Hoarding: How to Help a Friend

The Psychiatry Department at the University of California describes hoarding as a disorder characterized by one's difficultly discarding items that appear to have little or no value. Hoarding is not simply an issue of aesthetics, but also can result in serious threats to the health and safety of the hoarder and anyone else who spends time in her home.

Compulsive hoarding is a mental disorder, deeply ingrained in the hoarder's mind and habits. While it is vital that a hoarder receive support, you must recognize that you cannot "heal" her. A hoarder's condition can improve with cognitive therapy and sometimes medications to treat an underlying condition, but as her friend your primary role will be as her supporter.

Hoarders are considered to have a form of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). While most people with OCD never hoard, those who do can have a difficult time unraveling their hoarding habit with their compulsive need to save things. Here's how you can help.

Educate Yourself

The International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) offers information and other resources on its website. You can read through to get a better idea of what your friend is dealing with as well as what she faces as she attempts to control the disorder. Maryland Hoarding Cleanup also offers resources for those dealing with the problem.

Provide Practical Support

Dig Deep for Patience

Psychology Today warns that patience is an integral part of helping a hoarder find a healthier way to live. While it would be wonderful if you could rent a dumpster and have everything out of the house by the end of the day, that's not the way it normally works. Rather than expecting her to change her deeply entrenched behaviors overnight, be grateful for each tiny baby step she takes forward.

Understand That It Is a Process

The reason most hoarders say they began to keep unneeded items is because they thought maybe they would be valuable in the future or because they had sentimental value, reports The Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Even after her home is perfectly clean, your friend is still going to be dealing with the issues that led her to hoard in the first place. She has a great deal of work to do to get to the bottom of what's causing her behavior, and can certainly use a friend during this time.