If someone you love is a hoarder—or you're worried you have the tendency—take heart. Although hoarding is a challenging disorder, experts have developed effective strategies. First, tempting as it may be, don’t clean out a hoard without permission. The hoarder needs to help decide which items to toss and which to save.

Be empathetic; hoarders feel strongly about their possessions. Give it time, too. "It takes six months to two years to make good progress on changing the way a hoarder thinks about and behaves toward her possessions," says Gail Steketee, Ph.D.

And consider expert help. Cognitive behavioral therapy that aids with organizational strategies, decision-making and breaking the attachment to possessions can help. Treatment is available one-on-one, in group form, online and through self-help manuals.

In Randy Frost, Ph.D. and Steketee's renowned program, based on their Compulsive Hoarding and Acquiring: Therapist Guide (Oxford University Press, 2006) and its accompanying workbook, a trained therapist or coach helps the hoarder develop better organizational skills and slowly make decisions about their collected items. The therapist also accompanies the hoarder on "non-shopping" trips.” So, someone who suffers from hoarding disorder may browse in a craft or toy shop, but must leave the store without making a purchase. "In time, most people realize they can live without that item they wanted so badly," says Frost.

For people with hoarding disorder, recovery is often a slow process. Over time, counselors can help hoarders overcome anxiety about letting go of possessions and organizing their homes. With treatment and support, many people with hoarding disorder succeed in "decluttering" completely, adopting the motto: "Keep the best and get rid of the rest."

Why the Reality Shows Are Wrong About Treating Hoarding

Television shows like Hoarders (on A&E TV) have raised awareness, but their tactics may be misguided, say experts. Forced overnight clean-outs can be traumatic for someone with a hoarding problem. And bringing in cleaners to tote away the trash is usually only a temporary fix.

"Nine times out of 10, the house will go back to the way it was within months," says hoarding researcher Randy Frost, Ph.D. For lasting change, the hoarder needs to want help, be motivated to change and be involved in the clean-out process.”

Source: Adapted from our sister publication, REMEDY (Winter 2010): Updated by the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 01 Nov 2010

Last Modified: 12 May 2014