by Melinda Massie
Recently I’ve had so many people ask how they can help a loved one deal with extreme clutter or hoarding. Whenever I get many people asking me the same question, I know it’s time to share with the class.
So gather around class, if you’re trying to help a loved one deal with excessive clutter then this post is for you.
Following are the first five things I say to someone who is trying to help a loved one process their clutter:
1. First and most importantly, don’t force it.
Have they asked for help? If not then DO NOT try to force it. They may not be ready to face whatever it is they’re putting off. As Henry Cloud said, “We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing.” Change, while inevitable, also freaks most of us out. If they’re not ready then forcing them won’t do anyone any favors. It could also be that they’re more comfortable with a bit of mess. We all have different clutter thresholds. Some are really high. Others, like mine, are really low. Most are somewhere in the middle. As one of my new assistants said, “I’m really organized, but I’m also a bit of a slob. I need a bit of chaos to function at my best.”
We do have a couple of exceptions to this rule:
- You can tell it’s seriously affecting their mood or quality of life. Perhaps this person used to be super-organized and now they seem like they’re losing it. Or if you’re noticing signs of depression, anxiety, or other mental illness. Someone who used to have people over all the time and now never invites people over. Any drastic changes in their habits, mood, or personality.
- There is a legitimate safety or sanitary concern. If your loved one has a serious health issue and/or impaired mobility or the home has increasing filth, mold, pest, or rodent issues then it needs to be addressed.
In these cases, it’s OK to start taking action on their behalf.
2. Assume a ZERO JUDGMENT stance.
Judgment will only drive a wedge between the person and your help. That wedge and anger may pop up anyway, and if so that’s OK. I’m often on the receiving end of a client’s anger because they thought they were ready until clutter kicked up some unexpected “schtuff” to deal with. Know that it has absolutely nothing to do with you and just let it wash over. Will that be a challenge? Hell yeah. That’s also why it’s good to have an outside professional’s help. It’s rare that even I work with family because there’s too much there for either of us to be objective.
3. Set a realistic final goal for the home.
How do they want to feel in their home? This is the guiding point for their decisions. Remind the person of the goal when they have a hard time making choices. Gently ask, “What is more important – this object or your goal of X?” Other questions to ask include “When will you use this again?” I prefer this question to “When was it used last,” because past usage isn’t necessarily a good indicator for future usage. If I used it yesterday and hated it, I probably won’t use it in the future. If I would have used it yesterday but couldn’t find it, I may use it tomorrow. It’s also important to only ask questions without making any decisions for them. These are their things and their goal so it’s their decision to make. Be patient. They may not make the same decisions you would or as quickly as you would like. We’re here to help them get to their goal, not do it for them.
4. Hit the most important areas first.
When working with an entire home of clutter it’s really easy to get overwhelmed. Hit the areas that most impact your quality of life and well-being: kitchen, bathroom, a place to sleep, a place to relax, and a way to move through them all. The spare room of doom and garage of indecision is just gravy after that.
5. Take care of YOU during the process.
If you don’t care for yourself, it’s easy to let the stress and anxiety of the situation creep into your own life and being. However, you’ll then lose your patience and the ability to help without judgment and these two things are crucial to the process if you’re going to be a part of it. You can’t help your loved one get clear if you aren’t either.
Enjoy the process with them and they’ll enjoy it more. Take the moments to relive the past with your loved one before they let the objects go. Use this as bonding time. I’m now either a dear friend or part of the family with many of my clients because this is such personal work. However, also know that if it the work doesn’t stick, that’s OK too. When we’re not our own catalyst for change, it doesn’t always stick. Instead of beating yourself up about it, know that you tried and did your best.
Melinda is the sassy, redheaded best friend you always wanted. Called everything from slave-driver to life-saver to organizing ninja, her natural organizing skills and vivacious attitude will make getting organized suck less.
Melinda works with mildly cluttered to mildly hoarded people all over the country. She’s also teamed with extreme-cleaning crews to safely clear out massive clutter situations. She was named “Best Personal Organizer” by Fort Worth, TX Magazine and her tips have been featured in Shape, Woman’s Day, and WeTV as well as many other local and national publications.
When not clearing clutter, Melinda enjoys performing as a supernumerary with the Fort Worth Opera, yoga, cooking, and eating indulgent food, and believes that champagne is meant for the everyday.