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How To Help A Hoarder Clean

Updated: Apr 9

How To Help A Hoarder Clean Graphic

Many people struggle with a hoarding disorder. This may result in them having cluttered homes and living in unsanitary conditions. Helping someone with a hoarding disorder can be quite challenging, and the thought of it may leave you feeling overwhelmed.

Here is a basic rundown of how to help hoarders clean:

  • Assess the job at hand

  • Work with the hoarder

  • Respect their things

  • Be prepared

  • Don't get overwhelmed

  • Start in the most obvious places like access points (doorways and passageways)

With the right tools and approach, you can help your loved one or family member create a clutter-free home. We will guide you through an empathetic approach with some practical guidance to help address this hoarding behavior.

How To Help A Hoarder Clean

Here are some tips to make the job at hand easier when you help a hoarder clean.

Assess the job at hand

Preparation is key. You first need to establish how severe the hoarding situation is and how much needs to be done. From here, you can create a plan of action.

You need to establish how much time needs to be spent in different rooms, as well as the best place to start. Remember that this plan needs to address the hoarder's needs to ensure better and cleaner living spaces.

Work with the hoarder

Work together with the hoarder when putting together a cleaning plan. This means they are part of the decluttering process and will not feel left out. Find out what they want to achieve through this cleanup so that you can help them accomplish their goals.

Respect their things

Remember that the person has probably spent a long time collecting all the clutter. They need to be okay with the stuff you get rid of. You need to communicate with them and reassure them that this is in their best interests but always consider their feelings.

Be prepared

Make sure you have dirtbags and at least three to four boxes available. Bring a broom, bucket, mop, cleaning cloths, and detergents.

For your personal safety, use gloves, masks, and eye protection when cleaning unfamiliar, cluttered spaces. Remember, there could be mold, which could be a health risk, and if there is no airflow, the air may be stale.

Don't get overwhelmed

Remember that this may be a big project that you are addressing, so don't be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work ahead. While the person may have chronic disorganization issues, you are here to help the hoarder clean.

Break the tasks up into segments, like bite-size chunks that are easy to digest. Every item that is discarded or donated becomes a small victory. It is one step closer to improving their living conditions. Focus on this progress to help you get through this task.

Clear access points

Ensure that all emergency access points are clear and that there is a clear pathway to enter and exit the property. This may mean that you need to get rid of things out of passageways and doorways.

Clear smaller rooms

Once the passageways are clear, places like kitchens and bathrooms should be cleaned. Get rid of unnecessary stuff. Clear off counters, pack away things that need to stay, and start throwing things out that don't belong there.

Start small

Do not approach the situation all at once. A major change like this can cause hoarders distress. They may feel overwhelmed and put an end to the process.

Additionally, helping the hoarder may be emotionally exhausting for both you and them. So, do something small first, like clearing a pile of newspapers or clearing out a drawer.

Clean room by room

Clean room by room. Once you have completed one room, move on to other rooms and work through those as well. Focusing your attention on one room at a time will make the project easier.

Decluttering Techniques

  1. If it doesn't have a home, it must go. One way to help a hoarder declutter their mess is with this focus. If something has a home (i.e. it can be packed away neatly) and if it has a use, then it can stay.

  2. The box system is "Keep, Donate, Discard." This generally helps decide what needs to go and what should stay. Some items could be donated to charities or organizations that help the needy.

  3. Have a "maybe" pile, but make sure this isn't a huge pile. It should be used only while the hoarder is deliberating whether to keep, donate, or discard items.

  4. If there are a lot of things that the person is keeping, consider boxing them and renting storage space.

  5. Be decisive about items and use the "Touch it once" rule. When you pick up an item, it needs to be added to the keep, donate, or discard piles immediately.

The Cleanup

Once the area is clutter-free, it is easier to clean and disinfect the place. Unsanitary living conditions can cause serious health risks and pest infestations. Here is what to do at this point:

  1. Do a deep clean. Start by disinfecting surfaces, washing floors, and wiping down walls. Look out for mold, especially in kitchens and bathrooms or anywhere that could accumulate moisture.

  2. As you clean, look out for signs of a pest infestation. This could be droppings or live insects and creatures.

  3. If there is a potential biohazard or pest infestation, it is best to call for professional assistance. Some companies can assist with biohazard decontamination to ensure a fully disinfected home.

  4. Clean from the top to the bottom. Let dust and dirt fall lower, instead of rising and dirtying areas you have already cleaned.

Remember that hoarders may have collected their clutter over a long time. That means there has not been a serious cleanup in ages. While decluttering and cleaning up will help the situation temporarily, the hoarder needs to develop healthy habits so that they do not cause more harm to themselves.

Tips To Address The Problem

Here are tips on how to approach the hoarder to address their situation.

Choose a good time and place to broach the topic

The hoarder needs to be in a calm space with a fairly good mindset at the time. Try to have the conversation in a neutral place, but not in the public ear. You don't want to embarrass or cause them to be uncomfortable about the topic because they may shut down completely, ending the conversation.

Be empathetic

When you approach a hoarder about the problem, you need to do so respectfully and with empathy, compassion, and understanding. The hoarder may find it embarrassing to discuss their problem, or they may not even realize that it is an issue.

Do not be accusatory

Pointing fingers and making the person feel belittled will not accomplish anything. It would just cause them further emotional distress. Rather, speak calmly and tell them that you are concerned about them. Tell them you are there for them to help and support them through this.

Be patient

The hoarder may need time to process the conversation, so give them some time to come to terms with things. Don't leave the matter in their hands, though, because if they have problems making decisions, the decluttering process will never start.

It's all about their safety and well-being

The hoarder needs to know that safety is an issue and that their living conditions could deteriorate their health and further affect their mental health. They need to understand the potential hazards so that they can weigh up their options and allow you to let you assist them.

Why Do Hoarders Hoard?

The average person may not understand hoarding.

There are a few reasons why people hoard. Sometimes it starts very simply, and over time, it can develop into a serious mental health problem that requires assistance from a mental health professional.

  1. Items hold sentimental value: A hoarder can have an emotional attachment to sentimental items from a loved one or if it's part of a special memory.

  2. Fear of loss: A fear of loss could cause compulsive hoarding. Sometimes, people hold onto items they feel they may need one day. The thought of not having the items anymore could be quite distressing to a hoarder.

  3. Indecisiveness: For some people, making a decision is difficult. They may fear making the wrong decisions, or they can't decide whether to keep an item or toss it. So they keep it.

  4. Traumatic events: When a person has experienced trauma, like death, divorce, loss of a home or job, or a breakup, they could hold onto items as a coping mechanism.

  5. Mental health: Mental health conditions can trigger a hoarding disorder. Anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder can make the situation worse.

Problems Caused By Hoarding

When a person starts hoarding, it:

  • Can cause limited space in the home

  • Can cause safety issues like fire hazards

  • Can be progressive and isolating, causing shame or embarrassment.

  • Can attract rats, roaches, and other forms of pest infestation

Getting Help For A Hoarding Disorder

Some people find it comforting to have stuff lying around, but this is just the result of hoarding symptoms, and a hoarder may need to seek treatment. This could help them if they have persistent difficulty discarding items around their homes.

Very often, a hoarding disorder is a mental illness, and to address the underlying issues, it may be wise to seek professional help. The hoarder may find it helpful to let a mental health professional guide them through their issues. Alternatively, there are support groups where they can speak to other hoarders on the road to recovery.

Some hoarders may find support from their own family members who can help with the cleanup and eventually help them find a support group they are comfortable joining.

In mediocre cases, and if finances allow for it, getting professional organizers may help improve the general living conditions for your loved one.

In very extreme cases, you may need to get social services involved, but don't approach this in the early stages. Rather, leave this as a last resort.

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