We all know people who are a little messy or untidy. Often, this untidiness is down to a busy life or a love for the things they surround themselves with. But there’s a big difference between someone who enjoys lots of things, and so has knickknacks on every surface, and someone who hoards.
Hoarding is where someone keeps a lot of items in their home, being unwilling and often unable to give them up. While collectors may have a lot of things with some intrinsic value, hoarders often find it difficult to let go of things many of us would think of as trash, such as newspapers, cardboard toilet rolls, and broken items.
Regardless of what’s being hoarded, the collecting has grown to such an extent that the usability of their home is impeded. They often have rooms they cannot use, may have to carefully navigate their way through rooms, or be unable to reach a piece of furniture because it is buried under what they’ve collected.
Hoarding was recognized as a clinical disorder by the World Health Organization in 2018, and studies have since found that the majority of people who hoard are over the age of 60. There are many reasons why people hoard, but here are a few of the most common reasons why older people hoard:
- They find it more difficult physically to keep up with housework, and find tackling the problem too overwhelming and so it gets worse
- They have dementia (the early stages of it can be very subtle) and so are finding it more difficult to organize, plan, or remember that they can let go of these things
- They experienced some trauma, which led to anxiety about letting go of things
- They have some form of agoraphobia and have anxiety about leaving their home, so things build up instead of them dealing with it
- Shame about something (such as their inability to keep up with housework) leads them to hide items rather than seeking help to dispose of them
- A real or imagined need for frugality which leads them to keep anything that could be reused or repurposed (or to buy things that are a great bargain)
It’s important to understand the reasons behind why a senior may be hoarding so you can approach them and the situation with empathy. If you are someone who easily keeps a clean and tidy home, you may not be able to understand why anyone would be unable to do so when it’s something that comes so naturally to you, but it’s important to understand that people are different.
Whether it’s the way they’re wired, a disease, physical barriers, or past trauma, you’ve got to approach your loved one in the right way so they don’t feel ashamed or defensive. You also need to be aware that letting go of their things may cause them anxiety, so you may need to take baby steps rather than fixing the problem in one go.
Here are some steps you can take to support a senior who hoards:
Talk to them without accusation – You need to choose your language carefully when you approach your loved one about their hoarding. Instead of asking them “why do you have all this junk?”, pick out a single item they have a lot of and ask them why they have them with open curiosity, not incredulity. You may find that they once had a use for them or a hope for them that they cannot let go of.
For example, you may find out that they are keeping all their used cardboard toilet rolls because they hope to use them to start seeds in the spring, as they used to, either not knowing (due to dementia) or not wanting to face up to the fact they are no longer physically able to garden as they did for the majority of their life.
Offer to help them better organize – Rather than suggesting you help them get rid of things, ask them if they’d like some help organizing things. If you work at it bit by bit, not only will you be able to help them have a safer place to live but you can also clean and throw out some unnecessary items. The more you do, the more likely they’ll be to allow you to start throwing away some of the trash.
Tackle it a little bit at a time – It can be tempting to bring all your family over and blitz the place, but this is always too much for someone who hoards. You’ll either cause them significant distress or they’ll simply start hoarding again. Go slow and see if they can maintain their home between visits.
Consider if they may need additional care – Hoarding is always linked to a mental or physical issue, so you may need to think about getting their doctor involved for an assessment. This can be a difficult step to take if the senior in question does not believe anything is wrong with them. If your loved one is unable to maintain their home but is otherwise still physically and mentally capable, see if you can get them a cleaner 1-3 times a week.
You may also need to open your own eyes. Is your loved one really capable of living alone? If you are not able to be around them daily or every other day, speak to their neighbors and see if they have any concerns. Often, you’ll find that their neighbors are either already helping them or have concerns about your elderly relative.
There are some great facilities and services out there that can help your loved one live a better quality of life. Most seniors will resist going into an assisted living facility or care home, but these modern-day facilities provide quality care and enrichment activities. Many seniors go from being lonely in their own homes to having a thriving social life. After all, it’s like moving into a college dorm!
If you find that the latter is the only option for your loved one, you’ll likely need to sell their home to pay for their new home and care. Tackling both the sale of a loved one’s home while they’re still living and clearing out their hoarded items is a huge task – and one most find overwhelming. If your loved one lives in Massachusetts, we can help.
We buy homes for cash in as-is condition in Massachusetts, and in many cases, we can take the home on even with your loved one’s hoarded possessions inside. We’ll handle clearing out the property so all you need to do is take your loved one’s valuables and set them up for success in their new home. To find out more about the process, click here.