A woman was missing for weeks before she was eventually found dead amid her own clutter. This seems impossible for many people to imagine, but it’s a very real possibility for hoarders.
Hoarding became “interesting” to the general public after a reality show presented the cleanout of hoarders’ homes, but it’s important to understand how we can recognize the difference between people with this mental health disorder and others who just have a lot of “stuff.”
Etta Smith-Wells from the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging explains that when family or friends clear out a hoarder’s environment without his or her permission or cooperation, he or she will likely be traumatized and NOT cured. Trusting in future help will be unlikely and hoarding habits will resume again – possibly worsen. That’s not the help they need.
Etta Smith-Wells has dedicated most of her life to helping others. She’s been working with aging adults who are hoarding for many years. This kind and unstoppable woman has helped a multitude of men and women with their gradual process of discarding.
How do you recognize a true hoarder?
One difference between a messy person and a hoarder, Etta explains, is that a messy person might appreciate your help with cleaning and eliminating stuff but a hoarder may be emotional over just the thought of anything being let go – even trash. Hoarders have an attachment to their collection. Etta says that often hoarders feel emotionally closer to their “things” than the people they’re around. Every “thing” becomes a treasure.
Hoarding creates big problems for the sufferer and their neighbors. The cluttered environment becomes:
- A fire hazard from paper, trash, and narrow (or no) walkways. First responders may not be able to get inside the home.
- A health hazard from rodents, bedbugs, and other insects living amongst the stuff, creating problems for neighbors, as well.
- Expensive for the hoarders, their families, and the city trying to help get it cleared and cleaned.
- A fall risk. People may fall on the clutter OR the piles may fall on a person.
How can you get someone to get rid of their stuff?
Etta reminds us how hard it is to get anyone to change, and hoarders often isolate themselves, rarely allowing people into their homes. Their perception of the problem is usually lower than the reality, too. They can only be genuinely helped when they are ready and willing to make a change.
Sometimes people can’t sleep in their bed, sit on their sofa, or eat in their kitchen. What we can do is offer our hoarding friends a vision of the sense of freedom they will have if they can let go and release. Describe a better quality of life that is awaiting them. Etta told a story about a woman who was very happy to finally sit at her kitchen table for the first time in many years.
Etta Smith-Wells is a beautiful soul helping others have a better life. Please watch this interview and join me in applauding her for all that she does!
Offer your gratitude to Etta OR share your own experience on the subject of hoarding in the comment box below!