How to Communicate with a Hoarder
Hoarding, a pattern of behavior that is characterized by the excessive acquisition of and inability or unwillingness to discard large quantities of objects that would seemingly qualify as useless or without value, is a word that has increasingly become more familiar. Some of this may be due to the media, but the act of hoarding is not a new behavior and presents many challenges for those who try and work with those individuals who lead this way of life.
If you have a friend or loved one that is a hoarder, or on their way to becoming one, take caution with what words and actions you chose to use with them. Hoarding is a very emotionally charged lifestyle and you can ostracize yourself from a hoarder quickly.
A few tips when communicating/working with a hoarder:
1. Never refer to their belongings as trash. Though many of their belongings may appear that way to you, at some level they see value in them. Be careful not to offend them about their belongings as many times they will stop listening because they believe you are too extreme the other way.
2. Never throw anything away behind their back. They may never know, but if they do find out they will have lost trust in you and subsequently you may find yourself locked out of their life for good.
One important aspect to remember when working with or trying to understand a hoarder’s motivation is that they are not choosing their belongings over your relationship, even though it may feel like it at times. In actuality, hoarders just view things very differently than others, and it can be quite frustrating to understand. A great online resource I have found to get support is childrenofhoarders.com.
Also, any books written by Judith Kolberg are good resources for better understanding this disorder.
All in all, the best thing you can do when trying to communicate or work with a hoarder is to bring in a professional to help. You could start with a Professional Organizer to help assess the situation and to see where change is possible. If the Organizer determines that there is a mental health consideration, then they will encourage a Psychiatrist or Psychologist to be added to the team.