How to Help Someone You Love: Is it Clutter or Something More?

ClutterEach of us have different ideas of what makes up clutter.

To one person, a stack of magazines on a coffee table can be something that must be dealt with immediately. Whereas, another may not even notice them sitting there.

In short, each of us have different thresholds of acceptance when it comes to clutter. So it’s important to consider this fact when approaching someone you love about the state of their home.

It could simply be that your loved one likes collecting things, or simply has no desire to declutter. So to keep the peace you keep quiet.

Is it hoarding…or just stuff?

Hoarders tend to collect what most people would see as useless or excessive, such as dozens of bottle openers or piles of clothing scattered across the living room couch and floor and bursting out of every closet in the house.

Think it’s hoarding?

See if you spot any of these red flags in your loved one’s life:

  • Does she buy new items that she already owns simply because she can’t find the ones she has?
  • Did she stop having people over or does she refuse to let anyone come inside when they drop by?
  • Does she always pay her bills late?
  • Does her home have “goat trails” that lead from one room to the other past huge piles of clutter?
  • Has her personality changed and/or has she been through a life event (e.g. death of loved one, divorce, health issue)

If you believe your loved one is dealing with hoarding it’s important not to force the issue.

(Note: You should intervene if they’re in imminent danger (due to the unsanitary condition of the home) or you’ve noticed a severe change in their mental condition.)

If they’re not ready to face the reasons behind the hoarding you won’t do them – or yourself – any favors if you push them to get rid of their clutter.

Don’t say or do anything that implies you’re passing judgment on their clutter as it will create a wedge between you and your loved one that will prevent you from achieving any goals.

Even if the individual agrees to your help, be prepared to shoulder the brunt of some anger. Just remember that the anger they’re feeling has nothing to do with you. They’re just dealing with the emotions that are stirred up by facing and getting rid of their clutter.

Reasons behind the hoarding

Hoarding was formally categorized as a mental illness fairly recently; in 2013. But only an estimated 2% to 5% of individuals have the diagnosis.

Some experts think that hoarding could be a type of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) while others suggest that ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or dementia are contributors.

The bottom line, however, is that hoarders find it difficult…and painful…to get rid of their things, so they don’t. The result is pile after pile of things that are never discarded, leading to unhealthy – and unsanitary – living conditions.

The state of clutter only makes the depression – which goes hand in hand with the hoarding – even worse.

How to Help

First, celebrate the fact that your loved one is open to your help.

Next, with their input, set a realistic goal for what you’re doing. Ask them how they want to feel living in their home. Use this question to help guide their decluttering efforts.

For example, when they’re finding it hard to let go of something remind them of their goal by asking them “what’s more important right now…this thing or the goal you’ve set?”

Other questions to help steer them along could be “when will you use this again?”

It can be easy to get overwhelmed, so tackle the rooms that affect lifestyle first such as the kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and living room.

Remember, however, that you’re dealing with your loved one’s home, so it’s up to her to make the decisions.

Be patient, even when it’s not going as quickly as you’d like or you don’t agree with what she’s decided to keep. Keep in mind that it’s not easy – there are a lot of emotions tied up in what is being discarded and that takes time to work through.

Your love and your patience are the two most important tools you’ll need to help the person you love deal with their clutter.

Finally…take care of yourself. You’ll find it easier to be calm and patient when you haven’t let the stress of the situation take hold of your own life.