What is a Hoarder? And How to Help Your Hoarder Friend

What to Do When Your Family or Friend is a Hoarder - Steri-Clean Colorado

Hoarding disorder is a serious concern that can have life-altering consequences for those affected. Trying to understand and support someone with a hoarding disorder can be overwhelming and intimidating, but with the right approach, you can make a difference in their lives. In this article, we’ll look at what causes hoarding disorder, how to compassionately communicate with someone who has it, how to access resources and professional help, how to help manage their environment, and finally, how to build a supportive network of friends and family members. With the proper understanding and support, anyone struggling with hoarding disorder can get help and make positive life changes.

What Is a Hoarding Disorder

Hoarding disorder is a serious mental health illness that can affect a person’s life tremendously. To put it simply, a hoarder is someone who accumulates things that others have discarded for future use. They usually collect items regardless of their actual value. Hoarders are so obsessed with collecting things that they only devote most of their time to that activity. This hoarding behaviour can include physical objects, such as furniture, clothing, or books, and digital objects, such as emails or files. The disorder affects approximately 2-5% of the population and is more common in older adults.

People with hoarding disorder often struggle to throw away possessions due to feelings of distress or guilt when doing so. Additionally, they may be unable to organise or categorise their possessions meaningfully. They don’t understand they have a mental health problem and rarely admit to having such one. Therefore, it is challenging to help those people.

This behaviour can lead to serious health risks, including increased risk of falls, infections, and impairments in everyday functioning.

It’s important to remember that hoarding disorder isn’t just about having too much stuff; it’s about people’s emotional attachment to their possessions and the difficulty they experience in discarding them. Furthermore, compulsive shopping is often associated with hoarding disorder, making it even more difficult for individuals to manage their environment and control their behaviour.

Understanding what causes hoarding disorder and how it affects people’s lives can help us communicate compassionately with someone with this condition and build a support network for them. By providing resources and professional help when needed, we can help those struggling with hoarding disorder manage their environment more effectively and positively change their lives.

How to Communicate With Someone With A Hoarding Disorder

Communicating with someone with a hoarding disorder can be challenging. It is essential to show empathy and understanding and provide support and assistance where needed. Here are some tips on how to approach this sensitive subject:

Acknowledge Feelings of Embarrassment or Shame

People with hoarding disorder often feel embarrassed or ashamed of their behaviour, so friends and family members need to validate these feelings without judgment. Letting the individual know that you understand what they are going through can help build trust and create a more comfortable environment for communication.

Be Patient & Non-Judgmental

It can be overwhelming for those with hoarding disorder to change their behaviour, so it is crucial to approach conversations about hoarding non-judgmentally. Showing patience and respect for the individual’s decisions will help them feel supported rather than judged or criticised.

Encourage Professional Help

Although giving advice or suggesting solutions may be tempting, it is best to encourage the individual to seek professional help from a mental health provider specialising in hoarding disorder treatment. This will provide them with access to resources that can help them better manage their condition in the long run.

Respect Autonomy & Decision Making

The individual should always be respected when making decisions regarding their hoard, such as deciding which items they want to keep or discard. Even if you disagree with the decisions they make, it is essential that you honour their autonomy and not try to force them into making changes they do not feel comfortable with doing.

Communicating compassionately with someone with a hoarding disorder can take patience and practice. Still, it will ultimately benefit both parties involved in the conversation by creating an atmosphere of mutual understanding and respect. By following these tips, friends and family members can better support those struggling with this condition while respecting their right to choose their own lives and environment.

Accessing Resources And Professional Help

Various healthcare providers, including psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers, can assist those struggling. Each of these professionals can provide specialised treatment that can address the unique needs of a person living with hoarding disorder.

Treatment for hoarding disorder usually includes cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or medication to help reduce urges to acquire items. CBT allows individuals to identify behavioural triggers and develop strategies to manage them more effectively. 

Medication can also be combined with therapy to treat underlying conditions such as depression or anxiety contributing to hoarding behaviour.

In addition to professional help, those living with hoarding disorder need to find specialised support services in their area. This could include support groups, counselling services, or even online forums where people affected by the condition can come together and share their experiences. Having access to these resources not only provides additional emotional support but also offers practical advice on how best to manage the condition.

Finally, building a supportive team around someone with a hoarding disorder is essential in ensuring they receive proper care and support. This team could include family members, friends, mental health professionals, and other specialists who understand the complexities of dealing with this condition. To manage their environment and control their behaviour, someone with hoarding disorder needs the support of a collaborative group working towards positive outcomes.

How to Help a Hoarder Friend

While managing someone’s environment can seem overwhelming, it is possible with the proper knowledge and support. It is essential to provide a listening ear and moral support to those struggling with hoarding disorder; this can help them feel less overwhelmed and more comfortable discussing their needs. Additionally, they must seek professional help for their condition, which can provide them with the tools necessary to tackle their hoarding tendencies.

When helping someone manage their environment, starting slowly by decluttering and organising their space is essential. Begin by sorting through items in the home into categories such as ‘keep’, ‘donate’, ‘sell’ or ‘throw away’. This process should be done carefully to avoid triggering emotional responses associated with hoarding disorder. When decluttering, allow time for reflection and decision-making; decisions must be made by the individual rather than imposed on them.

Finally, when considering whether or not to clear out the home of a hoarder on one’s own, it is essential to understand the risks involved. This includes potential health hazards due to exposure to mould or asbestos in old furniture or other items stored around the house. It also involves understanding how best to handle delicate possessions that may have sentimental value for the individual affected by hoarding disorder. Therefore, it is essential to approach any cleaning job thoughtfully and consult professionals if needed for advice on how best to proceed safely without causing further distress.

When to Rely on Professional Services to Clear a Hoarder’s Home?

Sometimes, it may be cumbersome even when a hoarder is ready to turn a new page and clear out their home. The piles of junk and items often cover the whole house, and navigating through the rubble is hard. You might stumble on spoilt food, spills, and in the worst case – dead pests like rats. Situations like this seriously threaten your and your hoarder friend’s health. That’s when it’s best to rely on the help of professional waste removal services.

You might think of them as just some rubbish removal guys, but they are trained professionals with plenty of experience dealing with hoarder situations. 

Hoarders have a deep emotional attachment to their belongings, even those that may seem worthless or unsanitary to others. Clearing out their home without their consent or involvement can cause severe emotional distress and may even exacerbate their hoarding tendencies. Professional rubbish removal companies are trained to handle these situations with sensitivity and empathy, minimising the emotional impact on the hoarder. They are also equipped with appropriate protective gear and cleaning tools to manage potentially harmful substances or contaminants that may be present. The experts understand the proper procedures for sorting, recycling, and disposing of different types of waste, ensuring compliance with local regulations.

Professional rubbish removal companies often collaborate with mental health professionals, social workers, or hoarding specialists. They can provide referrals to appropriate support services and resources to help the hoarder address the underlying causes of their hoarding disorder. This holistic approach can contribute to a more comprehensive and sustainable recovery for the hoarder.

Attempting to clear out a hoarder’s home without professional assistance can lead to various risks and challenges:

  • Emotional and Relational Strain: Clearing out a hoarder’s home without their consent or involvement can strain the relationship between the hoarder and their loved ones. It may lead to feelings of betrayal, resentment, and a breakdown in trust. Your hoarder friend may also become more resistant to seeking help or engaging in recovery.
  • Lack of Knowledge and Experience: Decluttering a hoarder’s home requires careful planning and organisation. You may not be able to get a thorough cleaning without the appropriate knowledge and experience. It could also lead to unintentionally discarding items of personal value to the hoarder, causing additional distress.
  • Health and Safety Hazards – Hoarders’ homes often harbour mould, pests, and other unsanitary conditions. Improper handling of contaminated materials or exposure to hazardous substances can pose health risks, including respiratory issues, infections, or allergic reactions.
  • Legal Considerations: In some cases, certain items within a hoarder’s home may have legal implications, such as possessing prohibited or regulated substances. Professional rubbish removal companies are familiar with these considerations and can handle such situations appropriately, ensuring compliance with legal requirements.

How to Build a Support Network for the Person with a Hoarding Disorder

Hoarders need a support network to receive the care and understanding they need. A primary support person should be identified, someone the hoarder trusts and is comfortable with, and additional support should be sought from local organisations and groups. A supportive team can create an environment where individuals feel safe to explore their condition and make decisions that best suit their needs.

When building a support network, developing a plan of action for responding to potential hoarding emergencies, such as fires or evictions, is essential. All members should be aware of any legal documents the hoarder has in place to protect their rights and help ensure their safety in such cases. 

Additionally, it is beneficial for all involved to understand community resources that may be available, including local charities or hotlines providing specialist advice on hoarding-related issues.

It’s also important to regularly check in with the hoarder to provide emotional support and remind them of available resources. Acknowledging feelings of guilt or shame can go a long way towards assisting them in managing their condition more effectively. Friends and family members can set realistic goals with the hoarder, focusing on small successes rather than trying to achieve drastic changes at once. This will help build trust between the parties involved while instilling motivation within the individual.


Finally, creating an environment where communication is encouraged is key. Friends and family should be open about expressing their concerns while respecting boundaries set by those living with a hoarding disorder. This includes avoiding language that implies blame or judgement. Instead, focusing on compassionate conversations and encouraging positive dialogue around lifestyle changes can help foster growth and understanding between both parties involved.

By developing a solid support network for those with hoarding disorder, we can create an environment where individuals feel supported enough to make positive changes while respecting personal autonomy when taking control of one’s health and wellbeing.

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