How to Talk to a Hoarder



It could be your father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter, a relative in law, a close friend or anyone else you deeply love and care about or someone for whom you want the best, out of your own heart. Or you could be a social worker, seeking to help them out of their situation.


1. Have a goal in mind

First it will be clear to have a goal in mind - that is to help them put this behind, such that once a cleanup is done, that habit does not return back.


2. What to do

In seeking this we should remember a few basic points:

  • These people are humans just like ourselves, and crave an emotional, spiritual and intellectual connection. Our aim should be to come in and provide them with an emotional connection such that they see that they are not alone in their journey of life - and they don't need to fill that void by purchasing needless junk or by holding on to it.
  • They will offer resistance, but you have to be the strong one, and look past their shame that has become associated with hoarding.
  • For an intellectual connection - offer them a book to read or to ask them to help someone with their wisdom.
  • For a spiritual connection, a trip out on the nature, or a simple walk in the park will do.

Also a bonus tip: Rather than making purchasing a therapy, involve them in community service, where they will receive a reward of self for helping others as well as an emotional connection with others.

Each one of these affected individuals have a story behind why they ended up being in that state. If you were to ask them - what's their story - and be genuinely interested in listening, then that's a start. And the reality is - they want someone to listen to their story - their heart has instead filled up that void with repeated trips to the mall or the store.

I have personally noticed hoarding in situations where people have lost their spouse, or their friend circle, or their family, or their self-worth. Life does not need the existence of materialistic things to compensate for such losses.

No matter how it started, every behaviour can be changed. If smokers can quit smoking, crack addicts can quit, then hoarders can definitely leave their habit of hoarding behind.

Sure some might have that ingrained from their childhood, that one must "store" and value items - not taking them for granted (especially the older generation) that one day, they might be used - but today as mature adults, they and we know that apart from a few essentials there is not much we need.

Hoarders come from all walks of life - some have advanced professional degrees, high paying jobs or positions in civic life or are ex-cons, drug addicts. Also their age can range from 25 years old to well into their senior years, and it definitely gets more pronounced for elders. Coupled with disabilities, or other physical constraints as they get older - its like them silently asking for help even when they don't hear themselves say it.

As mentioned before, shame accumulates over time, such that it creates a barrier from allowing neighbours, friends, and relatives to come over and help in resolving the matter. I have seen houses where multiple rooms have no electricity and/or water leaks and a tradesman or building superintendent is not called due to the mental and emotional pain associated with exposing oneself.


Few More Suggestions:

In instances where the person does not want to get rid of all their items, a suggestion can be made to replace all those items with 1 item so as to keep the emotional connection alive while reducing the amount of clutter. For example 50 gifts from their family members over time, can be reduced to keep 5 that are most meaningful. As long as the person believes that their connection is still alive, and is as strong as it was whether its that 1 important item to replace 100 needless items than they will make the change.

If they have hundreds or thousands of books, ask them to donate them to the local Goodwill or Value Village centres - aspire them to pass on wisdom to the younger generation. If they have excess furniture from their move, ask them to be generous and to pass on their worthy furniture piece as a blessing to a destitute person who will thank them in silence. This can also be done at the local Goodwill or Value Village stores - I know that with certain Goodwill locations, you can even call them and schedule a pick up of your furniture so that you don't have to worry about the transportation.


Some Society Trends that Aid to the Problem:

In today's day and age, smaller living space means that you can't save the thing you will need once every five years anymore. Yes smaller condos, apartments in stuffy cities are leading to less space - closet space or no closet at all. This is in fact, a great time and opportunity to reevaluate what's important to keep rather than using public storage places to keep stuff that is overflowing.

Secondly, never before did we have cheap goods mass manufactured bundled with brilliant, psychologically fine-tuned marketing to have them. Add to that, the ease of acquiring them (Amazon, Walmart and other online stores). They have replaced the existence of having one good quality item. So now rather than having one good jacket, we now have 6 in the closet. Rather than having 1 footwear for each season, we have 20.

I have to admit myself, that I was guilty of purchasing excessive footwear. There was a point of time, where I went out and bought 4 pairs of new shoes within the span of 1 week. A week later, rising in my senses, I returned them all. Thank God. Do I miss them - no. Has my sense of self-worth decreased since I wear the same shoes every single day - no.

If you buy in excess like from Costco or Walmart or any other retailer, and don't have the need for all, then share, donate or gift the extra to someone in need. You will realize, that there is a power that comes from this kind of self-control. Your brain learns to solve problems with less.

Then thirdly today we have anti-landfill propaganda. We are guilt-tripped for throwing stuff in the garbage. We are told to dispose of things in very complicated ways and so it may be easier to just not dispose of it.


Us as a Society

As a society, rather than feeling disgusted, we should actually listen to their emotional needs. We as a society should not leave those behind, that just crave a connection.

Some of them might need professional help. People affected with hoarding have a blind spot towards the issue. Combined with shame and a desire to be perfect, they put off committing on changing rather than risk being wrong.

Together we can help to get rid of those items be it food take out containers, pop or juice containers, newspapers, magazines, broken devices, mail, expired groceries, several articles of clothing, used dishes, furniture and other items that will be classified as junk. These places that can be heavily infested with roaches, bed bugs, mice, flies, etc.

In extreme cases I have seen hoarding of guns, ammunition, animals, sex objects, tools, mattresses, gifts accumulated but never opened and much more.

Those narrow paths made over time, a fall waiting to happen or at best a huge fire hazard for themselves and for their neighbours, especially if living in an apartment or a condo building.

Sometimes they also might have pets like several cats, and some die under the collapse of one these mountains - and their bodies to be recovered during cleaning.

All of them avoidable!