My 20-plus years of making hoarding homes saleable again has given me some insight into how to help hoarders de-clutter their dangerously-cluttered homes. In fact, these homes can be downright hazardous due to structural damage from neglect, towering piles of possessions that block the path to rooms and can topple with the slightest motion, and bad air from dust, dirt, and pet and rodent feces.

Most hoarders across the country are seniors in the 55-92-year-old age group who have spent a lifetime amassing things. This has also been my experience handling such cases in Maricopa County. It can be extremely difficult for hoarders to unlearn hoarding behaviors, but the Area Agency on Aging has developed guidelines to help family members and friends assist the hoarder in the de-cluttering process.

Before you begin the process, try to manage expectations by determining what the person’s goals and expectations of the process are. Next, try some of these tips to make the de-clutter easier for everyone:
-Listen to the person you’re helping. It’s not about your wants or ideas.
-Set a time limit for de-cluttering and indicate when breaks will occur.
-Write down what will happen and how it will happen. For example, state that you (the coach) won’t touch anything unless given permission. The final decision for what stays or goes is up to the
person. The coach will ask specific questions like, “Will you use that in the next three weeks?” or “How many of these do you have and do you think you need another one?” This will help the
person better evaluate the situation.
-Avoid making suggestions about items—they could hold sentimental value.
-Use positive and encouraging language.
-Use the same language as the person you are coaching to make them feel comfortable with the process. If they refer to their possessions as “my treasures” or “I’m a collector”, use those terms as

Above all, understand that accumulating things didn’t happen overnight. De-cluttering is an individual journey that requires learning new behaviors and understanding thought processes. Some people will go through the process faster than others. It takes sensitivity, patience and commitment to help the person reach successful, long-term recovery.

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