How to help an elderly woman who has severe hoarding issues adjust to a more healthy home situation?

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She is in relative good mental & physical health, but her home was no longer livable, a family member & friends have rallied to help her get rid of all the trash, etc. The concern is that she will need some counseling to adjust to the new cleaned up condition of her home! She is currently in Respite Care, but that is a temporary, she will need to return home soon! Help !

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Top Answer
Schwin, please cancel plans with family members and friends to do a clean-up at this person's house, while the person is away in respite care. The owner would lose trust in her family and her friends when she came home and found the house non-hoarded.

To help manage a clean-up, the owner needs to be there along with a therapist or a psychologist who specializes in hoarding. This is not a DIY project !!

Only the owner can agree what she wishes to keep, donate or toss. You and others cannot make that decision for her. It would be like someone coming into our clean homes and taking away items. We wouldn't be happy campers.

I admire that you and her family/friends want to help, and I can't blame you. One must tread lightly in this type of situation.
I totally agree with what everyone has said. One of the problems my husband and I had when we were first married is his issues with my housekeeping. His mother was a super-cleaner. So is his sister. I learned early on I couldn’t compete with them, so we lived comfortably and not in a sterile environment.

When I went into the hospital to deliver our son, his parents and younger sister descended on the house to clean what they perceived as a hopeless trashpit which was my house. When I got back home, with a colicky baby, another child and no help from hubby, (childcare wasn’t his “thing”, apparently like cleaning was), my house looked like a research lab. Counters were empty. Things were rearranged. And I was missing a beautiful necklace that I am convinced my SIL stole. My husband did this again just before my daughter got married. I was to do the flower arrangements for her wedding and reception. I had purchased all the silk flowers and put them in the closet. My daughter and I went for a getaway weekend and when I returned, the closet was empty. Everything had been thrown away. Those flowers had cost over $400. We had to scramble to find a florist and spend $700 more to order flowers.

I was only in my 30’s when this happened, not a Senior Citizens. I felt violated and demeaned. My husband was not in the least apologetic. He was proud of what he had done. The money he had wasted meant nothing to him in the triumph of throwing out my things and he wouldn’t even hear of my suspicions about my necklace.

Please do t do this to her. Hire a professional, cleaner and a therapist who can help you handle this. It’s been 30 years for me and it still hurts and angers me.
A true hoarder has an emotional investment in their things. There is also the problem that people coming in to clean up - no matter how well meaning - will have a tendency to junk everything willy-nilly without bothering about true keepsakes or items of value mixed in amongst the dross (been there, done that).
Sort. Tidy. Clean as best you can. Upgrade anything that is truly a health concern like a non functioning kitchen or bathroom. But as Freqflyer has said, tread lightly and think twice before you hire a dumpster.
I am in agreement with freqflyer--you feel like you are doing a great service, but I can almost guarantee a complete meltdown by your neighbor when she comes home.

I tried and tried to work with my mother to de-junk her place. It just caused a huge rift between us that is still kind of festering--2+ year ago. EVERYTHING to her has huge sentimental meaning, and she NEEDS to be crowded into her apt by her junk. I don't understand the hoarder mentality, not at all, and I was trying to be as kind as humanly possible, but she wouldn't part with anything. In the end, I think I got one or two bins of old PCH envelopes stored (she wouldn't throw them away) and one small sack of garbage. About 10 small items went to Goodwill. She was so upset and so unhappy after we did this---she tells everyone not to let me in their house..I'll throw all their stuff away.

Funny thing, she wants more space, more closets, but the place is totally packed. I make sure she has safe passage and sometimes I will move something and tell her it's a tripping hazard, but that's it. It's impossible to clean or organize as there is only room for one person in any given room.

Now she no longer trusts me to come weekly and just dust and water plants and try to keep ahead of the mess. The trust is GONE.

If you want to help your neighbor, do get a professional organizer to help. Then she can be mad at somebody who isn't you. Hoarders are really, really hard to help and the "cure rate"? Practically zero.
I have to jump in to point out that not all hoarders are oblivious, many recognize the problem and honestly do want to reduce their hoard but are unable to do so. (speaking from experience)
My daughter has congenital foot problems. She was married a short time and one day while she was at work her husband and his sister-in-law went through my daughter's closet and threw away a pair of shoes that THEY thought were too old. They were old and so she wore them around the house. They cost me $450.00 and were custom made. My daughter cried. I still have resentment toward them for what they did. The nerve of them going through her things and throwing away shoes that didn't belong to them. Your hoarder will probably feel the same way.
We did this to my mother. She wasn't a classic hoarder as she didn't bring things in. But once they were in, they were sure hard for her to let go of. She saw a future purpose for almost anything you can think of. She gave things away to people in need. We occasionally would create a "need" so she would let go. She was clean. Didn't congest her home but when we rearranged and got rid of empty boxes, extra sofas, broken chairs, etc. in her store room so that we could rearrange her house she was very upset. Because she was semi handicapped and couldn't look for herself she would sit and think of things she wondered if she still owned. She would need to be shown the items as she recalled them. She was in rehab at the time things were moved. We knew she was coming home in a wheelchair and were trying to make room. I wasn't there as I was with her but I was "complicit" in the effort to move things and make her home wheelchair accessible. She only used the wheelchair for a short while and went to a walker but we dealt her a blow when we made the changes. In hind site I wish we had done like cwillie suggested and just sorted and tidied. What did it really matter after all. It was her home and her things. She had a huge store room that she filled more than once. Other family members would bring things to "temporarily" store them and the room would become clogged and dangerous and we would have to call the dumpee and make them come get their things after they had resettled and learned they didn't really need what they had asked GM to store. It represented some type of security for her to have that room full.
I will say she enjoyed her home with less in it. She became quite the fanatic about everything being in its place as time went on. Easier to keep up with that way I suspect.
Good luck. I know it can be overwhelming to have to care for someone in a hoarded home. You did say "help her" so maybe she knows that you are making changes. Good job on looking for a counselor. Who is going to volunteer to see that she goes for the counseling? It's mostly about control I think and we have little of that as we age.
Take a different approach and work with her, one small step at a time. Make it a nice event, with coffee, tea, cider, perhaps some goodies to go along with it. Get out one box, or bunch, of things and go through it. Also get some free boxes from your local grocery store, or from HD or Lowes, and pack and inventory what she wants to save. Copy the inventory for inclusion in a binder or something just for the "save" and "might save" stuff so she can still find things.

And that's important as you progress; make notes of the things she has closest to her, and inventory them as well, including location. Not being able to find necessary frequently used items is one of the hazards of others being involved in cleaning w/o the owner present.

Separate the "definitely save" from the "maybe save" and from the "discard" items. That way some progress is made, some things are stored and inventoried for later consideration, and some are saved. And she's kept in the loop throughout the whole process, and can also savor the sense of progress.

You might find that eventually she'll agree that the "might save" items can be discarded.

But whole house cleaning is just too much for someone with a lot of stuff. It's just too traumatic.
You have to understand that for her there is no problem. She doesn't see trash. She doesn't see junk. She doesn't see dirt. She doesn't see clutter. She sees valuable possessions that someone is throwing out without her consent. There really is no "nice" way to handle this, as some have suggested. Hoarders don't see what everyone else sees, so they see evil deeds by people trying to help. Either let her have her way or move her to a facility where her living situation can be controlled by others.
Mary Kathleen and HugeMom, thanks for sharing a different but very valid perspective that many don't often see or consider.

I think the tv hoarding programs have exploited hoarding and made a mockery of people who truly suffer. After watching parts of a few, I refuse to watch any of them again.

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