TV programmes like Britain's Biggest Hoarders have brought the condition of hoarding into the spotlight. They show that hoarding can go beyond a tendency towards messiness; compulsive hoarding is a recognised medical condition that requires careful treatment. According to the NHS, compulsive hoarding is defined as “excessively collecting items that are of little or no value and not being able to throw them away, resulting in unmanageable amounts of clutter.” While the reasons why someone becomes a hoarder are still not fully understood, there are some basic steps that can be taken to help.

According to Dr Rebecca Beaton, psychologist and director of the Anxiety and Stress Management Institute, hoarders “have strong beliefs about, as well as emotional attachments to, possessions that prove to be problematic to their long-term wellbeing.” When it comes to tackling this issue, treatment needs to go beyond decluttering the hoarder’s house, continues Beaton: “People with HD [hoarding disorder] need to learn how to change the way they think about acquiring, purchasing, or collecting as well as how they relate to their belongings.”

If you suspect a loved one to suffer from compulsive hoarding, the most important piece of advice is to encourage the hoarder in question to seek professional help, but these experts tips could help begin to tackle this complex issue.

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  • Don't Take It To Heart

    The first thing you need to realise is that this process will take time, especially as the majority of sufferers don't think of what they're doing as hoarding. Beaton says that you should expect setbacks. "Be very patient" <a href="http://www.stressmgt.net/hoarding_101.htm">she advises</a> - and "don't take the person's behaviour personally".

  • Build Trust

    "Never throw any of the person's belongings away without permission," warns Beaton. According to <a href="http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/hoarding/Pages/Introduction.aspx#what-to-do">NHS guidelines</a> on helping hoarders, you should "reassure your loved one or friend that no one is going to go into their home and throw everything out... It's generally not a good idea to call in the council or environmental health to clear the rubbish away, as it won't solve the problem and the clutter often quickly builds up again."

  • Don't Argue

    "People with HD tend to dig their heels in more when they feel pressured by someone." Instead it's important to encourage reflection: "Ask the person about his or her long-term goals," <a href="http://www.stressmgt.net/hoarding_101.htm">Beaton suggests</a>. "Find the goals that aren't consistent with hoarding behaviours, and gently point out that the current course of action is not congruent with these goals."

  • Help Them Seek Help

    "Encourage the person to seek help from a qualified professional - someone experienced in treating HD or at least experienced in treating OCD," says Beaton. The <a href="http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/hoarding/Pages/Introduction.aspx#what-to-do">NHS suggests that the starting point should be the local GP</a>. "Realise that ambivalence regarding help is normal," <a href="http://www.stressmgt.net/hoarding_101.htm">says Beaton</a>. "Remember that, ultimately, it's up to the individual to decide that he or she wants to change."

  • Don't Give In

    While it can often be difficult to convince hoarders that they need help, it's also important that you do not actively enable their hoarding. For example, <a href="http://www.stressmgt.net/hoarding_101.htm">suggests Beaton</a>, "don't loan the person money to go shopping, don't offer to store any of his or her possessions in your garage".