If you have come to realize a person in your life suffers from hoarding disorder, you are well ahead of many individuals who have a family member or close friend who hoards. One of the realities associated with hoarding is that majority of people afflicted with this disorder hide their situation from others, including family members and friends.

If you’ve discovered someone close to you hoards, you likely nearly immediately wonder what you can to do help that individual. The reality is that assisting a person with hoarding disorder is nearly always far easier said than done. With this noted, there are some practical tips and key strategies to employ when you have a sincere desire to assist a hoarder.

How Did You Learn About the Hoarding Situation?

As a preliminary matter to attempting to assist a person suffering from hoarding disorder, you need to focus on the question of how you learned about the situation in the first instance. The manner in which you learned of a person’s hoarding disorder will determine the manner in which you take at least some preliminary steps to indicate your willingness to assist.

If you discovered that someone in your life hoards indirectly and not from that individual, the first step you need to take is broaching the subject in the first instance with that person. There are three primary factors that you need to keep in mind in this regard.

First, many people do not disclose they hoard because they are embarrassed by the situation. Second, others to do not disclose they hoard because they do not believe they have a problem. They do not disclose that they hoard not because they are embarrassed by what they do, but because they believe others will not understand the importance and necessity of what they have to do.

Finally, there are people who are not particularly embarrassed by hoarding and do not necessarily think they are doing some sort of important work in amassing and maintaining items. These people do not disclose hoarding because they fear that someone will come in and attempt to take over their property and dispose of items improperly.

When you elect to approach someone who has not directly disclosed a hoarding issue to you, you must bear these factors in mind. In addition, you must approach an individual in regard to a hoarding issue in a completely non-accusatory, non-aggressive manner.

If a hoarder confides to you what is going on in their life, which is the exception and not the rule, you are in a better position to discuss the matter more directly and fully. However, you must not be accusatory or aggressive in discussing the matter, even when the matter of hoarding is disclosed to you.

Establish Trust

Before you can even breach the subject of assisting a hoarder in eliminating items stowed in his or her home, you must establish a meaningful level of trust. By nature, a hoarder is likely to be distrustful of people. This level of distrust is magnified when a person, even a close family member, suggests that eliminating items in a hoard is necessary.

Taking that type of approach, where a meaningful level of trust is established, can have the opposite effect. A hoarder is likely to become even more committed to holding onto his or her property, to protecting items contained in a residence.

A key to developing trust with a hoarder is to understand their perspective when it comes to the items they have stowed in a residence. Consider how you would feel if someone arrived at your home to gather up jewelry and heirlooms, put these items into a garbage bag to throw it all away.

Yes, it is true that much of what a person with hoarding disorder collects has little value in reality. However, that is not how a hoarder views these items. In many ways, a hoarder views items kept in a residence in a manner similar to the way you perceive things like jewelry and heirlooms.

Suggest Small Steps

A person with hoarding disorder very well may be living in a residence that is overflowing with items of different types. Indeed, the number of items throughout a residence may be so significant that the house is barely livable. Appliances are likely broken or unusable because they are being used to store hoarded items. The bathroom may be largely inaccessible as well.

As trust is developed with a hoarder, suggesting taking a small step becomes appropriate. For example, you could inquire if the hoarder would like to take a real shower, in the space currently being filled with items. You should not push a hoarder. However, by raising the prospect of being able to use the shower appropriately, or use some kitchen appliances, may provide a hoarder with at least some desire to eliminate certain items from the premises.

Educate Yourself on the Realities of Hoarding

Another tactic you need to employ if you want to help a hoarder gain a semblance of control over his or her residence and life is educating yourself on the realities of hoarding disorder. If you are like many people, you have a wealth of assumptions about hoarding, many of which are not correct. What you have learned to date about hoarding may be what you have gleaned from one or another of the television programs that focus on hoarding.

There is a growing body of credible literature addressing hoarding disorder and how to reach out and assist an individual suffering from the condition. This literature can be accessed from reputable organizations like the U.S. Center for Disease Controls and Prevention and the world-renowned Mayo Clinic.

Give a Person With Hoarding Disorder Choices

If you truly want to assist a person suffering from hoarding disorder, you cannot dictate solutions, you cannot insist on a specific course of action. Rather, you need to present a person with hoarding disorder with options and choices.

You must not simply tell a hoarder that he or she needs to start throwing items in a house away. Rather, you can suggest they can lessen the load in a house by taking advantage of different options. Yes, these options can include eliminating items altogether. However, you can also suggest temporarily storing items away from a residence on a temporary basis until a hoarder is able to make a more definitive decision about what to do with this property.

Control the Pace of Disposing Items

A key to truly being of assistance to a person suffering from hoarding disorder is to control the pace at which items are removed and disposed of. The underpinning problem associated with hoarding disorder is not only accumulating items but a lack of ability to get rid of items once they are obtained.

In some cases, a hoarder is able to make progress at eliminating items if removal is undertaken at a slow pace. If you are assisting a hoarder, you need to honor the pace at which he or she is able to eliminate items from his or her home. The pace may seem painfully slow to you. However, to a person afflicted with hoarding disorder, he or she will have real limitations regarding the rate of eliminating items, even things that seem to lack any value whatsoever.

If you push a person with hoarding disorder to pick up the pace of eliminating items, that in and of itself may have the opposite effect. A person with hoarding disorder will retreat and cease eliminating items altogether. Indeed, a hoarder may not be able to return to eliminating items for what can prove to be an extended period of time.

Pay Special Consideration for Hoarders With Animals

A surprising number of people with hoarding disorder hoard animals, particularly cats, and dogs, although other living creatures also can be the subject. Sometimes a hoarder is involved only in amassing animals. In other cases, a person hoards only inanimate objects. There are some situations in which a person hoards in both categories.

There are special considerations that you must bear in mind when you want to extend a hand in assistance to a pet hoarder. At the outset, you need to brace yourself for the potential for an absolutely deplorable situation in a residence. In addition, you need to be prepared to face animals that are in very poor condition.

Even when these factors will seem obvious to you, an animal hoarder is likely to be oblivious to the state of affairs regarding both the premises and the pets. Moreover, a pet hoarder is more than likely to believe that he or she is doing a solid job in protecting the welfare of the animals.

Despite how things appear at the premises and with the animals, a pet hoarder will care deeply about them. The fact that a pet hoarder cares deeply about the animals in question renders it even more challenging to raise the prospect of addressing the issue and bringing down the number of animals involved.

Do Not Minimize the Value of Items in a Hoarder’s Residence

Odds are high that the vast majority of items in a hoarder’s home will be of little or no value. Indeed, a great amount of trash may be included in the mix. Your immediate response is likely to be that there is nothing of value to be concerned about and the whole affair can get quickly dispatched. As is discussed throughout this article, assisting a hoarder is not a quick process.

One key tactic that you must employ if you want to make progress in assisting a person with hoarding disorder is to never minimize the value of items in a hoarder’s house, even when it patently is clear that the residence is filled with nearly worthless items and even trash.

Work Hand-In-Hand With a Hoarder

When a hoarder finally agrees to eliminate at least some items from a residence, you need to avoid the natural impulse to work on different parts of the premises at the same time. The only truly effective course in purging the premises of at least some items is to work hand-in-hand with a hoarder. What this means is that you and the person with hoarding disorder work together at removing items from the same part of the residence.

The hoarder needs to be able to keep tabs on items you move and set aside for removal. If you are in a different part of the residence, the process of removing property from the premises is likely to come to a crashing end. The hoarder will become distrustful and believe that you are scheming to eliminate items that are of value to a hoarder. If you work in another part of the residence, you immediately will cause a person with hoarding disorder to lose trust in you and the process.

Reach out to Professionals of Different Types

Keep in mind that you probably cannot provide effective assistance to a hoarder on all levels. In the final analysis, once you gain at least some level of trust with a person suffering from hoarding disorder, you may be in a position to success assessing the assistance of different, necessary professionals to assist in the process of bringing a hoard under control. These experts can include mental health professionals as well as services that provide thorough house cleaning assistance.

Schedule an Intervention If Necessary

If you find that you are not making any real progress with a friend or family member who hoards, you may want to consider staging an intervention. A hoarding intervention is rather like one conducted for a person with substance abuse or addiction issue. There are therapists and counselors who specialize in hoarding disorder. Oftentimes, these professionals can assist in preparing for and staging an intervention for a person suffering from hoarding disorder.

Preparing for the Future

Finally, if you want to assist a person with hoarding disorder, you need to aid in connecting that person with resources to prevent a recurrence of hoarding in the future. As mentioned, there are mental health and other types of professionals that can assist a person suffering from hoarding disorder from experiencing a relapse in the future.


Emily Kil

Co-Owner of Eco Bear Biohazard Cleaning Company

Together with her husband, Emily Kil is co-owner of Eco Bear, a leading biohazard remediation company in Southern California. An experienced entrepreneur, Emily assisted in founding Eco Bear as a means of combining her business experience with her desire to provide assistance to people facing challenging circumstances. Emily regularly writes about her first-hand experiences providing services like biohazard cleanup, suicide cleanup, crime scene cleanup, unattended death cleanup, and other types of difficult remediations in homes and businesses.