We all accumulate clutter; however, when it becomes a big enough problem to significantly impair your life, it is important to be aware of the support that exists. Hoarding can cause considerable distress for those experiencing symptoms, but the good news is that there are effective ways to support ourselves, our friends, and our family members when clutter has taken over.
Tips for hoarders: Remember you are not alone. Hoarding has been estimated to occur in 5% of the population or 15 million people in the US. So there are many people out there who struggle with similar issues. There are also many researchers and mental health professionals that have focused on finding ways to help hoarding individuals. So far, cognitive-behavioral therapy has shown to be the most effective treatment. Therapy can help to identify underlying beliefs and feelings related to hoarding, provide organizational and decision-making skills, and address any others issues such as anxiety, depression, or relationship problems.
Tips for family and friends of hoarders: One of the most difficult things for us to accept is that the individual who is struggling with hoarding needs to make their own arguments for change. We cannot force, threaten, persuade, or shame them into it. We also cannot do it for them. So unless the clutter is immediately life-threatening, the best we can do is to offer support and empathy. Instead of nagging or arguing, ask the individual how hoarding helps and hurts them, ask if their behaviors are consistent with their values and goals, and ask whether they are they living the life they want to be living. You can also emphasize the importance of spending time together rather than focusing on physical items or enabling hoarding behaviors. Lastly, share with the individual that help is out there. You can provide them with information about treatment as well as other resources such as professional organizers. Mostly importantly, we have to remember that change takes time and hoarding does not go away overnight.
Andrea Umbach, M.A. is a therapist at Southeast Psych as well as the Founder of Charlotte Anxiety Consortium. Andrea enjoys working with teens, adults, and couples and specializes in anxiety disorders. Andrea directs a group called “Kick the Clutter“, which helps individuals gain a better understanding of hoarding and learn new skills that allow for more functional living.