How can I help my father, who is a hoarder, clear out his house so that it is not a hazard?

Clubkeller asked...

My eighty-five-year-old father is a hoarder. You can barely walk through his house. It is a tripping hazard, and not to mention the dust on his 200 boxes of "garage sale" treasures. How can I clean out his house without destroying him, or me? We've been talking about a garage sale but I don't think he will part with his "goods" without a battle. Did I mention that he is a belligerent old man who swears profusely at me and basically thinks everyone in the world is nuts? I've known this for years, and yet I always end up offended and broken-hearted when things go badly between us.

Expert Answer

Laura Juel is an occupational therapist at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina. She works in the Outpatient Occupational Therapy Program and the Duke Driving Program for older drivers.

Hoarding is defined as the excessive collection of items that seem to have limited or zero value. When a person like your father has reached the point where he is endangering himself, it may be difficult to correct the problem  -- particularly if he does not acknowledge that his behavior is a problem at all. The primary concerns in your father's case is the risk of a fall, potential fire hazards, and unsanitary conditions. 

If your father is agreeable, I'd recommend that you work with him to develop a plan for how to decrease the clutter. It may work, for example, to choose a room and dedicate a month to cleaning and organizing it.  Talk to him about donating items to a local charity of his choosing, like a disabled veterans' group or homeless shelter, for example. 

Given your description of your father's behavior, he may not be receptive to the notion that his house needs cleaning up, or to your offers of assistance. If he refuses to budge, you may have to lower your expectations. The most important objective is to ensure that his home is as safe and sanitary as possible. If he's living in a less than ideal environment but is otherwise safe, I don't feel this is an issue worth ruining your relationship over.

If, on the other hand, the situation has reached a point where you feel his safety is compromised and he refuses to make changes himself or with your help, I recommend that you consult his physician or a mental health provider about what to do next.