Qualities of a Good Clutter Buddy
How can I help a friend or family member declutter and move forward?
Posted Nov 23, 2020
Sometimes you may want to help a friend or family member declutter and completely resolve all types of items in a specific area and then move forward to another area.
For about 25% of my clients, the clutter is resolved layer by layer. They need help to revisit areas systematically. As accumulation is thinned throughout the home, they find it more comforting and useful to have a fuller appreciation of the entire complement of what they have before moving forward. Deciding how many of each type of item is reasonable for them to keep also helps them significantly.
Some people make decisions to part with things more easily in the moment. Others need to process before parting with their things. For process people, I suggest that in between sessions they reflect on how those items fit with the scaling process, so that by the next session they have solidified their decisions. In some cases, this process takes extra time. It just adds an extra comfort level to the decision. Perhaps from the start they knew which decision was best for them. The time that processing takes is well spent because now, with confident “I can live with it” decisions, they have a minimal need to replace the items when tempted.
When decisions are made layer-by-layer or area by area, both methods support individuals to develop a deeper insight into the underlying reason/triggers for their collecting. They also reduce the need for unconscious acquiring.
- Remember the most important thing people hoarding need to do is to change their relationship to their things. Using strategies in “Conquer the Clutter,” the process of decluttering happens more easily. Acknowledge the accumulation, but don't make it the focus at first.
- Make the person your focus. Ask them how they are feeling about having someone in their home, even if you are a friend. You're here to coach them on a very difficult topic.
- Use whatever term they use for what they do. They may never use the term hoarder or hoarding. That's perfectly fine. There is nothing gained by applying labels.
- Don't confront denial until you have a solid, positive relationship.
- Language is powerful. Be aware of your personal standards, feelings, and biases about clutter and deteriorated environments. Check yourself for possible blaming. No one is at fault.
- They may be anxious and reluctant, and this is frequently tiring and frustrating. Scan yourself for fatigue and burnout. Pace yourself accordingly. Remember, do one 15-minute work period followed by only one more work period and only if you can commit to complete the 2nd 15-minute period; otherwise, stop and take a break.
- We are entitled to our own thoughts, values, and opinions. We are not entitled to apply them to others who ask us for help. People have the right to live the way they choose, according to their own standards and values. Occasionally there are consequences for these choices. We cannot make others do things differently to save them from their right to learn through consequences. We are most helpful when we are aware of our prejudices and judgmental internal dialogue. I encourage everyone to consciously repeat to themselves as I sometimes must: “My personal preferences stop at the door." If we fail to do so, we put ourselves at risk of unexpected slips of the tongue, facial expressions, tone of voice, and other body language. This makes the other person an adversary, not an ally, as we work together.
- Don't barrage people with questions. Ask what you need to know most, one question at a time, slowly and gently. Give people time to reflect and reply in their own way. Treat every person who hoards as you would want someone you love to be treated. This principle works for the range of hoarding situations, from simple to serious. Sometimes we feel pressure to make fast and extensive headway decluttering. These are our feelings and priorities. It is best not to pass our pressures and priorities on to other people.
- Don't be the expert. Don't let anyone cast you in the role of expert. You are the guide, advocate, and coach.
- Don't promise things you can't do. Focus on what you can do. Ask what they most need help with, period, even if you can help with only one small segment of their needs. That is honest and trust will develop from there.
- Don’t bluff. Say what you mean and mean what you say. If you aren't sure, say so. Check your facts and get back to them.
- Don't try to buy a relationship with the person hoarding by privately taking sides against enforcement officials or others, even if your opinion about the requirements of authority figures is not positive. Work to build understanding between all parties. With your support, people who hoard must follow the same rules and laws as everyone else. Be aware, however, that with hoarding disorder now in the DSM 5 as a disorder, it may qualify as a disability, and individuals who hoard may have legitimate rights to reasonable accommodation under human rights legislation.
- Be a person who has experience to offer but does not mistake their experience(s) as a solution or answer for anyone else.
- Be a person with healthy boundaries and limits and respect the other person's boundaries and limits as well.