How to help a compulsive hoarder

Compulsive hoarding is a very serious condition that influences people to amass piles and piles of useless clutter. A type of obsessive compulsive disorder, (OCD), compulsive hoarding makes people believe that worthless items are not worthless at all, and that they must be kept because one day they will become useful, even though they may be broken and/or damaged. Even old newspapers can sometimes be kept because some hoarders are convinced that they may contain some invaluable information that will one day be needed, and may even be life changing.

In severe cases, the hoarding compulsion is so strong that entire households are totally taken over by enormous amounts of clutter. Every nook and cranny becomes filled with clutter, and once all storage space has been fully utilised, the clutter is kept anywhere and everywhere. Entire kitchens become choked with clutter to the extent that it becomes impossible to use the cooker, the dishwasher, the washing machine, and even the sink. Toilets and bathrooms become unusable, and what with old food packaging left lying around and the attraction of rodents, a hoarders house becomes an unhygienic and dangerous place to live. In the US, (where weather permits), hoarders have been known to be forced to live in the yard because their houses have become so full of clutter that they cannot make any room for themselves.

Most people ignore hoarders and are unaffected by them unless they are unfortunate enough to live next door to one, in which case they themselves are in danger from an increased risk of fire breaking out next door, a fire which can all too easily be started by the inflammable clutter.

Hoarders usually shun outsiders, not wishing to let anybody see the squalor or mess in which they live. Some hoarders are also so paranoid that they fear that someone else seeing their hoard may covert it for themselves. Totally irrational of course; but hoarders are not rational people.

Hoarders put themselves in increased danger because of their environment. They may contract disease through their unhygienic surroundings, or they may be killed by a fire, unable to escape because of the sheer volume of clutter that blocks the doorways and passages of their place of residence. This has happened on a number of occasions across the world, as has hoarders being crushed, and or asphyxiated when piles of their junk or clothes falls on top of them.

Because of the very nature of their condition, hoarders are incapable of healing themselves. This can only be done with professional outside help, and this is where family members, or once close friends can be of help. However, it is not easy for them; they often feel frustrated and let down by the hoarder’s seemingly inexplicable behaviour.

Sometimes family or concerned friends try themselves to help. It is not a good idea. One has to bear in mind that the hoarding compulsion is a mental health problem. Very often a hoarder refuses to see anything out of the ordinary in their behaviour, and will not acknowledge any sort of problem being caused by their clutter. They cannot be reasoned with, and any attempt to do so will bring on a severe and distressed reaction from the hoarder. Sometimes people try to help serrupticiously by going through the clutter and discarding certain items in secret. This is not advisable at all as it will surely be discovered by the hoarder who will then feel devastated and badly let down.

The hoarding syndrome – How it can ruin your life

The best way that friends and/or family can help is by introducing a specially trained therapist into the situation, but it can be hard for outsiders to simply stand by and only watch. The most reliable treatment is by way of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), but this is a slow process, and in the meantime, well wishers become very frustrated at the apparent lack of progress. It is however difficult to stand by and watch loved ones living in such squalor and danger. The clutter often becomes damp and covered in mildew and rodent’s droppings; houses themselves become damp and smell terribly. The resultant clutter can sometimes resemble a rubbish tip in both sight and smell. But if an outsider, be it friend or family member tries to forcibly interfere; they may never, ever be forgiven. So you must be strong, and leave it to the professionals.

Although slow, CBT is invariably effective. It teaches the hoarder how to recognise their compulsion and then how to analyze it so it can be dealt with in various ways. The hoarding compulsion is seldom ever defeated in its entirety, but having said that, it can be managed, and the hoarder can then live in a much more controlled environment. There may still be a certain amount of clutter around, but it no longer need present either a health, or a life threatening situation.

As well as seeking out the right therapeutic help, it is also important to find a reliable, trustworthy company to dispose of the clutter as the hoarder becomes more able to relinquish some of it. In amongst the junk will invariably be some items of value such as jewellery, and even money, so employing the right reputable and reliable disposal company is also of high importance.