Dealing with Hoarders

Hoarding is a human behavior that usually involves compulsive collecting. Compulsive hoarding is the acquisition of and the keeping of large numbers of seemingly useless possessions that causes significant clutter and the impairment to basic living activities such as mobility, cooking, cleaning, showing or sleeping. Collecting objects is known as compulsive hoarding and the compulsive collection and ownership of pets is known as animal hoarding.

Hoarding is often seen in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and can be associated with other disorders including but not limited to: Anorexia, Attention Deficit Disorder, Delusional/Psychotic Disorders, Dementia/Head Trauma, Fatigue, Depression and Schizophrenia.

Packrat vs. Hoarder: 

While some people may be considered "pack-rats" because they hold on to everything, hoarders take this "pack-rat" behavior to the extreme, saving anything imaginable. Some common issues that face hoarders are:

  • They have extreme difficulty throwing away items.
  • They form very strong emotional attachments to items and have great difficulty deciding what they want to discard.
  • Many of the hoarded items have a personal or practical value to them and they feel that they should not be wasted.
  • They feel very possessive of their material and don't want anybody touching their things.
  • Hoarders tend to have high IQ's and they also have difficulty processing information.
  • They may also have negative self perceptions of themselves and they may be ashamed, embarrassed, overwhelmed, or out of control. They may harbor fears of being considered "crazy" or their fear of being "found out".
  • They may think of themselves as sentimental, thrifty, creative, curious, or environmentally conscientious.
  • They may see themselves as collectors rather than hoarders.

How to Help a Hoarder:

Hoarders may see attempts to help as not particularly helpful, or that helpers are negative, pushy, judgmental and don't understand. It is important to approach people carefully about their issues. 

Many people hold strong preconceptions about hoarders. Some may be put off by hoarders behaviors and consider them to have mental issues or to be difficult to work with.  Other people may believe there is no need to intervene because the behavior is eccentric but harmless. 

It is important to realize that hoarding behavior is not healthy and can be extremely overwhelming to the hoarder and those around them, particularly in small or shared living spaces. 

Tips on Working with Hoarders:

Do:

  • Establish a relationship of trust.
  • Maintain their respect.
  • Try to see their point of view and help them see yours.
  • Name the problem and define standards.
  • Help them maintain a sense of control over the situation.
  • Watch your language to avoid words like: mental illness, crazy, worthless, junk and hoarding.
  • Appeal to their intelligence and desire to do the right thing.
  • Use humor and creativity.
  • Help them set goals including where to start, defining a sequence of events and establish boundaries, limits and timeframes.
  • Work collaboratively whenever possible.
  • Offer physical help and emotional support.
  • Try one thing at a time.
  • Be persistent, patient and praise all efforts.

Don't:

  • Work with them if you feel strongly off-put by the behavior.
  • Belittle or talk down to them.
  • Underestimate their intelligence.
  • Expect miracles overnight.
  • Threaten them or get into a power struggle.
  • Overwhelm them.
  • Do surprise clean-ups.
  • Tackle it alone if possible.
  • Take away their control or involvement except as a very last resort. 

When the Problem Becomes Severe:

While hoarding can be a problem for the hoarder, family and neighbors, Code Enforcement or law enforcement does not have the right to go into people's homes and dictate living conditions unless there is a clear danger observed.

If you suspect a case of hoarding and there are outward visible signs including odor, extreme mess, vermin or visual blight, there are several things you can do:

  • Contact the family or friends about the situation and encourage them to investigate and intervene.
  • If it is a rental property, contact the landlord.
  • Contact Code Enforcement for further investigation.
  • If there is a senior citizen living in the residence, contact the Sacramento County Department of Child, Family and Adult Services, ​Adult Protective Services at 916-874-9377.​
  • If children are present, contact the Sacramento County Department of Child, Family and Adult ServicesChild Protective Services at 916-875-KIDS (5437).