Hoarding is a clinically-diagnosed condition where someone compulsively accumulates objects. They can’t stop what they are doing, and refuse to clear their home. Avery Associates clears hoarded houses as part of their probate service.
We dedicate this article to ways to understand and help a hoarder. That’s because we understand this is a serious condition without quick fixes. If you have tried to help a hoarder but failed, then this article may be for you.
Why Can’t Hoarders Just Stop Collecting?
It’s a well-researched fact that hoarders cannot stop their compulsions without dealing with underlying drivers of which they are often unaware. However, when they learn how to deal with their impulses, some progress may be possible.
There are several ways to understand and help a hoarder. Jumping in and clearing a hoarded house is definitely not one of these. Understanding the difference between collecting and hoarding may be a better starting point.
- People collect things because they find them interesting, valuable, or perhaps both. They share their passion with like minded people and are proud of what they do.
- Hoarders, on the other hand secretly acquire mounds of things of no discernible value. They are reclusive because they are embarassed about it.
Symptoms Are Opportunities to Understand and Help a Hoarder
Compulsive hoarding can be a condition on its own, or the outward sign of a more complex situation. If you seek advice from a medical professional, they will take their lead from outward signs, hoarding symptoms, and specific behaviour according to AOC Health.
The outward signs of a compulsive hoarder
- Taking and keeping things regardless of value without having reasons
- Difficulties with getting rid of things while continuing to add ‘bargains’
- Being engulfed with things so their possessions take over their home
The clinical symptoms of compulsive hoarders
- Being unable to categorise possessions and organise them tidily
- Not being sure where to put them or what to do with them
- Losing contact with friends and family and spiralling into isolation
- Living in an untidy environment with safety and health hazards
- Experiencing extreme anxiety at the thought of throwing things away
How compulsive hoarders often may behave
- Compulsive hoarders withdraw from family members and friends
- They distrust people who want to touch or take away their possessions
- Hoarders display unusual signs of happiness when they acquire new items
- They deny they have a problem even when it affects their daily lives
- They resist attempts at clearing their hoarders house at all costs
If you force the issue, you may drive the condition underground. The hoarding may continue in places you never knew existed.
How Does This Start? Why Do People Hoard?
Nobody fully understands how this happens. Much work is needed to understand this complex condition that causes emotional pain to those affected. One out of every four people with the condition also have obsessive-compulsive disorder personalities. There’s a compelling theory people hoard to relieve anxiety. This is one of the ways to understand and help a hoarder.
A quick definition of anxiety
Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease. This may about an impending event, or something without a timeline. Anxiety syndrome may be present when it leads to panic attacks or compulsive disorder. Anxiety becomes a problem when it interferes with daily activities.
Back to anxiety and compulsive hoarding
Hoarding additional items may help people feel more secure, and hence set aside their anxiety for a while. However, they may also become anxious someone may take away their hoard, and hence the condition may be self-fulfilling.
Different Types, Different Ways to Understand and Help a Hoarder
- Shop hoarders are chronic shoppers with a difference. They purchase just about anything they can, and often keep it without opening the boxes
- Whereas food hoarders purchase food and groceries they don’t need even when their cabinets are overflowing. The food eventually rots causing health problems
- Garbage and trash hoarders rummage through other people’s discards. These may introduce rodents, insects, and other pests into their homes
- Animal hoarders on the other hand adopt animals in quantities beyond their capacity to care for properly . Yet another health risk in the waiting
- However, the commonest types of all are paper hoarders. They can stack their homes ceiling high and block exits creating dangerous fire hazards
Clearing a hoarded house may seem an obvious solution, but as mentioned there’s a degree of resistance that often makes this impractical. Hence the reason we describe ways to understand and help a hoarder within their paradigm because they may allow that.
How to Help a Hoarder Escape Their Situation
Compulsive hoarding is a trap a person finds themselves in. You may need almost infinite patience and understanding to help. You may also benefit from consulting a holistic therapist, because hoarding embeds deeply in the hoarder’s personality.
Educate yourself about hoarding before you start
Do not assume you know all about hoarding because nobody understands it fully. Research authority websites, and follow this blog for explanations in plain English. You could cause emotional damage if you do the wrong thing. Try to understand matters from your hoarder’s perspective and don’t suggest sudden, drastic changes.
Don’t forcefully remove a compulsive hoarder’s possessions
Those things a precious to them, no matter what you think. Forcefully clearing a hoarder’s house is not going to fix anything. They’ll simply start collecting again, to dull the anguish that you caused. And they’ll not speak you ever, or allow you in their home. You blew the opportunity you had to help.
Never empower a hoarder with enabling behaviour
Hoarding is a form of addiction because the person cannot stop. Carefully avoid sharing any aspect of their condition. Do not go shopping or fossicking with them. Do not clean or tidy the house. Try your best to be a neutral observer.
Gently nudge them in the direction of tidying up
Never try to convert a hoarder. That’s the job of a trained professional that knows what they are about. Take any opportunity that presents itself to encourage them to start clearing their hoarded house instead.
The best way to understand and help a hoarder is praise them for small victories. And avoid saying or doing things what could drive a wedge between you.
Ask for professional help when they decide a clear out
You’ll never stop a person hoarding on your own. The best you can do is to help them recover at least part of their home, and clean and disinfect it thoroughly.
Avery Associates provides a full-on junk removal and cleaning service in England and Wales. We empty entire homes, individual rooms, or gardens according to client requirements. Please call us when you are prepared for a confidential quote. Here’s an ‘after’ photograph to show you what we could do for you.
After Clearing a Hoarded Room Image ©Avery Associates