We were so honored to speak before an audience of 60+ professional organizers at the NAPO DC Chapter meeting. As clinic therapists who specialize in hoarding behaviors, we’ve guided hundreds of clients to shift their life of shame and isolation to a life of freedom and fulfillment. With the tips below, you can be a HUGE part of helping them create a clutter-free mindset, home and life.
Understand The “Top 2” Underlying Mental Health Issues That Trigger Hoarding
1. Trauma - Most people who hoard have been through a traumatic event in their life (commonly a death in the family or divorce), and this triggers them to hold onto items like a security blanket due to their uncertainty in life. The key is to team up with a clinical therapist who can shift their perspective and the meaning they gave the event through strategies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), so it doesn’t keep them stuck in life emotionally.
2. Depression - 95% of people who have the hoarding behavior feel depressed and unmotivated. Lack of purpose, isolation due to feelings of shame and guilt, low self-worth or self-esteem, and poor eating and lack of exercise are all major contributors to them “Doing Depression.” The key is to assist them in changing these lifestyle behaviors and guiding them to shift their focus from the past and/or future to having them focus and live in the present moment. In addition, show them how to focus on the positive things in their life and guide them to give empowering meanings to events and circumstances which then will produce energy and motivation to live a higher quality of life.
Warning!!! Understand The Hoarder’s Mindset
Recognize that their hoard has become their safety blanket. They might have conflicted feelings about you in their home (to help them or hurt them) and wanting to take their safety and certainty away. Having you in their home produces EXTREME anxiety and fear, so follow the tips below.
What to Say When First Encountering A Hoarder’s Home
Always elevate and compliment them (admire their collection of items as an expression of their hobbies/interests and discuss that) and discuss clearing out a special room for their unique hobby, such as a sewing or crafts room. Admit and talk about some of your failures in life so they will relate to you and want to work with you. Be empathetic since they’ve experienced trauma and feel shame and embarrassed about their collection of items.
What “NOT TO SAY” To A Hoarder
Do not call them a “hoarder” because it is a derogatory (negative) word to most of them. No matter how bad the condition of the home, do not look shocked or gasp because they will feel judged and not want your help. Their possessions are emotionally part of them, so do not call their things junk, trash or worthless (even if it is trash) because you don’t know their perspective. Use conversation that will develop trust. The best way to create trust is to allow them to talk. They will trust you because you will truly HEAR them, and they usually don’t have many people to talk to due to their habitual isolation.
Studies have found that there is a 97% recidivism rate if you just clean up the items without THEM processing and addressing the underlying psychological issues. Without therapy, after you clean and organize the house, we find that within months the hoard will be back. Sometimes it’s worse than before through “hyper-hoarding” because they want to feel certain and safe again. It will make your job a lot easier if they work with a therapist to release the emotional tie to their items before you start cleaning up and organizing with them. It is critically important to have them work with a therapist who specializes in hoarding, because general psychologists/therapists have been found to be very ineffective since hoarding is a backwards thinking disorder that most general therapists are not trained in addressing.
Get Educated and Empowered
We recommend you learn the strategies of how to plow through mental or emotional blockages when guiding a hoarder through the cleanup. We’ve only scratched the surface in this article about how to help a hoarder, so we highly recommend you educate yourself and empower your clients with a gift by ordering our Hoard No More Rescue Kit at www.HoardNoMore.org. In creating this kit, we partnered with Cory Chalmers, the Hoarding Expert directing the cleanups on the Emmy-Nominated TV Show “Hoarders”. Below is an excerpt from our Hoard No More Rescue Kit on how to help a hoarder.
Five Secrets To Prevent Backsliding and Becoming Part of the 97% Recidivism Rate
(1) Support System; (2) Specialized Coaching or Therapy; (3) Specialized Organizers/Professional Cleaners; (4) Aftercare Maintenance with a Coach or Therapist; (5) Scheduled Cleaning Appointments
Trash Permission List
If any of the below applies to any item in the home, it is considered trash and needs to be removed from the home. The person who hoards must give himself/herself permission to discard items that fit these criteria without another thought: Ooze, Crawl, Smells, Leaks, Broken, Mildew, Contaminated, Burned, Torn, Infested, Soiled, and Moldy.
Excerpt from Hoard No More Rescue Kit. Copyright 2014 MoJo Life Coaches, LLC
Share the Knowledge
The hoarding disorder is a misunderstood mental health issue and our mission is to educate and empower professionals, family members and friends who have a loved one who struggles with hoarding behaviors. We produced a short video which supplements this article. Watch “7 Rules To Stop Hoarding Behavior TODAY” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpGmcot6dTs and feel free to share this article and video with others to educate and empower them on their journey toward a clutter-free life!
Steve Conlan and Elaine Stephanos are Clinical Therapists who co-authored the “Hoard No More Rescue Kit” and co-founded MoJo Life Coaches, LLC based in Ashburn, VA. They are certified in Cognitive Behavior Therapy and specialize in managing and overcoming the Hoarding Disorder and Depression.
Nationally recognized as the “MoJo Duo” they are experts in behavior dynamics and facilitate rapid transformation in people who struggle with hoarding and the underlying mental health issues. Drawing upon 20+ years of self-development education, they provide group/private coaching leveraging their mental health training, clinical case work, life experiences, and an on-fire desire to empower others to live the highest quality life they desire! www.HoardNoMore.org and www.MoJoLifeCoaches.com; 703-723-MOJO (6656); firstname.lastname@example.org