When a hoarder is in denial, they likely have not addressed their emotions and their state of mind might not match their circumstances. The first stage with any issue, is to acknowledge that there is an issue. Someone with hoarding behavior might not admit there is a problem in the same way someone with a gambling habit or drinks too much say that it's not an issue or they can quit when they want. How much hoarding, gambling, or drinking that is a problem can be subjective so it's hard for some to admit they have a problem that they need help with.
How do you define how much is a problem? The answer is simple - when the behavior is interfering or disrupting your or someone else's life. When the hoarding has become a hazard towards them or others, it's an issue that needs to be resolved. If the person with hoarding behavior fails to acknowledge the problem after it has become interfering or disrupting, than you will need to help them with their denial of the problem.
When the topic of cleaning their home is brought up, they may react negatively due to their emotional sensitivity to the subject. Keeping in mind the possibility of how sensitive the hoarder may be, bring up the idea of cleaning and recovery to the hoarder. Follow the steps below to point the hoarder in the right direction!
Steps to Help a Hoarder in Denial:
- The Person with Hoarding Behavior has to Acknowledge There is a Problem
- Seek Help from a Licensed Mental Health Professional
- Seek Help from a Hoarding Cleanup Company
(Explained) Steps to Help a Hoarder in Denial:
- Acknowledge There is a Problem:
The first step requires acknowledging that there is an issue and for that you need communication. Someone with hoarding behavior can shut down communication if you say the wrong thing so it must be handled delicately. There is already an emotional state when confronting the behavior so it's best to try to take emotional connections out of it and have a neutral party address the concerns and scale of the issue. The third party could be an organizer, hoarding cleanup team, or a therapist. Try a hoarding scale tool to help them visualize how much of a problem it has become.
- Seek Help from a Licensed Mental Health Professional:
You may have reached out to a therapist on the first step, however if not, this should be the next step. Once the hoarding behavior has been acknowledged, it needs to be addressed or even after the cleaning, it will just happen again. There are licensed mental health professionals who specializes in hoarding disorder. If you do not know which hoarding specialist therapist to contact or you would like input, some hoarding cleanup companies can suggest a licensed mental health professional for you, see our updated list of mental health professionals to find Address Our Mess approved mental health professionals in your area. You can also search for a local hoarding specialist therapist on Psychology Today, using your zip code.
- Seek Help from a Hoarding Cleanup Company:
The third step is addressing the cleanup to make the environment safe again. For the cleanup consider using a hoarding cleanup company. Hoarding cleanup companies are trained to work with hoarders and their mental health professional to clean and organize, while teaching the hoarder good cleaning and organization habits to help them in the recovery process.
A lot of patience and understanding is required to get a hoarder to pursue recovery and end their self-isolation. If a hoarder tries to avoid their problem through denial, it is important for people close to the hoarder to build the trust that is needed to communicate with them. Kindly let them know that they should go through the recovery process and clean and organize to achieve the healthier lifestyle that you want to see them have! Read about the dos and don’ts of talking to a hoarder below!
Here are the Do’s and Don’ts of Talking to a Hoarder (click here: for an in-depth article on dos and don’ts of talking to hoarders):
- Connect with the Individual
- Seek Professional Help
- Continue to Talk with the Hoarder About the Situation
- Talk About Safety
- Agree That the Items Are Important
- Talk About Keeping Everything Confidential
- Ask the question of Why – In a Respectful Tone
- Promote Donation
- Be Patient
- Hire a Professional Hoarding Cleanup & Organization Service (remind the hoarder of the ultimate goal, being able to see family and friends and host events at home again!)
- Make Fun of the Hoarder's Situation
- Say Let's Get Rid of All This "Stuff"
- Get Angry
- Try to Reason with the Hoarder Right Away
- Touch the Hoarder's Items in the Beginning
- Treat the Hoarder Like a Child
- Treat Hoarders Like Criminals
- Make a List of All of the Tasks to do At Once for the Hoarder
- Ask Why They Hoard – In a Disrespectful Tone
- Let this Hoarding Situation Stress You Out
Why do Hoarder’s Deny Help?
Hoarding usually causes embarrassment and sometimes shame and social anxiety for the hoarder, which can lead to self-imposed isolation and denying help from others. Even with the obviously unsafe, unsanitary, and unlivable conditions of their home some hoarders live in denial that they need to clean their home and improve their lifestyle. Hoarders will usually try to rationalize denying help to push off the emotional pain of cleaning and organizing.
Hoarders usually rationalize the denial of help for their Hoarding Disorder in one of three ways:
- Some hoarders try to deny help by saying their living conditions are okay, by denying that there is a problem they avoid having to go through the emotional pain of the cleaning and organizing process.
- Some hoarders acknowledge that the way they live is unhealthy but choose to deny help by saying they do not think they have a mental health disorder and that they can clean by themselves, effectively pushing the project out to the future.
- Some hoarders deny help by hiding their condition, distancing themselves from their close family and friends to avoid them seeing the problem and trying to help. The hoarder may refuse to allow others into their home, deny invitations to other people’s homes, or even become introverted or withdrawn during casual conversation to avoid having to address their hoarding issues.
Helping A Hoarder Find a Licensed Mental Health Professional:
Address Our Mess, as part of our service, can suggest licensed mental health professionals that specialize in hoarding. See our updated list of mental health professionals to find Address Our Mess approved mental health professionals in your area! We service all 50 States and Washington D.C. You can also search for a local hoarding specialist therapist on Psychology Today, using your zip code.
Therapists are not one size fits all, that is why we suggest reading Choosing Therapy's article on How to Choose a Therapist. The article, written and reviewed by mental health professionals goes in depth on the process of choosing a therapist, what a therapist is and what makes them successful, where to find therapists, deciding what is important to you in a therapist, how licenses and certifications as well as education can be used to identify the right therapist, specialty therapists, cost and insurance coverage, scheduling, personality fit, how to review a profile or website, what questions to ask during a first call, what to consider during the first appointment, what to consider after 3 to 4 weeks, and additional resources on finding a mental health professional from mental health organizations.
- Address Our Mess List of Mental Health Professionals: https://www.clutterhoardingcleanup.com/resources/hoarding/find-a-hoarding-therapist
- Psychology Today Hoarding Therapist List: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/hoarding
- Dos & Don’ts of Talking to Hoarders: https://www.clutterhoardingcleanup.com/dos-and-donts
- Choosing Therapy's Article on How to Choose a Therapist: https://www.choosingtherapy.com/how-to-choose-a-therapist/