If you discovered that you have a family member or friend with hoarding disorder in your life, you may sincerely want to know what should and should not do to assist that individual deal with their situation. The stark reality is that hoarding disorder is a complicated condition. Even a well-intentioned person like yourself is entering into something of a minefield when it comes to taking action in support of a loved one laboring under hoarding disorder. One key area in which you can be of assistance to a person with hoarding disorder is to assist that individual in setting goals towards making progress in addressing the condition and its virtually overwhelming ramifications.

Understanding the Basics of Hoarding Disorder

Before diving into how you can assist a hoarder set goals and make progress towards addressing a hoarding situation, you need to educate yourself a bit more on what this disorder is all about. Hoarding is more than collecting and keeping a lot of stuff. Rather, it is a recognized mental health condition. The world-renowned Mayo Clinic has developed a succinct definition of hoarding disorder that is widely accepted throughout the medical community:

Hoarding disorder is a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. Excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value, occurs.

There are a number of underlying issues that tend to be associated with hoarding order, including:

  • Hyper-sentimentality towards objects (even items of no value and trash)
  • Fear of wasting something that will be useful (or necessary) in the future
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Attention deficit disorder
  • Organizational deficiencies

If you’re committed to helping a person set goals and make progress towards dealing with hoarding disorder you must keep an important mantra always in mind:

Hoarding didn’t develop overnight and it will not be solved in a day either.

Approaching a Person with Hoarding Disorder

Once you’ve learned that a family member or friend is suffering from hoarding disorder, you need to take care in the manner in which you approach the individual about the situation. Hoarders have different positions in regard to their situations. A hoarder very well may feel that he or she doesn’t have a problem. A person with hoarding disorder initially may view a person suggesting that some sort of life changes need to be made is an “enemy” or threat to a hoarder’s existence.

In basic terms, when initially approaching a hoarder to offer assistance in setting goals and making progress towards restoration to a more ordered, healthy life, you need to be completely nonconfrontation and non-accusatory. From the beginning, you need to foster an environment in which a person with hoarding disorder buys into suggestions you make. For this reason, and as will be discussed in a moment, you need to ensure that initial goals set with a person with hoarding disorder are simple and yet meaningful at the same time.

Setting Simple Yet Meaningful Goals

A person with hoarding disorder is likely to feel overwhelmed and even threatened when you reach out to that individual to consider setting goals to make progress towards restoring a sense of order and wellness to that person’s life. Thus, when setting goals with a hoarder, you must make certain that establishing objectives does not become a harmful process in itself. You need to establish simple goals with the participation and agreement of the hoarder. The goals need to be meaningful but cannot be so complex or menacing in the mind of a hoarder that the objectives become counterproductive.

Three initial, manageable, and important goals to consider developing with the hoarder at the outset can be:

  • Create a support team to assist the hoarder going forward
  • Create safe zones in a hoarder’s home
  • Develop a plan to consider segregating some items into a potential removal zone

Creating a Support Team and Make the Hoarder the Captain

Providing true assistance to a person with hoarding disorder really is a team effort. As a family member or friend of a hoarder, odds are that you do not possess all of the skills and resources necessary to fully and effectively address the myriad of issues a hoarder faces. Thus, an initial objective when setting goals with a hoarder is to create a support team – and make the hoarder the captain of that time.

What making the hoarder captain of the support team means is that the person with this condition needs to have the final say on who will be part of the effort of addressing the hoarding situation. In addition, recommendations that come from a support team member must always be subject to the approval of the person with hoarding disorder. Buy in with the team and the suggestions and proposals of the team on the part of the person with hoarding disorder is crucial.

Examples of people to include on a support team include:

  • Mental health professional who specializes in working with people with hoarding disorder
  • Other family members and friends
  • Organizational specialist
  • Clergy
  • Hoarder cleanup company

Creating Safe Zones in a Residence

Once the objective of creating a support team is undertaken, another manageable and meaningful step is the creation of safe zones in the residence. Odds are that you will be able to demonstrate to a hoarder that the accumulation of items and objects in the house have created safety (and livability) issues.

You can begin to create initial safe zones in the residence by moving objects around but not necessarily disposing of them. You may need to obtain a movable storage unit for that purpose. Moving and storing items but not disposing of them initially is likely to make the concept of creating safe zones in the home far more palatable for a hoarder.

Tangible steps that can be taken with a hoarder to make his or her safer and at least a bit more livable include:

  • Clear pathways throughout the residence, including on stairs, that are about 3-feet wide
  • Limit piles of items in the residence to no more than 4-feet high
  • Clear doorways and make sure doors open fully
  • Keep items off of the stovetop and out of the oven
  • Clear a space of 1-foot around hot water heaters, HVAC equipment, and electrical panels and outlets
  • Regularly remove garbage (initially, what is classified as garbage is likely to be items like leftover foodstuffs and similar objects)

Eliminating Items From a Residence

Ultimately, the establishment of goals needs to lead to eliminating items from the residence – disposing of objects. By establishing a stowage zone in the form of a storage shed or a room where items can be stored when making the residence safer, you and the hoarder actually have taken an important step towards beginning the all-important process of eliminating items in the residence.

When it comes to disposing of objects, the decision to eliminate something must be that of the hoarder. You definitely do not want to try and force a hoarder to dispose of an object. You definitely do not want to secretly attempt to eliminate an object without a hoarder’s knowledge and agreement. Taking steps like these will cause the entire structure of trust and buy-in on the part of the hoarder that you established to collapse.

By following the suggestions and tactics outlined for you in this article, you truly will lay a foundation upon which a hoarder can begin the process of restoring order and wellness to life. You will be able to establish a connection with a hoarder based on trust that will serve you and the individual with hoarding disorder well. 


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.