If you have a loved one with hoarding tendencies, it can be difficult to know where to start when it comes to cleaning and organizing their home. Hoarding is a serious psychological disorder that makes throwing away anything a challenge. Before you help a hoarder clean up, you should learn about the disorder and seek out professional help for them.
Hoarding is a serious condition that can have emotional, social, financial and even physical effects on a person. The behaviors and situations below are hallmark signs of compulsive hoarding:

  • Avoids throwing away possessions that have no value to them or anyone else.
  • Experiences mild to severe anxiety about getting rid of anything.
  • Repeatedly adding to the hoard without recognition that there is a problem.
  • Rooms in their home can no longer be used for their intended purpose.
  • Possessions are negatively impacting their safety, health or hygiene.

Hoarding tendencies can vary in severity, but if you recognize more than one of these symptoms in your loved one, you need to find professional assistance before moving forward.

Helping a Hoarder Clean Up and Organize Their Home

Step 1: Talk About Cleaning and Organizing

Talk about your plans and emphasize the ideas of safety and confidentiality. Discuss how organizing their home will make it safer to live in and communicate that you’re only there for support, not to judge.

Step 2: Make a Plan

  1. Determine criteria for getting rid of items: Create a list of criteria to determine if something can be thrown away. Remember that these are their belongings and they are in charge of this process. Write down the criteria so everyone assisting can refer to them as needed. An example could be: All mail older than six months can be thrown away.
  2. Make a schedule: Decide the order you will tackle the rooms and how much time you’ll plan to spend in each room. Remember, tackling rooms individually is much more manageable than tackling the whole house.
  3. Set goals: Setting goals is an important step in helping someone with hoarding tendencies. Set concrete and attainable goals to keep everyone motivated. A goal could be organizing their items and moving them to an area of the house that can be used for storage; clearing enough space in entrances and hallways to improve accessibility and safety; or clearing a space where they will feel comfortable hosting company.

Step 3: Develop a Strategy for Waste Removal

You will need to have a fast and simple solution for moving the debris out of the home. Renting a dumpster is a good option.

Step 4: Begin Organizing the Home

Cleaning and organizing are two different things. First declutter the home, then organize and finally, begin cleaning.
Follow your plan and go room by room. Using your pre-determined list of criteria, identify and throw away worthless clutter and create piles for items to be kept and items to be donated.
Helping someone with a hoarding disorder is incredibly challenging. It will be an emotionally exhausting process, especially when you are working with someone you love. Remember to stay positive and be patient. 

*Adapted from article on budgetdumpster