If you or someone you know collects a lot of stuff and can’t seem to part with any of it they may be a hoarder. The actual definition of a hoarder is someone who accumulates things for preservation, future use, etc. in a hidden or carefully guarded place. With these nine steps you can help a hoarder get organized. I know because I live with a hoarder and these steps worked for us. This advice alone will not help a person who is a hoarder to the level you see on television. Hoarding at that level requires mental health counseling as well as a profession organizer.
“Mommy every time I clean up my room you NEEEEEED to help me, because you’re the best organizer.”
These words could have been spoken as a manipulation tool to get me to “help” her clean every time her room becomes a disaster, but they weren’t – this time.
My daughter legitimately appreciated the help in making decisions on what to keep, what to throw away and what to donate. Then of course I helped with organizing what was left. I know this because right now she is my biggest supporter. She tells me often that I’m awesome at organizing and she’s excited for my new business.
Yes, I know this will not last, but I will soak up the admiration of my daughter while I have it. Teenage Cassidy will probably be horrified that 6 year old Cassidy agreed to have this posted for all the world to read.
Don’t worry that my ego is getting too big, because while she respects and appreciates my abilities in one area she certainly knows I cannot do everything well. She is the first to point out my faults too—I always burn grilled cheeses (I get distracted), I never put on temporary tattoos right (I get impatient), and I can’t sing or dance (never claimed I could).
Here are the top 9 things I learned from my daughter about how to help a hoarder get organized.
(Disclaimer serious hoarding situations need expert intervention including mental health counseling.)
- Even messy hoarders crave organization. They may want to keep all of their “treasures,” but they want them to be organized and easy to find.
- They just don’t know where to start. Their space is overwhelming and needs a lot of help, but starting can be the biggest hurdle.
- They can’t do the organizing alone because they get distracted easily. Their space is cluttered and full of treasures they want to keep. When they start cleaning they inevitably find something to appreciate or start playing with. Next thing you know it’s been hours and nothing is clean, but boy where they having fun!
- They need a helper. Get your sorting boxes ahead of time. Hold up one thing at a time for them to make a decision, put in the appropriate box and move on. In Cassidy’s case we had two boxes and a garbage bag. They were designated as: sell/donate, give to Amelia and garbage.
- Sometimes all it takes is time to make the tough decisions. Things that Cassidy was not willing to part with 6 or even 3 months ago she quickly decided to get rid of this time and went right in the garbage – shocker to me. This minimalist seeking mom could not have been more excited. Little slips of paper that in any other house would be thrown away immediately upon arrival into the house served their 6 month stay and were being set free to the landfill.
- DON’T JUDGE–no matter how hard it is. You are there to help a hoarder get organized. It is there stuff, not yours. To Cassidy and all other hoarders these items are treasures. They serve a purpose and they appreciate them all. Recognize this and treat their items as such. The main goal is to get the stuff organized so it doesn’t look so messy. Over time the pack rat will make the tough decisions to get rid of some of it. The best way to help a hoarder is to be patient and understanding. Yes, it may be a struggle, but it’s worth it.
- Music always helps. Put some good music on in the background and get to work. The hoarder gets to choose the music. Even if you hate the music you let them pick. They need to be comfortable, happy and motivated.
- Allow time. This process will take a while since there is so much to go through. The best option is to plan for 30-60 minutes a day to work on the space. It may take several days or even a couple of weeks, but stick with it.
- Start small. Don’t make a plan to attack an entire room—even though that’s the ultimate goal. Plan to start with one shelf or one corner. Once the hoarder sees the progress they will be motivated to move on.
In order to appreciate the hoarder that resides in the upstairs bedroom of our house, I must paint you a visual picture.
Every time Brian or I would go to throw away some garbage it would be met with tears. Cassidy would explain she was using that and she needed it. For instance the packaging from a new toy – I often say, “ok, that’s fine but you have to tell me how you are going to use it right now in order to keep it.” Inevitably she ALWAYS has a very creative response.
I’m in awe of her imagination.
All be darned, but weeks later she will still be using that piece of garbage in the exact way she said she would. The one or two times she didn’t have an immediate response for how she was going to use something she responded, “you shouldn’t throw it away I was going to use it to be creative. My kindergarten teacher (who coincidentally hasn’t been her teacher for a year) said that sometimes trash can be used to be creative and we should keep it and use our imaginations.
Dear Kindergarten Teacher,
Thank you very much for helping my hoarder daughter justify her need for more “treasures.” We will soon be dropping off all of our “treasures” at your house just in case you could use them creatively as well.
A frustrated parent
Her kindergarten teacher got a kick out of our story. I guarantee you she said this statement to help children use their imagination and perhaps find the fun in everyday things instead of electronics, etc.. My child didn’t need to hear it; she is one of the most creative kids who can entertain herself with practically nothing.
She’s been known to take three paperclips and spend an hour in imaginary play without any other items.
It must be in her DNA – her father orchestrated a pen wrestling league in grade school.
It’s always an adventure when you help a hoarder get organized and clean because you never know what you are going to find. I also helped my Mom and Dad organize and declutter their laundry room. I’m not saying they’re hoarders, and I’m not saying they’re not; however these 9 tips may or may not have worked well with them as well!
If you are a hoarder, find a friend to help you get started.
Show them this list so they can appreciate you and your quirks and consider parting with just a few of your “treasures” as you work to organize them and tidy up.
If you live with a hoarder remember take your time, be nice and help them to organize their “treasures.”
Disclaimer: This is not a permanent fix for a hoarder. They will need to repeat these steps many times throughout their lives. This just helps them get back to square one. If you are raising a hoarder child it is okay and they may not always remain a hoarder — I’m a reformed hoarder who now wants to live minimally.
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