Somewhere between 700,000 and 1.4 million Americans currently struggle with compulsive hoarding.
If you live with a friend or family member who is a hoarder, it’s easy to get frustrated or overwhelmed and feel as if there’s no way out. There is hope, though.
Read on to learn some great tips that can help you make living with a hoarder easier.
How to Handle Living with a Hoarder
Living with a hoarder isn’t easy. But, if you follow these steps, you’ll find it’s easier to stay on top of the clutter and help your loved one keep their hoarding compulsions under control.
First things first, it’s important to educate yourself on hoarding.
Contrary to what some people believe, hoarding isn’t just about being a packrat or a messy person. Hoarding is a psychological disorder.
Many experts believe that hoarders suffer from a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that makes it difficult for them to part with objects.
In addition to learning about the true nature of hoarding, it’s also important for you to understand the seriousness of the disorder.
If it’s left unchecked, hoarding can put both the hoarder and those who live with them in serious danger.
For example, the risk of tripping and falling increases dramatically as clutter builds.
It’s also easy for regular home maintenance to get neglected, especially when piles of junk make it hard to see the home itself. This neglect can cause expensive and dangerous damage.
Cognitive behavioral therapy can help hoarders overcome their tendencies and control their disorder. In order for the hoarder in your life to get the help they need, you need to adjust the way you communicate with them.
Hoarders do not need to be berated or lectured. They need love, support, and compassion.
If your partner or family member’s hoarding is getting out of control, sit down with them to have an honest, open discussion about the problem.
Take Care of Yourself
In order to provide a hoarder with the compassion and support they need, you need to also make sure that you’re taking care of yourself.
If you’re currently living with a hoarder, take these steps to keep your mental and physical health in check:
- Exercise regularly
- Eat a healthy diet
- Get enough sleep (7-9 hours per night)
- Avoid using drugs and alcohol to cope with stress
- Practice meditation and other relaxation techniques
You should also make sure you’re blocking out time each day to recharge and focus on yourself. Even if you only have five minutes, take them. It’s better than nothing, and it’ll help you take better care of the person (or people) who need you.
Another part of taking care of yourself involves setting boundaries.
When you sit down to talk to the hoarder in your life, lovingly express your concerns and work with them to set boundaries that will help control the mess while they work through their disorder with a qualified therapist.
Some boundaries you might want to consider establishing include:
- Agreeing that shared areas in the house need to be clutter-free
- Designating one room (with a door) for the hoarder’s belongings
- Agreeing that rooms need to kept free of safety hazards (things that be tripped over, items that could cause or accidentally stoke a fire, etc.)
This discussion might not be easy to have. You may be met with some resistance, and you will likely need to make some compromises.
Be patient, though, and you’ll be able to work out some kind of agreement.
Offer Practical Support
When it comes to figuring out how to help a hoarder, every situation is different. But, there are some definite dos and don’ts that you should keep in mind.
Following these tips will help you successfully address the issue and get them on board with fixing the problem.
Some dos include:
- Work with the hoarder find a professional who works specifically with hoarding issues
- Offer to help with the clean-up process when the hoarder is ready
- Help recruit others who can also contribute — you may also want to call a professional cleaning service
- Do small things to let the hoarder know you love and care for them
At the same time, you should also avoid the following behaviors:
- Don’t clean out the house without their knowledge — this will affect their ability to trust and take away their sense of control
- Don’t make threats
- Don’t make negative or personal comments about the hoarder
These don’ts definitely aren’t easy to avoid. But, it’s important for you to keep them in mind.
When you sit down with a hoarder, it’s easy for them to get defensive and feel like they’re being attacked. If you stick to this do and don’t list, you’ll have a much better chance of success.
Do everything you can to show compassion and let them know you’re coming from a place of love.
It can take a long time for a hoarder to start changing their thought processes and living in a healthier way.
You can’t just rent a dumpster and throw everything away or start selling things on Amazon and expect things to be fine.
Even if the hoarder in your life starts going to therapy to work through their disorder, it can still take a long time for them to get better.
Make sure that you’re showing support for every step the hoarder takes toward recovery.
Remember, too, that this is an ongoing process.
Once your house starts getting cleaner, you’ll also need to keep working with the hoarder to keep it that way. They will likely experience urges to start bringing in new items and hoarding again.
To avoid slipping back into old behavior patterns, they’ll need your love and support, especially during times of stress or difficulty.
Living with a hoarder definitely isn’t easy, and the problem won’t go away overnight.
Keep these tips in mind, and you’ll find that it’s much easier to make progress toward successfully addressing and solving your loved one’s hoarding tendencies.