Watching a parent struggle with a hoarding issue can be really hard. Hoarding is a serious mental health issue which affects 400,00 Australians. It's characterized by a compulsive need to acquire new items, and a refusal to throw things away. You might notice your parent holding onto items you'd consider 'junk' or buying lots of new things without actually needing them. Hoarding can create a dangerous, unhygienic living environment, and your parent might become upset when you try to suggest that there's a problem. Luckily, there are ways to help a parent who has issues with hoarding, and we've outlined them below.
Encourage them to find out why they are hoarding
Hoarding can be caused by a variety of factors, and getting to the bottom of these in the first step your parent will need to take. Try to bring up the topic gently, and see how they respond. Don't criticize them or push them to speak, as they will likely become defensive and deny that there's an issue. Once you've started talking, consider whether the following factors might be playing a role in your parent's hoarding:
- Mental health issues, like depression or dementia.
- Mobility issues - you parent may be physically unable to clean items away.
- Family history of hoarding - the problem can be learned or passed on.
- OCD - hoarding is sometimes a manifestation of a wider issue with OCD.
- Recent stressful life event, like a death or trauma.
In many cases, help from trained medical professionals like therapists and doctors can be really beneficial. Encourage your parent, and offer to help them make the arrangements if this is something they struggle with.
Accompany them to support groups
Hoarding can feel very isolating, and it's common in older people who spend lots of time alone. Attending hoarding support groups is an opportunity for your parent to connect with others in the same position, sharing stories and coping mechanisms. Accompany them to show your love and support, and to get more information on the issue.
Help them clear out and clean their home
Once your parent has started to deal with the problems behind their hoarding, you'll need to deal with the practical issue of making their home safe and livable. It's a good idea to start small, filling one bin bag and throwing it out with the regular trash. Gradually encourage your parent to throw away more at once, until you can work up to hiring a large skip bin. Having a sizeable container makes it easy to clear out entire rooms at once, as long as your parent is ready. Keeping a large garbage bin available at all times means that your parent can make progress whenever they feel ready. Don't try to rush the process, and accept every small step as a success.