Sometimes a deep cleaning can help reinvigorate a home. It feels great to downsize, and reorganize the home for a fresh start.
However, people with the condition known as hoarding disorder do not enjoy the same revitalizing feeling from clutter cleaning and organizing as the average person.
Instead, the feelings of extreme anxiety at the thought of discarding anything known as disposophobia can often hold hoarders back from being able to let go of their belongings.
Hoarders will display an intense resistance to throwing things away, even when they are completely unusable, broken, or soiled.
It can be especially difficult to allow a friend or family member to exhibit hoarding behavior out of concern for their wellbeing.
Although there might be a strong inclination to take control and throw everything away on their behalf, it is important to get their involvement in decision making for every item you sort through.
Knowing how to convince your loved ones who hoard to get rid of stuff is an essential part of every hoarding cleanup, not just for the immediate satisfaction of the initial cleanup, but to instill healthy habits and prevent more hoarding in the future.
It’s not always the quickest way, or the easiest way, but it is the most ethical and healthy way to help a hoarder clean.
Learning about hoarding disorder and how it affects people is the first step in developing a plan of action to help hoarders get organized in any situation.
With a little patience, and a lot of understanding, you can help your loved one recover from hoarding and reclaim their life from clutter.
Why Do People Hoard?
Approximately 1 in 50 Americans are reported to be affected by hoarding every year, but experts say the estimates might be closer to 1 in 20 when considering cases that may have not been reported at all.
There are many reasons as to why people hoard, but the main factors that contribute are anxiety, depression, and trauma.
From the outside looking in, it is easy to assume that the clutter is a result of a lack of desire to be neat and tidy, however the psychology of hoarding is much more complex than that.
The extreme attachment that hoarders feel to their personal belongings is often linked to mental illnesses like OCD, PTSD, Dementia and Schizophrenia.
In fact, an estimated 1 in 4 people who suffer from OCD have experienced hoarding symptoms on some level.
Extreme forms of anxiety and depression such as Diogenes Syndrome can also result in hoarding behavior.
When looking at hoarding disorder in that light, it becomes clear that hoarding is a psychological issue that requires special treatment, and is not just the result of a pack rat with too much stuff that needs to get organized.
Genetic Risk Factors
Some hoarders might find the act of acquiring new items to be thrilling, while others might see a value in things that most people do not.
The uncontrollable urges to compulsively collect that a hoarder experiences might stem from a deep fear of not having something when it will be needed, or out of a perceived need to stockpile for future survival.
Genetic risk factors can account for up to 50% of hoarding cases, with adults being the most susceptible to the disorder.
In fact, adults between 55 and 94 years of age have a three times higher likelihood of struggling with hearing than younger adults between 34 and 44.
Knowing the signs of hoarding can help identify the problem before it gets out of hand. If left untreated, the collecting is likely to continue beyond that which could be considered healthy or safe.
Why Getting Rid of Things is Hard for People with Hoarding Disorder
Many of the justifications that hoarders will use can be implemented by healthy people every day in order to hold on to their belongings.
Talking ourselves into keeping something halfway through a clutter cleanup is easy. Digging up old items that have been long forgotten can spark old memories and joy.
However, these fleeting feelings will become overshadowed by the clutter that is impeding your ability to enjoy a neat, well organized home.
For most people, this will normally be enough to let go, but these types of decisions can cause hoarders extreme distress.
Understanding the root of their struggles is the best way to help hoarders get rid of stuff, and help them develop the skills to avoid more hoarding down the road.
Emotional Attachment. It’s natural for us to become attached to some of our belongings. Discovering old teddy bears from childhood during a cleanup might remind us of their sentimental value.
Keeping a few things that we have grown to love is okay as long as they can be stored, accessed, or displayed neatly.However, when sentimental value causes us to accumulate overwhelming clutter it is time to reconsider.
Guilt. Once we recognize our attachments to things, feeling a little guilty for getting rid of them is only natural.
Our desire to not waste, or fears of missing out on fond memories might cause us to feel some distress at the thought of discarding our belongings.
A healthy person will be able to rationalize and overcome this anxiety, but the stress that disposophobia causes hoarders to feel can be extreme.
Financial Stress. The same way we might feel a little guilty for wasting something, it is possible that we feel regret for throwing something away that we spent money on.
Although the desire to make use of something we purchased might come with good intentions, when holding on to our belongings causes our homes to be inaccessible or unusable, the kept items start to do more harm than good.
Fear for the Future. A common reason to hold onto something longer than planned is the feeling that we might need it in the future.
In the rare event that something we’ve held onto for a long time does come in handy, we feel keeping it was justified. However, the clutter that hoarders accumulate make their belongings difficult to access in the present, let alone in the future.
Goals and Aspirations.
Sometimes we purchase things with a goal in mind, such as buying all the books in a series with the hopes of completing them, or buying a set of art supplies in hopes of learning a new hobby.It can be difficult to part with our things when we have to let go of the aspirations that they represented also. For a hoarder, this difficulty can often be completely debilitating.
Dangers of Hoarding
Unfortunately, hoarding is a much more serious problem than a simple unsightly mess.
The behaviors can pose serious risks to the hoarder’s physical and mental health. Below are some of the dangers that your loved ones might be facing should their hoarding become severe.
- Pest Infestations. Unwanted pests such as bed bugs, cockroaches, and rodents are common in hoarder homes. The presence of pests can contribute to asthma, allergies, and poor mental health. Pests also carry diseases such as Lyme Disease in ticks, and Rabies in mice.
- Health Risks. Respiratory issues and other illnesses that are caused by mold growing in unseen places can pose a serious threat to the health of anyone in a hoarder home. Diseases spread by bacteria and viruses such as Salmonella and Hantavirus could be fatal.
- Accidental Falls. Unintentional falling is the leading cause of death for people 65 years of age and older in America, with the numbers steadily rising each year. The clutter buildup from hoarding disorder can drastically increase the risk of a fatal slip.
- Fire Hazards. Not only can the clutter from hoarding catch fire itself, it can prevent 911 Responders from accessing the home during a time of emergency because of blocked off entryways or staircases. The consequences of this can be dire.
- Structural Damage. Sunken foundations, collapsing walls, and faulty plumbing or electricity can result from extreme hoarding. The structural damage of the home can lead to eviction, fines, or even in the building itself being condemned. In the worst case scenario, the home may collapse.
How to Convince a Hoarder to Get Rid of Their Stuff
Understanding the causes and risks of hoarding are an important part of helping your loved one appreciate the gravity of the situation, and can be of great assistance when trying to persuade them to let go of the belongings that are negatively impacting their life.
However, patience is another big requirement. Below are tips that our hoarding cleaning professionals developed to involve hoarders in the decision making process, and encourage them to make better choices.
Remember, consent is key. Getting your loved one’s permission on every item you discard is not just the right thing to do, but it will help them learn how to control their compulsive collecting to avoid repeating their hoarding behavior.
Focus On One Thing at a Time
It might seem like making decisions about several items at once will help shorten the hoarding cleaning and restore healthy order to your loved one’s life.However, approaching things this way can be overwhelming. Slow and steady wins the race. Focus on one item at a time, one room at a time, to help keep your cleanup and your loved one on track
Be Empathetic, Not judgmental
Shame is not a good motivator for change, and being judgemental will only cause your loved one further distress, which may discourage them from discarding anything. Instead, be patient and try to put yourself in their shoes.Showing them that you are there to support them will make your loved one much more likely to receive the help you are trying to give.
Share Your Knowledge About the Benefits of Decluttering
Instead of chastising your love one for their hoarding situation, help them understand the importance of downsizing their collection and living in a well-organized home.Once they see things for themselves, your loved one will be able to make healthier decisions about what to keep and what to discard that may improve their whole quality of life.
Explain the Risks Factors of Clutter
Hand in hand with the importance of a clutter-free space is the dangers of a home filled with clutter.Many people with hoarding disorder do not consider themselves to be hoarders, and might withdraw if you refer to them in this way. Try to avoid this, and instead walk them through the stockpiles in their home and help them understand the present dangers.
Ask Questions About the Things They Need and Don’t Need
A great way to lead someone to a conclusion is to ask them questions rather than attempting to force them to see things your way.Asking your loved one how they plan on using something, or whether or not they can see that it is beyond repair will help them decide on their own accord the right to do with just a little patience.
Get Their Perspective, Then Share Yours
Understanding hoarding disorder is a great step in the right direction, but it is important to understand your loved one as well.Ask Questions Such as “What’s your goal for this?” or , “When was the last time you used/looked at this?” to try to see each other’s point of view. Remember not to speak over them, but to help your loved one understand your feelings.
Ask for Professional Help
If the excessive clutter that a hoarder accumulates seems like it might be too overwhelming for just you to clean up, it’s okay to bring in a professional.
In fact, professional help from the experts can be the best way to turn a hoarding situation into a healthy one, especially on a time crunch.
Below are a few examples of how a hoarding cleaning professional can help you.
Knowledge & Expertise. Professionals who help hoarders clean every day have the experience necessary for even the toughest of situations. They can apply that experience to develop solutions unique to your needs, and they can notice things about the environment that the untrained eye cannot. The right cleaning professional can guide you through the entire process from start to finish.
Health & Safety. Getting professional help can aid you in avoiding any hazardous materials such as feces or mold, or dangerous structural damage that might make hoarding cleaning unsafe for the average person An expert can safely remove things from the home without putting you or themselves at risk,they will also know the best way to clear clutter without creating more unsafe blockages.
Thorough Deep Cleaning. Hoarding cleanup and organizing experts are trained to clean even the most stockpiled homes from top to bottom. An experienced hoarding organizer will be able to identify and clean areas you might have missed, and will also be prepared with solutions for restoring any areas that need a little extra attention. Getting professional help can truly transform your loved one’s home.
Faster Cleanup. A timely hoarding cleanup can help everyone breathe a little easier, and a professional will be able to clear clutter and transform the home even with a strict deadline. This is especially helpful for hoarders who might be facing fines or eviction if the home is not brought into compliance, but getting things done quick is also beneficial to the physical and mental health of everyone involved.
Compassion and Understanding. Where a friend or family member might become frustrated out of concern for their loved one, a hoarding cleanup expert will be able to stay calm and help everyone work through their challenges. The right professional will never judge, and will instead work with the hoarder and their family to develop a plan of action that works for everyone’s needs.
When to Ask for Professional Help
The benefits of bringing in a professional are clear, but knowing when to bring them in can help you make the best informed decision possible.
Here, we have listed circumstances in which getting professional help might be your best option.
Unsafe Living Conditions. The clutter that amasses in hoarder homes can create some incredibly dangerous conditions for the home.
Such conditions can result in falling hazards, defective plumbing or electricity, and structural damage like warped foundations, cracked walls, or sagging ceilings. These conditions can lead to unfortunate accidents.
A professional hoarding cleaning service can help you to organize quickly, clearing the home of dangerous clutter and salvage it if possible.
Fines or Eviction. When hoarding gets out of control, it is possible that the clutter and pest infestations it brings can grow so large that it cannot be contained within the home.
Once this happens, code enforcement, landlords, and other authorities can get involved.
Getting professional help can reduce the time it takes to bring the home back into compliance, before your loved one runs into trouble with expensive fines, or loses their home.
Severe Mental Illness. Hoarding is linked to mental illnesses like OCD, Dementia, PTSD, and Depression.
Someone who is professionally trained to deal with hoarding disorder will have a better chance of making your loved one feel comfortable in order to encourage their cooperation, making the tough decisions easier, and the process less distressing for everyone.
If the mental illness is severe, it might be time to consider calling in a mental health expert as well.
Pest Infestations. Bed bugs, cock roaches, carpet beetles, and other unwanted pests thrive in clutter.
Unfortunately, many infestations in hoarder homes can grow to be just as extreme as the clutter itself, causing unsanitary living conditions that can be hazardous to your loved one’s health.Hiring a hoarding cleaning professional will help to quickly minimize the conditions that enabled the infestations. The experts can also help treat the infestation and restore order to the home.
No Emergency Access. It is common for people with hoarding disorder to block off staircases, rooms, or even entire parts of their home with their belongings.
In the worst of cases, entrances can be inaccessible, and the home might be so tightly packed there is no way to easily walk through it.
Unfortunately, this would make it nearly impossible for emergency services to access the home. It would be best to hire a professional to make the home safe as quickly as possible.
Having a clean, clutter-free home is important for a variety of reasons. To the average person, this might be a given, someone with hoarding disorder will need extra help letting go of their things to achieve this goal.
Knowing how to convince your loved one to get rid of the stuff that they are hoarding will make cleanup easier, and it is the best way to ensure they develop healthy habits to prevent more hoarding issues later in life.
With a little patience and understanding, you can help your loved one get back on track.
Professional help is always available if you need it, so don’t be afraid to make the call.