How To Help a Loved One Who is Hoarding

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What is Hoarding? 

The American Psychiatric Association describe hoarding as: a disorder of excessively saving items that others may view as worthless. They have persistent difficulty getting rid of or parting with their possessions, leading to clutter that disrupts their ability to use their living spaces.

Keep in mind, the collection of items is not the same as hoarding. Collectors are organized and may display their items like cars, stamps, holiday decor and coins.

Hoarding occurs in an estimated 2 to 6% of the population. Studies show it’s more common in males than females. It is also more common among older adults–three times as many adults 55 to 94 years are affected by hoarding disorder compared to adults 34 to 44 years old.

Here are some more facts about hoarding:


It’s important to understand what hoarding is before we can start to help.

Clutter VS Hoarding 

Many people live with a fair amount of mess (clutter), but the home is safe to move around in. They can still feel at ease with having a guest over for a visit. Rooms are used the way they can still comfortably move around and avoid the risk of having a fall

An article in Psychology Today describes hoarding as an offshoot of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), but recently this categorization is being reevaluated. It’s estimated that about 1 in 4 people with OCD also are compulsive hoarders.  

Types of Hoarding :

  • Shopping
  • Food
  • Garbage and Trash 
  • Paper 
  • Animals

Risks of Hoarding

Hoarding behavior in individual can potentially result in problems in: 

  • their relationships with others
  • impact their social life
  • work
  • other daily life functions. 

Serious hoarding situations means having countless items piled up in the house. In the documentary show Hoarders, a lot of the stories they cover include the hoarder’s house at risk of being condemned by the government because the building is no longer fit to live in, mainly due to violating unsafe housing codes, for example, being a fire hazard. The owner of the home will not be allowed to live in a condemned building until they prove that actions have been taken to fix the problems.


Those who suffer from hoarding disorders might have strained and conflicting relationships with their family members, who may live under the same roof as them or when they come to visit. The conflicts may lead to the hoarder to suffer from loneliness isolation and loneliness and reluctance for anyone to enter their home. As time goes on and the hoarding piles up, it negatively impacts their quality of life. Daily tasks like cooking a meal or taking a bath in the comfort of their own homes will become major struggles, which will take a toll on anyone’s mental and physical well-being.

Ceci Garrett, the founder and director of “Lightening the Load”, which supports those affected by hoarding. She raises awareness about the effects hoarding disorder has on the family and the community stems from her personal experiences growing up with a hoarding parent. Check out her heartfelt, eye-opening TEDTalk:


Hoarding is a mental health disorder and it is recommended for the individual with hoarding behavior to seek therapy or counselling to alleviate the symptoms.

Practical Tips to Get Organized 

Here are some tips we’ve collected online that might be practical and helpful to get things organized:

1. Clarify the goal. Why do you want to get organized? It could be to avoid losing a relationship, catching up on bills etc. Communicate that with your loved one. This will come in handy when you feel tired or stuck during the process.

2. Start small. Aim to start at the area you/she/he spend most of the time, such as the living room.

3. Don’t overwhelm yourself/her/him. Focus on the small task, not the entire house/project.

4. Prepare yourself to work slowly. Slowly but surely, you’ll be building up stamina. 

5. Wear protective gear such as closed-toe shoes, gloves and knee-pads and long-sleeved clothing. If the hoarding situation is a health-risk, such as mold or biohazardous, please also wear protective gear: mask (with a respirator) and proper goggles to protect the eyes.

6. Don’t forget to take breaks in-between. It can be emotionally draining and physically demanding, so be sure to drink water, get up and stretch.


7. Think outside the box. Could there more use of these items? Ask yourself:

  • How often do I use and need this item?
  • What activity would I be participating in if I were to use this item?

8. If you have someone helping you organize and declutter items, try to get comfortable with the helpers be hands-on. When the individual with hoarding disorder touches the items, it elicits memories, emotions and will make it difficult to let go of things. If you are the helper, please be mindful that what may seem worthless may be treasure to the one hoarding it, so treat the process with respect.

9. Make it simple so things are easy to put away. Set up areas so specific items have go-to sections. Storage areas should be functional and accessible. Such as a shoe rack, a cabinet for dishes and a box for tools.

10. Have an expectation of what is “enough” for a comfortable and functional life. Set aside enough items for each category and try to avoid having excessive amounts or duplications.

11. Be prepared to toughen up and get rid of some things–we recommend starting with broken items.

12. Leverage stackable containers or storage boxes so they can be neatly organized. Be sure to label each box so you know what they store. Here is an interview with one of the experts on the A&E show, Hoarders, who share some tips:


13. Sorting and downsizing: start with four categories.

  • Action: Use a calendar to prioritize and set deadlines.
  • Utility:  Items that support activities of daily living (ADLs), work and recreation.
  • Archive: No active, store marked with subject and date.
  • Away: Trash, donation or recycle.

14. Be sure to properly dispose of, recycle or donate everything you cleared out.

15. Document your progress: take a photo of before and after to celebrate your hard work!

Decluttering and getting your space organized can be really stressful (emotionally and physically). Consider hiring a professional organizers, like SpaceAndTimeOrganized. Often times their team works closely with junk removal companies to help people clear out and organize their living spaces. They specialize in hoarding situations and have the equipment, knowledge and compassion to help you and your loved one out. 

Written by Elizabeth Lobron, Care Designer of Nurse Next Door Diablo Valley, Pleasant Hill, CA

You can find more resources on health and wellness on The Caring Blog.

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