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Explains hoarding, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family

This section is for friends or family who wish to support someone who is hoarding.

You may feel very worried if you think someone you care about is hoarding. It may feel difficult to know how to talk to them about it, especially if they disagree with you about whether they are hoarding.

You might have already tried to offer support, but found that the person you're worried about is unwilling or unable to accept help. This can be really difficult, worrying or frustrating.

In fact there are lots of helpful things you can do. This page has some suggestions for ways you can support them while also looking after your own wellbeing.

  • Let them know you are there. One of the most important things you can do is let the person you're worried about know that you care and can help them find support when they are ready.
  • Respect their decisions. Most people have some attachment to things they own. You might not understand why your loved one keeps particular things, but try to remember that the items they hoard feel important to them (even if they don't seem valuable to you). For example, try to avoid describing them as junk or rubbish.
  • Don't take over. It's understandable to want to help them improve things. But if you try to take charge, they might shut you out and not accept any help at all. For example, don't touch or move things without their permission.

"I would like some help in working out how to store things to make more room, and in sorting out what to get rid of but past bad experiences put me off asking friends or family for help."

  • Be gentle – you can't force someone to change their behaviour. Trying hard to persuade, trick or force someone into clearing up or throwing things away is unlikely to help them change in the long-term and could make them withdraw from you.
  • Think carefully about gifts, as it may be unhelpful to introduce new items into their home. If you want to give them a gift, it could help to think of alternatives like going for a meal or day out. Try to be understanding if they get rid of something you've given them, even if this feels hurtful, as it might be part of them making progress.
  • Help them to seek treatment and support. For example, you could encourage them to use the Clutter Image Rating or hoarding ice breaker tools to help them talk to their doctor. Our page on supporting someone else to seek help has more information, including what you can and can't do if someone doesn't want help.
  • Don't pressure them to let you into their home. They might feel really anxious about having visitors, so it's important not to take it personally if they don't want you to come in. If you'd like to spend time together, it might help to consider other places you could meet instead.

"I stopped asking people round as I was ashamed and it caused me a lot of guilt that I was not hosting family meals. My family wanted to "help" by turning up with bin bags but this caused more upset."

  • If you live together, it might help to give them time alone to sort things out. Some people find it easier to do this without someone else there.
  • Try to be patient. Once someone seeks help with hoarding, it can still take a long time before they are ready to make changes.
  • Help them celebrate successes, such as clearing a small area. They might feel very anxious about what's left to do, so it could help if you encourage them to notice their achievements. You could also remind them to take things one step at a time.

"I feel that my mum is at risk in the event of a fire or if she has a medical emergency. The simple daily tasks that we all take for granted (getting in to bed, cooking a meal, going up the stairs) are all made more difficult (and dangerous) by the amount of stuff in her home, and her attachment to it."

"I am not able to stay with her and care for her or keep her company in the way I wish I could and want to. She is isolated, at risk and lonely and all I can do is visit (but not sit down anywhere) and watch as she becomes more vulnerable. I wish, more than anything, that I could do more."

About forced clear-ups

If you're supporting someone who is hoarding, it's understandable to want to help them clear up and to believe you might be doing them a favour if you clean and tidy things for them. But this is very unlikely to help in the long term and it could make things worse.

Family members and carers sometimes believe they might be helping if they turn up without advance warning and without permission, or pay someone to tidy or declutter behind the person's back. However, professionals who understand hoarding should never agree to make surprise visits, and should know that it's unhelpful to tidy up against someone's wishes.

This information was published in September 2018. We will revise it in 2021.

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