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Reader question: My wife is a hoarder – how can I get her to clean things up?
Sue Becker: I sympathize with your situation but I’d like to establish a few foundational points before I tackle this question. Rather than labeling someone a hoarder, I prefer to note that they have hoarding tendencies, as “hoarder” does not define who they are. They may be a wife, mother, teacher, etc. and one aspect of their being is that they tend to hoard. Secondly, true hoarding is a mental health condition that requires assistance from a mental health professional before any clutter reduction is possible. Many people who are extremely messy consider themselves hoarders (or their loved ones do) when in fact, they are just messy.
All that being said, whether your wife has hoarding tendencies or just happens to be messy, her consent and cooperation are critical to the success of any cleanup attempts. If you have concerns about the safety of your home because it’s too cluttered to navigate or to safely to use kitchen appliances, that can be a good starting point for conversation – it’s not about the stuff per se, it’s about the dangerous situation the stuff is causing. Harm reduction is a common theme when I work with people who hoard – I probably won’t be able to fully de-clutter their home, but I can help them pare down so it’s a safe place to live.
I recommend the following books to help you navigate the challenging, emotional world of living with someone who hoards:
Digging Out: Helping Your Loved One Manage Clutter, Hoarding and Compulsive Acquiring by Michael Tompkins and Tamara Hartl
Buried in Treasures by David Tolin, Randy Frost, and Gail Steketee
Good luck on your journey.