Contrary to how the media often portrays compulsive hoarding, there’s nothing funny about Hoarding Disorder. Here’s why it should be taken seriously.
My Father, the hoarder
I’m Jo Cooke. I’m a Professional Declutter. The daughter of a hoarder, my Dad died in 2012, leaving a four bedroom house, attic, four sheds and two garages, chockfull of clutter, which took five months to clear.
Growing up, my Dad experienced terrible hunger and hardship in Germany and Poland, fleeing the war, separated for a decade from his father, who remained behind to support the war effort. To cut a long story short, Dad’s traumatic upbringing motivated him to keep everything and waste nothing. Since his death, I’ve learned that hoarding behaviour is triggered by painful life events, hoarders using objects as emotional insulation to fill a void.
My father’s hoarding inspired me to leave my Civil Service Career to improve the lives of clutterbugs and chronic hoarders as a Professional Declutter and co-founder of Hoarding Disorders UK.
It’s time to end the stigma about hoarding. These myths, truths, dos and don’ts present an alternative way of thinking and acting.
3 myths and truths about Hoarding Disorder.
Myth - Hoarders are dirty, lazy or eccentric and ‘need to get a life’.
Truth - Usually the opposite is true and there is an emotional trauma or period of instability which has triggered Hoarding disorder as in the case of my Father
Myth – Large scale clear-ups remove the issue of hoarding
Truth - Without the Hoarder’s say-so drastic action can take a devastating mental toll on the Hoarder
Myth – A hoarder is another name for a collector
Truth – Collectors generally take pride in sorting and displaying items acquired. Those of Hoarders can be in disarray, inhibiting normal usage of the home.
6 do’s and don’ts to help a hoarder turn a corner
Look beyond the clutter to the emotional challenges facing the individual, Start small and bear with the individual, allowing them to talk through why they keep each belonging (this may take some time!)
A third of fire deaths are related to hoarding. Identify and discuss safety concerns and bring in professionals if it makes the process easier.
Talk through options with the person, such as how certain items can be donated to another person in need. Suggest they talk to a professional therapist, involving them in that discussion.
Don’t do that
Don’t show intolerance, label the possessions as junk or tell the hoarder to ‘throw the whole lot in a skip’
Don’t rush to bring in the authorities unless it’s an emergency situation
Don’t put the clutter before the person; show empathy
Let’s compassionately give hoarders the time and space to get their house and lives back in order.
If you need further information or support go to https://hoardingdisordersuk.org/, read Understanding Hoarding by Jo Cooke, (Sheldon Press, 2017) details available at https://hoardingdisordersuk.org/understanding-hoarding/, contact Jo at firstname.lastname@example.org or 07950 364 798.
Jo Cooke is an accredited member of the Association of Professional Declutterers and Organizers and runs her own decluttering business, Tapioca Tidy. She is a Director of Hoarding Disorders UK and hosts two hoarding support groups, in Berkshire. Her book ‘Understanding Hoarding’ offers guidance on how to help people affected by hoarding, clutter or chronic disorganisation