My Husband is Hoarding. What Can I Do?

Hoarded Home

My husband is hoarding. What can I do” is a question I get asked from time to time. You can substitute ‘husband’ with other nouns like partner, mother, father, grandmother and so on. I am a professional organizer who specializes in working with people affected by hoarding. I often get questions from family members who want to help. Here are some tips and strategies to follow if your husband or someone you love is hoarding.

Safety First

Always consider safety first. Clear hallways and the floor in general to avoid tripping hazards. If the person is older a fall could lead to complications. Ask before touching or moving anything.

You may have many ideas as to how to deal with these things that are in the way. Ask first. Never touch or move these things without asking. Always appeal to the person by explaining you are looking out for their safety.

If your husband or someone in the home is hoarding look around and make sure you can open windows and keep air vents clear of clutter. Think about the air quality in the home. Sometimes things get piled near walls and windows. Try to make sure that the piles are not blocking air vents. You want the air to circulate freely in the home.

Clear things away from doors. If piles are preventing doors from opening completely, explain to your husband, partner, or loved one that this is dangerous. You want first responders to be able to open the door completely in case of an emergency.

Always Ask

Before you go around moving piles to clear the air vents and doorways, ask permission. Very often, people who are hoarding are sensitive about other people touching and/or moving their things. It may be because they know what is in each pile in that place. When you move or rearrange the pile you’ve disrupted the picture they hold in their mind.

Take a minute and ask. Then explain why you want to follow through with the request. If your loved-one pushes back and argues with you, back-off. You won’t win the argument. All you will do is make them distrust you.

Too much paper

We all know paper is combustible. Sometimes people just look for convenient places to stash paper if they are cleaning up in a hurry. No matter what, do not let your husband put paper piles in the oven. I know the oven is a big empty space, but it is not a good place to store paper. What if someone didn’t look inside before turning the oven on and, by mistake, set the house on fire because there was a huge pile of papers stored in the oven!

Think safety first. Get a couple of bankers’ boxes and suggest that your husband or loved one store their papers in the boxes instead. These boxes can be safely stacked in a corner of a room.

Very often someone who is hoarding papers thinks that every piece of paper is important to keep.

You can help by downloading some guidelines. Here is a resource from Suze Orman which tells what personal papers are important to keep and for how long. There are others, of course, but this is a good starting point. Share this resource with your husband if he is hoarding papers.

Bathrooms

Bathrooms are also places to keep paper and other things. The bathtub and shower can hold lots of newspapers, magazines, and piles of paper not to mention, clothes.

Since we are talking about safety first, begin by talking about personal hygiene. If the bathroom is full of stuff, it can not be used as a place to clean up.

Set Guidelines and Post Them

Have a non-confrontational, non-judgmental conversation with your husband about his hoarding. The point of the conversation is to tell him that you are here to help.

One way to help is to talk about the collection of things and ask to set limits so that the two of you can live safely together in the home.

Ask if you can work together to create some rules about the variety of things being kept.

For instance: how many months (or years) to keep the magazines? Can all solicitations that come in the mail be recycled? If clothes are too stained or tattered to wear may they be tossed?

Create a list of guidelines that your husband agrees to follow and post the list.  

Hoarding is a diagnosable disorder. As a professional organizer I do not diagnose only a therapist or doctor can do that. What I know from working with people affected by this disorder is that if you remove everything that has been hoarded, saved, or collected you will cause harm.

Patience, Kindness, and Understanding

Have patience. Work on one area at a time. Gradually reduce the bulk of the hoard with the person’s permission so that the contrast from living in a full house to an empty space is not stark.

Be kind and always ask if they are willing and able to work on the hoard. If the answer is “No”, be understanding.

Walk away and try again another day. You want to offer options not ultimatums.

These are a few of my suggestions. Give them a try. I hope they give you a place to start and that they work for you. Be sure to let me know what you think. I’d love to have your comments.

Diane N. Quintana is a Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization®, Master Trainer and owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC and co-owner of Release●Repurpose●Reorganize, LLC based in Atlanta, Georgia. Diane teaches busy people how to become organized and provides them with strategies and solutions for maintaining order in their lives. She specializes in residential and home-office organizing and in working with people affected by ADD, Hoarding, and chronic disorganization.

14 Comments

  • I love your gentle, humane approach. Hoarding behavior can cause such stress in a family. Approaching the situation with a “do no harm” attitude is the ethical way to go. I love that you highlighted the “ask first” before touching things approach. The biggest challenge is resistance on the part of the individual with hoarding behavior. Until they are ready for change and get the proper support, it’s going to be a challenging situation to alter.

    • Diane Quintana says:

      Thank you, Linda. You are absolutely correct. Until the person doing the hoarding decides it’s time to reduce there may be very little that leaves the home. I have always found that you can make some inroads when you approach the subject from a safety first stand point.

  • I admire Professional Organizers who can work with hoarders. I never wanted to get involved in this area of organizing. It was just not my expertise. These tips are excellent. Air quality is so important, especially when people have allergies or asthma.

    • Diane Quintana says:

      Thank you, Sabrina. Working with someone affected by the hoarding disorder takes special training and a boat load of patience and understanding. I appreciate your comment.

  • This is such a challenging situation. My heart goes out to people who live with those struggling with hoarding disorder. I love the theme of kindness and patience that runs throughout this post. It is true that simply removing the hoarded items won’t solve the situation, and can actually make the whole situation worse. The presence of experts and professionals is so important here. Don’t try and deal with it alone!!

    • Diane Quintana says:

      Thank you, Seana. It’s always easier to walk a difficult path in the company of trained professionals.

  • Great advice. I’m often asked what to do when a partner isn’t going “along with the program”.

    • Diane Quintana says:

      Thank you, Janet. It’s challenging to know what to say when a partner isn’t going along. My best advice is to offer options not ultimatums. Those get you know where – fast!

  • Well stated. This is a sensitive subject, and you’ve handled it beautifully.

  • Working with a hoarder, especially if it’s someone you live with, takes tremendous skill, patience and compassion. I really liked it when you said don’t push if the person says doesn’t want the help or isn’t ready. To just walk away because you won’t win the argument anyway.
    It’s clear that you have the gentleness and compassion to be helpful and guide a hoarder through this process.

  • Melanie says:

    Wow, you are amazing. Working with these extreme cases is a job for the kindest and most patient of people. Thankful that you do what you do.