How To Help A Hoarder Parent

When someone is a hoarder, they tend to find it difficult to part with items that they keep around them, and often have excessive amounts of objects and items that typically would not hold much value to others. 

While the term has been used off-handedly, hoarding constitutes a real disorder and affects many people, especially after a stressful life event. It can have mild to severe impacts on daily life, such as making living conditions cramped and uncomfortable. Those who have hoarder parents also feel distress upon seeing the accumulation of items around the home, uncleanliness, as well as distress from not always being able to help their parent.

Many people who hoard do not always see it is a problem, which can make treatment difficult. 

In this article we will go over some of the ways you can help a hoarder parent and put them down the right path for treatment. 

Hoarder Parents and How to Help Them 

Hoarding often constitutes behavior such as excessively acquiring items when there’s no space or real value to them, emotional distress upon parting with items they hoarded, and having a tendency toward indecisiveness, or avoidance. Such behavior can lead to unusable rooms, unsanitary living conditions, and conflict with those who try to help. 

People typically hoard items if they feel it will come to use at some point later, or because they feel safe when surrounded by all the items, or if the items have emotional significance. Elderly people who live alone, or suffer from conditions like dementia or other mental impairments might display these behaviors. 

As aforementioned, hoarding disorder is a real issue, which means seeking help from a medical professional can be helpful in treating the disorder. The hoarding can come from a place of distress or other negative emotions, making it important to address and treat. 

If the hoarding increases to an extremely severe level, where you are concerned about the safety of a parent, you may need to contact local authorities like the fire department, police, elder protective services, public health, or animal welfare agencies. 

There are still many ways you can help your parent with their hoarding issues by taking certain measures yourself. 

  1. Have a civil conversation with them. If the hoarding has been going on for a long time, you might have a lot of anger directed at your parent for not listening to you, or because they refuse to get help. However, yelling or shouting at them may not be the most effective way to get them to listen to you. It is better to try to explain things more calmly. Also, consider their perspective and ask them how they feel. 
  2. Explain the dangers of hoarding to them. Hoarding can affect the health of not only the hoarder but their loved ones too. Tell them about how their habits can pose a danger to health, mental and physical. 
  3. Do not take away their possessions. It may be tempting to throw out the things that a parent hoards in an effort to help, but for most hoarders, throwing things out can cause emotional distress. This might not help, but instead, just cause them distress and make them more unwilling to change. 
  4. Educate yourself. Find out what you can about hoarding disorders, or people with hoarding tendencies, and try to understand how it can come about. Once you have a better understanding of the anxiety and negative emotions your parent might be feeling, you will be more able to extend empathy and support. 
  5. Help them find treatment. If your parent has started to be more willing to seek help, offer to help them find the right professional. It is important that you do not force them into this treatment; it should mostly come from a decision they make themselves. 
  6. Don’t be an enabler. Try to avoid doing things that can indirectly enable the hoarding behavior of your parent. For example, don’t offer to store items for them when they don’t have space. 
  7. Help them declutter. If they are less reluctant than before to get more organized, offer your help in decluttering a little at a time, at your parent’s pace. This shows your support and can make them feel heard and listened to. Sometimes if they are still very unwilling, you may need to adopt a harm reduction approach, which essentially means you encourage them to get rid of certain items because they are dangerous rather than just saying it’s messy. This may not make them declutter everything, but might be enough to make them get rid of things that are dangerous. 

How to Deal With A Hoarder Mother/ How to Deal with a Hoarder Father 

If you have a hoarder parent, chances are you have faced many of your own difficulties. It is not always easy to cope with a hoarder parent, even when you are an adult. If you grew up with excessive, or even dangerous clutter around your house, there are many reasons you might have a troubled relationship with your mother or father. Here are some issues you may have if you have a hoarder parent, and ways you can deal with them. 

  1. You might find yourself having a strained relationship with your parent, especially if the hoarding issues have been persistent for a long period of time. If it is something you also experienced in your childhood, this might be even more true. 
  2. You may experience caregiver burnout if you are in a caregiver role and have to provide emotional care to a parent. You may experience anxiety, depression and find it hard to cope. 
  3. You might find yourself concerned for the health and safety of the hoarder as well as yourself. A lot of dust can accumulate when there are excessive items around the house, and your parent might also be hoarding things that are unsanitary when kept for extended periods of time. Hoarding can also increase the risk of falling, especially with very elderly parents, which can cause significant anxiety to the hoarder’s loved ones. 
  4. Concerns about loss of living space and increased debt can arise. If you live with a hoarder parent, they may start to claim places as their own and make many spaces unusable to you within your own home. Additionally, they may spend a lot of money on purchasing more and more items to clutter the home, which can cause financial strain that impacts you too. 

If you face some of these problems, or other problems along the same vein, the following coping tips might be of help to you. 

  1. Seek emotional support to help you cope with your own negative feelings. You can find help through a therapist, a support group, a counselor, etc. Validating your own feelings is important, as your parent’s behavior might have significantly impacted you too. 
  2. Be aware that while your parent is the one with the disorder, it does not automatically mean you need to suffer the consequences. Being there for them is a great way to help, but it is also important to take care of yourself. 
  3. Try not to force change, and instead extend help in the form of active listening. 
  4. Seek out healthy ways of bonding with your hoarder parent, and try to avoid aggressive interactions. Being assertive and clear about your stance and your feelings is better than being very passive or very aggressive. 
  5. Improve family communication. As hoarding can lead to family dysfunction, there may be a great distance between your parents and the rest of their family. This may not be something that can be mended easily but taking steps to communicate more effectively with your parent can be beneficial to you as well as them. 

Conclusion 

Having a hoarder parent is never easy. They have many of their own issues to deal with, and many of them can transfer that burden to their children and loved ones. While everyone involved faces the impact of hoarding, it is also important that the hoarder gets the support and help that they need to overcome their hoarding problems. It is critical that they feel heard and supported, instead of isolated and excluded. 

Helping your hoarder parent while also taking care of your own health can be a difficult balance to find, but taking little steps every day to help your parent and healthily manage your feelings can lead to better family dynamics, health, and quality of life. 

Sources:

  1. How HD Affects Families, International OCD Foundation, hoarding.iocdf.org
  2. How To Help Someone Who Hoards, www.goodtherapy.org
  3. Hoarding Disorder, Mayo Clinic, www.mayoclinic.org

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