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How to help uncover a happier life for a hoarder

The problem with hoarding is you can only see the clutter. Yet when hoarding becomes a problem, what lies beneath is a deeply troubled mind. If you care for a relative at home and they’re – quite literally – in a mess, here’s how you can help.

Recognise a hoarding problem

We have the potential to amass a lot of ‘stuff’ in our lifetime. Our treasures might have no monetary value at all, but it’s our stuff all the same. For an older person, it becomes a problem when their possessions close them in:

–  There’s no space to use equipment like a walking frame

–  Furniture like beds or sofas can no longer be used

–  Entire rooms in their home are inaccessible

–  It’s impossible to clean

– There’s a trip or fire hazard

If your relative is no longer comfortable at home, is unclean, or could come to harm, act now.

Tackle hoarding

Going into an older person’s home and clearing away their clutter won’t help. Your task is to convince them to part with it, slowly but surely. The problem is emotional not physical.

Hoarding can be the result of many different things, including a family history of hoarding, past alcohol dependence, anxiety or depression, or a medical condition like dementia. For others, it’s a reaction to a life-changing event, like a bereavement.

Whatever your loved one is trying to cope with, they suffocate their pain by hoarding.

Seek medical help

If the hoarding problem is advanced or you feel overwhelmed by it, speak to a GP. Show them photos of the clutter if you need to or request a home visit by a trained professional.

Your loved one may be referred to a specialist for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Or you can find your own therapist. CBT is used to identify negative thought patterns and retrain the brain to fight against them. It can help get to the bottom of the real reasons for hoarding.

Remove the clutter

Some hoarders respond to gentle encouragement and support:

–  Try talking. Ask your loved one why they decide to keep different objects. Listening may reveal a clue to the underlying problem.

–  Get them on board. Make sure the hoarder is happy for you to handle their clutter before you touch or move a thing.

–  Go slowly. Start with a small, designated pile of clutter and sort it into groups. Decide which items can be recycled or given away and what should go in the bin. Work through one room at a time.

–  Don’t look back. Remove items straight away. If the hoarder is reluctant to let go of certain things, put them in a box and come back to them later.

–  Celebrate small victories. If you clear a table, for example, add fresh flowers or a photo frame. Put something positive in the place of clutter.

If you struggle to find the patience or find the process too upsetting, get professional help with decluttering.

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