We all know someone who likes to… keep things. At first, we just think of it as an odd personality tick, or we assume that this person is just too lazy to clean up. We discount the severity of the problem and look the other way until, one day, we visit our old friend or family member and discover that they are living in a virtual mountain of garbage instead of a home.
Many people are probably familiar with the show Hoarders, that show on A&E TV where families and friends perform interventions and try to help clear the clutter and trash from the homes of hoarders. If you watch the show regularly, you will notice how often that the hoarders attempt to resist the “help” being offered to them. They do not want to change, and sometimes a hoarder can even become violent when others try to throw out their stuff.
Why? Why do otherwise normal and rational people end up collecting so much junk that their homes become literal trash heaps? Why are they so defensive about eliminating the clutter?
Well, here are a few things you should know about hoarders to help you understand them better, and maybe even provide them some much-needed help.
Learn to recognize the warning signs of hoarding, which include:
- The collection of large amounts of possessions that are typically considered worthless by others.
- Overly cluttered living spaces. This does not mean that the house is just messy, or in need of a good cleaning. This means that the home is so cluttered that it cannot be used as intended.
- Unwillingness to part with valueless personal items. If you notice that the person you suspect of being a hoarder expresses an intense desire to retain items that are classifiable as trash, this may be a sign that he or she is a hoarder.
- Hoarders may suffer from a psychological disorder. It was once commonly believed that hoarders suffered from a form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD. However, as reported by the Mayo Clinic, “many people who hoard don’t have other OCD-related symptoms.” This information is supported by WebMD.com, which states that “problems like major depression disorder, anxiety, and attention deficit disorder” are much more common than OCD-related disorders are amongst hoarders.
- These disorders influence the reasoning process of a hoarder, causing them to assign greater value to objects that others would see only as trash. This value can be emotional, utilitarian, or even based on an erroneous assessment of the object’s intrinsic value.
- Because a hoarder values his or her possessions so much, it is important to be understanding about their condition. Do not simply charge into their home, trash bag in hand, and start chucking things at random. The hoarder will see this as an invasion of their sovereign space and react accordingly. This only serves to further aggravate their condition and makes the hoarder alienate themselves from others.
- Instead, try discussing the problem with the hoarder. In many instances, the hoarder does not even recognize they have a problem. They may not see the messes in their house as a “big deal.” In such a case, a considerate, caring opinion from a loved one can make all the difference in helping the hoarder overcome their problem.
- If the hoarding problem is severe, try to seek professional assistance for the hoarder. Once again, be mindful of the hoarder’s condition. Be as supportive as possible while gently pushing the hoarder to seek psychological counseling.
- When you do finally manage to convince the hoarder to relinquish their stuff for their own good, exercise extreme caution when clearing out their living space. As a matter of fact, it is usually a good idea to approach the cleaning of a hoarder’s home in the same way you would approach the clean-up of bio-hazardous waste.
- Why? Because, in many severe cases of hoarding, they piles of trash in the hoarder’s home will have become a refuge for vermin such as rats, roaches, ants, and other small animals native to your respective area. This also means having to deal with the carcasses of dead animals, their feces, and the bacterial pathogens that infest these sometimes hidden remnants.
- Also, if the hoarder was on any injected forms of medication, such as insulin, there is the danger of penetration from a dirty needle.
- Be prepared for setbacks during the cleanup process. Sometimes, you will come across an item that the hoarder values so much that they suffer a relapse mid-cleanup. If this happens, continue to reason with the hoarder and explain that it is part of the healing process. If you start to accede to the hoarder’s demands that a certain item be kept, you create an opportunity for the hoarder to stop the process of recovery.
- Even if you do manage to successfully de-clutter the hoarder’s house, you are not finished helping the hoarder. Simply cleaning the house does not solve a hoarder’s underlying psychological issues. It is important that you keep supporting the hoarder even after he or she has finally “cleaned up.”
- Recovery from a condition such as hoarding is a long, pain-staking process. Much like the sufferers of OCD, bi-polar disorder, and depression, there is no such thing as a quick-fix solution for hoarders.
Remember, you are doing more than just helping this person clean their house, you are putting them on the path to long-term recovery. Helping a hoarder means you are making a commitment for the “long haul.” It may be a difficult, patience-fraying road. But, if you truly want to help, it is imperative that you do your best to help this person.
Also, because of the dangers that can be associated with cleaning up a hoarder’s home, it is prudent to contact a professional cleaning service to assist in the clutter-removal and restoration of the home.
If you would like further advice about how to help a hoarder, please contact an expert for further advice.