Help, my Loved One is a Hoarder

Posted by on Aug 26, 2015 in Hoarding | 4 comments

Help, my Loved One is a Hoarder

The popular television programs featuring individuals with excessive clutter have resulted in many people now being labeled as “hoarders.” How can you know if your loved one is a hoarder? The clinical definition of hoarding is:

  • Persistent difficulty parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value.
  • Difficulty is due to a perceived need to save the items and the distress associated with discarding them.
  • Result is the accumulation of possessions that congest and clutter active living areas and substantially compromises their intended use. Any lack of clutter is due to the intervention of others.
  • Significant distress or impairment in functioning caused by the hoarding (including maintaining a safe environment.)
  • Hoarding behavior is not attributable to another medical condition or mental disorder.

What does this definition mean to you in practical terms? The definitive characteristic of hoarding is that the clutter is causing significant distress. Thinking about letting go of an item creates intense emotions. If the person is messy, but doesn’t experience significant distress letting go of things, they are most likely not a hoarder.


My brother, mother, partner, friend fits the description, how can I help them?

  • Stop doing what doesn’t work: arguing, fighting, threats, and criticizing.
  • Never do a clean out without their permission, unless it is necessary for their health and safety. Taking someone else’s possessions without their permission is stealing. Forced clean outs cause the person extreme distress and often even more clutter as the person becomes more possessive of their things. Once you lose the person’s trust they may never be willing to let you help them.


How can you help?

  • Learn as much as you can about hoarding to develop understanding and empathy. There are several websites and books with information about hoarding. Frost, Steketee, Tolin and Tompkins have all written great books about hoarding.
  • Respect the person as a unique and valuable individual.
  • Decide what is more important. Is it the clutter, or your relationship with the person?
  • Be there for the person with your sympathy, support and encouragement.
  • Remember that everyone, including someone who hoards, has the right to make their own decisions about how they want to live.
  • Understand that the person has to want to change, and will not accept help until they are ready. You can lead a horse to water…
  • Encourage them to seek counseling with a clinician trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. This type of therapy can help the person to change their thinking about their things.


The most effective way to help someone who hoards is to love and respect them and show it by being there for them.


4 Responses to “Help, my Loved One is a Hoarder”

  1. This is really valuable information for people who want to help a loved one with hoarding disorder! I especially like your comment: “Decide what is more important. Is it the clutter, or your relationship with the person?”

  2. Hi Elizabeth! I’m happy to see this post on the Professional Organizers Blog Carnival this month!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *