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Tips for Helping a Loved One with Hoarding Disorder Declutter Their Home with Empathy

Every family caregiver faces a unique set of challenges. An often misunderstood and particularly difficult example is hoarding behavior. This behavior is on a spectrum that can range from a loved one struggling to downsize to a more manageable space, to full hoarding disorders. Regardless, these situations require a delicate, compassionate, and patient perspective. We also believe that it’s important for you to understand what resources are available to you in Orange County. In this article, we’ll provide helpful tips, tools, and resources specifically tailored to family caregivers in Orange County, California who are dealing with these complex and emotional issues. We aim to equip family caregivers with the tools they need to foster an environment that is safe and respectful to all involved. While we’ll focus mainly on more severe hoarding conditions in this article, there are still good tips and resources for less severe cases as well. Let’s dive in.

Downsizing, Decluttering, and Hoarding

Downsizing, decluttering, and hoarding are three different concepts that can be incredibly emotional and touchy for aging or elderly loved ones. To begin with, let's explain the differences between these three concepts before offering management tips.

  • Downsizing means reducing the size of your space, which typically requires disposing of possessions that are no longer wanted or needed

  • Decluttering is the process of cleaning up an existing living space and organizing items into more efficient arrangements so the space functions better.

  • Hoarding is characterized by excessive saving and accumulation of possessions that often result in unsanitary and unsafe conditions.

While all three concepts involve managing personal possessions, understanding their distinctions is key. Your loved one who exhibits hoarding behavior likely experiences symptoms of all three.

What causes hoarding behavior?

For family caregivers managing the hoarding behaviors of their loved ones, it's important to understand the psychological and emotional factors that contribute to hoarding. These may include things like:

  • Obsessive thoughts

  • Fear or anxiety

  • Difficulty making decisions

  • Resistance to change

  • Or a lack of social support. (Source)

These factors, if escalated, can have serious long-term consequences, such as creating an environment that enables harmful germs and vermin to thrive due to clutter blocking sanitation access points or restricting movement throughout the home.

Clutter can also increase the risk of fires, rodent infestations, or slips, trips, or falls due to blocked exits or compromised floor surfaces, which can put the health and safety of your loved one at risk. By becoming more aware of these issues and learning healthy ways to manage the environment, you can help your loved one overcome their hoarding behaviors and create a safer and more comfortable home.

Tips for Caring for a Loved One Who Needs to Downsize, Declutter, or Manage a Hoarding Condition

When helping your loved one downsize or declutter, the process can be overwhelming. Focus on small, manageable tasks and take them one step at a time. Here are our tips to do just that:

  • Approach the situation with compassion and empathy. It's important to understand and remember that hoarding disorder is a complex mental health condition. It can be challenging for your loved one to overcome.

  • Encourage them to talk about it. Encourage them to open up about their feelings and concerns, and let them know that you are there to support them throughout the process.

  • Set realistic goals. Decluttering a home can be overwhelming, especially for someone with a hoarding disorder. Break the task down into smaller, more manageable steps, and set achievable goals that won't feel too overwhelming.

  • Celebrate progress, no matter how small. Don't expect everything to be resolved overnight. Instead, celebrate each small step toward the goal of a clean and safe environment for your loved one.

  • Respect their belongings. To someone with a hoarding disorder, their belongings hold a deep emotional attachment. Rather than pressuring them to discard things they may not be ready to part with, encourage them to sort through and organize their belongings into piles of "keep", "donate" or "throw away." Let them make the decisions about what to keep or discard, and be supportive of their choices.

  • Prioritize based on the end goal of a safe and comfortable space. Focus first and foremost on creating a safe and comfortable living space for your loved one. This may involve clearing pathways and exits and prioritizing the removal of items that pose an immediate safety risk. Once safety concerns are addressed, then you can start to work with your loved one to create a space that feels inviting and comfortable.

  • Seek professional help. Hoarding disorder is a complex mental health condition that often requires professional support. Consider seeking the help of a mental health professional, such as a therapist or psychologist, who specializes in hoarding disorder. They can provide valuable support and guidance for both you and your loved one throughout the decluttering process.

Managing Hoarding as a Family Caregiver

As a family caregiver, managing hoarding behavior can be an incredibly challenging prospect. Your loved one may not be aware of the consequences and risks associated with their behaviors, which can make having a conversation and setting boundaries more complex.

As we’ve said several times, it is important to approach this topic with empathy and sensitivity. It can be a hard-to-maintain balance of being both mindful of your loved one's emotional needs and physical health. Seeking help from mental health professionals or support groups for hoarding disorder is an excellent way to start, as these resources specialize in providing education and guidance toward understanding the causes of hoarding and developing positive coping strategies. With patience, compassion, and access to the right kind of care, family caregivers can make great strides in helping their loved ones safely manage hoarding behavior.

Closing Thoughts & Continued Reading

The journey of caring for a loved one can be incredibly challenging and isolating. It is important to remember that you are not alone in the process. If you’re in need of support, we have an article here that lists some of the Free Resources and Support available to Family Caregivers in Orange County, California.

We hope this article provided helpful information to equip family caregivers with additional skills and strategies to better help their loved ones through this process. Please reach out to us if you’re a caregiver in Orange County and ‌share this with anyone who could benefit from these resources.


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