11 Effective Strategies for Helping a Hoarder Declutter

Today, I want to dive into a topic that might hit close to home – helping a hoarder declutter.

To be clear, a hoarder isn’t just someone who has accumulated too much stuff. It’s someone who has been diagnosed with hoarding disorder, a mental disorder that can impact a person’s quality of life and well-being.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, “Hoarding disorder is a mental health condition in which a person feels a strong need to save a large number of items, whether they have monetary value or not, and experiences significant distress when attempting to get rid of the items. The hoarding impairs their daily life.”

That said, if you want to help declutter a hoarder’s home, you have to tread lightly. You don’t want to intensify feelings of emotional distress or anxiety.

To help you navigate this unique challenge, today I’m sharing 10 effective strategies for helping someone with hoarding behavior navigate their decluttering journey.

Scroll down to learn more!

A picture of old items piled up on a hoarder's home.

Helping a Hoarder Declutter: Understanding Hoarding Disorder

Before you can dive into helping a hoarder declutter, you have to understand their psychological disorder. 

According to Epiphany Wellness, hoarding disorder (HD) was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) in December of 2012. This solidified it as it’s own compulsive spectrum disorder, not just a symptom of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) as previously thought.

As I mentioned, HD is a complex mental health issue that goes beyond collecting or accumulating a lot of random items. Individuals with a hoarding problem experience persistent difficulty discarding possessions, regardless of their actual value. This leads to an excessive accumulation of items throughout their living spaces.

There are different levels of hoarding, ranging from minimal clutter to extreme clutter. As the amount of clutter in a hoarder’s home increases, so do personal safety and health risks. Not just for the hoarder, but for those who are closely associated.

Different people experience HD in different ways. While some people tend to hoard sentimental items (like family heirlooms), others tend to hoard worthless items (like old magazines, newspapers, and trash). Sadly, some people even hoard animals. 

Research suggests that hoarding disorder may have biological, genetic, and environmental factors contributing to its development. However, there’s still a lot to learn.

All that being said, it’s important that we recognize that hoarding behaviors are driven by psychological factors. Simply urging hoarders to “clean up” overlooks the deeper challenges they face.

Understanding that hoarding disorder is a complex mental health condition is crucial for approaching the decluttering process with empathy and sensitivity. 

The Benefits of Helping a Hoarder Declutter

Excessive clutter poses significant health and safety risks, such as fire hazards and unsanitary conditions. 

Additionally, cluttered living spaces may lead to feelings of stress, anxiety disorders, and depression.

Decluttering a hoarder’s house provides and opportunity to create a more functional, organized, and safer living space.

In helping a hoarder declutter, you’re helping them improve their living conditions and overall well-being. You’re also giving them a shoulder to lean on during an ongoing process that can feel emotional and overwhelming.

Strategies for Helping a Hoarder Declutter

1. Ask Permission

This is the most important part of the decluttering process, especially when you’re going through someone else’s possessions. 

Before you begin helping a hoarder declutter, make sure you have their permission to take on the task. Even if you’ve been personally asked, confirm.

This shows respect for the individual you’re helping as well as their belongings. It acknowledges their feelings, especially if they struggle with emotional attachment. And it helps them feel in control of the situation, too.

Here are some ways you can ask permission and make the process feel like more of a team effort:

  1. “I understand that decluttering can be overwhelming. I’m here to lend a hand if you’d like some help. You don’t have to do it alone.”
  2. “I care about you and want to help make your space more functional. Would you be interested in decluttering together?”
  3. “I know decluttering can be a big task. Would you like me to help? It would save you so much time and energy if we did it together.”

2. Set Clear Goals and Realistic Expectations

Establishing clear goals is essential to helping a hoarder declutter. Doing so provides direction and focus during the decluttering process.

Sit down with the hoarder and devise an action plan as to what areas of the home they want to tackle first.

Also note what they hope to achieve. Do they want more open living space? Do they want their home to be easier maintain?

There are so many positive benefits of decluttering! By setting goals and expectations you can prevent overwhelm and maintain motivation as you work towards creating a clutter-free home.

3. Create a Sorting System

A sorting system helps with categorizing items during a decluttering session.

A popular sorting system example is the the three-box method, where you designate 3 boxes (keep, donate/sell, discard) and sort items into them accordingly.

However, I prefer a four-box method to flesh things out further. I designate boxes for items that need to be moved to another space, donated, thrown away, or recycled.

If you plan to sell items, you can throw in a fifth box and add the items you’d like to sell there, but don’t overdo it. Trying to sell items can really slow down the decluttering process. It can be super time consuming, too. That said, I’d reserve this route for high value items only.

Whichever system you choose, it’ll help you make decisions more efficiently and ensure that each item in your space has been evaluated.

4. Focus on Safety

When setting your goals, be sure to prioritize the decluttering tasks that will eliminate safety risks. 

Identify potential safety and health hazards, such as blocked exits, mold, or pest infestations. Address these safety concerns first to create a safe and conducive environment for the decluttering process. 

5. Schedule Regular Decluttering Sessions

Consistency is key when it comes to helping a hoarder declutter. 

Set aside dedicated time for decluttering sessions and help incorporate them into the hoarder’s routine. 

Whether it’s a weekly decluttering session or a monthly purge, having a regular schedule helps establish decluttering as a priority. It pushes forward progress, too.

6. Encourage Small Steps

Help the hoarder break the decluttering process into small, manageable tasks. This will prevent overwhelm and promote progress. 

Have the hoarder start with one room, area, or category at a time, gradually working through the clutter. Encourage them to focus on making incremental improvements rather than striving for perfection. 

For instance, if the hoarder feels overwhelmed by the prospect of decluttering their entire home, suggest starting with a small, manageable area such as a kitchen counter, dresser drawer, or bathroom cabinet. 

By focusing on a specific area, the hoarder can experience a sense of accomplishment and motivation to continue decluttering other areas of their home.

7. Promote Professional Help

Hoarding disorder often requires professional intervention.

If the individual you’re helping is struggling to make progress, encourage them to seek help from a mental health professional. They’ll be able to address the condition contributing to their hoarding tendencies and provide sound advice.

Similarly, there are professional organizers who are trained to work with hoarders. They can provide practical strategies and support to facilitate the decluttering process in a structured and non-judgmental manner.

Professional intervention can provide valuable support, guidance, and resources to facilitate the decluttering process effectively.

8. Create a Support System

Encourage the hoarder to surround themselves with people who support them and their decluttering journey. Having a close friend or family member who can provide encouragement and accountability is critical to their motivation and success.

Whether that trusted person is you, someone else, or a number of people, encourage the hoarder to organize regular check-ins and/or decluttering sessions with them.

Additionally, you could connect them with hoarding support groups or online communities. This will allow them to share their experiences, receive encouragement, and learn from others who are facing similar challenges.

As I’ve mentioned, decluttering can be emotionally challenging for hoarders. It triggers feelings of anxiety, stress, and overwhelm.

Having a support system is the best way for hoarders seek advice, vent frustrations, and ultimately overcome negative feelings.

9. Suggest Storage Solutions

I find that it’s best to buy most organizers once you know what you plan to keep and where you plan to keep it.

However, I’m not against implementing some practical storage solutions during the decluttering process if it makes sense.

For instance, if drawer dividers will help organize socks, bras, and underwear more effectively – buy them. 

Just tread lightly. You don’t want to spend time, money, and energy implementing storage solutions for items that are going to end up being donated or discarded.

10. Help With Decision Making

Hoarders often struggle with decision-making, particularly when it comes to letting go of possessions. 

Help them practice their decision-making skills by asking guiding questions like:

  1. How does this item add value to your life?
  2. When was the last time you used this it?
  3. Does this item currently serve a practical purpose in your life?
  4. Do you own anything similar to this?
  5. If you had to opportunity to buy this today, would you?

These questions will help them to consider the usefulness of their possessions.

11. Celebrate Progress

When helping a hoarder declutter, it’s important to celebrate every step of progress – no matter how small. 

Acknowledge the hoarder’s courage and effort in confronting their hoarding tendencies. Commend them for making these positive changes in their life. 

By celebrating progress, you can cultivate a sense of accomplishment, empowerment, and pride. This will create more momentum and resilience.

Helping a hoarder declutter is a challenging, but rewarding journey that requires patience, empathy, and strategy.

With your love and support, you can help the hoarder in your life overcome their challenges and reclaim their space once and for all.

If you have any questions about helping a hoarder declutter, drop them in the comments. Let’s keep the conversation going there and help each other through this unique journey!

PS: Here are some additional articles you can share with the hoarder you’re helping to help them get excited about the decluttering process: