Individuals including family members and service providers involved in a hoarding situation are often met with resistance. This resistance serves as protection for the person who hoards as they are trying to ward off uncomfortable and painful feelings associated with their home situation. Naturally people who feel attacked or pushed to make changes against their will respond by arguing or shutting down which holds others at a distance.
These 4 strategies are based off of Miller & Rollnick's work from the book The Hoarding Handbook by Christiana Bratiotis, Cristina Sorrentino Schmalisch, and Gail Steketee.
1. Avoid persuasion and arguing.
Unfortunately logic and persuasion will not work in convincing people to reduce clutter in their home. Typically these tactics, no matter how sensitive in their approach, will usually be met with defensiveness. Instead the person with hoarding disorder will begin talking themselves into keeping their items. Ie: This stack of newspapers has good info that I might need. Having three blenders means I have an extra in case one breaks and a back up to that one.
2. Use encouraging language.
Try to engage in dialogue that decreases defensiveness and increases ways to solve the problem. Be sure to recognize progress the person makes no matter how small. Once you point out the positives then you can highlight what more needs to be done and why, being sure to play upon any safety concerns. It's always best to use 'we' statements. Ie: You are making great progress in clearing out the living room so the kids have room to play. That's great! The next problem to address is removing all the old electronics because the child welfare worker said the cords are dangerous and we want to keep the children safe. I can help you do that and we can take them to recycling together.
3. Highlight strengths.
No matter how severe the hoarded home is, there are strengths to be found. Noticing and highlighting these boosts rapport. Even if it's just a flowering plant in the window (it's alive and thriving!) or a stretch of cleared counter (you have room to prepare a sandwich!), comment positively on these assets. This helps one separate the person from the diagnosis and takes the focus off the problems in the home.
4. Praise change efforts liberally.
A person with hoarding disorder has probably heard more negatives and criticism than positives and encouragement from people in their lives. Words of praise and compliments on their effort and motivation to improve can be crucial in squelching resistance. Smiles, thumbs up, high-fives, and hugs help too. Just make sure these are genuine and sincere; no one likes an overly peppy cheerleader.
Individuals with hoarding disorder are not lazy or sloppy people who are being willfully oppositional and stubborn. They are stuck in a cycle of collecting and disorganization and are often struggling with additional mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Using these tactics will help in understanding and managing the resistant behavior so that we can better join with them to bring about change.
Would these tactics be helpful to someone you know with hoarding disorder? What other strategies have you found helpful? Feel free to share in the comments.