Reviewed by Aaron Horn, LMFT
Have you ever been shocked by the amount of clutter when you visited a loved one’s home? Has a family member’s home been full of random items for years? Or, maybe you feel like something’s not quite right about the way you accumulate possessions. If any of these scenarios sound familiar, the problem may be hoarding disorder. Fortunately, there is help for people challenged by a hoarding disorder. Here’s what you can do for yourself or someone else with this disorder.
Know When Keeping Things Is a Disorder
It’s not uncommon for homes to be cluttered from time to time. And some people build extensive collections and display them in their homes. Others live in squalor, never cleaning or taking out their trash. But none of these things is the same as hoarding, although some can occur in hoarding disorder.
According to the American Psychological Association, about 2.5% of the population meets the DSM-5 criteria for hoarding disorder. So, what exactly is hoarding disorder? First, it’s a behavioral problem. In hoarding, you acquire many objects and can’t bring yourself to part with them. It’s also a mental disorder. In fact, hoarding disorder is described in the DSM-5. Here are the DSM-5 criteria that psychiatrists and therapists use to diagnose this disorder.
- Persistent inability to discard possessions, even if they have no real value.
- The reason discarding objects is so hard for you is that you think you need to save them, or you have distress when you think of throwing them away.
- You accumulate so many possessions that your living areas are hard to use or no longer usable at all.
- Your distress is so severe that you have trouble functioning at work, in social situations, or in other areas of your life.
- You aren’t hoarding because of a medical condition, like a brain injury.
- The hoarding isn’t due to another mental disorder, like OCD, depression, or schizophrenia.
Do You Need Help with Hoarding?
Many people wonder if the excess things in their home add up to hoarding disorder. There’s no shame in finding out if you have a serious problem. You can take a confidential online hoarding disorder screening test in the privacy of your home. All you have to do is read a few questions and click on the responses that describe your feelings and behaviors. You’ll get quick results, so you’ll know whether your symptoms may be related to hoarding disorder.
How to Help a Hoarder
The best way to help a loved one with hoarding disorder is to help them find their way to treatment. They may not believe they have the condition, so that can be difficult. You might let them know the screening test is available. Then, leave it up to them to take it if they choose. Otherwise, here are some other hoarding remedies you can try.
Avoid Ending the Clutter for Them
One thing you probably need to avoid is cleaning out all the clutter yourself. It’s kind to want to help them, but this is about more than having too many possessions. It’s a psychological problem that they can’t wish away. It takes time and effort to recover from this disorder. The main thing to remember is that if the underlying mental problems aren’t solved first, they will just fill their home back up with more possessions.
Consider Ways You Might Be Contributing to the Problem
Often, friends and family members contribute to someone’s hoarding problem. For example, you might know that they like to read books. So, you get books for them whenever you find them cheap or pick them up for free. You’re just trying to be nice, but you end up adding to the hoard.
Another example might happen if they try to get rid of an object that you gave them, and you take it personally. Think about anything you do that might lead them to hoard more or have a harder time letting go.
Learn to Communicate More Effectively
Effective communication is almost always helpful in any situation. With hoarders, communication can be tricky. You may want to tell them to just get rid of all that junk. You might want to tell them how awful you think their habits are. But those might not be the best ways to offer help for hoarders. Here are some communication techniques that might work better.
Ask and Listen
Don’t assume that you know why they’re hoarding or how they feel about it. Instead, ask them gentle questions about these things. Ask questions like:
- What seems valuable about this object?
- How do you feel when you think about throwing things away?
- Are you worried something will happen to your possessions?
- Do you worry about needing something you don’t have or that you’ve thrown away?
- How often do you think about buying more things?
Of course, there are many questions you can ask. Once you ask, listen to what they have to say. You might learn a lot about what it means to be a hoarder. And, when you give them your time and attention, they feel encouraged to get hoarding help.
You might be very worried about the condition of your loved one’s home. You may fear that all the excess stuff will cause a fire or prevent them from escaping one. It’s scary to imagine that your loved one might fall and break a bone because they can’t get around their stacks of possessions.
You may even feel like reprimanding them for their hoarding behavior. But that usually doesn’t help them or you. It’s okay to talk about the dangers they’re facing, but when you do, try expressing your loving concern for their wellbeing.
Try to Understand
You may never have hoarded, but you can learn about why people hoard. You can learn to understand their fears and hoarding habits better. As hard as it might be, try to be empathetic. In this case, empathy is imagining what your life would be like if you had hoarding disorder. Imagine it from their point of view, not your own. Then, let them know that you understand how hard it is for them.
Avoid Being Pushy
You might feel like pushing someone to do something to end his or her hoarding. The problem is that the more you push, the more they will justify their behavior. When they feel threatened, they are likely to retreat from you or fight back with their own arguments. Instead, offer your support. Mention screening tests and hoarding treatments. Then, leave it up to them to make the next move.
Manage Your Expectations
Expecting someone to get over their hoarding disorder quickly is unreasonable. Expecting to respond positively to your criticisms and even your suggestions may be expecting too much. By imagining that you can control or change their behavior, you set yourself up for disappointment, anger, and frustration. So, curb your expectations, do what you can do, and leave the rest up to them.
Visit Your Loved Ones without Mentioning Hoarding
Sometimes, people with hoarding disorder have social phobias. Even if they don’t, their hoarding can cause them to isolate themselves. There will probably be times when you visit them to talk to them about their hoarding problems gently. But don’t let that be the only time you visit them. Go see them now and then just to check on them and let them know you care. Talk about other things on those visits. Help them feel valued despite their hoarding behavior.
Can Hoarding Be Cured?
You may be wondering how to cure hoarding. The truth is that, so far, there is no cure for hoarding. However, there is treatment for hoarding, and it can reduce the symptoms significantly. Below are some of the interventions that have proven effective as a treatment for hoarding.
Therapy for hoarding can take several forms. Whether you or your loved one has individual, family, or group therapy, the results can be life-changing. Here are some answers therapists have come up with to answer the question of how to treat hoarding.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a technique that counselors can use to help you or your loved one change the way they think about their possessions. By identifying and examining the thoughts behind their behaviors, they can make several changes. First, they can realize that they have hoarding disorder. Then, they can begin to discover why they hoard. They can gain insight on how to deal with their feelings. And eventually, they can make concrete plans to change their hoarding behaviors.
Family-based therapies allow you and your loved ones to help each other. If you are the one with hoarding disorder, you can benefit from family therapy in several ways. You can find out how your family feels about your behavior and understand why it bothers them. You can get their encouragement and learn to accept their expressions of caring.
For those whose family member has hoarding disorder, therapy can be a powerful learning experience. You can learn to listen more effectively, offer help without being pushy, and communicate with them in kind and effective ways.
One family-based treatment is called Family-as-Motivators Training. This type of training helps you help your loved ones, improve your family’s wellbeing, and make it easier for your family member to ask for help for their hoarding disorder.
Group Therapy and Support Groups
Group therapy for hoarders is usually based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques. A therapist leads a group that consists of people who have hoarding disorder. Support groups can also be helpful for hoarders. Again, the group is made up of people with hoarding problems, but in this case, it’s usually led by someone who is managing their own symptoms of hoarding disorder with some success. In both cases, you meet regularly to discuss and deal with your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors related to hoarding.
Skills training gives the hoarder tools for dealing with their hoarding. In these sessions, you learn how to organize your possessions, use problem-solving techniques to reduce the clutter, and practice decision-making skills. Once you learn these skills, you’ll find it easier to get your home in order during and after your hoarding treatment.
Medications for Other Mental Disorders
There are currently no medications approved for the treatment of hoarding disorder. However, people who have hoarding problems often have other mental illnesses that contribute to their hoarding behavior. Suppose you have an anxiety disorder, depression, OCD, or other mental disorders. In that case, medications can help you manage those mental problems so you can be more successful in reducing your hoarding behaviors.
What to Do If You Think You Have Hoarding Disorder
If you’ve had the courage to consider whether you might have hoarding disorder, you’re on the right track. Start by taking the screening test. Then, seek help from a therapist. Don’t expect yourself to solve this alone or to change overnight. Instead, talk to a mental health professional and begin treatment as soon as possible.
How to Get Help for a Hoarder
Wouldn’t you love to relieve your loved one of their hoarding disorder? The truth is that they have to do that for themselves. If you’re showing you care for them and expressing your concern, you may be able to point them to places where they can get help. Take time to give them information on hoarding treatments. In addition, don’t forget to spend time with them without mentioning hoarding.
Hoarding disorder can cause severe impairments in daily functioning. If you believe that you or a loved one has this disorder, take steps to address the problem. Consider the screening test. Find out where to get help for hoarding. Be there for each other. Then, do all you can to help yourself or a loved one reduce symptoms of hoarding. Together, you can make changes that matter.