In order to begin this challenging conversation with your parents, It is best to come to the discussion table equipped with general knowledge about hoarding. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA, 2020), hoarding is defined as the “persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions regardless of their actual value”.
Contrary to certain assumptions that hoarding is just an odd hobby, it is actually a clinical disorder or an underlying symptom of other psychological conditions such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), personality disorder, or even attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Hoarding can be the result of multiple behaviors, and it’s essential to figure out which ones it fulfills for your parents before you address the issue. Individuals hoard certain items because they truly believe that those objects will be needed in the future, or they hold sentimental value.
It’s one thing to actually own or methodically collect a lot of items, but hoarding is indicative of much deeper issues that decrease quality of life.
Chronic hoarding leads to dangerous household conditions (i.e. tripping hazards and biohazards), broken familial relationships, financial difficulties, and worsening psychological behaviors and symptoms (anxiety, depression, etc.).
Here are a few signs that adult children can look out for when it’s time to talk about hoarding:
- Items that are collected make no rational sense.
- Hoarding behaviors are straining relationships. (ADAA, 2020).
- Hoarding is causing financial downfalls.
- Collecting items has created a dangerous household (WebMD, 2020).
Once you have figured what exactly is stemming the behavior and what dangers the hoarding is causing, it’s time for you to sit down with your parents and have an open discussion. Here are some tips:
- Self-reflect before approaching your parents. Falmouth Human Services (2016) suggests placing yourself in your parents’ shoes before talking about the issues. Try to understand through observation and meaningful questions why it is that they are hoarding and what value they get from it.
- Talk in a non-judgmental way. Avoid derogatory language and belittling your parents about their hoarding habits.
- Establish a healthy relationship. If adult children don’t have a strong and trusting relationship with their parents to begin with, then there is no reason for the parents to be receptive to hoarding conversations.
- Make the topic of discussion a focus on them, and less on the stuff. Your concerns shouldn’t be so much about the possessions impeding on your parents lives; rather, the conversation should be carefully formed to voice your loving concerns for them and their quality of life.
- Make plans to organize rather than discard. Offering to help throw possessions away will only escalate the negative behavior; so, if there are suggestions to be made, start with offering ways to better organize the possessions to minimize home hazards.
Families who are unacquainted with mental illness or who struggle with where to start when addressing it should seek out professional help.
Do not assume that you have to fix the hoarding behaviors by yourself because addressing these issues with an untrained eye may exacerbate the behaviors and further tear at your relationship with your parents.
Arrange to consult with a mental health professional sooner than later in order to improve the safety and quality of life for your parents and their loved ones.
Clutter vs. Hoarding: What’s the difference? (2020). WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/clutter-hoarding#1. Viewed on November 24, 2020.
Hoarding: The Basics. (2020). Anxiety and Depression Association of America. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/hoarding-basics?gclid=CjwKCAiA-_L9BRBQEiwA-bm5fp4-QqXiGFPiqYLHPNMVg2RZUlTPosnJbppqJNPBZSSVl1h_aBllQRoCSjQQAvD_BwE. Viewed on November 24, 2020.
Sorrentino, C.M. (2016). How to talk to someone with Hoarding: Do’s and Don’ts. https://falmouthhumanservices.org/how-to-talk-to-someone-with-hoarding-dos-and-donts/. Viewed on December 2, 2020.