How to Help a Hoarder Declutter and Clean Up their Home!
Learn how to help a hoarder declutter and clean up their home with these simple, but vital tips.
If you are in a position where you need to help a true hoarder clean up their home, you are likely to feel overwhelmed and perhaps even disgusted at the task ahead.
Knowing how to help a hoarder declutter and clean up their home is no easy process, but following some of these tips will help make the job less stressful for both you and the hoarder.
Related Decluttering Articles:
#1. Understand that Hoarding is a Mental Health Issue
You need to start by understanding that hoarding is a mental issue and that the hoarder is not lazy or uncaring.
They simply can’t control their need to hold onto things and may actually suffer acute anxiety whenever they try to throw anything away including useless scraps of paper and broken items.
When you understand that a hoarder is suffering you are more inclined to treat the hoarder with understanding and compassion.
You also need to understand that a hoarder may need the help of a mental health professional while going through the clean up process to help them deal with the frightening negative feelings that getting rid of some of their possessions may cause.
#2. Be Prepared for the Worst
If you have not seen the inside of the hoarder’s home prior to asking to help them clean up their home be prepared for the worst.
Many hoarders are ashamed of their situation and therefore, hide their compulsion for years while the piles of possessions get larger and larger.
By the time you see the home you are most likely to be confronted with stacks of bags and boxes, years worth of dirty dishes, and in some cases even rodents, dead insects and mold.
Keep in mind that hoarders don’t want anyone to see their home, so they may neglect getting needed repairs done so the home may have structural damage as well as needing to be cleaned.
The smell of the home may be overwhelming and you may find it difficult to get inside the door.
Since you don’t know what you may find in a hoarder’s home, come prepared with disposable gloves and even a face mask.
#3. Start By Explaining the Dangers of the Hoarding Situation to the Hoarder
Before you touch a single item in a hoarder’s home you need to get them on board with the idea of cleaning up their home.
The best way to accomplish that goal is to gently point out all of the dangers and health risks that the hoarder is exposing themselves to.
Speak to them about the dangers of falling objects, living in a fire hazard, having mold all over the home and any other danger that you see.
Be patient, this talk may have to occur over several sessions until the hoarder is ready to admit that the situation is indeed dangerous.
#4. Involve the Hoarder in the Clean-up Plans
In many cases hoarders feel that their possessions are the only thing in life that they have control over.
If in your haste to clean up the hoarder’s home you tend to ignore the hoarder in making your clean up plans, then the clean-up is likely to be too stressful for the hoarder.
This is because they feel that they are losing control over the one thing they always had control of, their possessions. The loss of control is going to lead the hoarder to fight you at every turn and likely to result in nothing ever getting accomplished.
You can give the hoarder control during the cleanup process by allowing them what room they want to clean up first and what small area they want to clean up first.
By allowing the hoarder to continue to have some control over the situation you can help reduce their anxiety and they may be more willing to make changes.
You should also allow the hoarder to set the guidelines of what should be kept and what should be gotten rid of. Write down these guidelines and use them when cleaning up the home.
#5. Keep in Mind that Cleaning a Hoarder’s Home is Going to be a Slow Process
Keep in mind that cleaning a hoarder’s home is not the same as cleaning up a messy home.
Due to the mental issues surrounding hoarding, cleaning up a hoarder’s home may take weeks or even months since you will not only be cleaning the home, but helping to manage the hoarder’s emotions associated with the parting of any of their possessions.
Some days you may only be able to dispose of one or two pieces of scrap paper and other days you may be able to clear up an entire table or area of the floor.
It helps when you give the hoarder honest praise for the progress they are making and by allowing them to work through their feeling regarding each item they decide to keep or get rid of.
Just be patient and allow the hoarder to take the lead whenever possible. Remember that what may be just garbage to you may have a special meaning and sentimental value to the hoarder.
#6. Have a Strategy for Trash Disposable
Most hoarders’ homes are filled with trash as well as useful items. A garbage can that is picked up at the curb will not be enough to hold all of the trash taken from the home, so you need to have a strategy for disposing of the excess trash and large broken items.
You may be able to rent a dumpster for an extended period of time or you may need to call trucks to haul away the trash on an as needed basis.
#7. Know When to Get Professional Help
As you begin removing the piles of junk that have been accumulated over years you are likely to find areas that are beyond your cleaning capabilities as well as areas where repairs may be needed and you even may need to call in exterminators.
Knowing when to get professional help is an important part of helping a hoarder clean up their home.
Whenever possible, it is best if you and the hoarder work under a hoarding specialist who has specialized training in dealing with this type of clean up and in helping hoarders get through the process.
Your major role will be providing the hands, and being as sympathetic and understanding as possible while the hoarder works through their issues.
Do you have other tips on how to help a hoarder declutter and clean up their home?
Saturday 12th of December 2020
I love your tips and they totally makes sense to me. This is the beginning of a journey .
Tuesday 22nd of September 2020
I grew up in a home where my single mother hoards items from our childhood or that were in the home as children for sentimental reasons. She’s also prematurely retired and doesn’t feel she has the resources to let go of duplicate kitchen utensils and need to replace them later. Lots of emotion and years of trying to manage it herself she is finally coming around to the idea of letting me help. My question is- how can I position my help in time to organize but also my financial resources so she isn’t taking a hit to her pride? Thanks!
Wednesday 23rd of September 2020
Hi Elisabeth, I'm happy to hear that your mom is finally coming around to the idea of letting you help. Letting go of sentimental items is never an easy thing to do. I know how long it took me to let go of my mom's stuff after she passed.
I would suggest that you be patient with her and go at her pace. This will help her feel that she still has some sort of control. Pushing her to let go and declutter at your own pace will not be a good idea. Avoid talking about what it will cost you (time or financial) to help her. Doing so may make her feel as if she is a burden to you. And she would rather prefer to let the clutter pile up than become a burden to someone she loves. Just let her know that you are there for her.
Truth is, it's not going to be easy for both of you. It's also going to take time, so the more prepared you are mentally and emotionally, the better for both of you.
You may find this article on How to Declutter Sentimental Items helpful.
I wish you all the best.
Sunday 5th of April 2020
Love the tips. They will be helpful. I would like advice on living with a hoarder. I grew up in a home where everything had a place and everything was in it's place always. My husband grew up a second generation hoarder. Both parents were/are hoarders. I can't expect support from them. Help please it's driving me crazy.
Friday 4th of November 2022
@Paula, Give him part of the house (couple extra rooms, basement, garage?) to keep his way, but the main parts of the house (living room, kitchen, dining room, your bedroom) need to be kept at an acceptable level. That and lots of patience. Good luck
Tuesday 24th of May 2022
@Paula, I am one myself try little steps for him to do a task, so nothing is that will overwhelm or huge, make it something he happy to do everyday to be on top of & so he feels in control, or if he wants to add more on the day depending he up to he can (leave it his choice but he is not to be distracted from 1 task do first then he can do the other, like eat dinner before can have dessert ;)) he can build it when he wants but must still to stick to that small task at least, for everyday for 1month. If he falls off bandwagon, its okay start again next day not to get hung up nor you as long as he restarts or you help him just you start to help get him motivated like working out. After a month it should form a habit, be like brushing teeth (eg. make first task/duty to be so when he uses anything to put it away and wipe/clean or vacuum the area or just put away then build on), easier after this, since he not done before or not used to.. then add something else, same again everyday for a month (keep 1st good habit, so is established & build slowly on top of, don't make it too long of a task each day, you could make up a full list of all small 'to do' tasks, then let him choose out of all or number each one least favorite to do (he can bite bullet, & start with hardest or the 1 he likes first, make it all his choice, but at least that is a plan he always to stick to) - baby steps & forming good habits. Be positive too, after each month of continuous maybe both celebrate together have life & fun away from home or outside.
Sunday 19th of July 2020
I think it's time to get a third opinion. It's really stressful on a person who is not a horder. It weighs on your marriage. I hope a counselor will be able to help you.
Saturday 11th of April 2020
Hi Paula, I'm really sorry to hear about your problem. TBH, decluttering when you live with a hoarder can be very frustrating because no amount of nagging or pleading is going to change the hoarder's behavior. That being said, I believe you may find this post on How to Declutter When You Live with a Hoarder helpful in dealing with the situation.