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What to Do If You Think a Loved One Is Hoarding

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

Hoarding causes incredibly strong emotions and reactions. Those with hoarding disorder often feel a tremendous shame regarding their inability to let things go and fears of being seen as dirty or disgusting. Loved ones of those who hoard frequently feel frustrated, confused, and abandoned by their hoarding relatives, seeing it as the hoarder choosing items above themselves and their loved ones. Even if you don’t live with your hoarding loved one, you might still feel the very real effects of their problem. Today we discuss some ways to broach the hoarding conversation.



A pile of trash


Educate yourself


A common thought amongst those who don’t hoard is, “Why don’t you just throw this junk away?” For non-hoarders, the brain has made a distinction between items of value and items that have either lost or never had value. For hoarders, this line is blurred and can sometimes be affected by life events or personality styles. There may be a variety of factors as to the origin of the hoarding. Take some time to learn about hoarding disorder and associated behaviours to help understand your loved one’s mindset.


Change your communication


The word change lit up in neon lights

Listen to your loved one, be patient with them, and try not to judge them. For whatever reason, their brain is processing information differently to yours. They can manage it, but it may be a struggle. Because hoarding involves an intense emotional connection to objects, any judgement of the object can be interpreted as a judgement of your loved one. They may need time to realise what is happening for them and to distance themselves from that emotional connection.




Set boundaries


A fence with the words 'boundary line'

Your loved one’s hoarding can burden your relationship in many ways. You want to help your loved one, but you also know that the hoarding has impacted your personal life. You deserve to have some say in how your life goes and how you interact with the hoard. Boundary-setting is key.


Boundaries help you set clear expectations so that everyone is on the same page. For example, if you share a home with your hoarder, you can set the boundary that if leftovers haven’t been eaten within a 3 days, you will throw them out. Explain to your loved one that this is for health and hygiene reasons and is an action that you are taking out of love.


Follow through on the boundary. If there is no follow-through, your loved one cannot trust you to keep your word, nor will they be incentivised to keep a sense of order. Boundaries are not controlling behaviours or orders. Rather, they let everyone in the relationship know what you will do in response to a given situation.



Avoid the rage clean


It can be the most tempting thing in the world to angrily storm into your loved one’s excessively cluttered space and clean everything you see. You might want to swipe your hand across the table to throw every piece of mail into the rubbish bin, just to see it cleaned.


A messy office space with piles of clutter

For you, the newly cleaned space represents a fresh start for a hygienic, organised life. However, for your loved one, this emptied out space only represents anxiety and a void to be filled again. Cleaning for your loved one in quick bursts without their consultation can escalate their problem and increase tension in your relationship. It can also cause a deterioration in their already fragile mental health.


If you’re concerned about your loved one’s potential hoarding problem, you are not alone. The most helpful thing you can do is be a loving support and encourage them to get the help they need.


 

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