Communication can make or break a relationship. Communication as defined by Merriam Webster is as follows – ‘a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior’. Body language falls into this definition as behavior. In many situations, body language speaks louder than words.
For those trying to help someone with hoarding behavior, effective communication is paramount. In my experience as a professional organizer, most often it’s not the person with hoarding behavior, but a loved one that reaches out for help. They are frustrated, and possibly angered, by attempts to get through to their family member or friend to no avail. They want to help, and at the same time, do not want their relationship to become strained, or end because of the hoarding behavior.
The communication points below are guidelines to use when your loved one is ready to talk about their hoarding behavior.
- Respect – Acknowledge that the person has the right to make their own decisions at their own pace. Mirror their verbiage about their belongings. For example, if they refer to their things as ‘treasures’, use that term when you are referring to their things. If they don’t readily use a specific term, it’s ok to use terms such as items, things, or belongings. Never use the words ‘trash’ or ‘junk’.
- Have sympathy – Understand that everyone has some attachment to the things they own. Try to understand the importance of their items to them. Many of their things hold special memories and they are likely to tell you their stories, listen to them, most people won’t listen to them and they like to share these stories.
- Encourage – Come up with ideas to make their home safer, such as moving clutter from doorways, stairs and halls.
- Team up with them – Don’t argue about whether to keep or discard an item; instead find out what will help motivate the person to discard or organize.
- Reflect – Help the person recognize that the hoarding interferes with the goals or values the person may hold. For example, by de-cluttering the home, the person may be able to hold family gatherings to create wonderful memories.
- Ask – To develop trust, never throw away anything without asking permission. Another piece to this guideline is to ask if you can touch an item. Many people that hoard don’t like anyone to touch their treasures. This simple gesture along with all of these guidelines will help to establish trust with the person that hoards.
Following these guidelines can help in your quest to help your loved one with their hoarding behavior. However, there are no guarantees. Understand that attempts from family and friends to help with the decluttering may not be well received by the person with hoarding behavior.
Keep in mind that until the person is internally motivated to change, they may not accept your offer to help. That motivation cannot be forced. Also, that people with hoarding behavior are often ambivalent about accepting help and throwing away their things.
Much of the information in this post came from the International OCD Foundation.