Help for Hoarding

Last updated: November 19, 2012

On holiday visits, families often realize that an aging loved one is drowning in junk. Or maybe you dread moving day to an assisted living community because it means dealing with decades of unsorted stuff.

Coping with someone else's clutter can be as hard emotionally as it is practically. Some help:

  • Realize that you may be dealing with more than "stuff."
    You may already have been aware of a packrat, "saver," or collector, whose love of gathering goods has piled up over the decades. Sometimes an older adult becomes to frail to keep up with stuff. But then there are the hoarders, cases that are either a sudden change or an old habit that's taken a turn for the worse. Hoarding can have many causes, ranging from obsessive compulsive disorder to dementia. Loneliness is another surprising trigger.

  • Draw the line at safety.
    Whatever the reason, piles of papers and mail are a fire hazard that shouldn't be ignored. Stuff lining floors and stairs can be a trip-and-fall danger.

  • Start small.
    Tackle one project at a time, easiest first, says psychologist Robin Zasio, author of The Hoarder in You: How to Live a Happier, Healthier, Uncluttered Life, who appears on the TV show "Hoarders" and directs the Anxiety Treatment Center in Sacramento. Jane Brody of The New York Times calls the book "about the best self-help work I've read in my 46 years as a health and science writer" -- which is really saying something!

  • Declutter in a systematic way.
    Zazio recommends creating three piles: Keep, Donate, Discard. (And Brody urges avoiding her own fourth pile, Undecided, which only winds up getting shifted from place to place in the home.)

  • Be kind.
    Respect is important when helping a loved one downsize. Here's a great tip from a member: take a photo of favorite collections.

  • See more tips on how to get rid of junk.

Was this blogpost helpful?

11 Comments So Far. Add Your Wisdom.

6 months ago

My late husband was a compulsive clothes hoarder. After he passed away it took three months to clean out his two closets. Even longer to clean out the garage contains all the tools.

8 months ago

I am having trouble with my mother who has been living with us for 10 months now, she is wasting money paying rent to just so not to give up her apartment and her belongings. I just cannot talk sense into her that she is wasting dear money needed for care. G-d help me please!!!

10 months ago

I'm not a hoarder, but I have seen TV shows about hoarding, and it appears to be a very horrible mental disease. I DO find myself purchasing "stuff" that I really don't need, but I believe that I am doing "shopping therapy", to reward hard work that goes unrecognized and unappreciated by others. I'm trying to back off doing that, and my home is clean, but with too much clutter. I believe alot of people growing up during the depression or being poor and doing without tend to want to keep everything. But possessions begin to "own us", rather than us "owning them", so live your lives dedicated to the people you love and love you, not to the "stuff" or possessions that can be overwhelming.

10 months ago

My problem is I moved from a 10 room home to a a 4 room home. That was back in 96. I haven't really bought many things since I have been here. It was across country. Even tho I disposed of many things, there is just not room for everything. I became disabled in 2007 and it is very difficult for me to get around and sort and get rid of things. It is also difficult to clean because I just do not have the stamina anymore. I have watched the show Hoarders on TV and I think the one thing that concerns me is that I have things of value and I don't want to just donate or throw them in the trash. I can't have a yard sale as they are not permitted. Other than those items I am able to get rid of things. I do feel I have OCD and I know that is part of the problem. So I feel stuck without a paddle. Thanks for listening to me.

about 1 year ago

Having dealt with the issue directly I will share that often hoarding is about unresolved grief - often hoarders are very intelligent (rationalize every reason to keep something) - argumentative - have anxiety that isn't properly treated and sometimes its just too much loss too fast. I have worked with some who had lost 3-4 relatives in less than 2 years and inherited all their possessions - along with a foreclosure! They may 'save' thinking that 'tossing' is 'tossing the person' - or 'fill up space' so they feel less lonely - or the opposite - create 'walls' and 'barriers' to keep people away so they can grieve privately. As much as the untrained think it's about 'just get rid of it' - it is NOT. Professional counseling should be part of it.

over 1 year ago

I'm a hoarder, it's mental illness, poverty of spirit, laziness, plain sickness. I was very, very poor in my childhood, financially I'm better than I deserve, God, savings, hard work are my blessings, my mind is poor. I drag the girl out of the ghetto, the ghetto is still in me.

over 1 year ago

I did take photos of the house as a before and then After...and showed it to my mother once my brother and I cleared out two rooms. She looked at them very hard and long...and then said thank you for cleaning. Tho' in her mind, she thought she was "saving". She is a victim of WWII, Berlin, Germany...lost everything as a child, and somehow spent her adult years making up for this. Her house was filled to the max, fithy, as she never could clean..and collected Junk, as well as stored all the things she may have had as new back in the 1960's-80's. She has clothing since 1951 - now it's, handbags, sheets, towels, you name it... And it took my brother and I over six months, in various time clear out what we could to make it livable. It's been three years, and I still have to deal with her basement. Since this has started, she was diagnosed with Alzheimers. I moved in with her over two years ago. My life has been on hold for the most part. And I resent it so much that I have to deal with her issues, and make her life livable. As a child, she was a mean parent, never it takes about every ounce of compassion I have to be fair and deal with her on a daily basis. I now want to put her in a home, as I have to work tho' I am now on Social Security. I can't make ends meet with SS, so putting her in a home is my only alternative to some normal living. Hoarding...I know it's an illness...but it's patheticly sad, that parents have to have their Kids fix the problem - when Kids are struggling to make a living as adults in our economy. Venting and very Exhausted. Juliana

Anonymous said over 1 year ago

We have a family member who has hoarded everything for 30 years. She has a three bedroom home and it is just her. She still has two rooms full of boxes full of stull she has no idea what is in them. She moved them in this house twenty years ago and never unpacked them. For several years her family has tried to let them clean up and move out the junk so they can fix up the house so she can move into an apartment since she cannot afford to keep the house up. But, she does not clean either. And she has the living and dining room downstairs from everyhing from first aid, to books, magazines, boxes of papers and everything at her finger tips since she claims she only goes upstairs at night to sleep. It is now so severe she is too embarrassed to let her own brother or father come to her home. I believe this it could even be a fire hazard or at a minimum a safey harzard. But, what can we do? She is in her mid 50's?

over 1 year ago

I myself am a hoarder, mostly mail and magazines. But I can and have hoarded all sorts of things! Take a good coffee can with a plastic lid, you can store everything in these! LOL. Like Robin Zasio or is it Zazio? Like she said, sort things into piles, I had three piles, Keep, Discard, Undecided. But she said to have a Donate pile. That is a great ideal, I have so many magazines that I could just donate! Maybe that would help to do away with the undecided pile. Good luck guys!

almost 2 years ago

When I had to move my sister, 78, into my home in another state I had to pack up her home, I did ask her what she wanted to keep as I packed. I only wish I would have taken pictures of the give away pile because its been 4 years and she is still looking for some of the give away things and when I explain to her that she gave it away, she always tells me that she would never have given "said item" away. She is still very angry with me because "I" gave her things away. If I would have take pictures to show her that she wanted to give the items away and that it wasn't me.

almost 2 years ago

Thank you for this easy to follow way to help our loved ones declutter. I really liked the idea of taking pictures of things as a way for someone to remember some item without having to actually have it. My client Sequoia Senior Solutions recently had similar blog post: Caring at Home: Are You Living with Excessive Clutter? at There is so much that can be written on the subject.

Stay Connected With

Receive the latest news and tips in your inbox

Join our social communities:

Best in Health News