An intervention...for a compulsive hoarder?

I’ve posted a number of times about “Anna,” a friend who is a compulsive hoarder. Her back patio is like a junkyard, she cannot enter her bedroom and sleeps in her parents’ bedroom instead (they’ve passed away), her vanity is loaded with little empty bottles she can’t part with, and she hangs her clothes on cupboard knobs because she can’t reach the closets, which are full anyway.
The spare room is loaded with crap, the living room cannot be walked in, and there are stacks of newspapers in the den. The kitchen has stuff everywhere because she hoard rubber bands, corks, napkins, plastic bags, twist ties, and more. The fridge is overflowing with condiment packets.
There are several serious electrical and plumbing issues in the house, but she won’t attend to them. She has a big pile of money but hoards that as well. For a while, she’d claim she was going to get the place cleaned up, see a therapist, call a document shredder, etc. but never does these things. In the meantime, she finds ways to be out of the house for recreation or just stays late at work or goes to the office on weekends to avoid being at home.
A lot of the stuff she hoards is basically a physical reminder of everyone and everything or every place she’s ever been: photos, coin buckets from casinos, concert ticket stubs, hotel toiletries, and much much more. She receives many freebies from work which are collectibles–mostly clothes, but she won’t sell them off. She’ll leave them in their packages and they will sit around for years.
Nobody can ever go to her house and hang out for obvious reasons. Her master room has flooded several times because she won’t get a structural problem fixed. The microwave comes on by itself. The pipe under the kitchen sink leaks and she has to carry buckets of water to dump outside. Anna complains about the house but won’t fix anything and wouldn’t consider moving.
Anna is an otherwise educated, intelligent person with many friends, a great job and benefits, and a lot of money to spare. Her colleagues would never in a million years believe that she is a hoarder who lives in squalor.
Our friend “Ilsa” thinks we should gather up the circle of friends who know about the problem firsthand and confront her, intervention-style. We have told her one-on-one that this is no way to live and she agrees: “Yes, you’re right, I know, etc.” but does nothing.
It’s tempting, but I doubt that anything would come of it. Knowing how emotional Anna is, she’d probably burst into tears and never speak to us again.
My belief is that nothing will change until an emergency occurs–i.e., if the house catches fire and the fire dept. finds out how bad it is inside, Anna will be forced to change. Logic and reason have not worked. She has asked for the phone numbers for plumbers, electricians, etc. but never calls them even when we give her the info.
I understand Ilsa’s desire to help the friend she has known since infancy, but I can’t imagine it working at all.

   Should we risk it?

Any other suggestions?

I think you should try to intervene, however I would suggest helping her change this in small ways first, baby steps. If you want her to do too much at once, she’ll likely feel overwhelmed.
I have this problem to a much lesser degree, over the years I’ve gotten better but not cured.
It helps to have someone there to “talk you through” getting rid of stuff. My husband once talked me through getting rid of a stack of purses I hadn’t used in years. Saying things like “you don’t use it, someone else could” “This one has a broken zipper, what are you going to do with it?” “This doesn’t even have sentimental value, toss it!” Sounds like obvious things I know, but being talked through getting rid of stuff rationally helped me to be able to do it myself later. The hardest things for me to get rid of are connected with someone I care for…gifts, etc. If I were you I would suggest that you and your friends help her get rid of the
non-sentimental items like newspapers, etc. first. Be there for her to talk her through it and make sure during the intervention that she understands you want to start out in small ways without sweeping through the house and getting rid of everything at once. Maybe set a goal, get rid of one or two things everyday. Let us know what happens, please.

You might like to look at some of the many threads we’ve had on this difficult topic in the past. Thisone was probably the most comprehensive, but we had several at about the same time. Squalor Survivors is considered to be a pretty good resource for this–check out the ‘It’s not me’ section for how to help a relative or friend living in squalor.

The fact is that a lot of this is a real mental problem. Going in and cleaning up won’t fix it, nor will telling her that she needs to change. Very sad, but true. :frowning:

I think that just confronting her won’t help unless all of you are willing to help in the effort to get things back in shape.

When things have reached the severity that they have in this case, it’s overwhelming for the person to even know where to begin in fixing the problem. Cleaning up that kind of mess is an enormous task for anyone, and especially for someone who is already battling emotional or mental barriers to tossing things.

My approach would be something like, “We know what’s going on. We’re concerned about you and we want to help. Let’s talk about ways that we can get the house in better shape so you can be happier.”

Trying to clean it up without her input, of course, would probably backfire - but maybe if you can get her to accept the help by her own choice, she will be more receptive.

My suggestion won’t be popular, but I say mind your own damn business. The woman is an adult, not harming anyone else, and free to live as she chooses, not how you think she should choose.

I know her real name…it’s Jessie, isn’t it?

That’s exactly what happened when a friend and I decided to help our friend Jessie by going in and trying to clean her house. On top of all the squalor Jessie also had 17 dogs and 40 cats and we were afraid for their well-being. I haven’t spoken to her since we tried to throw away some obvious garbage - empty dog food cans and the like. It took me eight hours just to clean her stove. She didn’t even notice that - she was so busy screaming at us for throwing away the empty dog food cans. She could not forgive us for throwing away her “treasures”. I decided one day to force her to talk to me again - I drove to her house (by this time I had moved 40 miles away). It took me 15 minutes to find it - I had been driving back and forth in front of it, but since she had sold it and moved away and it no longer had stacks and stacks of boxes all around it I no longer recognized it.

Most psychology professionals will tell you this is one of the few disorders that can’t be helped. I think you should still try, but be prepared that she will react just like my friend did, and also be prepared to discover her house is in the same shape a year from now, even if you are successful in getting her (or helping her) to clean it up now.

Frankly, unless there’s evidence of clear and present danger to the person or someone else from her behavior, I’m inclined to agree with this.

Interventions are the business of family and friends who are personally & significantly affected by the person’s behavior.

Indeed, it’s typically part of an intervention that the intervenors are prepared to tell the target that they will to some extent cut her out of their lives if she does not get help. This consequence can only work if the intervenors are of sufficient importance to the target that their absence would have a noticeable effect. A circle of friends may not qualify.

We pretty much are the family at this point, since she and her brother barely speak and all the others have passed on except for one cousin.
I understand about minding our own business. It’s just that Anna has brought up the topic many times and seemed to want help. It is tiresome to listen to someone whinge constantly about how miserable she is in her own home and how bad the environment is–and then not do anything about it.
At any rate, I wouldn’t expect any intervention to work in this case. Our friend “Amos” already attempted to get her to clean up some things in the kitchen, and they got into a screaming match over the condiment packets.
I’m not going there–literally or figuratively.

Tell her that you’re willing to help her clean up. And if she’s not willing to accept the help, she’s not allowed to whine about it.

Otherwise, leave her alone. She needs professional help if she wants to change, she doesn’t need an intervention which will only make everyone involved miserable.

Isn’t “the microwave comes on by itself” dangerous?

I agree. You’re dealing with someone who has two problems. The first is the common problem of wanting to whine or vent about a something that’s wrong in her life without actually doing anything to fix it. The second is a serious hoarding/squalor problem. Neither of them is going to get any better through an intervention, which she’s likely to interpret as “everyone ganging up on me”. A little tough love might help - at least it might make life a bit more pleasant for her friends. Anything more confrontational carries too much risk for too small a chance of gain.

I like this.

I think any type of “intervention” you do should be focused on her getting help for the mental aspect of her problem, not on specific cleaning activities. The advantage to you, as her friends, engaging in some type of group action is that, like just about all troubled people, your friend is probably good about manipulating one against the other, turning to whoever is least sick of her for sympathy, etc. It’s like they take advantage of some type of group denial phenomenon, that the various people in their lives would not realize and come to the same conclusion about this huge, glaring, obvious problem.

Sure she might interpret this as “everyone ganging up on her.” But that’s no more delusional than alternating between “Susie was mean to me, but Jane understands” “Jane was mean to me but Bill understands” and “Bill was mean to me but this new person understands,” ad infinitum.

Identifying one or more therapists in your area who have had some experience treating this kind of thing and deciding as a group that, whenever she brings the subject up, you tell her she should get help and point her in the right direction, seems like a humane thing to do. Letting her know that, when she is ready to clean stuff up, you’d be willing to spend some time working alongside her would be a nice thing to offer as a friend.

I don’t think the simultaneous group confrontation thing is a good idea unless you have a professional involved, but there’s no reason you can’t stop pussyfooting around and talking about her problem in whispers, if that’s what you’ve been doing (and not to accuse you, but that’s how a lot of people do react to this kind of situation).

I agree. Living in squalor is dangerous. Mold is probably growing from all the floods and leaks. She might be attracting vermin with the piles of junk in the backyard. If the house does in fact catch on fire, she might die because the clutter prevents a fast escape - or the fire could spread to a neighbor’s house and hurt or kill someone else.
This is a serious problem and someone needs to help her. On further reflection, I agree that getting her to actually see a therapist would probably be the first step, then maybe later on offer to help with cleaning.

This may not work, even if the hoarder agrees to allow you to help clean their home. Hoarders do not clean, they sort, package, and organize. They think that if they could just “tetris” their belongings appropriately, they would be able to have a nice home.

My mother is a hoarder. It was always our fault that the home was messy because we didn’t intuitively understand her “organization system”, and couldn’t fit a cube of stuff into the half cube of “storage solutions” that she bought frequently.

Cleaning always went like this: first, throw out all of your father’s magazines, keeping all of the Better Housekeeping, Recipes Mags, and anything with “merit” (ie 30 year old, water logged and moldy National Geographics).

Next sort all laundry for washing, disregarding the fact that the clothing had been walked on, had collected animal wastes, didn’t fit, was moldy or simply garbage, it all had to be cleaned and folded. The floor of the laundry room is piled at least six inches deep with sorted laundry. Everyone walks over the clothing to do the machines, and water spill-off has soaked the clothing. It fucking pisses me off. Items that are clearly garbage must be taken apart and shown to mother so that she can make a final keep or toss decision. We cannot throw out the peat bog in bulk because there may be an item, forgotten, replaced, or never needed preserved in there. Even sifting through the fucking slime looking for anything that is not clothing is not good enough for her. Clothing that was once pretty is kept because it was once pretty. Bits of cloth are kept for crafts, or for work clothing; my mother didn’t craft, and no one needs more than a couple sets of work clothing. Pointing either of those facts leads to a fight, and that bitch is one of those women who believe that the mother is the decider, and if momma ain’t happy, then lets go kill us up some Iraqies. Or family members. Whichever is more available and less likely to annoy the UN. And suddenly its our fault for not having the patience to go through this routine for every item in the house.

I was very fortunate to be able to move out shortly after the crazy started. I don’t know if it was the death of her father that caused her to lose her keel. About that time, she gave up and became very controlling. Gave up on housekeeping, and controlling in the previously described sense - controlling to prevent others from effectively cleaning. It’s the control that is the problem. If she wanted the house to be clean, it would be clean in an afternoon - she is a leader, but cannot stand aside or support the goals of someone else.

That bitch played a number on my brother and sister. She breeds apathy. My brother learned to keep his head down, and he buries himself in video-games. He doesn’t interact with people. He puts no effort into his job or continuing his training. The problem I am trying to express is that he has nothing that he would get mad if it were taken from him. A person should have a hill, a principle, or a goal that they are willing to fight for, but he just does whatever his mother wants him to do. The mother doesn’t give good advice, all she wants is grandchildren. She doesn’t encourage responsibility, or give any indication that he should try to grow beyond what he was when he was at home. Just fuck. He won’t go out and have a drink with his coworkers because his mother thinks that is wrong. Just fuck. He’s learned to be inconspicuous, and he won’t move.

My sister has it worse though - she has never known what a house should look like. We live at least 30km through the country side from the nearest people within a decade of her age, and so does not socialize. Period. She used to be involved in Cadets, but her mother refused to take her to the meetings so often that my sister was not able to continue with the program.

My sister is growing up in a house, filled to the roof with moldy clothing. There are five to seven cats (I lost track, there was only one when I lived there), two to four birds, one dog, and there may be fish. The fish may not be there anymore as the cats have eaten several. The low traffic areas are covered in animal shit and puke. They couldn’t be bothered to feed the furnace, so the house is filled with electrical fire hazards. Just fuck. That bitch encourages her to comfort-eat. Because my mother thinks that she should have a “complex” relationship with her daughter, she has raised my sister to be one of those people who confuses noise and obnoxious opinions with personality. Fuck that cunt. She has spectacularly failed as a parent, and my brother and sister are going to be paying for her mistakes for the rest of their lives. My brother has found a girlfriend who introduces herself as a some-times homemaker:( . At such a young age, to want to be a homemaker, in 2009 :frowning: . Just fuck, what else can you say?

TL;DR: Don’t get close to a hoarder. Sate your conscience with a donation to save African Orphans.

They have a show for people like this now. It’s called Clean House. You should nominate her for it, or however you go about getting someone on the programme. Or at the very least make her sit down and watch an episode. I think it would be cathartic.

I’m on the side of those who say “leave it alone.” She’s an adult, yadda, yadda, yadda. If her house bothers you, don’t go there. See her outside of her home.

Seems like your problem is that she whines about the mess. So next time she starts complaining, say, “I have a garbage bag right here. Let’s throw some of this crap in the garbage.” (or “let’s go to your house right now and clean the kitchen!”) And then DO it. I guarantee if you do that on the next two occasions of her whining, she will not mention the mess to you again. She does not want to change; she just doesn’t want you to think it’s an acceptable condition for her, which, of course, it is.

Interesting you should say this, because another friend, “Cindy,” gave Anna a questionnaire to fill out last year when A&E was going to be doing a reality show about hoarders. They would have paid for professional therapy and cleaning services. Anna professed interest, then backpedaled because she doesn’t want to be recognized on TV by any of her colleagues (they all work in the entertainment industry). I told her the producers might be willing to blur her face, change her voice, etc. but she wouldn’t go for it.

lavender… and Harriet: Therapy would be great. The problem is that it would cost her some money, which she won’t spend on anything related to the house or her disorder. And yes, she does accuse others of being mean and unsympathetic whenever they don’t feed her sympathy addiction.

The last time her room flooded (just a few months ago), Ilsa and I did indeed tell her that she doesn’t get to moan to us about it anymore, since she has already been given the contact info for people who could help to fix the problem.

We’ll just see how it goes.

Thanks for the replies.

If you had a team empty her house and start clean, she would fill it in 6 months and you would feel frustrated. My wife is a hoarder and I just remove stuff out the door when the garbage man comes. If she spots it ,she will bring it back in. She never sees the big picture. Every item clicks in part of her brain as an heirloom, a future necessity or something she wants badly. It took me weeks to clean half the garage because I was pissed at leaving the car in driveway. Because she sleeps in, I can get away with dumping a lot of her stuff. But it is a constant battle. She does not have a problem, I just don’t understand whats important or valuable.