After Mary’s husband died, she began accumulating more and more things.  In fact, she devoted her entire house to toys.

Since Mary’s children and grandchildren were all grown, the toys remained in their packages and were stacked from floor to ceiling.  Eventually, she stopped going out of her house altogether and refused to let any of her children or grandchildren come to see her.

When her children realized she had a problem, they encouraged her to get help.  Seeing a counselor helped her to deal with the loss of her husband’s death.  And the counselor was able to meet in her home and help her take steps to get rid of most of the toys she had been hoarding.

Overcoming compulsive hoarding may seem impossible.  But if you know anyone who struggles with a hoarding disorder, there’s hope!

Here are some do’s and don’ts for helping a loved one who struggles with compulsive hoarding.

Do watch for warning signs
There are some obvious warning signs of hoarding.  Hoarding is an obsessive-compulsive disorder and can be described as:

  • Anxiety over throwing things away
  • Buying or acquiring items that have no use
  • Having rooms in a home become unusable for their intended purpose because they’re too full of possessions

Have you seen any of these warning signs in a friend, neighbor, or family member?  If so, they may need help for a hoarding disorder.

Don’t do the work
You might be tempted to do the work for your loved one.  But if you declutter their home without their help, it may lead them to want to accumulate more things.  When you do the work for your loved one, you’ll have to keep doing it.  You should wait until you see your family member or friend going to a counselor and beginning to deal with their underlying issues before you help them declutter.

Do plan an intervention
Talk with them alone and encourage them to get help.  If they don’t, contact a licensed Christian counselor or professional interventionist to help you plan an intervention and treatment plan.  This follows the Biblical principle of how to deal with conflict outlined in Mathew 18:16, “But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses.”

Don’t enable
It’s common for friends and family members to do things that ultimately make it easier for someone who struggles with hoarding to continue to hoard.  Are you doing anything to enable your loved one?  Some examples of enabling include:

  • Buying or tolerating more clutter in the home
  • Avoiding confrontation
  • Giving money to them
  • Living in dangerous conditions without contacting the authorities

Your loved one is responsible for their addiction, not you.  By enabling your loved one, you’ll prevent them from taking responsibility for themselves.

Do help set goals
Maintaining a positive, loving relationship with someone who struggles with hoarding will help them go far in their recovery.  How to connect with them?  Listen closely without condemnation or judgment.  And encourage them to plan and set their own goals.  To help them set goals, respect their attachment to their possessions and let them know their feelings are important.

Don’t have unrealistic expectations
It’s rare for someone who struggles with hoarding to fully recover enough to maintain a clean and clutter-free home for the rest of their life.  But if they are willing to get help, they can make progress.  Be careful about setting unrealistic expectations on them and demanding that they change.  So instead of saying, “Your kitchen should be clean, but it’s a disaster.  Clean it now!”  You should say, “I’m concerned about you having a fire.  Can we clean up the area around your stove?” As you let go of unrealistic expectations—your relationship with your loved one will greatly improve.

Do you have a loved one who struggles with compulsive hoarding disorder?  If so, please know it may take a long time for someone to recover.  So don’t be surprised if they continue to struggle even after they’ve made progress.  After all, the path to progress includes hills and valleys—it’s not just a straight line.