Hoarding causes problems that are much greater than just a messy house. The conditions in a hoarding house can be very dangerous. Items on the floor can pose tripping hazards, and unsanitary conditions can lead to food poisoning and infections. A hoarder's house is also at risk of becoming a fire hazard. If someone in your life seems to have a hoarding problem, it's important to reach out and get help for them. Take a look at a few tips for helping a loved one with a hoarding habit.
Focus on Safety, Not Cleanliness
Before you can get to the work of cleaning up the house, you'll have to have a talk with the person who's doing the hoarding. Confronting a hoarder can be the hardest part of the ordeal. It's important to have compassion for the loved one who is hoarding. They aren't doing it on purpose.
Instead of focusing on cleaning the mess, talk about your concern for their safety. Questioning someone's cleanliness can feel like an attack, which can cause the hoarder to respond defensively. Expressing concern for their safety feels much less judgmental and may inspire the hoarder to be more open to the things that you're saying. Point out potential hazards or give examples of previous illnesses or injuries that may have been caused by the living conditions. Avoid telling the hoarder to throw things away or volunteering to clean up the mess. Instead, ask them if they want your help to create a plan to make the home safer.
Involve Them In the Planning
When a hoarder agrees to let you help make the home safer, make sure to include them in the process of planning how you're going to do that. If they feel that you're trying to take over their home or that you're making plans to throw things out without consulting them, they may back out entirely. Ask them what their idea of a safer home would look like. Let them specify things that absolutely can't be thrown away.
If the hoarding is advanced, you will probably need to hire a professional cleaning business to help with the cleanup. Choose a service that has experience with cleaning hoarding sites, and remember to keep the hoarder involved in this stage of the planning as well. Even if you're the one paying for or arranging the cleaning service, make sure that the hoarder has input on each stage of the cleaning process and that the cleaners are apprised of the hoarder's wishes about things that should not be thrown away or areas of the home that should be left alone.
Remember to Follow Up
Hoarding is not something that happens once—it's a pattern of behavior. Cleaning the mess might not necessarily put an end to the hoarding behavior, and you may not be able to convince the hoarder to clean the whole mess in one session. That means that it's important to stay engaged and visit regularly.
If the hoarder only allowed enough cleanup to make the house less hazardous the first time, with repeated visits, you may be able to help convince them to take it a step further the next time. Point out how much more comfortable the cleaner areas of the home are and encourage them to take steps to clean the rest of the home. If you notice that they've fallen back into hoarding behaviors, you can bring it to their attention and help keep it from getting out of control again.
A professional cleaning service that has handled hoarding sites in the past will be able to bring the tools and manpower needed to clean the site efficiently. They'll also know how to approach potentially hazardous messes safely. Restoring a hoarding house is a big undertaking; don't hesitate to reach out to experienced professionals for help.