Hoarding is a psychological disorder that makes it challenging to throw anything away. If you have a loved one with hoarding tendencies, it’s difficult to know where to start and how to help them clean their home. Before helping a hoarder get rid of things, it’s important to learn more about the disorder and seek out professional help for them.
How to Address Hoarding and Find Professional Help
Identifying Hoarding Behaviors
Hoarding is a serious condition that can have emotional, social, financial and even physical effects on a person. Behaviors and signs of compulsive hoarding include:
- Avoiding throwing away possessions that have no value to yourself or anyone else.
- Experiencing mild to severe anxiety about getting rid of anything.
- Repeatedly adding to the hoard without recognizing there is a problem.
- Rooms in the home that can no longer be used for their intended purpose due to clutter.
- An abundance of possessions that negatively impact one’s safety, health or hygiene.
Hoarding tendencies can vary in severity, but if you recognize more than one of these situations with your loved one, it’s important to seek professional assistance before moving forward.
The International OCD Foundation can help you find a local therapist who specializes in hoarding disorders.
If the situation you’re dealing with is less extreme but you still have a lot of clutter to deal with, head to our ridiculously thorough declutter guide for professional room-by-room organizing tips.
Seeking Professional Assistance
Once you’ve connected your loved one with a mental health professional to address the underlying issues behind their hoarding tendencies, you can focus on helping them declutter and clean.
Gauge the severity of the situation and how many people will be able to help with the cleanup. Also consider your loved one’s personal progress – can you manage the hoarding location without a professional organizer, or do you need help from an expert?
“A trained professional organizer with hands-on experience working with large amounts of clutter will be able to provide sorting and organizing help, as well as be able to provide structure to the cleanout process,” shares Rachel Seavey, Professional Organizer at Collector Care.
“If your loved one has been categorized as level three or higher on the Institute for Challenging Disorganization’s Clutter-Hoarding Scale, you should work with an organizing professional who specializes in the disorder as well as a trained health professional to improve the living conditions.”
Rachel Sager, LCSW | Professional Organizer, Restart with Rachel
Help a Hoarder Clean and Organize Their Home in 4 Steps
1. Ease Into Conversation About Decluttering and Cleaning
The first step in helping a hoarder clean their house is to start a conversation. When talking about your plans to help, emphasize the ideas of safety and confidentiality. Discuss how decluttering will make their home safer to live in, and communicate that you’re only there for support, not to judge. It’s important to involve their mental health professional in these conversations as well.
“One of the most important tips for working with someone challenged with hoarding is to meet them where they are at. They are the owners of their stuff; they are the ones in charge of the process. Talk with the person to understand how [the items they are keeping] meet their end goal, whatever their end goal may be.”
Rachel Sager, LCSW | Professional Organizer, Restart with Rachel
While easing into conversations, you should always use neutral language. “Words like ‘clutter’ or ‘unsanitary’ can trigger [someone], and cause them to become defensive. Using neutral, non-threatening language allows you and [your loved one] to communicate freely without pointing fingers,” says Maeve Richmond, founder and coach at Maeve’s Method.
2. Make a Plan for Managing the Hoarding Location
Once all parties involved have agreed that it’s time to start cleaning the hoarder’s home, you’ll need to create an action plan. Work with your loved one to draft a strategy they approve of and are ready to attempt. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when helping a hoarder plan to get rid of things:
Determine the Criteria for Getting Rid of Items
Sit down with your loved one and help them create a list of criteria to apply to each item when deciding if it can be thrown away. Remember that these are their belongings, and they are ultimately in charge of the process. Write down the criteria as you discuss them, so everyone who’s assisting can refer to the list as needed. One example is, “All mail older than six months can be thrown away.”
Make a Schedule
Tackling rooms individually is the most manageable way to help a hoarder clean their house. Decide in which order you’ll handle the rooms and how much time you’ll be able to dedicate to each space.
Setting objectives is essential when helping someone with hoarding tendencies. To keep everyone motivated, make concrete and attainable goals. Examples include clearing space in entrances and hallways to improve accessibility, clearing an area where they’d feel comfortable hosting company, or organizing items and moving them to a storage area.
“It’s really about managing expectations. If you’re going to DIY it, you need to go in with correct expectations. It’s not about fixing the person. It’s about buying time for you both to improve the situation temporarily.”
Maeve Richmond | Founder and Coach at Maeve’s Method
3. Start Decluttering and Organizing Room-By-Room
With a plan in place, you’re ready for the next phase: cleaning and organizing. Professional organizer Geralin Thomas advises, “Cleaning and organizing are two different things. First declutter the home, then organize and finally, begin cleaning.”
Using your room-by-room plan and predetermined list of criteria for each item, identify and throw away clutter that doesn’t hold significant value. Then, create separate piles for items to keep and items to donate.
Helping a loved one with a hoarding disorder is both incredibly challenging and emotionally exhausting. Remember to stay positive and be patient, especially when decluttering items that have sentimental value. Take frequent breaks throughout the process, and continue to have encouraging conversations about how each step is helping you meet the end goal.
4. Develop a Strategy for Waste Removal
When you’re helping a hoarder clean their house, you will likely end up with a lot of things to throw away. To keep the cleanout moving forward, it’s important to have a fast and simple solution for getting rid of trash as you clear out each room in the home.
Renting a dumpster is a convenient option for projects of this size. You can take your time filling the container as you work and have it removed as soon as you’re done. Other waste removal options include waiting for the city’s curbside bulk pickup, which can add significant time to the cleanout, and hiring a junk removal service, which can quickly get expensive if you have a lot of debris. Keep in mind that someone with a hoarding disorder may be tempted to remove items from your debris pile if left unattended.
“Working with a hoarder and helping them to live better in their space is really about not fixing the problem but is to find some kind of happy medium where you can make yourself feel better and alleviate the situation while also understanding that the room you cleared out might not last for very long. The solutions you created may not be long term.”
Maeve Richmond | Founder and Coach at Maeve’s Method
Remember That Decluttering is a Journey
Decluttering can be an emotional and time-consuming process, especially in serious situations like this. But getting organized is beneficial for so many reasons. When you help a hoarder clean their house, you’ll provide them with a sense of control and accomplishment and improve their overall quality of life.
For more organizing tips, advice and inspiration, head to these guides:
I think getting a dumpster really is a good idea. You don’t know how much stuff they might have hoarded so it’s better to be prepared. I’m sure a lot of it is really cool stuff, but there’s probably also a lot of junk.
These are some great tips, and I appreciate your advice to rent a dumpster to help a hoarder out. My grandfather is a hoarder, but he has Alzheimer’s and the family wants to move him to an assisted living home. We’ll definitely rent a dumpster and try our best to clean his place up. Thanks for the great post!
It’s good to see that there are people that are willing to help others that need help with their hoarding. Getting a dumpster is probably the quickest way to clean up, it’s right there where you need it. Dumpsters are also good for when construction is being done on your house.
Hoarding seem like such a scary disorder. I can’t even imagine what all those people are going through. I’ve read stories though about the countless amounts of trash people throw away when they start to clean a hoarders house. I wonder how many dumpsters they go through as well.
We are going thru this with a family member right now. We had to intervene as it was not healthy for them to live there. The company that cleaned wore complete masks and suits to dispose of old food etc. It was a real eye opener for her to see them dressed as such. We are not completely done but we have went thru 6 dumpsters. We stink and mice was horrid . Now we need to help them to continue and not return to the dump they had prior.
Husband will not seek help. Hoarding getting worse not sure what to do.
I have the same problem. My husband doesn’t want help. Last Summer I had my cousin come help me clean and get rid of some stuff – his reaction was terrible. He knew we were going to be working on the clutter and cleaning, but he still freaked out. I don’t know where to go from here – but I believe this article is correct when they say to get professionals to help. This is a deep-seated problem.
Sue & D… I’ve put up with it for 8 years & I’m done ! I started using my vacation time without telling my husband, yes, I realize this isn’t something everyone can do, would want to do, or feel comfortable doing but, for me it was the only way. I haven’t felt happy or comfortable in my home for years & if I disclosed to my husband when I planned on taking a vacation days & what I planned on doing with them, I’d never be able too. I’m don’t mean to sound mean, or cold because I’m really not but, I’ve so reached the point that I don’t care if , or how much he complains once he discovers / or if he discovers, what I’ve gotten rid of. If he hasn’t used it in 8 years, it’s gone. I have no use for five air conditioner motors, when my air conditioner works fine with the one it came with. I don’t know if any / some work, some don’t, some are for parts, & I don’t care, they are history. It’s definitely at least in my husbands case, a learned & taught behavior & it’s done to fulfill a need or needs that weren’t ever met or fulfilled. It’s provides some sense of control even know it’s beyond out of control & in some cases, gives a sense of comfort, soothing or security. Similar to someone who goes for food to fulfill those things. At least that’s been my observation. I wish everyone much patience & don’t be afraid to handle it however you are able because we are dealing with something that there isn’t a set way to handle, each of our situations are the same yet, very different.
It’s always a delicate situation when working with a person with hoarding behaviour. I recommend talking to a professional organizer with experience in chronic disorganization. There is a great list of these P.O.s on the Institute for Challenging Disorganiztion website.
Your not alone with your situation. My husband hoarding got so bad that it cost him his job. His hoarding was not at his work, he was bringing stuff home from work and when we moved I donated the items only to find the items were to have been trashed. This happened a long time ago. He still thinks that he does not have a problem with hoarding and we fight all the time over his hoarding. He will have excuse, he not have time or it is too hot outside or his back hurts too much. He will wash clothes and was dishes and say he was too busy helping me. He had no time to clean up the garage. if I do anything he will go and say that I toss out good stuff. I try to keep what I can under control. My areas of the house are clutter free and he can not use it at all. so our bedroom one side is clean the other side working its way up the wall. With Food since he does not cook at all. I will use the garbage disposal or toilet and say I was super hungry and ate it. all gone. But one day he will be home all the time and it will be hard to live with him. I hope to find a support group for people that live with hoarders. your not alone in this situation. Best of luck
My boyfriend his taking care of his grandmother who has a hoarding problem. Another thing is she also have alzheimers. She remembers what she has but she’ll move something and loose it in the mess then blames the people around her for stealing or moving her stuff. How do you approach that?
In a situation like this, it’s best to talk to a doctor or mental health professional to find the best strategies for helping your boyfriend’s grandmother. In the meantime, these resources from Caring.com and this article from AgingCare.com might be helpful for you. Please note that we’re not doctors and you should always get a professional opinion before using any of this information. We wish all of you the best.
I have a generalized anxiety disorder and am on mood stabilizers for the issue. I have long been aware that many of my family also have anxiety issues and many are hoarders. My parents and my aunt all hoard to the point of uncleanliness. My sister and I are very aware of this issue. My sister spent one day helping me with my overstuffed bedroom closet. We got rid of seven boxes of. Loathing and shoes. Most of it went to charity. I have a friend that is just itching to help me declitter, but she doesn’t understand hoarding, nor intrinsic value. I fear any help that she offers.
I’ve just accepted the fact that it is a hoarding problem my partner suffer from. Until now I have just been thinking: “She has unusually hard to get rid of things, but not as bad as an actual hoarder”… though I guess also this is a problem that can have different levels of severeness. “Can be useful someday” is something I’ve heard many times… from empty boxes to old magazines, toys, outgrown clothes, containers, etc. etc. Hand in hand with a compulsive shopping behaviour. Walks into a shop to buy two things and comes out with twelve, proud because she got “it was the last one” or “got three for the price of two”… and then it ends up lying there unused. But of course, like everything else, tagged as “can be useful someday”.
It’s not just old junk that’s lying there though, which makes it a bit harder to get through with an argument. Much of it has value in it. Not to US, but it can easily sell. Things like child seats and baby carriages would get sold instantly… but since we don’t have a problem with money, the selling argument doesn’t have much effect either.
To all this comes my own problem, which just makes everything worse: Low self esteem. Grade 10 conflict fear. So for years I have been walking just grinding my teeth about not enjoying life in my own home, but not saying anything in fear of insulting her. I guess nothing will be solved until I have therapy first.
i have a housemate who is hoarding the room she stays in. Its gotten worse over the two years she has lived here. Piles of clothing and items, food, dirty dishes, bins, nearly stacked to the ceiling. She also leaves food to rot in the refrigerator. I am on disability and have no resources. The problem is bigger than I can handle. I believe she has some emotional issues based on previous interactions. I have sympathy, but also am annoyed. I don’t want to have to deal with this anymore. I am resolved to try to help her but really, if i get much resistance, I think I’m just ready to be done with all of it. Any suggestions on where I can obtain the help she’ll need with no money?
Hi Naomie, thanks for commenting and sorry to hear about your situation. The help available will depend a lot on your location, so if you’re in the US, you might start by calling your local 2-1-1 number. They can help point you to resources in your area.
My friend and companion of three years has a hoarding problem. He leaves at my house, but he owns a house he leaved in before moving into mine(my choice). Well his house is a disaster. Cluttered with papers, clothes, and many other items. Can’t walk in any rooms since clothes and other items are all over the place on the floor and furniture . Also his refrigerators and pantries are full of food that has been stored for many years. I can’t stand the smell inside, but wearing a mask I could help to get some of the stuff out. He will not let me touch anything, and if I try to make a pat to walk through, he will put it right back where it was. Well at my house I allowed him to store a few things that he needed for work, but now I don’t recognize my garage since he keeps on bringing more and more junk.when I try to reason with him, I never get to finish my sentences because he is ready with the loud talk ( that he knows I can’t stand)what do I do? I could just throw him out, but I need to be with him because he is all I have. Can anybody help, please