My aunt is a hoarder

Question: 

My aunt is a hoarder. I’m worried about her, and I can’t stand the mess when I visit. Her house is so cluttered that if she had a medical emergency, I don’t know if the paramedics could get in. Are there any positive steps I can take to get her house cleaned up?

Hoarding is more than just a mess, it is a mental health disorder. The Mayo Clinic defines it as “a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items.”

Although hoarding is a common problem, it is difficult to treat, and its effects can extend beyond an overstuffed home. It can put people’s health at risk; it can damage families; and it can affect surrounding neighbors.

Your aunt does not understand her behavior as harmful, and you can assume the behavior will continue. You can’t fix this problem, but here are a few suggestions:

  • Respect. Acknowledge that she has a right to make her own decisions about her living space.
  • Encourage. Help brainstorm ideas to make her home safer, such as moving clutter out of hallways.
  • Team up. Don’t argue about whether to keep or discard things. Work together.

Gently suggest to your aunt that she may want to consult a mental health professional, but don’t be surprised if she doesn’t take you up on it. Continue to visit and stay in contact. Jesus is a model for reaching out to all our brothers and sisters – no matter where they live.