How To Practice Harm Reduction in Hoarding

How can we practice harm reduction in hoarding?

Lets face it, if you are struggling with hoarding or chronic disorganization, you likely are not going to have a home that you would see in a home and garden magazine!

This doesn’t mean that you cannot get your home up to more of a standard that you would be comfortable with. Your place needs to be your sacred space and while it certainly does not have to be perfect, it is important that it is safe for you and your family. 

This might mean different things for different people. There are different ways to look at it.  First and foremost, think about areas that are causing you a lot of difficulty like a doorway with shoes, bags, purses, flyers, mail,  not able to find what you need for the day; papers, keys, etc. 

If you are having difficulty finding things like keys, books, lunch bags, important papers, this is a great area to focus on and to work on making improvements that you will be able to see immediately.  

What are your goals are for your home?

Do you really wish you could be cooking more?  If so, you need to have your stove and counters clear.  It is important to clean out your fridge on a regular basis and to get good at knowing what you have,  using it up on a regular basis so you are not throwing out wasted food, (basically throwing your money out the door) or not eating out most nights.  Put your focus to these areas and you will see improvement.  

Are you at risk of your items that are stacked in piles falling on you. I know that most of us live in small spaces and this makes it challenging to get our stuff downsized, put away or taken to its home.  But of course, we don’t want to have stuff falling over and having us even more frustrated with trying to find things.

Remember everything needs to have a home to return to. 

These are some of the recommendations from the London Fire Department if they ever have to come to your place for an inspection.

  1. Each hoarding situation is looked at on an individual basis.  Sometimes the department does not need to take any action if the accumulations are non-combustible and adequate pathways are present.
  2. The first thing which is assessed is overall safety (e.g. working smoke alarms).  Next an assessment of the building as a whole is done to gauge the impact a fire would have on others.  Building construction and type are major factors as well.
  3. Pathways need to be a minimum of 3 feet but this depends on the mobility of the tenant and how they move (assisted vs. unassisted).
  4. Clear distances from ignition sources are a minimum of about 1 foot.
  5. Pile heights are required to be reduced to no more than about 3 feet.
  6. Other considerations are given, depending on the situation.  For example, if the situation was deemed to be dangerous, the LFD could order the building closed and the tenant removed immediately.

Here are some considerations to keep in mind:

  1. Do no harm – meaning you do not want to do more harm to the person as they are struggling enough.
  2. It is not necessary to stop all hoarding behaviour – like I said they are likely not going to have a home that is going to be in a home and garden magazine.
  3. No two hoarding situations are alike – people need to be treated as individuals.
  4. The individual needs to be involved as a Team Member – do not ever throw out your loved ones items!!  This is traumatic for an individual.  They need to be involved in the plan and any decision making.
  5. Change is slow – YES you need to have the patience of a saint and those who support others with chronic disorganization issues definitely do.
  6. Contract failures to not mean that the harm reduction model is not working – Individuals may have difficulty with sticking to the contract but this doesn’t mean they are not making progress.
  7. The individual may have other, more pressing issues than the hoarding problem – this person could be dealing with other issues, mental health, physical health, family issues, etc.  Sometimes these issues have to take precedent.

What do you think? 

What does harm reduction look like to you?  I am sure there are many ways we can support our loved ones who are struggling with this issue.  What are some ways that you can think of or ways that you have helped others?  We would love to hear from you.  Please share in the comments below:




About Kim

I’m Kim, your go-to Professional Organizer and Virtual Coach! I’m beyond excited to embark on this clutter-free adventure with you. With a background in mental health and a passion for transforming spaces, I bring a holistic approach to decluttering. It’s not just about neatening up physical spaces; it’s about fostering a mindset shift that radiates throughout your life. I founded Space For You Clear the Clutter, Heal Your Life and have been working with individuals and groups for about 15 years. I've also trained with Professional Organizers of Canada and the Institute for Challenging Disorganization.
This entry was posted in Clutter, decluttering, downsize, families, goal setting, hoarding, Inspiration, Organizing, sacred home and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to How To Practice Harm Reduction in Hoarding

  1. Very informative article!

    Don’t worry about being “technically challenged with images on Google” – it is never a good idea to use other people’s images without permission anyway.

  2. We all have our technical challenges:) This is a complicated issue deserving of thoughtful solutions, as you’ve outlined. One step at a time. Letting go of shame and seeking resources can be a very helpful first step!

  3. Well done, great tips. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Well written, Kim! I like your point about making sure the client is treated as a team member. They should be kept in the loop on everything. And I especially love your reminder that a contract failure doesn’t mean progress isn’t being made. Forward progress isn’t always made in a linear fashion. Backslides will happen and that’s okay!

    • Kimberley says:

      Thank you for responding Sarah – Yes, working with this population certainly comes with its own challenges and patience is so important as we know this work is not quick. There will certainly be backslides.

  5. Great post! I really like that you point out that your home doesn’t have to be magazine perfect and that what people want from their homes is going to be different for each family. The point about not needing to stop all hoarding behavior really hit home for me.

    • Kimberley says:

      Thank you Jamie – Yes, it could be a worry for someone with hoarding behaviour but perhaps they can let go of that and still make progress. 🙂

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