Love me, love my stuff….all 5 tonnes of it…

You have a problem. Your partner/mother/son/aunt/neighbour has a lot of stuff. They have more stuff than you think is necessary. Their life seems to revolve around their stuff.  You’ve watched Hoarders and Oprah and have seen what hoarding does to people. You’re worried about your loved-one.

However, how do you know if they’re a compulsive hoarder, or just chronically (or acutely) disorganised? According to one of the biggest hoarding experts in the world, Randy Frost, compulsive hoarding is the “acquisition of, and failure to discard, possessions which appear to be useless or of limited value“.

I get calls from worried family members and friends a lot; wondering what they can do to help.  Before I can help, however, we need to establish the level of hoarding, and whether they are indeed a compulsive hoarder.

I personally attempt to identify compulsive hoarders with three main lines of questioning:

  1. One of the biggest characteristics of a compulsive hoarder is their denial of the condition. If they frequently lament that everyone is against them, that noone understands how important their belongings are, and that they don’t need to change (in fact, everyone else does!), and if they have pushed away family members and friends that have tried to help, then they may be compulsive hoarders.
  2. Next is their emotional state when asked to discard items. If they get very upset (aggressive, highly emotional or even hysterical) whenever anyone touches, moves or removes their belongings, they may be compulsive hoarders.
  3. Another key indicator, as previously touched on in Randy Frost’s definition, is the volume of and type of items that they keep. Are there excessive amounts of them? Are they of little value? Do they include such items as newspapers, rubber bands, ice-cream sticks, pipe-cleaners, or plastic bags, toilet rolls or something similar? Are they possibly animals or old food?

So how do you help if it appears they are very likely a compulsive hoarder? I won’t sugar-coat it – it’s not at all easy. Few compulsive hoarders successfully overcome the condition. However, you can certainly try.

Before I tell you what to do, I want to make it very clear what you shouldn’t do. What you should NEVER do with a compulsive hoarder is send them away while you go and clean up. Never, never, never. NEVER.

The first thing those with the condition need to do is recognise that they have it, and that it is unhealthy and possibly (especially with food and animal hoarders or those with fire hazards) life-threatening.  At best it threatens their personal relationships. One experienced psychologist I spoke with on the condition suggested asking them to read a book (Overcoming Compulsive Hoarding) in the hope that they may recongise themselves in it.

If you manage to get them over that step, the next is to convince them to undertake therapy with an experienced psychologist.

Finally, when they are ready to begin culling and starting their life anew, you can call in the Professional Organisers to help hold their hand and provide physical and technical assistance in the road to recovery.

And if you recognise yourself in this post, well done – you are on your way to a better life already 🙂