Four Steps to Help a Hoarder Declutter

Do you have a friend or family member who seems to be struggling with a massive amount of clutter in their home? You’ve noticed that the stacks of magazines and clutter have been growing over time, and you want to help your friend clean up and get rid of what looks like “junk” to you. 

Before you do, read our article about how to safely help a hoarder declutter. It’s important to learn more about hoarding and seek out professional help, if necessary.

What Is Hoarding?

The Oxford Handbook of Hoarding and Acquiring distinguishes between hoarding and a hoarding disorder (HD). Hoarding involves acquiring large numbers of possessions that clutter one’s living area and the inability to discard these items. It becomes a hoarding disorder (HD) when the behavior causes significant distress or interferes with an individual’s functioning.

A hoarding disorder is a highly complex condition that involves various fields of study, including  psychology, sociology, law, and economics. Because the condition is so deeply related to so many aspects of human behaviour, psychologists have only recently defined HD as a unique disorder with its own set of symptoms and treatments. 

Hoarding Behaviors

Behaviors and signs of a hoarding disorder include the following:

  • The individual is unable to throw away possessions that have no value 
  • The individual experiences mild to severe anxiety about getting rid of anything
  • The individual repeatedly adds clutter to a hoard without recognizing any problem with that behavior
  • Rooms in the individual’s home are no longer able to be used for their intended purpose due to mounds of clutter
  • The abundance of possessions negatively impacts the individual’s safety, health, or hygiene.

Hoarding tendencies can vary in severity, but if you recognize more than one of these situations with your loved one, it’s important to seek professional assistance before moving forward. The  International OCD Foundation has published a Hoarding Fact Sheet that addresses hoarding behaviors in detail and offers links to local therapists who specialize in hoarding disorders.

Four Steps to Help a Hoarder Declutter

1. Ease into Conversation About Decluttering and Cleaning

The first step in helping a hoarder clean their house is to start the conversation. When communicating, the importance of remaining non-judgemental and using neutral language cannot be overemphasized. Never use words like “clutter” or “unsanitary.” These are strong words which can trigger a hoarder to become defensive and cause them to shut down the decluttering process altogether.

Instead, encourage your hoarding loved one that you want to help her make her home safer to live in and communicate that you’re only there for support. Suggest that getting rid of some items will make rooms more livable. As an example, removing some of her stored items will allow her to get to her appliances and begin using them again. 

Keep in mind that a hoarder does not perceive that she has a problem. She is likely to think that she is “storing” or “saving” things for some positive future outcome. Undoubtedly, she will be inclined to convince you that she needs to save her items, and she could become combative. You may want to involve her mental health professional in these conversations to keep the conversation safe for you both.

2. Make a Plan of Action with the Hoarder

When considering the task ahead, you need to make a plan from the mindset of the hoarder in order to get their buy-in and help in working with you to declutter. You may be inclined to think of methods to quickly declutter, but you will need to step back and remember that this is not how the hoarder thinks.

If you are mindful that the hoarder is in charge of her stuff and you communicate that throughout the process, the hoarder will trust you and the process. The result will be that the two of you will develop an action plan that the hoarder is more likely to follow. 

Your plan should include the following: 

A Criteria for Eliminating Items

Sit down with your loved one and help them create a list of criteria to apply to each item when deciding its future. Does she want to give it away to charity, throw it away, or store it away in self storage? Remember these are her items, and she needs to feel in control, or the whole process shuts down. 

Write down the criteria as you discuss each item, so everyone who’s involved in the hoarder declutter can refer to the list as needed. An example of an item criterion is, “All mail that is six months or older gets thrown away.” 

Plan and Calendar A Schedule

Make a plan to tackle each room one at a time. Decide in which order you will declutter the rooms and estimate the time you will dedicate to each room. After this list is complete, transfer it visually on a calendar. Make it fun by putting each room in a different pen or highlighter color. Plan on some form of awarding yourselves with stars or stickers. Think of anything you two would enjoy to reward and encourage this declutter process. 

3. Start Decluttering and Organizing Room-by-Room

Now that you have a plan in place, and it’s on a calendar (WooHoo!), it is time to get to it! The next phase is cleaning and organizing. 

In her book, From Hoarding To Hope, Geralin Thomas, an organizing expert featured on A&E’s TV show Hoarders, reminds us that hoarder decluttering is a process. First, declutter the home, then organize it, and, lastly, begin the cleaning. 

Your tendency may be to jump in and begin throwing the junk away, but you must remember that this is a time-consuming process, and the hoarder is the decision maker. Objects often hold immense emotional value to people who hoard, so the idea of someone easily dispensing with them can feel like a betrayal. You need to plan on this process taking time and being sensitive to the hoarder. 

Refer back to point number two – your plan. Using your room-by-room plan and predetermined list of criteria for each item, identify and throw away clutter that doesn’t hold significant value. Then, create separate piles for items to keep and items to donate, sell, throw away, or move to self storage.

4. Don’t Hesitate to Get Professional Help

Don’t take on the guilt or the burden of cleaning up the hoarder’s mess alone. HD support and hoarder clean-up companies exist to help both you and the hoarder with cleaning up and decluttering. Such professionals understand the tactics and strategies that need to be followed when helping a hoarder declutter. 

Let Silverado Self Storage Be Your Partner

Contact Silverado Self Storage to be a partner in your hoarder declutter project. We offer all sizes of storage units that you can use temporarily while you work through this clean-up process. Or, perhaps more permanent storage would solve your needs. Our on-site manager can walk you through the various options. Contact us on our website, or give us a call at (916) 772-1500.