Living with a hoarder parent, sibling, or another family member with a hoarding disorder can be frustrating. You may not know how to approach them or the right words to get your loved one out of this condition.
This guide explains what hoarding disorder is, the causes and signs to help you better understand your loved one, what they do, and how to help them.
Reports suggest that about 19 million Americans had a hoarding disorder. But most of these hoarders don’t know it.
In simple terms, hoarding is the excessive accumulation of items that are no longer needed or have no value rather than disposing of the items. The behavior is more or less a disorder when one has difficulty letting go of possessions, even if the things are completely useless.
While the causes of this behavior differ from one hoarder to the other, here are some common reasons why some people hoard.
For some individuals, hoarding may be a way to evade their fears and worries temporarily. This conduct can also indicate that the hoarder is trying to verbalize their emotional needs. Their accumulation of items will alert you — as loved ones of the hoarder — that something isn’t right in their life.
Past traumatic experiences can develop hoarding behaviors. In this case, hoarders may feel they need to protect themselves from any future pain by surrounding themselves with things.
For example, a hoarder who experienced their parent’s death at a young age may find comfort in items that remind them of their parent. In the same way, a person who was bullied at school or was always lonely and isolated may find comfort by collecting items that can help fill the void of loneliness.
Sometimes, hoarding is passed down from one generation to the other. For example, if your grandparents were hoarders, your mom or dad may learn that behavior as children, and it will come out in adulthood.
Note that having two or a few items you never use is not considered hoarding behavior. To be classified as a hoarder, someone needs to have at least the following signs:
Hoarders may also show signs of other mental disorders like OCD, depression, or anxiety.
Now that you understand what hoarding entails, you may want to know how to deal with hoarding a parent or loved one and are better positioned to help your loved one recover from the disorder. Here are a few tips to help you get your loved one out of hoarding without seeming too pushy.
If your mom or dad is a hoarder, this conversation can be a difficult one. As easy as it may sound, you may need help finding the right way or words to engage with your hoarder loved one in a meaningful and productive conversation. To avoid confrontation, start the conversation with an open-ended question like;
How you approach the hoarder will determine if they will be willing to open up about their condition and how it affects them.
You are frustrated — it is understandable. But the conversation is not about you. So, express your feelings without judgment or criticism.
Don’t blame the hoarder for their hoarding behaviors. Instead, shift the conversation to finding solutions and helping your loved one through this overwhelming disorder.
Also, be mindful of the words you use. For example, avoid using junk, trash, or hoarder when referring to their possessions. This issue can alienate the hoarder further and make them defensive.
You don’t have to do it all alone. Seek assistance from other individuals around your home, or get someone else who has dealt with a hoarder to offer their advice.
You need others for moral support and to ensure the hoarder doesn’t feel overwhelmed.
You want your loved one to feel calm and in control during the conversation. So, create an environment free of distractions and where it’s safe to speak without fear of recrimination. For example, go to a park or a quiet cafe to have the conversation away from their possessions.
Learning how to confront a hoarder parent is critical to get them the help they need. But take your time with the conversation and opt for words that will not set them off.
Before you talk to the hoarder, remember:
When the time comes, focus on how the clutter makes the hoarder feel. And do not pressure them into taking a specific decision or working with a particular therapist — it’s ultimately their call.
The goal is to make your loved one open up. So, start by sharing what you have noticed about them and how it makes you feel. Then, be sure to include words of support and let the hoarder know that you are there for them no matter what.
For example: “I’ve noticed that the clutter in your room has been getting worse lately, and it worries me. I want to understand what’s happening and help however I can.”
Such a start will encourage the hoarder rather than make them feel attacked. While at it, make the hoarder feel they are in control of their decisions. Let the hoarder air their feelings and ensure that their voice is heard.
“My mom is a hoarder. What can I do?” — this is often asked by children of hoarders.
The best way to show your parent or family member that you care is to offer support and assistance during decluttering. Help them sort out their stuff or even contact professional organizers.
For example, you may hire a trained therapist to guide your loved one through the treatment process and create an action plan for cleaning up their home. Also, assist your parent in disposing of items responsibly — rather than dumping them all at once — by donating what’s still usable and recycling whatever possible.
Remember that it may take time and effort to convince a hoarder to get professional help. So, be patient and stay calm throughout the process.
The support does not end with decluttering the hoarder’s home. You must also help them overcome their underlying emotional issues and support them through recovery.
Offer moral support during therapy sessions and lend an ear if they need someone to talk to. But, most importantly, acknowledge your parent or family member’s efforts — no matter how small — and encourage them to strive for progress.
Hoarding disorder is a severe mental health issue and requires professional help to combat it.
You can make an impact by offering support or resources to the hoarder parent or family member, creating a safe space for discussion, and starting conversations with them in a non-judgmental way.
Don’t be too hard on them — it takes patience, time, and effort to help your loved one overcome their hoarding disorder and lead a clutter-free life. Also, remember to look after your mental health and seek professional help if you struggle to cope.
If you have a parent or elderly loved one looking for further support, enhanced life enrichment, or a unique and safe community, contact our team here at Tuscan Gardens to learn more about our three senior living communities.