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Helping a Hoarder: Effective Tips & Support Strategies

Helping a Hoarder: Effective Tips & Support Strategies

Hoarding disorder is a serious mental health condition that affects many individuals and their families. It is more than just a cluttered home or collection of possessions, but a complex issue that requires understanding and support to overcome. If you are helping a hoarder, it is important to know that you are not alone and there are many resources available to help.

This article will provide an overview of hoarding disorder, its causes and consequences, and the various treatment options available. We will discuss the benefits of working with a professional organizer and the role of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication in hoarding disorder treatment. Additionally, we will cover strategies for creating a supportive environment, self-help techniques, and tips for managing clutter in the home.

If you are supporting a loved one with hoarding disorder, it is crucial to approach the issue in a supportive and non-judgmental manner. By gaining a better understanding of hoarding disorder and the different support strategies available, you can help your loved one overcome their struggles and live a happier, healthier life.

Understanding Hoarding Disorder

Hoarding disorder is a mental health condition characterized by persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value. People with hoarding disorder accumulate an excessive amount of clutter in their living spaces, making it difficult to use their rooms for their intended purposes. The clutter can lead to dangerous or unsanitary living conditions, social isolation, and even eviction from their homes.

The Symptoms of Hoarding Disorder

Hoarding disorder is a complex condition that goes beyond simply keeping a messy house. Some of the common symptoms of hoarding disorder include:

  • Excessive accumulation of clutter that obstructs the living spaces
  • Difficulty discarding items, regardless of their actual value
  • Feelings of anxiety or distress at the thought of getting rid of possessions
  • Believing that items have sentimental value or may be needed in the future, leading to excessive saving
  • Feeling overwhelmed or ashamed by the amount of clutter in the home
  • Experiencing significant impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning due to hoarding behaviors

The Development of Hoarding Disorder

Hoarding disorder often develops gradually over time, and its exact cause is still not fully understood. Experts believe that a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors can contribute to the development of hoarding disorder. Traumatic experiences, such as the loss of a loved one or personal possessions, may also trigger hoarding behaviors.

It’s important to note that hoarding disorder is not the same as collecting. Collectors typically find joy and satisfaction in acquiring and displaying items that have value or significance, while individuals with hoarding disorder experience distress at the thought of discarding even the most mundane possessions. It’s also a common misconception that hoarding disorder is a result of laziness or lack of willpower, when in fact it is a serious mental health condition that requires professional treatment.

Myth Fact
Hoarding disorder is just a bad habit. Hoarding disorder is a complex mental health condition with a range of symptoms and causes.
Hoarding disorder only affects older adults. Hoarding disorder can affect people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds.
Hoarding disorder is not treatable. With proper treatment and support, many people with hoarding disorder can recover and live fulfilling lives.

Causes of Hoarding Disorder

Hoarding disorder is a complex mental health condition that can be triggered by several factors. While the exact causes of hoarding disorder are not yet fully understood, research has shown that a combination of environmental, genetic, and psychological factors may contribute to the development of the disorder.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors such as growing up in a chaotic household or experiencing traumatic life events such as the loss of a loved one or a divorce can trigger hoarding behaviors. People who have experienced a sense of loss or a lack of control in their lives may use hoarding as a way to regain control and comfort themselves.

Genetic Factors

Research has shown that hoarding disorder may have a genetic component. Studies have found that people with first-degree family members who have hoarding disorder are more likely to develop the disorder themselves. There is still much research to be done to fully understand the genetic component of hoarding disorder.

Psychological Factors

Hoarding behaviors are often associated with other mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Some researchers suggest that hoarding disorder may be a subtype of OCD. People with hoarding disorder may have difficulty making decisions and have a persistent fear of throwing things away. They may also have a strong emotional attachment to objects, even those that seem to have little value to others.

Overall, hoarding disorder is a complex condition that can be triggered by a range of environmental, genetic, and psychological factors. Seeking professional help and support is key to managing the disorder and improving quality of life.

The Consequences of Hoarding Disorder

Hoarding disorder can have severe consequences on an individual’s life, health, and relationships. Here are some of the negative impacts of hoarding disorder:

Consequence Description
Health Risks Living in a cluttered environment increases the risk of falls, respiratory problems, and infections. Hoarding can also attract vermin and pests which pose further health risks.
Social Isolation Individuals with hoarding disorder often feel ashamed and embarrassed about their living conditions, leading to social isolation and withdrawal. This can further exacerbate feelings of loneliness and depression.
Financial Difficulties Hoarding disorder can lead to financial difficulties as individuals may spend excessive amounts of money on acquiring items they do not need or struggle to maintain a job due to their living conditions.
Legal Issues Hoarding disorder can result in legal issues related to zoning, fire safety, and sanitary codes. This can lead to fines, evictions, or even criminal charges in extreme cases.

It is essential to seek help for hoarding disorder in order to mitigate these consequences and improve overall quality of life.

Working with a Professional Organizer

For individuals with hoarding disorder, the idea of decluttering and organizing their home can be overwhelming and daunting. This is where the services of a professional organizer can provide immense value. Professional organizers are trained to work with hoarders and their families, and can help develop an effective plan to declutter and organize the home.

What Does a Professional Organizer Do?

A professional organizer works closely with the individual and their family members to understand their specific needs and goals. They develop a personalized plan, taking into account the individual’s lifestyle and preferences, to declutter and organize the home in a way that is safe, sustainable, and supportive. They can also help the individual develop habits and routines to maintain a clutter-free environment.

Decluttering Process

The decluttering process is often the most challenging aspect of hoarding disorder treatment. A professional organizer can guide the individual through the process, helping them make decisions about what items to keep, donate, or discard. They can also help the individual develop the skills necessary to organize their belongings in a way that is functional and makes sense to them.

In addition to physical decluttering, a professional organizer can also provide emotional support throughout the process. They can help the individual develop coping strategies to manage the stress and anxiety that may arise during the decluttering process.

Tips for Working with a Professional Organizer

Working with a professional organizer can be a positive and transformative experience for individuals with hoarding disorder. Here are some tips for making the most of the experience:

  • Be open and honest about your needs and goals
  • Communicate any concerns or anxieties you may have
  • Be prepared to make difficult decisions about your belongings
  • Be patient and willing to commit to the process
  • Follow through on any tasks or assignments given by the organizer

With the help of a professional organizer, individuals with hoarding disorder can overcome the overwhelming task of decluttering and organizing their home. They can develop a supportive and sustainable environment that promotes their health, wellbeing, and quality of life.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Hoarding Disorder

Hoarding disorder is a complex mental health condition that can be difficult to treat. However, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has shown to be effective in helping individuals with hoarding disorder.

What is CBT?

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy that aims to change negative patterns of thinking and behavior. It is based on the idea that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interconnected and influence each other.

In the context of hoarding disorder, CBT focuses on identifying and challenging the beliefs and thoughts that lead to hoarding behaviors. It also teaches individuals how to develop new coping skills to manage their emotions and make decisions about possessions.

The Process of CBT for Hoarding Disorder

CBT for hoarding disorder typically involves weekly sessions with a mental health professional. The process includes:

Step Description
Assessment The therapist will conduct an assessment to understand the individual’s thought patterns, behaviors, and emotional responses related to hoarding.
Goal Setting The therapist will work with the individual to set specific goals for treatment.
Cognitive Restructuring The therapist will help the individual identify and challenge their beliefs and thoughts related to hoarding. They will also work on developing more adaptive thinking patterns.
Behavioral Experiments The therapist will encourage the individual to try new behaviors and test out the effectiveness of new coping skills.
Skills Training The therapist will teach the individual new skills to help them manage their emotions, make decisions about possessions, and organize their home.
Relapse Prevention The therapist will help the individual prepare for and prevent relapse of hoarding behaviors.

Effectiveness of CBT for Hoarding Disorder

Studies have shown that CBT can be an effective treatment for hoarding disorder. In one study, individuals who received CBT showed significant improvement in their hoarding behaviors compared to those who did not receive treatment. CBT has also been shown to be more effective than medication alone in treating hoarding disorder.

It is important to note that CBT is most effective when combined with other forms of treatment, such as medication and working with a professional organizer.

Medication for Hoarding Disorder

Medication can be a valuable tool in treating hoarding disorder, particularly in conjunction with therapy and other treatments. Antidepressants are commonly prescribed to treat hoarding disorder, as they can help regulate mood and reduce anxiety.

It’s important to note that medication should not be used as a sole treatment for hoarding disorder, and it may take several weeks or months for the medication to have its full effect. Additionally, medication may not be effective for everyone or may cause unwanted side effects.

Commonly prescribed antidepressants for hoarding disorder: Potential side effects:
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) Nausea, headaches, sexual dysfunction
Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) Drowsiness, dry mouth, blurred vision
Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) Weight gain, dizziness, high blood pressure

If you are considering medication as part of your hoarding disorder treatment plan, it’s important to work closely with your healthcare professional and discuss any potential side effects or concerns. Additionally, it’s important to continue therapy and other treatments alongside medication, as they can help address the underlying causes and triggers of hoarding behaviors.

Creating a Supportive Environment

Individuals with hoarding disorder often face significant challenges in their daily lives. Mental health issues, personal trauma, and social isolation can all contribute to the development and maintenance of hoarding behaviors. Creating a supportive environment is essential for individuals with hoarding disorder to receive the help they need to manage their condition successfully.

Family Support

Family members and loved ones can play an essential role in supporting individuals with hoarding disorder. It is essential for family members to approach the issue with empathy and understanding. Families should avoid judgmental or confrontational approaches that may exacerbate the problem. Instead, families can offer support by providing a safe and supportive environment for the individual to express their feelings and work towards improving their condition.

Dos Don’ts
Listen actively and be patient Make demands or ultimatums
Offer encouragement and support Engage in shaming or criticism
Provide practical assistance Take control or make decisions without their input

Creating a Safe and Supportive Home Environment

Creating a safe and supportive home environment is crucial for individuals with hoarding disorder. Families can work with their loved ones to develop a plan for decluttering and organizing the home while respecting their feelings and limitations. It is essential to approach this process gradually and in a non-judgmental manner to reduce the risk of overwhelming the individual. Families can also encourage healthy habits, such as setting a regular cleaning schedule or engaging in mindfulness practices, to help individuals manage their condition long-term.

Community Support

Individuals with hoarding disorder can benefit greatly from community support and resources. Support groups and online communities offer individuals the opportunity to connect with others who are going through similar experiences and learn from their journeys. Professional organizations, such as the International OCD Foundation and the National Association of Professional Organizers, offer resources and support for individuals with hoarding disorder and their families. Families can work with local mental health professionals to identify resources and support services in their area.

Self-Help Strategies for Hoarders

Hoarding disorder is a challenging condition to manage, but there are many self-help strategies that can be effective. In this section, we will provide practical tips and strategies for hoarders to manage their condition independently.


Mindfulness can be a powerful tool for managing hoarding disorder. It involves paying attention to the present moment and accepting it without judgment. When you become aware of your thoughts and feelings, you can break free from the automatic patterns that may be contributing to your hoarding behaviors. You may find it helpful to practice mindfulness meditation or other mindfulness-based exercises.


It is common for hoarders to feel ashamed, guilty, or embarrassed about their condition. Practicing self-compassion can help you overcome these negative emotions and learn to treat yourself with kindness and understanding. Focus on your strengths and accomplishments instead of fixating on your perceived shortcomings.


Self-care is crucial for managing hoarding disorder. Make sure you are taking care of your physical and emotional needs by eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and engaging in activities that bring you joy. Exercise can also be an effective stress-reliever and mood-booster.

Breaking the Cycle

Breaking the cycle of hoarding behaviors can be challenging, but it is possible with the right strategies. Some useful tips include:

  • Starting small: Focus on decluttering and organizing one small area at a time, such as a shelf or a drawer.
  • Setting goals: Establish achievable goals and rewarding yourself when you reach them.
  • Practicing decision-making: Challenge yourself to make decisions about what to keep and what to discard.

Seeking Support

While self-help strategies can be effective, seeking support from a therapist or support group can also be beneficial. They can provide you with guidance and accountability as you work to manage your hoarding disorder. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you need help.

Overcoming Relapse

Relapse is a common challenge for hoarders in their journey to recovery. However, it’s important to remember that relapse does not mean failure. It’s a natural part of the recovery process, and it’s essential to address it proactively.

Creating a Relapse Prevention Plan

A relapse prevention plan can help you identify triggers and warning signs and take action to prevent relapse. Your plan may include:

  • Identifying triggers that may contribute to hoarding behaviors such as stress, anxiety, or trauma.
  • Establishing a support system to help you manage stress and address triggers.
  • Developing coping strategies, such as mindfulness, deep breathing, or journaling, to manage stress and anxiety.
  • Setting realistic goals and expectations for decluttering and organizing your home.
  • Identifying potential setbacks, such as unexpected events or stressful situations, and developing strategies to overcome them.

Seeking Professional Support

If you experience a relapse, it’s essential to seek professional help. Your therapist or healthcare provider can help you identify the factors that contributed to the relapse and develop a new plan to address them.

Remember that recovery is a journey that involves ups and downs. Be patient with yourself, stay committed to your recovery plan, and seek support when you need it.

Dealing with Clutter in the Home

Living with clutter can be overwhelming and stressful for individuals with hoarding disorder. Here are some practical tips and strategies for managing clutter in the home:

1. Start Small

Don’t try to declutter the entire home at once. Start with one room or even one corner of a room. Set small goals and celebrate each success.

2. Sort items

Sort items into piles of things you want to keep, donate, sell, or throw away. Try to be honest with yourself and only keep items that are important or truly bring you joy.

3. One in, One out

For every new item you bring into your home, consider getting rid of one item you no longer need or want.

Tip Benefit
Use clear storage bins Allows you to easily see what’s inside which can help prevent clutter from building up again.
Label everything Makes it easier to find items when you need them and can help you stay organized.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help Decluttering can be overwhelming. Consider enlisting the help of a friend or family member.

4. Create a Schedule

Set aside time each day or week to declutter and organize your home. Creating a routine can help you stay on track and make progress.

5. Be Kind to Yourself

Remember to be kind to yourself and take breaks when you need them. Decluttering can be emotionally draining, so it’s important to take care of your mental and emotional wellbeing.

Resources for Hoarders and Their Families

There are various resources available for individuals living with hoarding disorder and their families. From support groups to online resources, here are some of the most helpful options:

Professional Organizations

Organization Description
The Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD) An international organization that provides education and resources for professional organizers, therapists, and individuals affected by chronic disorganization.
National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) A professional organization for individuals who work in the organizing and productivity industry.
International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) Provides resources and support for individuals living with OCD, including hoarding disorder.

Support Groups

Support groups can offer a safe and non-judgmental space for individuals affected by hoarding disorder to share their experiences and gain insight from others going through similar challenges. Here are some options:

  • Clutterers Anonymous –
  • Hoarding Disorder Support Group –
  • Adult Children of Hoarders –

Online Resources

There are many online resources available for individuals living with hoarding disorder and their families. Here are some of the most helpful:

  • The Hoarding Project –
  • International Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Foundation –
  • Children of Hoarders –

Helping a Hoarder: Dos and Don’ts

Supporting a loved one with hoarding disorder can be challenging. It is important to approach the issue in a supportive and non-judgmental way. Here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind when helping a hoarder:


  • Encourage them to seek help
  • Be patient and understanding
  • Listen to their concerns
  • Offer practical help, such as decluttering assistance
  • Respect their decisions and autonomy
  • Provide emotional support and encouragement


  • Pressure them to get rid of things
  • Shame or criticize them
  • Force them to change their behavior
  • Intervene without their consent or involvement
  • Ignore or dismiss their feelings
  • Make assumptions or judgments about the situation

Remember, hoarding disorder is a complex and sensitive issue. It requires patience, understanding, and ongoing support. By following these dos and don’ts, you can help your loved one feel heard, respected, and supported throughout their recovery journey.

Section 14: Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some common questions about hoarding disorder:

What is hoarding disorder?

Hoarding disorder is a mental health condition characterized by excessive accumulation of possessions, difficulty discarding items, and significant distress or impairment caused by the clutter.

What are the causes of hoarding disorder?

Hoarding disorder may be triggered by various factors, including genetics, traumatic experiences, and mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Can hoarding disorder be cured?

There is no cure for hoarding disorder, but treatment can help manage the symptoms and improve the individual’s quality of life.

What are some treatment options for hoarding disorder?

Treatment options for hoarding disorder may include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), medication, and working with a professional organizer. It is important to consult with a mental health professional to determine the most appropriate course of treatment.

How can I support a loved one with hoarding disorder?

It is important to approach the issue with empathy and understanding. Encourage your loved one to seek professional help and offer to assist them in finding treatment options. Avoid judgment and criticism, and be patient with the process.

Can hoarding disorder be prevented?

While there is no guaranteed way to prevent hoarding disorder, early intervention and treatment can help manage the symptoms and prevent the condition from worsening.

Are there any support groups for hoarders and their loved ones?

Yes, there are various support groups available for individuals with hoarding disorder and their loved ones. These groups can provide helpful resources, guidance, and a sense of community.

What should I do if my loved one refuses to seek treatment?

If your loved one is resistant to seeking treatment, it may be helpful to consult with a mental health professional for guidance on how to approach the issue. It is important to be patient and understanding, and to continue offering support and encouragement.


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