How to Help your Family Member who Hoards

Do you have a family member who is struggling with hoarding?  Have you tried to help them only to be left feeling frustrated and both of you feeling angry at each other?  This is certainly a huge challenge that I am sure would not be easy to deal with.  Sometimes the individual does not even see that there is a problem.  Family members who mean well want to help but their loved one is feeling defensive and has trust issues with everyone.  That is why it is a good idea for individuals to have other supports available and in more severe cases they may need a wrap around team approach.

When a family member is resistant, it can be a matter of helping them to get to the point where they have done the minimum requirements to be safe and in some cases be able to keep their apartment or home.  As a family member you can stress to them that you are concerned for their safety and health.

So, how do you help your family member to be motivated?  Are they having difficulties on a day to day basis with remembering appointments, paying bills, finding things, tripping over belongings or piles toppling over?

What are the challenges they are dealing with every day?  They might be feeling overwhelmed enough that they are willing to accept some help.  What does your family member want to be doing with their days?  What are their goals for the future?  These are the clues for you to help them and to see how motivated they are to work on their issues.

There is a great book that is directed at family members called “Digging Out” and it takes a harm reduction kind of approach.  Here is some more information on harm reduction.

How To Practice Harm Reduction in Hoarding

SOME THOUGHTS AND IDEAS FOR WORKING WITH YOUR FAMILY MEMBER:

  1. Let your family member know that they are in the drivers seat and they get to make their own decisions.  They get to decide on where to start or what to work on?  This can be difficult for the person helping, however, there still will be opportunities to ask questions in order to help with the awareness of pros and cons of a decision or possible consequences.
  2. It is best for the individual to always be responsible for decisions around the clutter.  Items should never be discarded without the individuals knowledge or permission.  I have seen this happen too many times and unfortunately this just leads to more distress and dysfunction.  Avoid doing the work for the individual and think about doing the work along with the family member.
  3. Show compassion and acceptance.  I know how hard this can be, but to really help our loved one, we need to let go of any judgement and try to be there for them.  Normalizing things as much as possible is really important.  Making jokes, going out for coffee or lunch can mean the world to someone who is struggling everyday with clutter and chaos.
  4. Acknowledge feelings “it sounds like this is really hard for you”,  “I can see you are sad about going through mom’s things” “its okay to be unsure about throwing this item away”, etc.   Let them know that you realize this is really hard work and that you are proud of them for starting the process.  We have a saying in our Clearing Clearing Support Group that is “SMALL IS HUGE”.  Reward small efforts.
  5. Learn more about clutter/hoarding issues.  Read my blog posts for some helpful information or check out some of the great books available.  I have some listed under resources.  Also, if you are local (in London, On) come out to one of my talks coming up and bring your family member with you.
  6. Be kind to yourself.  It can be really challenging to help someone who is struggling with hoarding.  You will need to take good care of yourself and also work on setting healthy boundaries in order for you to do this work.  Reward yourself.

Please comment below with any thoughts, questions or ideas about successes you have had while working with others.

 

About Kimberley

I am a Case Manager at My Sisters' Place which is a program of the Canadian Mental Health Association London Middlesex. My Sisters' Place is a program for vulnerable women. I love my job and all the wonderful women I work with. I am very honored to do this work with women who have been through so much and are so open in sharing their stories. I initiated and designed a Clearing Clutter Support Group which I have been facilitating since 2007 with a co-worker. I love running this group and learn so much from the participants. We offer this eight week program three or four times a year. I started my business Space For You in 2010 and work with individuals in their homes as well as offer some workshops in the community. I am available to speak to groups on "De-Cluttering Your Life", "The Magic of De-Cluttering", "Space Clearing" or really anything to do with clutter and hoarding.
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4 Responses to How to Help your Family Member who Hoards

  1. Seana Turner says:

    This situation puts stress on everyone. To love a person with hoarding disorder is challenging, as is caring about anyone with a compulsion or addiction. I’m glad you mentioned #2. It is so tempting to go in and get rid of items when they aren’t looking, but this is generally not a good idea, and could just make matters worse.

    • Kimberley says:

      Yes, for sure Seana. I think people mean well, but they don’t realize how traumatic it can be for people to lose their possessions. Also, what is valuable to someone else, may not be valuable to me so people who are helpers need to be aware of this.

  2. Such a helpful article, Kim. I love your Group’s motto: “Small is huge.” It really helps to keep things in perspective.

    • Kimberley says:

      Hi Sarah, Thank you so much. Yes, we love this motto as well. It think it helps people not to be so hard on themselves.

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