Compulsive hoarding (or pathological hoarding or disposophobia) is the excessive acquisition of possessions (and failure to use or discard them), even if the items are worthless, hazardous, or unsanitary. Compulsive
hoarding impairs mobility and interferes with basic activities, including cooking, cleaning, showering, and sleeping.
It is not clear whether compulsive hoarding is an isolated disorder, or rather a symptom of another condition, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Helping people who hoard understand how their problem interferes in living the life they desire can be a powerful motivator, especially as it pertains to being able to live independently. Some suggest the inability to maintain a safe living environment is a reason to consider an assisted living facility. But since an estimated 80% of seniors desire independence, here are some sensitive solutions to help.
- Don’t use judgmental language. Like anyone else, individuals with hoarding will not be receptive to negative comments about the state of their home, their character, or their possessions (e.g., “What a mess!” “What kind of person lives like this?” “This is nothing but junk!”).
- Use motivational language. In communicating with people who hoard about the consequences of hoarding, use language that reduces defensiveness and increases motivation to solve the problem (e.g., “I see that you have a pathway from your front door to your living room. That’s great that you’ve kept things out of the way so that you don’t slip or fall.”)
- Don’t try to persuade or argue with the person. Efforts to persuade individuals to make a change in their home or behavior often have the opposite effect—the person actually talks himself into keeping the items.
When it comes time to sort through the mess, this blog post suggests four steps, including a professional cleaning crew.