How to Help a Hoarder Spring Clean

Photo Credit: Lwp Kommunikáció
We all know people who are hoarders, and in fact, many of us live with them. It can be incredibly frustrating to see someone keeping items that are completely unnecessary and rarely, if ever, used. However, hoarders are often very reluctant to get rid of anything, which makes it difficult to help them. Spring cleaning season is an ideal time to talk to the hoarders in your life and see if they would be willing to accept some hoarding clean up help. If so, these tips on how to help a hoarder can guide your interactions as you work together on some spring cleaning.

Recognize the signs of a serious hoarding disorder
While hoarding may look to outsiders like someone just hasn’t gotten around to getting rid of items in their home, it can actually be a psychological disorder. In many cases, people who are extreme hoarders are psychologically diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder. This comes out in the form of compulsive hoarding, and it’s not something you can just solve by going in and cleaning up the house.

If the person you would like to help has signs of a hoarding disorder, you should direct them to get psychological counseling to address that side of the problem. You can help by finding a counselor in your area who has experience with compulsive hoarding. Then when the time comes, you can offer your help with the actual hoarding clean up.

Be compassionate and connect with feelings
When providing hoarding help, remember that your main job is to help your friend or family member. Much of that help is going to come emotionally as you support the person to work through the piles of stuff. You need to be ready to listen with compassion, show empathy, and be sensitive to the person’s feelings. If you come in with a task-oriented mentality, you will likely meet with a lot of resistance that will make it difficult to achieve real progress.

Determine the criteria for deciding whether things are worth keeping
While you may be willing to get rid of everything a hoarder has been holding onto, it’s not your stuff, and you don’t have the right to give it away or throw it away. Talk to your friend or family member and work out a method for answering the critical question of whether you can get rid of any given item. Agree on whether you can get rid of items without consulting your friend, or if your friend needs to be present to make each decision.
Some common criteria for determining what to get rid of in hoarding clean up include:

  • Items that have not been used at all in a certain amount of time
  • Items that do not bring joy to the owner
  • Items that are duplicates of other things
  • Sentimental items that can be photographed to preserve the sentiment

Photo Credit: annie McLaughlin

Organize the hoarding clean up job
Planning is the name of the game if you want to make solid progress at spring cleaning a hoarder’s house. If you have several people who are there to help, you can divide up the tasks so everyone has a job and you can all work efficiently together.

      1. Set up spaces to gather items that need to be thrown away, recycled, donated, or put in long-term storage. Arrange for the donations to be picked up from the home, if possible. If there is more trash and recycling that can be picked up curbside, make arrangements for disposing of them appropriately. Rent a


    unit so you have somewhere to take items that the person wants to keep, but doesn’t need to keep in the home.
    2. Divide the home up into separate areas that can be tackled independently. It may feel overwhelming to feel like you have to clean up the whole house in one day or one weekend. If rooms are especially cluttered, you can even divide those into sections. Your goal should be to get through each of your sections in a single session of two hours or less. That way you will have an emotional win and a good stopping point to take a break.
    3. Schedule breaks for snacks, meals, and relaxing throughout the day. You will work best if you are not hungry or thirsty, and if you have mental and emotional breaks. It is easiest to bring in paper plates, utensils, cups, beverages, and food so you don’t have to worry about keeping the kitchen accessible for cooking or washing dishes during the day.
    4. Bring cleaning supplies, like a broom, mop, rags, and all-purpose cleaning sprays, to clean the areas you clear out. You are bound to find a lot of dust, dirt, and grime under and around the stuff that had been piled up for years.
    5. Set up storage solutions in the home, like shelving units with baskets, to help contain and organize the items that are kept. Hoarding clean up may feel like a one-time job, but systems need to be in place to keep items from accumulating again and needing to be cleaned out year after year.

Photo Credit: Wicker Paradise

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  • My grandmother is a hoarder, so my boyfriend and I are interested in helping her in any way that we can as she grows older. We found it wonderful that you mentioned that it is important to show compassion to the hoarder, as in the end, they are also a human being. I’ll look into contacting professional cleanup services to aid us, as well.