How to Communicate with a Hoarder?


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Family Sensitivity Towards a Hoarder:

Hoarding is a sensitive topic for many individuals and is too often not brought up when it needs to be addressed. Sometimes the hoarding situation becomes so severe that family members and loved ones are forced to address the problem. When addressing a hoarding situation it may be necessary to seek professional help through therapy (a therapist specializing in hoarding disorder) and a hoarding cleanup company that can help put the hoarder on a path towards recovery. When researching licensed therapists, it is important to make sure that they specialize in treating hoarding disorder.

Many times, individuals who are hoarding may be self-conscious of the situation and do not want their family to interfere with their lives or see their living conditions. This isolation can create more problems. Sensitivity and caring language are important considerations to bring into a conversation when addressing a hoarder about their hoarding issue. Exercise patience and avoid negative comments about the individual or their things.

Note: When starting a conversation with a hoarder about their hoarding problem, remember to let the hoarder know that no item will be thrown or given away until the hoarder gives permission. This will go a long way to earning trust which will help complete the cleaning project and set the hoarder up for long term success!

When communicating with a hoarder, remember the following:

Do's of Communicating with a Hoarder:

1. Connect with the Individual

Place yourself in the Hoarder's mind and connect with their emotions. They need to know that you will be there for them after the cleanup

2. Seek Professional Help

Whether you are a hoarder or a loved one of a hoarder, there are many therapists that specialize in hoarding. Don't just go to a general therapist

3. Continue to Talk About the Situation

Follow up on the matter so that the hoarder is motivated to follow through too

4. Talk About Safety

Highlight safety issues first: reorganizing can create a safer home environment, discuss this before discussing the removal of items

5. Agree That the Items Are Important

Items have an emotional connection to a hoarder so they should be thought of as important to all involved. Baffled? What is something that you have saved in your home that would seem odd to others? Look around your home and you will be surprised

6. Keep Everything Confidential

Hoarders realize to some degree that this is not normal to the average society. The goal to keep the hoarder on your side is to promise not to talk about anything related to their situation to anyone without their permission. You can however contact a certified hoarding clean up company that has been trained in hoarding situations

7. Ask Why - In a Respectful Tone

Why are they keeping these items, many hoarders have had a dramatic experience such as a death in the family, a loved one leaving them, or an abusive past which has led to this hoarding situation

8. Promote Donation

Everyone loves to help the needy, so let the hoarder know their stuff will go to better use with someone who needs it, rather than sitting in their house under other items

9. Be Patient

Don't get impatient with them, it has to be taken one step at a time. The hoarder needs to realize first that their living condition is below standard. After this is realized, the hardest part of getting rid of certain items has come

10. Hire a Pro Hoarding Cleanup & Organization Service

Hiring a professional service will not only help with the relationship between you and the hoarder but it will allow someone (if hiring the right company) who knows items of value and can help to organize the house in a way that will help the hoarder cope with their feelings and loss of connection with the items

Don'ts of Communicating with a Hoarder:

1. Make Fun of the Hoarder’s Situation

You'd be amazed what comes out of people's mouths. Prepare all who enter a hoarding home that this is a serious mental issue and that the hoarder is feeling very low and embarrassed when you enter the home

2. Say Let’s Get Rid of All This “Stuff”

To you the mountains of hoarded items may be useless "stuff", but a hoarder has a sentimental emotional connection to the "stuff". For example, they may have saved a menu from a restaurant that is not still in business today, but the menu may be a reminder of a dinner with their late father

3. Get Angry

If you're a loved one of a hoarder your first reaction may be to start getting upset. This emotion will get you nowhere and will actually scare the hoarder, who is very sensitive at the time, and will cause them to close up and not respond to your request to take care of the situation

4. Try to Reason Right Away

Remember they have been living like this for years and have created a sense of normalcy over time. The first thing you want to say is that you are not judging the person and be as compassionate as possible, this leads to the ability to reason

5. Touch the Hoarder’s Items

Speaking with the hoarder you can determine what you can clean now and what may need to be negotiated later. Help the hoarder identify items that they have less attachment to and would be ready to get rid of and what they would have trouble getting rid of at first

6. Treat the Hoarder Like a Child

Hoarder's are very intelligent and educated and can tell when you are talking down to them. Any adult would feel disrespected if treated like a child and hoarders are no different so treat them like the adults that they are

7. Treat Hoarders Like Criminals

There are hoarding situations where the authorities have to get involved. With a reasonable level tone layout a reasonable timeline that the hoarder must follow before authorities have to intervene and add unnecessary stress and make the hoarder feel like they have broken a major crime

8. Make a Large Task List for the Hoarder

As a non-hoarder we understand your need to create a plan of attack and begin immediately. Knowing hoarders as we do, we find that separating out the tasks and talking about the tasks individually make the project go smoother

9. Ask Why – In a Disrespectful Tone

It is important to find the answer to this question for the recovery process but ask the question in a respectful tone & let the answer come in due time if they do not know. If you are interested in reading about why people hoard try books by Randy Frost and Gail Steketee (see video description for examples)

10. Let this Stress You Out

Once the house is organized, with mental health treatment (hoarding is usually a result of a traumatic situation in the hoarders life), a little patience, and periodic check ins, life for the hoarder and their loved ones can become enjoyable again.

How to Talk to a Hoarder Do's and Don'ts Guide

Video: Do's & Don'ts of Communicating with Hoarders

Please consider our company Address Our Mess for hoarding cleanup service. We are here to help! Call 410-589-2747 or email for more information. 

Tue, 07/01/2014 - 10:59 by Kenneth Donnelly