Help for family and friends of compulsive hoarders

I’m no expert by any means, but people ask me for advice about compulsive hoarding all the time. Through Internet research and exchanging experiences with others in the professional organizing community, I have compiled the following resources that may be helpful.

istock_000002655048xsmallCompulsive hoarding syndrome (also known as hoarding disease) is a psychiatric condition related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). A person with compulsive hoarding syndrome acquires worthless items and fails to discard them even when they appear (to others) to have no value.  People suffering from this syndrome have homes full of what normal people would consider “junk”. Many areas of their homes are unusable because junk takes up so much space.

Wondering whether you or someone you know is a compulsive hoarder? Here’s a 23-question survey to determine your rating on the hoarding scale. Read more at the International OCD Foundation website.

So why is compulsive hoarding a problem? As any friend or family member of a compulsive hoarder can tell you, the massive accumulation of items over time becomes unmanageable, unsanitary and sometimes even dangerous. It tends to put very difficult strain on relationships and can cause shame and embarrassment.

If you are affected by someone else’s compulsive hoarding, here are a few things to try:

Don’t clean out their house. According to the International OCD Foundatioin, while cleaning out a hoarder’s home may seem appealing (why not just cart out the junk and be done with it, right?), it has been shown that attempts to “clean out” the homes of individuals with compulsive hoarding without treating the underlying problem usually fail. Additionally, several people I’ve spoken with report very hostile behavior from the compulsive hoarder when they tried to clean out their homes. It is probably best to focus your energy elsewhere.

Read up on it.

Join an online support group. Geralin Thomas is a local professional organizer in Cary, NC and owner of Metropolitan Organizing. She has lots of experience working with hoarders and advises folks affected by compulsive hoarding to join an online support group for people with this disease and their families. An online group can give you the means to feel supported by others dealing with similar situations and the ability to share and ask questions anonymously. Here are a few:

Seek out professional help for yourself. Geralin says that it is very difficult to help hoarders unless they recognize their problem and realize that they need help. She recommends that someone affected by another person’s hoarding disease should consider seeing a counselor or psychologist for their own sake.

If you’re new to counselors and psychologists and need help finding one, here are three suggestions:

  1. Go to Psychology Today and search by zip code and specialty; or
  2. Ask a trusted friend or colleague for a recommendation; or
  3. If you have health insurance, check your insurer’s Web site for a directory of in-network mental health providers.

Finally, if you’re in the local Triangle area of North Carolina, Dr. Reid Wilson is a UNC professor and specialist in compulsive hoarding behaviors. He’s a good starting point for therapist recommendations and connection to other resources:

Dr. R. Reid Wilson
3011 Jones Ferry Road
Chapel Hill,NC 27516
Phone: (919) 942-0700

Thoughts on this? Suggestions? Post a comment, or write to Crystal and let her know!