Should I bother to help my neighbor who is a hoarder?

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Ok, dear friends, here is the situation: she has lived in her house, a MacMansion, huge, for twelve years; I have lived here for two. I am, apparently her only friend; she has no contact with relatives. So, I am the person she calls. Fortunately, she has plenty of money and investments. Her hoarded stuff is piled about eight feet high in the garage and about four feet high in the house. There are tiny narrow pathways through it all. It is not dirty, as such, mostly stacked in containers or baskets. At the same time is 15-20 feet deep from path to wall so how can one clean??? Now at age 70 she is experiencing pain and mobility issues. Will soon have surgery. She has tried to clean bits of the garage but, as you can imagine, it is just a drop in the ocean. I am worried that when the county steps in--or someone steps in, her good stuff (coin collection, etc.) will be tossed with junk. I want to write an e-mail and give her a heads up that she needs to get the valuables entrusted to a bank or someone in her family, and she needs to take measures before it is all out of her control. Should I?

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If this lady is your friend an email may be kind of cold. Why not express your concerns while chatting with her? Express your concerns but then drop it. As we've all seen on TV, when a hoarder's stuff is threatened the person becomes quite irrational. Your heart is in the right place but don't take it personally if your friend becomes territorial. Casually make your suggestion and then back off.
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I wouldn't.

It sounds suspiciously as though the reason you feel at all fondly towards this lady is that you haven't known her very long. If you want to stay fond of her, do not try to separate her from her hoard. Someone will have to in the end, sure, but why should it be you?

Better to help her when she asks you to, and only with what she asks you to, and be the good neighbour who scrapes her off the floor and calls the ambulance when one of her treasured leaning towers of junk topples on her head.

If there are seriously valuable items and you're afraid she might be robbed - one way or the other - you could offer to take photos for her and store them on a memory stick. Don't touch her stuff. It'll end in tears.
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From what I've read, hoarding is a psychological issue, and despite the tv programs on intervention, isn't going to be solving by finger wagging and chiding, including by psychological professionals. I've never believed that these kinds of confrontations with multiple accusations are really helpful and in fact just don't exacerbate the problem.

But apparently there's a demand for sensationalistic programs, and some networks heed that siren ($$$) call for increased viewers and exploit very vulnerable people.

I'm not sure there really are good solutions to this issue, but publicizing through tv programs in my opinion only compounds the problem and makes a pariah out of the hoarding person. Just my opinion, but possibly germane to your question.

You are very considerate to think ahead. I think how well you know this person, whether or not she would become defensive, and similar factors underlie the issue of warning her about possible intervention. How do you think she would react? If she's in pain, it just may not be possible for her to contemplate or address the hoarding issue.

What you might consider in addition to the warning is an actual plan, a simple step by step plan to break down the breadth and complexity of the problem.

If her valuables are stored in any particular place, start there, then help develop a plan for the most needed areas, little by little.

Find out what her favorite charities are in the even that some things can be donated. Emphasize how much she'll be helping people in need by donating clothing, furniture, etc.

If she agrees, start simply, one box at a time, and make it a time for relaxation by encouraging her to chat, tell you about her life, her interests, her family, etc., so that when you leave, she'll feel uplifted rather than overwhelmed or beaten down.

Do you know her family well enough to work with them if your friend is agreeable? Do others in the neighborhood know of the situation, and do you think any of them would make formal complaints against her?

Most importantly, are there serious sanitation issues or is it primarily a lot of stored stuff?

Another consideration is whether or not she'll be returning home after surgery or will be in rehab for awhile. The latter would probably be preferable as she'll get attention in a clean environment, attention and support she wouldn't have at home.

You might want to casually inquire about this, then when you feel she's receptive explain your concern in as gentle a way as possible and suggest asking her family to help secure the valuables.

You wrote that she has no contact with relatives, so that could be a problem if that's by choice. Perhaps her relatives have abandoned her.
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You mention a coin collection specifically. Is this hers? Did she inherit it from someone but continue it? Either way, if she is interested in the coins, go to the library and borrow a book about coins so that you can talk to her about her collection. If she's having surgery she'll be needing some new things to do with her time. Maybe you can help her enjoy the collection once again by getting it out from underneath the rest of the stuff. Offer to help her document the collection by taking pictures with her camera, which is a good idea anyway for insurance purposes and for her estate planning. Play Antiques Roadshow in her home.

Be prepared for her to be scared about it getting stolen in which case suggest she make sure the coins are listed on her homeowner's insurance policy. Offer her your help with keeping it safe by making sure it's insured.

I hope you two find a Spanish galleon and I hope she remembers your kindness in her will.
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I don't know if someone who is just a friend could help in this case. I had to deal with hoarding by my parents when I first came here. If I had been a friend, the result would be that I wouldn't be welcome in the house anymore. The only thing that gave me the power to act was that I was family and that I was needed.

Hoarding can happen for a variety of reasons. Some people can't quit buying and have no organization skills to figure out what they are going to do with all the things they buy. Maybe they feel like they are investments and they will sell them for profit one day. But that day never comes, and soon treasures are buried under other treasures. Each piece has monetary value, so is hard to part with. This problem is probably worse now than it used to be, with so many people buying at garage sales, thinking they'll sell on eBay or Etsy and never getting around to it.

Other people hoard for sentimental reasons. These are the hardest hoards to get handle for someone. Each piece has some memory the person can't let go of. Other people hoard because they are afraid of going without. Food hoarders often fall in this category. Other people hoard to build a fort of stuff all around them. This keeps family and friends away, since there are no beds for them or anywhere to sit. Other people hoard because they're too lazy to throw things out. These last ones are the easiest to clean... as long as someone else does the work.

If the hoard is serious, I would recommend family and professionals to work with the woman to organize the cleanup. The method used in the TV shows is the one I've found that works best -- donate, keep, trash. The hardest part is to start the process going. The anxiety and anger can be terrible, so you have to take rests from it. Once the momentum is going, getting them to part with their treasures is much easier. Seeing their living space cleared is rewarding. They will need therapy and help, though, to keep from filling it back up.

This cannot be done quickly without being terribly traumatic. If I were just a friend, I would make suggestions, but not try to help unless invited.
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Send, brilliant insight:

"It is what I call the placeholder phenomenon. Other people see, watch, and even care. As they see her with you, their concerns are alleviated with your presence.
Oh, she is okay, she has a friend helping her-and all that."

I think this phenomenon is present in many of the inter-family squabbles and arguments when one person is providing caregiving and the siblings step back and avoid participation.
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She has a boyfriend whose never seen her house? What does she do with the cats when she's visiting her boyfriend for weeks at a time? The boyfriend info changes my opinion of the situation. You cannot help this woman in any meaningful way and you're not going to "fix" her. If she ends up like the Collyer Brothers there's nothing you can do about it.
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Hers is a sad state. It's hard to know what is the right thing to do. There's much going on with her. She may drain you. Be careful.
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Dear Everyone,

Thank you so much for all of this free and most sage advice.

I have decided that I cannot:

Call the authorities; she would know right away it was me. I am her only contact.

Call the boyfriend who doesn't know. What is the point?

Help her with the hoard. You are right: suspicion, accusations of theft, etc.

But I can:

Ask for a contact name and number of a family member (to call when the police come around if she gets hurt, etc.)

Ask for name of her lawyer for the same reasons.

Stay in regular contact by e-mail and phone (she likes to e-mail). That way I will know if she can't get up or is for some reason unreachable.

You have made me realize that this is surely not the worst case scenario. The mess is in the house and on the back porch. So far no rats; just squirrels chewing up boxes. And, when it all comes crashing down, there is enough money for professional removal and cleaning. So, no intervention needed from me.

How does that sound????
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I just packed and arranged the move of a quasi-hoarder. It was just about the worst experience of my life. Hoarders of any variety cannot view their possessions rationally. For this man, we packed over 200 boxes over six weeks and the moving company made four trips.
Now the person has at least 60 boxes in the basement and buys a replacement when he can't find what he wants.
Stay out of it. You will regret getting involved. It is not your problem. If her hoarding encroaches on your property, then call the local gov't until you get a response from them. It is not your problem.
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