How To Help a Loved One With Hoarding Disorder
If you believe someone close to you may have hoarding disorder, it’s important to address the issue with compassion. Their condition is not their fault.
When suggesting that a loved one receive help, a good place to start is researching local therapists, support groups, workshops that specialize in hoarding disorder, and online resources.
Friends and family members of those with hoarding disorder can find it beneficial to care for their own mental well-being.
Many family members also experience shame and stigma about their loved one’s condition. They struggle to understand the situation and often don’t know what to do. They may also need support for any challenges stemming from growing up in a cluttered home, or from relationship difficulties that living with someone with hoarding disorder can pose.
Friends and family of people with hoarding disorder can benefit from individual therapy, family therapy, group therapy, and support groups.
A patient’s outlook for recovery is greater when their family members receive treatment. This is because therapy can help family members understand some of the reasons behind their loved one’s behavior. They can learn how to support a loved one throughout recovery.
The following aspects of the family-focused harm reduction model from the Oxford Handbook of Hoarding and Acquiring may be helpful to consider when supporting a loved one:
It’s important to learn about hoarding disorder and understand that the behavior is not your loved one’s fault.
- It can be helpful to remember that hoarding disorder is not a choice; your loved one may find it distressing to part with items
- Your friend or family member with hoarding disorder may not recognize or acknowledge their condition
- Tasks like cleaning a room, which may be easy for you, can be difficult for your loved one
How you express your feelings about the situation can go a long way in supporting and encouraging your loved one.
Avoid using language that blames the person with hoarding disorder. When possible, use “I” statements to describe how the behavior affects you. For example, instead of saying, “This place is such a mess,” say, “I’m concerned about your safety.”
Consider using your loved one’s terms for objects as a way to relate to their way of seeing things. If they refer to their “treasures” or “things,” consider using these terms, as well. Keep in mind that many people with hoarding disorder also object to the term “hoarding.”
When possible, take steps to foster a healthy relationship with your loved one.
Ask before you clean up or move objects. Although you may think you’re helping by decluttering your friend or family member’s possessions, they could feel controlled or disrespected. If you ask first, you’re more likely to foster trust.
Consider spending time with your loved one in their home for brief social activities. Even though you or your loved one may feel uncomfortable in the cluttered environment, this step could help your loved one feel more accepted. It may also motivate them to take steps to organize some areas.
Helping someone with hoarding behaviors can be a complicated process.
Often, individuals with hoarding disorder have a hard time recognizing the extent of the issue. They may also have difficulty coping with other responsibilities, such as returning calls, washing dishes, checking mail, or paying bills.
As part of their condition, a loved one may have irregular sleep patterns, find it challenging to adhere to regular therapy, and struggle in their interactions with others.
Because they take comfort in their possessions—in some cases, including pets—they can find it distressing to part with them.
How to Help With Animal Hoarding
Animal hoarding is a complex situation. People who hoard animals often start out with a genuine desire to help. They are attached to their pets, even if they cannot care for them.
With the best of intentions, individuals with hoarding disorder can sometimes take in more animals than they can care for. However, this type of hoarding creates suffering for the animals and unsanitary conditions for the people living with them. If the carer can’t provide the right nutrition or veterinary care for the pets, it may be time to re-home some of the animals with loving families.
Giving up pets can be difficult—but remember that pets deserve healthy, happy living conditions, too.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recommends calling your local chapter of the Humane Society of the United States, your local humane law enforcement department, police department, animal welfare organization, or veterinarian as a first step in getting people and animals the care they need.
Children With Hoarding Disorder
Since hoarding behavior often begins in the preteen and early teen years, it’s essential to find therapy for children who show hoarding behavior.
Often, parents are involved in the treatment of their children’s hoarding disorder. As part of therapy, parents learn how to cope with their child’s behavior in a healthy and productive way.
Hoarding disorder is a condition that becomes progressively worse with age. Receiving treatment early can help prevent a lifelong struggle with the condition.
Don’t Give Up—Help and Hope Are Out There
If you or a loved one is hoping to overcome hoarding disorder, it’s important to know that help is available. Mental health professionals, support groups, and local agencies can provide tools and support for recovery.
Admitting that you or a loved one needs help is just the first step, but it’s an important one. Know that you aren’t alone.
By participating in therapy and support groups, you can learn more about hoarding disorder and how widespread it is. You can find understanding and develop skills to overcome this often-misunderstood condition.
Want More Information?
You may find these resources helpful:
International OCD Foundation (IOCDF)
The IOCDF offers robust resources including information on therapists, clinics, and support groups in your area that specialize in hoarding disorder.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
NAMI provides links to networks of hoarding cleanup services and mental health professionals who specialize in hoarding disorder.
Hoarding cleanup offers professional cleaning services for people with hoarding disorder as well as free, anonymous support groups for people with hoarding disorder and their loved ones.