I’ve spent a lot of time working with clutterers and people struggling with hoarding behaviors and I’ve gained a great deal of respect for them. They are some of the kindest, most creative people you will ever meet. And their ability to see the usefulness of every item is truly impressive. Yes, this leads to overwhelming clutter. But it often starts with the very best of intentions.
Chances are, if you know a clutterer or someone who might be a hoarder, you’d like to help them. But often attempts to help don’t work, or even make things worse. If you want to help, here are five easy things you can do that will make a positive difference:
Most clutterers have been called horrible things. They’ve been accused of everything from laziness to sabotage. Some of them have spent their whole life with brutal labels. They’re often very good a giving themselves these labels too. They criticize themselves, question themselves, and put themselves down. The last thing they need is someone else adding to their pain. They need people to be kind to them, and to remind them of all their good characteristics.
If you can’t think of anything kind to say to your clutterer you don’t know them well enough! Look for their talents, their uniqueness, and their good qualities. And then make sure they hear about it. Give them honest compliments, talk about how wonderful they are, and make sure they know you can see the goodness inside of them.
Don’t Give Them Things
It’s so strange. Someone may have a best friend whose house is overflowing with clutter, but they will still buy them gifts at every opportunity. Your clutterer may love roosters, chocolate, books, or clothes. But they don’t need any more of any of these— they don’t need you to help them bury themselves in more things.
Clutterers can be incredibly frugal — accepting shampoo, food, and plants that everyone else will discard. This does not mean you should give them your expired food when you clean out your pantry. Have them over for tea and cake, or a meal, but don’t send them home with all your leftovers!
Gift cards and cash are often counterproductive too. If these don’t get lost in the clutter, they will often be used to buy more clutter. Instead, give them your time, and quality experiences spent together. Book a tour of your city, take them out for dinner, enroll in a class together, or gift them with something else that adds to their life without adding to their clutter.
Ask For Permission. Over and Over and Over.
Most clutterers feel threatened or violated when other people fumble through their belongings. Always ask permission to enter their space. Unless you are asked to help with something (and even then), make sure that both of you are clear on what is OK to for you to handle. When a clutterer knows you respect them over anything else, it will be easier for them to start to deal with their clutter. Offer to be their ‘runner’ when they are sorting things. Ask if you can take a bag of garbage out, or take a box to a charity, or deliver the baby clothes that have been set aside for a friend. If they say yes, go for it. If they say no, respect it.
Never Sneak Anything Out the Door
Clutterers have an amazing memory for their things, even when these things are piled throughout their home. If you decide to ‘help’ them by sneaking out a bag of ‘garbage’ or something else, you risk setting them up for failure. Trying to secretly remove things will only reinforce that they need to hang on to their things even tighter than before because someone they trusted was willing to trick them. It feels like betrayal to a clutterer when their things are taken away without their permission. Some of them can even trace back the start of their cluttering to a time when someone took away their belongings without their permission. It’s not in any way helpful. Don’t do it.
Celebrate the little things
Decluttering progress can feel elusive to a clutterer. Cleaning up one spot doesn’t feel very good when the whole house is still crowded out. But progress has to start somewhere, and if a clutterer feels like their efforts are noticed and appreciated, it can help them keep on going. Cheer them on and acknowledge their hard work!
Your job is to give them as much encouragement, kindness, and helpful support as they can accept. Take the time to point out their good qualities. They need reminders that you value them for who they are, not for the things in their life. Your relationship will be better, and there might even be a little less clutter in your lives.