What to Do When Someone You Love Has a Hoarding Problem

Hoarding is a complicated issue. If someone you love has a hoarding problem, it’s easy for outsiders to assume that they are just disorganized. Or perhaps they simply don’t care if their home is clean.

Some people may think of people with clutter as sloppy or lazy. However, it’s not that simple.

These are just some of the many misconceptions about people who hoard.  But people do not start hoarding out of nowhere. Usually, something sets off this behavior. It could be the onset of a mental health condition, the loss of a loved one, or another challenging situation.

And solving a hoarding issue is not as easy as cleaning up, either.

Do you have a loved one who has been hoarding? Confused about how to talk to them about it? Here are a few basic tips to help you support them.

Start with Effective Communication

Many people who hoard feel ashamed of their hoarding habits. They might make efforts to isolate themselves from their family and friends. For example, they might be very hesitant to allow people into their homes.

People who hoard know that those who don’t understand are likely to judge them negatively. Should you choose to have an open conversation with your loved one, make it very clear that you are not judging them. Instead, focus on empathy and be patient and compassionate.

Think About Health and Safety

Hoarding can pose a risk to your loved one’s health and safety within their home. If you are concerned about this, you may want to bring it up with them in a friendly conversation.

Yes, there is a good chance they will feel somewhat defensive about this point. However, if you are truly worried about their health, you should mention this.

Don’t Touch Their Belongings

The depiction of people who hoard on TV has spread disinformation about the best way to help a loved one with a hoarding problem. Friends and relatives will often be shown secretly cleaning out their loved one’s home behind their back. But trying to do this will likely backfire and destroy the trust between you and your loved one.

Oftentimes, a person who hoards doesn’t see their belongings as trash. Chances are, they are holding on to all of these items and avoiding cleaning because of a deeper emotional attachment. Removing their belongings without their approval can leave them feeling angry, depressed, and betrayed. You should absolutely volunteer to help with the decluttering process—but only when your loved one is ready.

Set Reasonable Expectations

Here’s the reality: your loved one is not going to clean up their home overnight. In fact, there will be days when you feel like progress is moving one step forward and two steps back. It’s important to set realistic expectations.

Don’t push your loved one to clear out their entire living room in a day or two. Instead, try to set flexible goals that won’t put too much pressure on them. In addition, make sure to encourage them by celebrating the small wins. Do not berate them if they fall behind on where you hoped they would be.

Recommend Therapy

Hoarding symptoms almost always indicate another issue, buried deep down. And unfortunately, just cleaning out your loved one’s home will not necessarily heal that wound. This is why having the support of a therapist throughout the decluttering process—and afterward—is essential.

If you and your loved one do not work together to address the root cause of this behavior, they could simply slip back into their old habits again. Recommend a qualified therapist and offer to attend a session with them.


Does your loved one have a hoarding problem? Are they open to seeking professional help? We can provide support on their healing journey. Please, feel free to reach out to us for more information.

Joanne Chan, Psy.D.

Author: Joanne Chan, Psy.D.

Joanne Chan, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who specializes in working with adolescents and adults with primary anxiety or OC-related conditions. Some of her specialty areas include, phobias, panic disorder, social phobia, post-partum anxiety, OCD, hoarding disorder, trauma, and Tourette’s disorder/tic disorder.
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