Safeguarding Adults Week – Decluttering our thinking about hoarding

“See the person, not the hoard.”

Decluttering our thinking about hoarding

In our Floating Support Service, we received a referral for a customer who had a hoarding disorder, I knew nothing about this issue and on my initial visit to the customer’s home I offered the customer a skip the first time I met him. After a few conversations I built up trust with the customer, seeing them and not their hoard. It made me realise this was not the way to help. I knew I could do more and needed more advice.

I found a peer support group offered by Onwards Homes, supporting their customers through the Onwards Homes specialised Hoarding service to combat social isolation. The team heard that other customers wanted to attend so opened the meetings up to customers of other housing associations but were not able to offer them the full support service.

It was a great success, but we needed to be able to offer more for our customers. After a few months, I spoke with facilitator, and we started looking around for funding to pay for an external service to meet the group and create a new training package specific to the group’s needs.

After some unsuccessful attempts Ian Porter, a trained psychologist, approached the peer group to put something together for the Merseyside Safeguarding Voices. Together with the peer group, he put forward a proposal to develop the support group so it was more than meeting for a coffee, it was about talking to peers, having a voice, getting support from professionals in the right way, sharing experiences and knowledge and explore further topics on safeguarding, self-neglect, domestic abuse and homelessness.

In October 2021 the new peer group began, with the help of Ian who has pushed the group with emotional support to the positive success, it is now led to our first conference around hoarding in the North West. I’m delighted to be part of this group; it has made a huge difference to me and our customers and the support I can provide.

If you’re worried about someone who might be hoarding, please get in touch with us for help and advice. You can also find advice from:

Here is just a little bit of information to help you think about hoarding. Understanding what it’s about, how it can make some feel, how we can help and how we can change our approach. 

Hoarding can be something it is tempting to write off as:

  • an eccentric novelty
  • a bad habit
  • the result of laziness or
  • “A lifestyle choice”.

It is none of these things. It is an overwhelming psychological condition defined, in part, when someone cannot discard or part with their items without feeling extremely distressed. And it’s always a vast array of items they feel they must ‘save’, often not of any perceived value to anyone except themselves.

In short, it is a recognised mental health disorder but, unlike other mental health issues for example, anxiety (a perception of threat) or depression (a perception of loss), it is continually defined and stigmatised by what people have in their homes, instead of what people have in their heads!

Because of the complexity of the disorder there is no quick fix and no skip big enough to provide one!

If you want to provide anything that resembles effective support, then, in the first instance you need to “see the person and not the ‘hoard’. In other words, start off by personalising, not pathologizing or stigmatising. It will pay dividends.

Here are some personalised definitions of ‘hoarding’ which have been penned by members of the Merseyside Hoarders Helping Hoarders Psychosocial Intervention and Peer Support Group:

“It’s a love hate relationship: hoarding provides comfort as it’s familiar – like a security blanket; yet the chaos creates stress in all areas of my life, thus it’s something I hate. Hoarding is the visible manifestation of experiences, memories (both good and bad) hopes, dreams and delayed decision-making being unable to decide what to keep (and why) coupled with the inability to consider the consequences of ‘saving’ acquiring and not putting an item away in its designated place. Hoarding is an old friend that is a bad influence! And the quest to try and remove them from my life is a continuous effort”. 

“My hoarding definition – the inability to make decisions in order to be able to dispose of acquired items, linked to the perception that I will make wrong decisions that will have a detrimental effect on my emotional and cognitive wellbeing”. 

“I can’t throw anything away. I’m too attached. I’m sentimental. I don’t like to admit it, but I am. I can’t bring myself to let go of things. Even if someone has written a note, I can’t throw it away. It’s easier to ignore it. Hoarding is not OCD. Hoarding is not clutter. Hoarding is the persistent difficulty in being able to throw things away. I can’t. I stand in front of a mountain of memories, and I hold on to what happened…”.

People who exhibit hoarding behaviours are tired of being ‘othered’ and often self-stigmatise (experience debilitating shame, embarrassment and/or self-loathing) because of the unhelpful initial responses of other people.

The Merseyside Hoarders Helping Hoarders group has developed a successful model of providing effective support for people who exhibit hoarding behaviours. We take the concept of ‘peer support’ way beyond the boundaries of tea, sympathy and symptom-swapping!

This what some of our members have had to say about their experience of the group since its redevelopment in October 2021.

“Attending the group gives me the opportunity to “speak my truth” about how this taboo, traumatic and painful condition has affected my whole life.  I also speak regularly by phone to another member and we support and encourage each other.  Sometimes I have thought that by attending this support group I am “in danger of coming alive again”!  A rather daunting prospect.” 

“After each meeting I attend, I go home fired up with increased enthusiasm and nearly always get stuck in, doing some active de-cluttering.  That gives me such a feeling of satisfaction because what I most want to do in my life now is “walk the walk and not just talk the talk”. 

“This is such a very positive group that I believe it could become a brilliant example for other areas in the U.K. in how to run a support group in a similar way.” 

“Another outcome that I didn’t mention is the fact that the laughter is one of the things about the group that energises me to enable me to do de-cluttering when I get home. For me the group has given me a reason to get out and meet some lovely people. It’s also helped to drag me out of ostrich mode and admit to and tackle my own issues.”

And here are some initial impressions from social housing colleagues who have participated in a session as guests of the group:

“I feel it’s an absolute lifeline for people suffering with hoarding issues and I think every employee in our entire organisation should go to gain a better understanding of it. The people who were the regulars were extremely brave and open about their experiences, and the whole meeting felt relaxed, well run and organised. I’m looking forward to being able to attend again.”

“No negatives from me.  I had no expectations, but the session far exceeded any expectations I could have had.  I can see why your members come back week after week as the support is amazing and very generous, both from you as well as from each other.”

“I thought the session was fantastic!! Really informative, well-constructed and focused and I loved that everyone gave such a positive update on working together.  I also like the way group members are challenged about behaviour and the idea of the group improvement being driven by the ‘Challenge – Change – Learn – Sustain’ cycles that you have developed.”

The thing about hoarding…

The most important thing about hoarding…

Is that it’s about more than just hoarding.

For more information and/or to come along to a group session, please feel free to contact us group via the website:

Or drop the group coordinator an email: [email protected]