Explains what hoarding is, possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping someone who is hoarding, as well as helping yourself.
Helping someone who hoards
You may feel very worried if you think someone you care about is hoarding. It might feel difficult to know how to talk to them about it, especially if they don't agree that they are hoarding.
You might have already tried to offer support, but the person you're worried about is maybe unwilling or unable to accept help. This can feel really difficult, worrying or frustrating.
But there are lots of helpful things you can try. We offer suggestions for ways you can support them while also looking after your own wellbeing.
If you are supporting someone who is hoarding, whether they agree or not, you should try to keep these important points in mind:
- Use respectful language. Don't refer to their possessions as 'junk' or 'rubbish'. This shows that you don't understand their connection to the objects or why they want to keep them. They will be less likely to open up to you if you talk about their things this way.
- Don't focus on a total clean-up. While some people who hoard might be able completely clear their space, this isn't the case for everyone. The important focus should be the safety and wellbeing of your loved one, which can be achieved without completely clearing everything. This is sometimes called a 'harm reduction strategy'. You can find out more on the International OCD Foundation website.
- Listen to what they want. Ask the person close to you what they think will be helpful. This will give them more control over the situation and show you care about what they want. For example, they might want you to sit with them while they clean or for you to help take things to charity shops.
- Think carefully about gifts. It may be unhelpful to give them new items. If you want to give a gift, try thinking 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 to you, it might be part of their progress.
- Don't pressure them to let you into their space. They might feel really anxious about visitors, so it's important not to take it personally if they don't invite you in. If you'd like to spend time together, it might help to consider other places you could meet instead.
- 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. Make sure they know that you can help them find support when they're ready.
- Include your loved one in calls to authorities. You might feel that authorities such as social services, the RSPCA, or the council need to be involved. If so, you should discuss this with your loved one first. This will make them feel more included in the decision and more likely to accept help. You should only call the authorities without their permission if there is a serious risk to safety.
During their process of starting to clean or clear, you can help by thinking about the following:
- Respect their decisions. Most people have some attachment to things they own. You might not understand why they keep particular things. But try to remember that the items they hoard feel important to them – even if they don't seem valuable to you.
- Don't take over their space. It's understandable to want to help them improve things. But if you try to take charge, they might not want to accept any help at all. For example, don't touch or move things without their permission.
- Try to be patient. Once someone seeks help with hoarding, it can still take a long time before they're ready to make changes.
- Help them celebrate successes. Try celebrating after they clear a small area. They might feel very anxious about what's left to do, so it could help if you encourage them to notice achievements. You could also remind them to take things one step at a time.
Discarding is never a simple yes-no process, and most items will be pondered over through several sort-throughs, over a period of months and years.
Not everyone is ready to admit that they have problems with hoarding. If someone close to you is in this position, try to:
- Be gentle – you can't force someone to change their behaviour. Don't try to persuade, trick or force someone into clearing up or throwing things away. This is unlikely to help them change in the long-term and could make them withdraw from you.
- 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. For more information, see our pages on helping someone else to seek help. We also have advice on what to do if someone doesn't want help.
- Help them stay safe. Focus on things such as fire safety and emergency access. This can at least make the hoarding situation a safer environment. The London Fire Brigade has tips on its website about how to reduce the risk of fire from hoarding.
- Avoid making threats. Threatening to cut off contact or call authorities like the council is unlikely to help the situation. It can make your loved one feel more alone and less likely to talk to you about what they're going through.
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 into 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.
Supporting someone with a mental health problem can feel draining. It's important to look after yourself as well:
- Set limits for yourself. It can be really difficult if you're supporting someone who doesn't think they're hoarding, or doesn't want to seek help. It's important to consider what help you feel able to offer and set yourself limits.
- Try peer support. Some people find it really helpful to connect with others who are also supporting someone with hoarding. To find peer support, you could contact Mind's Infoline or your local Mind to find support in your area. You can also explore our useful contacts or try online peer support, such as Side by Side.
- Look after yourself. Supporting someone else can sometimes be difficult and stressful. It's important to remember that your mental health is important too. For more information, see our pages on coping when supporting someone else, managing stress and maintaining your wellbeing.
You might find it very difficult living with someone who is hoarding, or has hoarding disorder. You might have lived with them for a long time without mentioning their hoarding, or you might have recently realised it.
What steps you take might also depend on what kind of relationship you have, and how their behaviour makes you feel. The other tips on this page can still help you, but you could also consider these ideas:
- Respect each other's boundaries. Work together to keep these boundaries where you need them. For example, this could involve agreeing that certain spaces need to be clutter-free for safety reasons. Or having a space in the home that's just for you.
- Address the hoarding problem together. Work out what common goals you have for your shared space and discuss how you can achieve these together.
- Give them space. It might help to give them time alone to sort things out. Some people find it easier to do this without someone else there. For example, you could go see a movie while they clean.
- Know your limits. It's OK if you feel you can no longer live in a space where someone is hoarding. It's not always possible to find somewhere else to stay, so it might help to try things like making sure you spend time outside the house regularly. This could include going for walks, visiting friends or going on a day out.
- Talking therapy. You can go to some types of talking therapies with the person who is hoarding. This can help you both express how you are feeling. The charity Relate has more information on relationship and family therapy.
This information was published in February 2022. We will revise it in 2025.
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