Do you have a friend or relative who is a hoarder? If they’ve gotten comfortable enough to ask you for help cleaning, that’s a great sign! As someone they trust, you now have the opportunity to help a hoarder ease their space into a cleaner and healthier place to live.
However, figuring out how to help a hoarder clean can be difficult. How is it possible to CLEAN when there’s so much clutter? What should you do with everything? Where do you start?
It might seem like there’s too much to think about. (Just imagine how your hoarder friend feels!) This post will help with some beginning strategies to tackle the problem and start the process of cleaning a hoarder’s house without ruining your relationship.
Note: This post is written specifically about helping someone else clean their hoarder house. For more general cleaning tips, check out How To Clean Your House So You Can Enjoy Your Space.
This post may contain affiliate links. If you choose to purchase through an affiliate link, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. This post is not to be taken as professional medical or mental health advice. All statements are strictly my personal life observations. You can see my full disclaimer here.
What is Hoarding?
Before we get started, it’s important to understand what hoarding is.
We often use the term ‘hoarding’ to describe someone who has a lot of clutter in their home or someone who doesn’t like to part with any of their things. But clinical hoarding runs much deeper than that.
If you notice a friend or loved one struggling, there is a lot of information out there such as this website. It can help you to understand the symptoms and take the necessary steps.
Remember, for this post, we’re talking about ways you can help a hoarder work to keep on top of the cleaning.
The Reality of the Situation When Helping a Hoarder
Here’s the thing… you have to understand that this is not a time when you can go in, spend a few hours, and end up with the satisfaction of seeing a deep-cleaned, clutter-free home at the end of the day.
Your friend is overwhelmed. They won’t know where to begin. They may not even know HOW to begin or the best way to clean their space.
And even though you may believe they have a hoarding disorder, you cannot diagnose that or ‘cure’ them. Your job is to do your best to help them clean, which is the only thing they have asked for.
It’s going to take a while. You’re going to get dirty. Dress appropriately, wear a mask and gloves. Bring an extra set for your friend.
Stay positive for your friend and don’t break their trust!
How to Help a Hoarder Clean Their House
Before You Begin Cleaning
Cleaning is something that we know we have to do. It keeps our home environment sanitized and avoids any further issues that can develop. However, for someone who hoards many things within their home, a lot of the space will already be dominated by stuff and dirt. But for now, here are some of my tips for cleaning.
- Set aside your judgments
- Resist the urge to take over; take the lead, but your friend must take responsibility and learn to do the work
- Don’t break the trust; always communicate every.single.thing you plan to do; your friend always has the final say unless it’s a potentially life-threatening situation
- Manage expectations
Diving into the deep and difficult work of decluttering an entire house with someone who hoards is much too overwhelming to tackle in one day.
Find out what they expect… clutter removal OR cleaning? Talk about the differences. You may want to tackle decluttering in the future where my decluttering tips for hoarders post could help.
Yes, I know you can’t really clean until a space is clutter-free. But in the case of a hoarder, that process can take months. Your immediate goal is safe and as clean as possible.
First, ask them how you can make the situation better. Offer to go over and clean with them for a while. This will allow you to see how bad the situation is firsthand and offer some constructive feedback.
Your friend or family member who is a hoarder likely has many years of clutter that they’ve collected. That means there are several layers of stuff below what you might be able to see.
So, how do you help them get started?
Perhaps your friend might be willing to let you take some photos of their spaces so that you can begin to brainstorm how to make it better.
When showing potential solutions, begin with small changes. It can be overwhelming to see how much work there is to do and how long it’s going to take. Maybe you can start with just one cleaning task to focus on how different the space will feel when it’s done.
On the other hand, your friend may think ‘cleaning’ will be as simple as dusting and spraying some antibacterial cleaning on the light switches. Communicate that those are good tasks to do, but more needs to be done for them to live in a clean home.
Once you know their mindset, it’s time to come up with a cleaning plan. This is a plan that can help both of you tackle the chores that need to be done.
It may feel overwhelming right now, which is understandable. So don’t try to do everything all at once. Your plan can have steps, and it can help you to target the areas and things that need to be cleaned first. There will be chores that you will need to prioritize, and a plan will help you bring them all together.
You’ll need to decide:
- Where to begin
- Goals for the day
- Exactly what tasks each person will do
Start With the Most Important Rooms
Your hoarder friend is probably far too overwhelmed to decide where they want or need to begin cleaning, so let’s make it simple: kitchen and bathroom first.
This is probably THE best way to help a hoarder when it comes to helping them live in a cleaner and healthier home. Although dirt and germs can be found in every room, it’s absolutely imperative to concentrate on the rooms where they eat and care for hygiene.
Bring cleaning supplies with you, just in case your friend doesn’t have any or can’t find their own.
Once you know which tasks you’re each going to be doing, it’s time to get to work! If your friend feels motivated by short bursts of time, then you may find that cleaning to a timer could help things move more quickly.
Set a timer for an agreed-upon amount of time. It could be five, ten, or twenty minutes. Don’t try and do too much too soon. It is always better to start small and build up the time.
If your friend can only manage five minutes at a time, then see this as five minutes more than it was before. It’s a win and should be celebrated.
Use Music to Make the Process More Enjoyable
If you’re both wearing protective masks, it might be difficult to chat the day away.
Instead, play music you both enjoy. It will help you keep moving and make the time pass more quickly.
Tackle the Waste and Recycling
Waste and recycling might be an issue, especially if you’re starting with the bathroom and kitchen. Immediately removing any waste and disposing of it appropriately will help make the home look and feel cleaner.
Plus, it will be easier to move around and do the actual surface cleaning. Just remember that you’re not doing a full-on declutter. Put on your blinders when it comes to the extra ‘stuff’ and worry about discarding actual trash right now.
The more visible progress, the more your friend will be motivated to keep going.
Create Cleaning Routines & Habits
Structure and order can help people who struggle with hoarding, and a cleaning schedule and routine could help to keep things manageable. The main thought behind this is to not overwhelm with too many jobs in one day, but to keep on top of necessary tasks to maintain a clean and healthy home.
These routines will also help them work through the steps of how to clean with ease. You can even teach your friend or loved one how to create their own cleaning routine.
It’s important not to micro-manage how someone cleans. Allow them the space and room to learn new cleaning methods and habits that will work for them. They’ll feel more in control, which can help with the next steps of working through clutter while maintaining what they’ve already accomplished.
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How Long Does It Take To Clean a Hoarder’s House
For the purposes of this article, remember that we’re talking about HELPING a hoarder clean their house. That’s completely different than going into a home that was formerly occupied and all that’s left is the hoard.
Keeping that in mind, there’s no way to determine exactly how long it could take. You may be able to do the kitchen and/or bathroom in one day, or it may take several days of shorter sessions.
Remember that you need to change your perspective on ‘clean’ when there is a house full of clutter. It may take months for your friend to declutter enough to thoroughly clean floors, walls, ducts, etc.
When To Call In Professionals for Emergency Home Clearance
If you are trying to help clean your hoarder friend’s home, but it just isn’t working out, then — with your friend’s agreement — it may be time to contact the professionals. Trained counselors and professional organizers often work together to help hoarders figure out what steps to take and how to begin recovering from hoarding.
On a more serious note, if the mess is so serious that it immediately threatens your friend’s health and well-being, then your best move as a good friend is to call a professional counselor or a state agency — even if it’s against your friend’s wishes. This is an extremely difficult situation to be in, but you would be doing the right thing.
More Inspiration For Cleaning And Decluttering
A hoarder’s home can be challenging to clean, but it is possible. This post has given you some tips on how to get started without ruining your relationship with a friend or loved one who has asked you for help.
Here are five things to remember:
- Set aside your judgments
- Listen carefully to how they want things done, but manage their expectations
- Focus on the kitchen and bathroom first for health reasons
- Don’t break their trust
- Be supportive, but allow them to work hard and develop new and positive habits
Now, go out there and help your friend… You’ve got this!
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