Outside view of garage full of hoarded items

We all know someone in our lives who just can’t part ways with unnecessary belongings. Some people stuff their attic space with cardboard boxes full of junk. Others spread their items across multiple rooms. Regardless of the storage the tactics they may use, it is necessary to recognize when simple storage turns into full-blown hoarding.

Confined space filled with hoarded items and suppliesIdentifying and addressing hoarding tendencies can be extremely difficult, especially when the hoarder in question is a close friend or relative. Where do you even start?

You could start by confronting them or throwing out some items they are reluctant to part with. Unfortunately, this won’t address the underlying hoarding disorder, which is the root of the problem.

Additionally, think about how emotionally draining a confrontation is for a hoarder. They likely find safety and comfort in their belongings, so threatening to remove these items can seem like a personal attack.

So how do you help a hoarder?

The first step to addressing a hoarding crisis is to identify the signs.

How to Spot the Signs of Hoarding

You can’t start helping a hoarder if you don’t know the signs to look out for. Most people with long-term mental struggles develop ways to hide or downplay them.

Thankfully, hoarding behaviors become more apparent as time goes on. There is a clear difference between messy homeowners and those who suffer from hoarding disorder.

Hoarding Disorder Definition

Before you plan any intervention, you should understand what a hoarding disorder is.

The American Psychiatric Association defines hoarding disorder like this:

“People with hoarding disorder have persistent difficulty getting rid of or parting with possessions due to a perceived need to save the items. Attempts to part with possessions create considerable distress and lead to decisions to save them. The resulting clutter disrupts the ability to use living spaces.”

The key takeaways from this definition are the distressing feelings when parting with items and disrupting common living spaces. Hoarding disorders go further than just clutter around the house.

Difference Between Hoarding and Collecting

Although people with a hoarding disorder may refer to themselves as collectors, hoarding and collecting are fundamentally different. You may not initially realize this difference, especially in cases where good-intentioned collections spiral into unhealthy behaviors.

Collections are healthy hobbies that hold obvious intrinsic or extrinsic value. The phrase “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” only holds true when there is a clear explanation of the item’s value. sbdgbdg

Make sure you understand the critical differences between collecting and hoarding. You wouldn’t want to accuse a collector of hoarding (and vice versa).

Here are some general distinctions between both:

Collections are usually:
  • Organized
  • Intentional
  • Specific
  • Admired
Hoarded items are usually:
  • Disorganized
  • Cluttered
  • Random
  • Out of Control

Hallmarks of Hoarding Disorder

Woman struggling in a confiend space that is taken up with hoarded itemsHoarding can be a delicate issue for both you and the person affected. You may find it difficult to properly diagnose a hoarding disorder without asking offensive questions. To help you out, here are a few more behavioral hallmarks to examine.

Difficulty parting with items of no value

It’s hard to determine what items hold value since they are perceived differently from person to person. To help assess hoarding tendencies, look for clear cases of valueless things.

The term “valueless” is not meant to put down those who find value in these items. It’s essential to recognize that a hoarder’s emotional attachments are valid but possibly misplaced.

For example, some hoarders try to justify keeping items typically seen as trash. They may either think they could have use for them in the future or hold an emotional attachment to these items that spark good memories.

Use extreme cases to help you identify compulsive hoarding.

If the person in question does not wish to part with these “valueless” items, this can be a tell-tell sign of an underlying hoarding disorder.

Emotional Stress when getting rid of items

Attempts to remove items can often lead to bouts of extreme emotional distress. You may want to give up because the last thing you want to do is ruin a loved one’s mental health.

For now, just take note when removal attempts lead to emotional stress. Underlying mental health issues can amplify this response.

Make sure to diffuse hostile situations and remind them that you love/care about them.

Finding safety and comfort from items

Unfortunately, hoarders tend to find their safety and comfort in cluttered possessions. These tendencies can appear in the aftermath of a traumatic experience, such as the death of a spouse or family member.

For some, these events are the root cause of hoarding issues. For others, traumatic events lead to an increase in the scope or severity of hoarding behavior.

It’s important to show them love and support regardless of the reasoning.

Living space may be too cluttered to move freely

Walking space is the litmus test for hoarding disorder. If there isn’t enough room for you to move freely from room to room due to the hoarder’s possessions taking up too much space, then it’s safe to say that they likely have a severe issue.

History of depression, anxiety, or substance abuse

Mental disorders, severe mental illness, and substance abuse are closely related. For example, someone who suffers from depression can also develop anxiety or addiction.

This phenomenon is also true when it comes to hoarding. Preliminary issues can influence the negative behaviors that lead to excessive hoarding.

How to Approach a Hoarder

Family intervention for person struggling with hoarding disorderAs stated earlier, hoarders often hold an exaggerated emotional attachment to their items. This can make it extremely difficult for family members and friends who wish to help.

You never know what particular item will invoke this emotional reaction. Something as trivial as a thumbtack could mean the world to a struggling hoarder.

It’s vital to address hoarding symptoms with legitimacy without justifying hoarding behavior. You don’t want to make them feel like they are crazy, because they are not. Hoarding disorder is relatively common, and a diagnosis does not take away from them as people.

As difficult as the process can be, you should approach the hoarder in your life before the situation becomes a concern for physical safety. Here are some methods to use to implement some tough love.

Focus on Open Communication

Open communication is the most effective way to promote positive change in others’ lives. Here’s an example to show the difference between open and closed communication.

You encounter two salespeople that want to change your opinions on a brand. One of them follows a scripted pitch and gets argumentative when you counter their points. The other salesperson conducts a flexible conversation and asks for your input on each topic covered. Which do you think will have better success at changing your opinion?

Open communication is the more effective strategy for changing people’s mindsets. Sure, some people are more stubborn than others. Even if they don’t wholly agree with you, open conversations prompt hoarders to think about their often ignore questions.

Inclusive conversations show that you care about the other person enough to hear them out. Your goal is to help, not to hurt.

Make sure to remain respectful of their opinions. There will likely be some forms of pushback.

Sometimes, hoarders can get defensive and interpret the conversation as a direct attack. You can use open discussions to help validate their feelings, which can help them lower their guard.

Implement Motivational Interviewing

Motivational interviewing is a counseling technique that focuses on asking questions that influence change away from destructive behavior. Professionals initially used this technique for substance abuse cases, but its uses have expanded.

Most people with a disorder understand the negative impacts of their behavior. Some choose to continue these behaviors due to a lack of motivation.

Motivational interviewing focuses the conversation away from statements of blame and argument. Instead, the interviewer should ask questions that bring up the discrepancies in their lives.

These discrepancies are the disconnects between where they are in life and where they would like to be. In the case of some with hoarding disorder, the behaviors may limit their ability to socialize.

They will likely be more motivated to enact a positive change than before as they come to their conclusions. Your job is to help guide them through some practical ways they can pass this change.

If you wish to explore this option further, you may want to learn more about Enhancing Motivation for Change.

Seek Professional Help

If one of your immediate family members suffers from hoarding disorder, you may feel like the best option is to take matters into your own hands. While there are many ways you could help them, there are also plenty of things you’ll try that would make the situation worse.

For example, you may be tempted to take it upon yourself to throw out the cluttered mess. Although this will temporarily clean the house, it does nothing to heal the root of the struggle.

Worse yet, the hoarder in question could take this as a direct attack.

Mental health is a complex topic. It’s often better to get professional assistance when it comes to complex concerns such as mental health.

A medical health professional should know how to help a hoarder better than anyone else. They can also recommend appropriate treatment programs, support groups, and other forms of long-term professional help.

Hoarding Disorder Treatment

There are plenty of treatment options out there for hoarding disorder.

Here are a few proven treatment options.

Family As Motivators Training (FAM)

Family as Motivators Training (FAM) is the process of teaching family members the proper strategies to handle a loved one’s hoarding disorder. These strategies could help avoid family conflict, influence healthy communication, and promote impactful changes.

In some cases, people with hoarding disorder may be hesitant to listen to seek professional help. If you can bring the help to them through trusted family members, you should see more success.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

While motivational interviewing focuses on motivation and self-actualization, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) focuses on changing how people think through their problematic habits and behaviors.

For those who are open to seeing a mental health professional, CBT can be one of the more practical options for long-term growth. Cognitive-behavioral therapy equips people with the tools they need during recovery.

Skills Training

It’s necessary to treat the underlying mental health condition before starting the decluttering process.

Skills training can be a significant next step for those recovering from HD. Even if clutter doesn’t hold the same sentimental value, hoarders may not have the organizational skills to clean their houses.

Recovering hoarders who use skills training learn skills and methods to remove unwanted objects independently. Small victories during recovery can do wonders to prevent relapse, so skills training for the person struggling after standard treatment.


While we may not think of mental health issues as physical issues, the changes to an individual’s brain chemistry are very much physical. When other treatment options fail to solve their conflicts, sometimes psychiatric medications may be necessary.

Typically, medical professionals will recommend these medications alongside therapeutic treatment. This is especially effective for cases caused by underlying mental illnesses such as severe anxiety.

Make sure you consult a doctor before trying any new medication.

What to Remember When Its Time to Clean

Two boxes to seperate items to keep and items to throw away while cleaning houseIt would be best to wait to start cleaning until you find a treatment option that works for the person with a hoarding disorder. Remember, even though the treatment options listed above are effective, it will take time and patience until they are ready to start decluttering.

Throwing out clutter too quickly is one of the most common pitfalls of treating hoarding disorder. The last thing you want to do is ruin all the work they just put in to help your friend or family member.

Instead, wait until they are ready to start cleaning up. Once they are, celebrate the small victories as you clean up.

How to Clean Up a Hoarder House

Once your loved one is ready, it’s time to clean up their home.

First, make sure you have a team ready to help them with the job. The decluttering process can be overwhelming to those who have just begun their recovery journey. A proper support system will help keep things on track.

Before you start, here are some tips to streamline your junk removal.

Remove Trash First

You may be wondering, where do I even begin?

Well, start with the trash.

There will be plenty of time to decide on the items that tetter the line between valuable and unnecessary. To make life easier for everyone, start with the things that have no value. Gradually remove these items to make room for sorting valuable items

Sort What to Keep and What to Get Rid Of

Next, you want to make a simple system to decide what to keep and get rid of. Keep both piles separate, and remove the “get rid of” pile as you need more room.

Make sure the recovering hoarder has a say in what stays and what goes. Giving them some control will help them accept their new living situation.

Give the recovering hoarder plenty of grace. Decluttering is a gradual process, and you will have multiple opportunities to continue narrowing down their items.

Focus on What is Valuable

At this point, you should have a much better idea of what is staying and what is leaving. If they still have too many items, conduct another decluttering process.

You can be a little more selective this time around. Focus on the value of each item. Ask if each item is valuable to the person recovering from hoarding disorder. If it holds value, ask them why.

Remember that everyone determines value differently. If they are insistent that a particular item holds enough value to keep, move on to the next thing.

Hire a Junk Removal Company

Removing the clutter from a house is hard enough, but now you have to figure out what to do with everything.

Instead of spending days transporting these items to their respective disposal locations, why not hire a junk removal company?

These companies specialize in junk removal. They have the tools, training, and experience to make quick work of your trash.

Additionally, they can filter through recyclable items, which will reduce negative environmental impacts.

Junk removal can be especially effective for hoarders with large objects or hoarders who may be reluctant to clean.

Stand Up Guys Loves to Help Hoarders

Dumpster full of hoarded items to be removed by waste removal companyWe understand that every hoarder cleanup situation is different. Some people with hoarding disorder are reluctant to remove all the clutter at one time. For these situations, we can take things day-by-day or room-by-room.

In other cases, recovering hoarders may want to remove everything ASAP! For these situations, we can expedite our process to waste as little time as possible by tackling the entire house at once.

Stand Up Guys has had years of experience with all different types of hoarding clean-outs. We understand that hoarding disorder is a complex issue that affects hoarders differently. That’s why we take care of everything for our customers, from A-Z.

It’s no secret that we love removing junk, but hoarding situations hold a special place in our hearts. Hoarding can lead to unsafe living conditions with various fire hazards, falling hazards, and sanitary hazards. Additionally, excessive hoarding can cause emotional distress between family and friends.

We want to remove these physical and emotional hazards so people can go back to living a happy and healthy life in their own homes.

Check out our Hoarder Cleanouts page for more information about our hoarding services.

Remember to first help a hoarder through the various treatment options for hoarding disorder. Once they are ready to part ways with their junk, book an appointment with Stand Up Guys.

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