How to Clean A Hoarder’s House When It Feels Impossible

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When A Loved One is A Hoarder

Having a loved one who is a hoarder can be a painful, difficult, infuriating, and traumatic experience. You tend to make excuses for them and ask whether arguing over rubbish is worth it… all the while trying to remember that it is not rubbish to them.

I have experienced literally having a tug of war over a plastic bag filled with empty toothpaste tubes.

I have put things into the rubbish or recycling bin, only to find that everything I put in was being taken out and brought back inside the house.

I have walked inside a loved one’s home, where there was no place to sit because every surface was taken.

Now before we begin, let me tell you – I am not a psychiatrist, and I speak only from experience. You can learn more about Hoarding from the American Psychiatric Association HERE.

When a Loved One Asks for Your Help

When my loved one asked me for help, I hesitated. I knew that even if I did something, that it would all go back to the way it is – why bother? But they admitted to feeling overwhelmed. So I helped. Why? Because asking for help is the first step for your loved one. Not just a first step – a BIG first step. SO – Let’s begin.

How to Clean A Hoarder’s House

1. Understand the Practice of Hoarding

Before we talk about cleaning a hoarder’s house, it’s important to understand what a what hoarding is. As it stands, hoarding is often loosely misused.

Just because you have 50-odd hair ties in your drawer, it does not mean you are a hoarder. Having 100 books you may or may not have read does not make you a hoarder.

Hoarding is not to be confused with Collecting. Collecting old stamps is not hoarding. Hoarding can either be a disorder on its own… or be a symptom of another disorder – like anxiety or depression.

Hoarding behavior can be seen in the number of items collected – and let me tell you… it’s not always a quantity of newspapers, plastic containers, or supplies that you will find. This behavior can manifest itself in the way of the person collecting what they see as one-of-a-kind items that in actual fact have no value to you or me (like wooden hangers); collecting freebies (like posters or flyers); or never saying no to bargains (even when they are bargains from thrift shops).

Some Symptoms of Hoarding

  • Unable to throw away or let go of things with no value
  • Gets anxious when trying to get rid of things
  • Unable to organize the items
  • Feeling overwhelmed when trying to tidy up or organize the home
  • Fear of running out things

Why do people Hoard?

People hoard for many different reasons, mostly in response to their disorder whether it be depression or another kind of trigger.

The obvious reason being that they feel that the items they keep will be of value or use some day. The less obvious – and probably the reason they get away with it – is because they feel the things they keep have sentimental value that cannot be replaced.

If there are children involved, it may be a good idea to read THISOr you personally might benefit from THIS.

2. Get the Hoarder Out of the House

If possible, you should organize for the person to be out of the house. Perhaps you have a relative that they can stay with for some time? I’ll be honest now in saying that it cannot be done in one day – unless you have a whole team of people helping you like in the TV shows. I did it on my own, and it took me 9 days. NINE DAYS!

3. Organize Your Supplies

You will need at least the following:

  • Rubbish Bags – Large
  • Recycling Bags – Large
  • Rubber Gloves
  • Multipurpose Disinfectant Spray
  • Vacuum Cleaner

If you can get the following, even better:

  • Large Boxes – Labeled for Donation
  • Hire a Skip

4. Start With the First Room By the Main Door

The reason you should start with the first room by the main door is that you want to make space. If you start with any other room in the house, you will find yourself – well… trapped.

Before and After - How to clean a hoarders house in 10 easy steps

5. Begin Sorting – Throw / Recycle / Donate

You should always have 3 bags (or boxes) with you in each room.

  1. Throw – Anything that is obviously rubbish. There will be heaps of it.
  2. Donate – Anything that can be used, but is not needed in this particular home you are cleaning. Again… there will be heaps of it; so do not hesitate. I donated 110 clothes hangers!
  3. Recycle – Anything that cannot be donated, but is of recycling material ie, plastic, paper, or glass.

Tip: When you are sorting through things, there are many times that you will hesitate – that’s okay. Think about the person who lives in the house. What have you seen them actually use? Keep only what you know is of real sentimental value to them, for example, photos.

6. Clean As You Go

I know this sounds redundant since you’re already cleaning as it is. But trust me – as you begin to clear up some space… go ahead and vacuum those floors and spray and wipe those surfaces. Seeing clear spaces will help you to keep moving forward.

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7. Take Regular Breaks

As I mentioned before, it can be a very difficult experience; and you will feel a myriad of emotions while you are doing this herculean task. Allow yourself to take breaks – you deserve it.

8. Donate

Take the bags marked for donation to the thrift shops/op shops at the end of every day that you are clearing up. Not only does this clear up space, but it also helps you see progress in what you are doing.

9. Repeat 

Now – as I said, it takes time. It took me 9 days to do it for a 2 bedroom house.

10. Maintain

After you’ve finished, it is a good idea to do some regular maintenance. Remember that your loved one is hoarding for a reason – so it is bound to get out of hand again if you let it.

You can do this! Good luck xo


Shop Your Resources To Get Started

Large 30 Gallon Trash Bags – Multipurpose

 

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Hefty Recycling Bags – 13 Gallon, 60 Count

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Purell Multi-Surface Disinfectant Spray

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Canister Vacuum HEPA Sealed – Powerful Deep Cleaner

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Get Organized - This Blended Home of Mine

10 Easy Steps to Cleaning A Hoarder's House When It Feels Impossible - This Blended Home of Mine - Cleaning, How to clean, Hoarder
10 Easy Steps to Cleaning A Hoarder's House When It Feels Impossible - This Blended Home of Mine - Cleaning, How to clean, Hoarder
How to Clean a Hoarder's House When It Feels Impossible - This Blended Home of Mine _ Hoarder Help - organizing tips, cleaning tips

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21 thoughts on “How to Clean A Hoarder’s House When It Feels Impossible

  1. I have some hoarding tendencies that are in direct contrast with me OCD which is the only reason I think I don’t have this problem. These tips are awesome and the progress impressive. Thank you for sharing.

    1. I’m glad that you don’t have this problem. It can be quite difficult to deal with. We’re now focused on maintaining it xx

    1. I now use it for our home too – it just makes so much sense and makes things a lot easier especially when done regularly.

    1. Thanks Helen. Yes, it certainly it is important. It has been a difficult road and I hope that people gain some takeaways from our experience xx

    1. Thanks Bethany. I’m the same and I had to take so many breaks to keep from reaching my breaking point 🙁 It’s so important to be able to deal with it in a sensitive manner.

  2. I grew up with a single parent mother who is Hoarder now that i’m 34 yrs old with my own family I want her house to be clean an picked up so my family and I can go visit her an she can even have her 2 grand children to visit an stay overnight but it is difficult to convince her that I want her to be able to enjoy a nice clean picked up house an invite family and friends over. I need all the advice I can get to help my mother.

    1. Hi Amy.I definitely understand what you mean about the children having a place to stay when they visit. I’m the same. It really is quite difficult because whenever I raise the subject, my mother gets very defensive and eventually… very upset. Some days will show progress, while other days will highlight regression. I must say – at this very moment, “we” have regressed once again. I guess we all just need to take it one day at a time. The place is back to its previous state. Big hug xx

  3. Hi Amy, I believe that individuals who keep things,that no longer serve them a positive purpose any longer, are perhaps psychologically frozen, in a survival state, so to speak. People, places and things, come and go, but they can not move past the items that are attached to the people, and the places, associated with them. For them, it is difficult to move past the moment when they actually purchased, received or some how acquired the item or items. Many people consider this type of behavior to be merely an anxiety disorder. I believe that it is a unique form of survival, that is not quite understood yet, much like the Autism Spectrum Disorders, in fact, I suspect that it could be a form of intellectual Autism. There is a medication that I have seen work wonders in these type of situations. It is called LDN, or Low Dose Naltrexone. It is incredible, in that it actually encourages the body and mind, to heal itself. It is also being used to help cure Crohns Diseasem Multiple Sclerosis, and many other conditions. It is prescription, therefore must be prescribed by a doctor. I also wanted to say, that I admire your desire to help, and to understand this painful condition. We are learning more about each other, with every day that passes. I think that is a good thing.

  4. I am glad you mentioned that after you are finished cleaning you should have a regular maintenance plan. When we were helping my grandma clean up her home we had to get a biohazard cleaning company to help us. I’m grateful for all the tips on cleaning a hoarder’s home.

  5. Thanks for the advice on helping a loved one with hoarding. I think you made a great point that you should get the person out of the house before you begin organizing and throwing things away and that it can take a really long time to do it on your own. I can’t believe you were able to do it all in nine days! think if I had to clean out a home I would probably hire someone to save me the time, but it’s great that you were able to do that.
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  6. So we have huge storage spaces and all the clutter was pretty organised there and my home is almost always very neat tidy and sort of minimalstic but because the stuff in the store rooms had not been used for some twenty years so we thought of getting rid of it and then it all happened, we opened the pandora box and for the past two months our home is as messy and filthy as can be, all the clutter is spread all over the place and it’s so overwhelming, I don’t think my home will ever be the same again, i am frustrated🤧

    1. You and I are in the same boat. I moved from a 2 BR, 2 BA home with a garage. Now,. I am in a 1 BR, 1 BA apartment and I feel like my “stuff” is taking over. What I realize that you (and I) would have to do, is some serious purging. I have a policy of touch it once…meaning only handle the item once and then assign it to a purpose…Donate, trash, and keep… Do not stop until the whole room is complete and then move onto the next task. It will get done slowly, but surely.

  7. I am very concerned about removing the loved one from the home. I didn’t work with hoarders as a Professional Organizer, but many friends did & do. There is a very good chance this will make things worse for the hoarder if you just go in like this, I would talk with a Professional before removing the loves one from the situation & make sure they understand what is going on…

    1. Thanks, Gretchen. I agree with you, which is why I said, when my loved one asked me for help, I hesitated. I also state that I am not a psychiatrist, and I speak only from experience. The reason I say that if possible, you should organize for the person to be out of the house, is because having the person around can be a difficult experience for them. I’m not saying that it’s always possible. In my case, they admitted to feeling overwhelmed. So I helped. Why? Because asking for help is the first step for your loved one. It’s a difficult situation to be in.

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