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"It's not me that's messy...

...it's my brother/step-daughter/mother/friend..."

I get quite a few emails from people who are not living in squalor themselves, but who have a relative or friend who is. They all want to know what they can do. These emails have me stumped!

I wish I had an answer!

First off, let me say that it's great that you care and want to help.

The bad news is, I don't have an answer for you.

My experience was of dealing with my own problem. I cleaned up my own house, not someone else's. Although I am pleased if any of the information on this site helps anyone, I wouldn't take on the job of making someone else clean up their house. The shortest path to frustration and failure is trying to change other people.

I think the only person that can solve this problem, is the person who is living in squalor. With support, certainly, but the motivation has to come from within.

Since I know you all feel quite desperate, though, I offer the following quotes from Dr. Randy Frost, a specialist in compulsive hoarding.

A number of people have asked about the effect of just going into someone's home and cleaning it out without their knowledge. While this may solve a short-term problem, it will not get rid of the hoarding behavior. Before a change in behavior can occur, the person must learn to make the discarding decisions themselves. I would not advise such a strategy unless the person's health or safety was imminently threatened.
The second thing I would recommend is to focus discussions with this person on what daily functions they can't carry out because of the clutter. This more than anything else can help them see how this is affecting them. I would follow this up with a suggestion that maybe there is a way to organize one's possessions so that these daily functions can be carried out.

Read the full transcript:

Dr Randy Frost on Hoarding
ABCNews.com chat transcript

For a description of what happened when one team of well-meaning supporters cleaned the house of someone living in squalor without the homeowner's consent, read Lisa's story.

  • Keep the lines of communication open. Use a neutral, non-judgemental tone.
  • Honor the dignity of the person living in squalor. It has taken enough of a beating already.
  • Offer to help, not to take charge.

Love, Pigpen

Online support resources for friends and family:

Overcoming Hoarding Together. For people who are in a personal relationship to others who have hoarding disorder. Giving family/friends a place to interact, normalize what they are feeling, and offer education, enlightenment, and encouragement. This group is under the guidance of a licensed marriage and family therapist. Membership is limited to adults.

Mates-of-Messies. Do you live with a messy person and it is interfering with your life? How can you encourage that person to change? How can you support that person if they want to change? Get support from others who are in the same situation.

Children of Hoarders group (mailing list) (website) For the Adult Children of Hoarders(COH) who grew up in a hoarders home and/or have a parent who still hoards. (Spouses of COH welcome too!) This is a place to connect with others who can relate for support, venting, education and awareness. There are life experiences and support from others who understand. We do not provide therapy but rather a place to connect with others. This group is for those over 18 yrs. of age.