Hoarding disorder (HD) is a complex mental health condition characterized by compulsive accumulation of possessions and an inability to part with them. In the United States, HD is estimated to affect between 2 and 6 percent of the population, making it an exceptionally widespread problem that impacts the lives of millions.
The consequences of hoarding reverberate beyond the physical dangers of a cluttered living space. Hoarding also leads to considerable emotional strain that can be overwhelming for family members. Recognizing the far-reaching impact of hoarding is an essential first step in recovering or providing effective support for a loved one suffering from HD.
How Does Hoarding Affect Family Members?
When a person hoards, it affects everyone in the household. In some cases, it can even affect relationships beyond the household.
Emotional and Developmental Burden on Children
Growing up in a cluttered and unsanitary environment is not only unsafe for children, but also detrimental to their emotional development.
Children need structure. The chaos and uncertainty of living with a hoarder contributes to a child’s likelihood of developing mental disorders of their own, such as anxiety or depression, and makes it considerably more difficult for them to develop the organizational skills they will need to succeed in everyday life.
Mental Burden on Spouses
The spouses of hoarders also deal with a large amount of emotional stress. Overwhelming clutter that a spouse feels powerless to control can cause them to become emotionally isolated and resentful, which puts strain on the relationship.
Hoarding-related tension within a family can escalate into outright conflict, further contributing to a stressful or unsafe living environment. If the problem becomes severe enough, it could even lead to divorce or intervention from child protective services.
How to Help a Hoarder
Supporting a loved one with hoarding disorder requires a sensitive and level-headed approach.
Understand the Nature of Hoarding
It’s very important to recognize that hoarding is a complex mental health issue, not merely a “bad habit.” Changing hoarding behavior is a gradual process, not a single conversation.
Seek Professional Help
Encourage your loved one to seek out mental health services such as counseling or support groups. Professional guidance is often the best (and safest) way to address the underlying factors that contribute to hoarding behavior.
Communicate with your loved one about how their hoarding behavior has impacted you or the family as a whole. Be sure to express your concerns in a non-judgmental manner that fosters a safe space for dialogue.
Don’t Force Change
Hold your loved one accountable for making necessary changes without aggressively pressuring them. For example, don’t try to demand that they throw out all their possessions by a certain deadline. Recognize that change takes time and that the best thing you can do for your loved one is provide a supportive environment for their recovery journey.
When your loved one is ready to change their hoarding behavior, you may find that the hoarding cleanup process is more than you can handle on your own. In extreme cases, it may not be safe to begin dismantling a large hoard without specialized biohazard cleaning equipment.
The best way to ensure the cleaning process is completed safely and efficiently is to contact a reputable biohazard cleaning service. At Clean Keepers, our trained biohazard cleanup technicians are here to help with all your hoarding cleanup needs in Fort Myers and the larger Southwest Florida area.