Hoarding Intervention: Tips and Tools for Assisting Loved Ones in Need

People suffering from hoarding disorder have persistent difficulty parting with possessions due to a perceived need to save the items. In fact, any attempts to throw away, give away, or sell items can lead to extreme anxiety and distress. Unfortunately, these attachments to all kinds of objects can cause people suffering from hoarding disorder to live in cluttered, potentially dangerous spaces. Hoarding can take over a person’s life.


Researchers estimate that the overall prevalence of hoarding disorder is approximately 2.6%. However people over age 60 are at higher risk. People suffering from anxiety, depression, and other psychiatric conditions are also at increased risk. Are you concerned that a loved one’s life is being taken over by hoarding? Here’s a look at tips for planning a delicate intervention.


Understanding Hoarding Behavior


Hoarding is a compulsive behavior that forces a person to indiscriminately hold on to items that they believe could be valuable or useful at some point. Unlike collectors, hoarders don’t carefully source items belonging to a theme or niche. They instead struggle to part with paper bags, old wrapping paper, and other items that don’t hold any value or significance. Signs of hoarding include:


  • Obtaining more items than you have space for at the moment.

  • Struggling to throw away or part with objects.

  • Feeling the need to save items without explanation.

  • Feeling agitation or anxiety over the thought of getting rid of items.

  • Allowing clutter to build up around you to the point that parts of your home become unusable.

  • Struggling to plan or organize.

  • Living with disorganized piles of items.

  • Living with piles of trash that reach unsanitary levels.

  • Struggling to keep yourself, your children, or your pets properly cared for in the home environment.

  • Experiencing conflict with people who try to reduce clutter in your home.

  • Avoiding people or social situations out of fear or embarrassment stemming from hoarding.

  • Constantly losing important items in the clutter of your home.


It’s believed that hoarding behaviors develop in response to trauma. Being bullied or harassed in childhood can lead to hoarding behaviors. Major losses that include divorce or the death of a loved one are also linked with hoarding. Extreme stress, isolation, and psychiatric disorders can also trigger hoarding compulsions.


Educate Yourself on Hoarding Disorder


Loved ones often wonder why a hoarder can’t just get rid of things. It’s so important to become educated on the complexities of this disorder before confronting a loved one who is struggling. Shame can actually make it more difficult for a person with hoarding disorder to make changes.


Find the Right Communication Strategies


Approaching a loved one in a caring, understanding manner is important. It’s very difficult for people with hoarding disorder to accept help due to the tremendous anxiety they feel when it comes to parting with items. Threats, blame, or acting with “disgust” should be avoided.


Seek Professional Help for the Disorder


What looks like a “clutter problem” can potentially be a severe psychiatric disorder. While the answer may seem as simple as just cleaning out a home, the truth is that most people aren’t equipped to help a loved one with hoarding disorder without doing “more harm than good.” Consider starting the process with a therapy intervention before you even tackle the idea of tossing out a single item.


Create a Supportive Environment


Let your loved one know that you’re there to support them. People with hoarding disorder often practice self-isolation out of embarrassment and fear. By letting your loved one know that you simply want to support them, you can help them to feel comfortable enough to ask for help. Let them know that you’re more than happy to set boundaries while you provide assistance with decluttering and organizing.


Develop a Collaborative Plan


Overcoming hoarding often takes a team effort! In most cases, it takes friends, family members, and community members coming together to help a person who is struggling with hoarding to make a change. The truth is that some situations can be delicate. That’s why it’s important to develop a personalized intervention plan tailored to your loved one’s needs and preferences. Never try to surprise a person with hoarding disorder with a surprise home makeover. A better approach is to work with your loved one to set realistic goals, break tasks into manageable steps, and celebrate progress along the way. It’s also wise to have a logistical plan in place to ensure that you don’t become overwhelmed in the process. After getting the consent of your loved one, the next move might be to rent dumpsters to help make the process go as smoothly as possible.


Encourage Self-Care


There’s a good chance that a person struggling with hoarding disorder is going to experience some rough moments during the process of cleaning out their home. Many of the anxieties and fears that were being managed using hoarding as a coping mechanism may come bubbling up to the surface. These mental and emotional struggles can also spill over to the people helping with the intervention. If you’re currently trying to help a loved one whose life has been consumed by hoarding, be sure to prioritize your own well-being and self-care throughout the intervention process. It’s very likely that your loved one may direct some of their strong emotions towards you as you do your best to help them. Be sure to pat yourself on the back for every small win. You should also give yourself time to step away when moments become too intense.


Make a Plan for Continuing Support


The purpose of a hoarding intervention isn’t just to create a sparkling home as quickly as you can. It’s so important to make a plan for ongoing support after the initial intervention to prevent your loved one from sliding back into old habits. Once the project is done, be sure to recognize the courage it took for your loved one to part with items that meant the world to them. It’s also smart to schedule follow-up visits to ensure that progress is being maintained.