing with their problem, they will tell you. Actually helping a person who hoards takes an infinite amount of patience, and a lot of time. Budgets, however, are usually strained, which makes whoever is paying for the help very stressed. All I can tell you is that it has never taken Organized! by Romanic® as much time to clean up a hoard as it took the client to bring the stuff into their home. Rarely, a client discovers that they are not ready for the organizing help they thought they were ready for. In this case, a licensed, clinical psychologist who practices cognitive—behavioral therapy can help them prepare for the de-cluttering.
  8. If you are paying to help someone else get a hoard cleaned up, Organized! by Romanic® will be happy to tell you how many bags/boxes went out the door at the end of each visit, but that is it. Organized! by Romanic® must have the client’s trust to be able to do the job. Do not be surprised if little or nothing leaves the house during the first few visits. It takes time to build trust with these clients, especially if a loved one has already violated their trust. If a client who hoards tells Organized! by Romanic® that an item cannot go, it will not go until they say it can. Please know that even if nothing is leaving, we are organizing the stuff so that the person can make a decision about how much of it to keep. When things are churned up in a hoard, a client can’t let go because they don’t know how much they have of something. Once we organize it and gather, for example, 53 boxes labelled “newspapers to be read,” the client eventually realizes that they are not likely to ever read all those newspapers and that those 53 boxes are taking up valuable space in their home. Once clients start to appreciate that they are regaining space in their home and finally gaining control over their stuff, they do eventually let go of them. A person who hoards is well aware of why I am there, and they will let go of more and more as they grow more comfortable with the sessions. If a family member continues to pressure them to do more, I promise you, they won’t. They will simply give up because the stress is just too much for them. I know this may not be what you want to hear if you are paying me to “clean up the mess.” I do encourage them to let go, but I will not violate their trust or they won’t let me in the door. As long as I can get in the door, I can help them reduce the volume of the hoard. If you can try to think of it not so much as “cleaning up the mess” but more as “a gift of love and support” you will feel less frustrated. It takes time to clean up a hoard. It is a process. It simply cannot happen quickly or these people will get worse not better. If you want to truly help them, you have to give them time and emotional space to get better: No wound heals over night, and ripping the scab off doesn’t speed the process.
  9. After working with the person who hoards for a few visits and only with their full knowledge, consent, and presence will Organized! by Romanic® hold an educational meeting with families/friends to teach them specific ways that they can help my client. And this is only if the client is willing to have such a meeting! Please understand this is not in any way any kind of therapy, Organized! by Romanic® is not a therapist and does not do any kind of therapy. Organized! by Romanic® has some training and a lot of experience in working with people who hoard. Budgets can get strained when there is a hoard to be cleaned up. Organized! by Romanic® is willing to teach families/friends some ways to help but only with the full knowledge, consent, and presence of the person who hoards! The person who hoards is the client—not the friends/family and not the person writing the check. There is a $250 fee for an educational family meeting that will last approximately 2 hours to teach families some basic skills on how to help. Organized! by Romanic® charges for these meetings because some families are able to actually help their loved one, which means Organized! by Romanic® will be out of a job. Keep in mind, sometimes, the client does not want help from family/friends. They are just too embarrassed to let family/friends see the magnitude of what they have done. The most important thing is that your loved one trusts me enough to let me back in the door week after week to help them un-do the mess they have made.
  10. Research has shown that 1% to 5% of the world’s population hoards, and that hoarding crosses all races, financial situations, and social status. It also shows that 25% of the 1% to 5% of those who hoard will die in their hoard either from a house fire or a treatable medical emergency. The sad truth is that rescue workers do not have to risk their own lives and safety to save a person who hoards. If there is not a minimum of a 3-foot-wide pathway from the front door to the bed, rescue workers cannot help your loved one! Truly, the best that you can do if you love a person who hoards is treat them with all the respect that you give to those to whom you look up. All people have issues. There are no perfect people on the planet. There is a fine line between letting someone know there is help for a problem and making them feel even worse about having a problem in the first place. Please be very careful in how you speak to someone who is hoarding, please do it with love and without judgment or criticism. Not one client has ever said, “When I was young, I always wanted to be a hoarder when I grew up.” Life is hard, folks, but there is hope and help for people who hoard. You just can’t fix this or any problem for them, no matter how much money you throw at it. The desire to change must come from within them or it won’t happen. It is similar in some ways to someone who decides finally ask for help to quit smoking after doing it for 20 years. They know their habit is bad for them, they know they are spending money foolishly, they feel like it is hopeless to try because they have tried many times before, they know they need help, they know it is going to cost a lot of money to get help, they know…they know…. Please just love them.