Helping a Senior Who Hoards Downsize

Helping seniors downsize can be stressful and time-consuming, especially if they’re a person with hoarding disorder. Downsizing or moving a person with hoarding disorder involves a certain degree of knowledge, understanding, and patience. Here’s everything you need to understand hoarding and how to successfully help an older adult who hoards downsize.

What Is Hoarding?

Hoarding disorder is the ongoing difficulty of discarding or getting rid of personal possessions. Persons with hoarding disorder are obsessive about their possessions and often create dangerous and cramped living conditions in their homes. This situation can put seniors at risk for fires, pest infestations, increased falls, injuries, and expensive home repairs.

Understanding and recognizing the signs and symptoms of hoarding can help you develop strategies and a plan to simplify downsizing and moving. People with hoarding disorder typically have the following characteristics:

  • Difficulty categorizing and organizing items
  • An inability to throw away items
  • Severe anxiety and even anger when attempting to throw away items
  • Indecision about what to keep or what to give away
  • Suspicion of others touching possessions
  • Compulsive buying and shopping online
  • In denial about the severity of the problem
  • Piles of mail and papers
  • Severe clutter throughout the home, with very little or no living space
  • Embarrassment and social isolation because of hoarding

Helping to Downsize

Helping a person with hoarding disorder downsize can be frustrating and overwhelming. In addition, understanding their attachment to seemingly insignificant items may take time and effort. Here are a few helpful tips to make the process easier:

Have Empathy and Patience

People with hoarding disorder can be very defensive, anxious, and angry. So before you begin, accept that this may be a long and tedious process. Start slowly and be prepared for potentially tense moments. Have empathy and understand how hard downsizing could be for a person with hoarding disorder.

Address the Source of the Problem

Hoarding disorder goes far beyond just an accumulation of material items. At the source, it’s an obsessive-compulsive coping mechanism that usually requires some form of mental health therapy. Seeking professional mental health services for a loved one with hoarding disorder will help address the root of the issue. A care manager can help your family cope with hoarding disorder and point you to resources that can assist.

Hire a Professional Organizer or Cleaner

If you cannot downsize successfully, don’t hesitate to ask for help. Even the most well-meaning families cannot help seniors with severe hoarding disorders. Professional organizers specializing in hoarding have the skills and knowledge to communicate with and help hoarders. 

Your care manager can help you find a cleaning or organizing professionals who understand the unique needs of a person with hoarding disorder.

Downsizing 101: Best Practices

Downsizing a person with hoarding disorder is a significant endeavor.  However, there are some things you can do to help successfully downsize. 

  • Start by walking through the home to make observations
  • Make a schedule for family members and friends to prevent burnout
  • Create a sorting system (trash, recycle, keep, donate)
  • Clear hallways and stairways first
  • Set realistic goals
  • Rent a storage unit for easy trash removal
  • Focus on one room at a time
  • Remove trash and hazardous items first
  • Reduce paper clutter
  • Remove broken furniture
  • Secure a cleaning service once downsizing is complete

Although it may be challenging to understand hoarding disorder, having a plan in place, a bit of empathy, and professional help will go a long way in assisting you and your loved one.