When we see a loved one drowning, our natural instinct is to lend a hand. But how can we help someone who refuses to take it?

Hoarding disorder is a unique disease, but that doesn’t make it any less devastating for friends and family of those affected.

Research shows clinically significant hoarding currently affects between 2% and 6% of people.

hoarding disorder statistic

These people find it extremely difficult to discard items, regardless of their actual value. They have a need to hold onto items and feel distressed at the thought of discarding them. And their clutter often prevents their home from being used as intended.

Hoarding disorder affects hundreds of thousands of Australians, and can negatively impact their:

  • Quality of life
  • Safety
  • Relationships.

So what can we do to help someone with hoarding disorder if they don’t want help?

If you’re worried about someone with compulsive hoarding tendencies, you can’t exactly force them to get better. But you can be there to provide support and gently encourage them onto the road to recovery.


Understand the Disorder

Thinking Woman

Before you can help someone with hoarding disorder, you should make an effort to educate yourself on the disease.

It can be tricky for a bystander to understand the disorder and make sense of the associated behaviours. By learning about the condition, you can get a better understanding of hoarding disorder and the feelings of anxiety and isolation it can bring. This understanding can help you overcome judgement and provide support and compassion.

A few ways to learn about hoarding disorder might include:

  • Researching relevant websites and forums online
  • Talking to health professionals
  • Attending a support group for compulsive hoarders
  • Digging deeper into our series about hoarding disorder.

Of course, the best way to understand your loved one’s situation is to lend an ear and talk with them about their experience.

Psychology Today explores how loneliness can contribute to hoarding behaviours or even trigger the disorder. Simply being there can be one of the most impactful ways to help someone with hoarding disorder.


Don’t Throw Out Their Possessions


A hoarder’s suffering doesn’t just start and end with stuff – and helping them goes far beyond sorting their belongings into a skip bin.

As a mental illness, compulsive hoarding behaviours have deep-rooted causes that need addressing in order to heal.

Throwing out their possessions or pressuring them to do so will only cause distress and distrust. Not to mention, without proper treatment, it likely won’t take long for them to fill their home with items again.

While it may be tempting to tidy their home or chuck seemingly unneeded items into the bin, this isn’t helpful to your loved one. Respect their space and be sensitive to their emotional attachment to belongings.


Celebrate Small Wins

Heart Hands

Hoarding disorder is exactly that – a disorder. Any small efforts to improve their hoarding tendencies should be acknowledged and celebrated as progress.

A small win might be:

  • Throwing away an item they don’t need
  • Refraining from buying an item they don’t need.

It can take years for people with compulsive hoarding disorder to throw away hoarded possessions.

Recognising and praising baby steps – no matter how small – can help encourage your loved one to stay focused and keep trying.


Don’t Enable Them


You may not be able to stop your loved one from hoarding, but you can play your part to avoid enabling their hoarding tendencies and behaviours. From shopping trips to birthday gifts, you could be enabling their hoarding habits without even realising it.

“It’s referred to as accommodation – the tendency for family members to do things that ultimately make it easier for hoarders to continue hoarding.”

– Martin Antony, Chair of the psychology department at Ryerson University

For example, if your loved one is prone to buying things they don’t need, don’t invite them shopping. If they hoard or compulsively collect a particular item, don’t add to their collection by gifting that item every birthday and Christmas.

You can also avoid enabling their hoarding by refusing to store their excess belongings in your home if they’ve run out of room in their own.


Encourage Treatment

Two Men Talking

It’s OK for your loved one to be hesitant to get help – normal, even. The idea of seeking treatment can be overwhelming, and you can’t exactly drag them along to a medical professional’s office.

If you know someone with hoarding disorder that may benefit from professional advice and/or treatment, you might like to research medical professionals and treatment providers and gather helpful information on what that process might look like. Doing the researching process takes some of the burden off your loved one, and means you can offer the info when they’re ready to accept it.

If you’re looking for hoarding help in Australia for a loved one, there are several options available.

They may be entitled to receive psychological treatment subsidised by Medicare if they’re assessed by a doctor as eligible for a Mental Health Care Plan.

Research shows 70% of patients with hoarding disorder respond to cognitive behavioural therapy – talk-therapy-based skills training and motivational interviewing.

Cognitive Therapy Statistic

Other help for hoarders might include support groups where they can explore their thoughts and feelings with others sharing the experience, and professional organising services who specialise in helping those with hoarding disorder declutter and organise their homes.

If you’d like to learn more about hoarding and how to help someone with hoarding disorder, you can find similar articles here.


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