What is the biggest mistake you can make when dealing with a hoarder?

Maria Spetalnik of Conquer the Clutter answered this question for me. Her answer surprised me even though as owner of Junk King, I thought I had a fair understanding of hoarding. Yet I know Maria is an expert on the subject with 20-years of hard-earned experience. So, I trust her answer, and so should you.

She told me, “The worst thing you can do to a hoarder is a forced clean out.

Maria explained the typical scenario. The concerned adult children decide to help their aging mother who has a moderate hoarding or clutter problem. One of the siblings takes Mom on a weekend trip, and while she is safely away, the other siblings secretly clean out the house. They pay haulers to remove the trash and ruined furniture. They pay to clean the house top to bottom, pay to shampoo carpets—even paint. It is a Herculean effort motivated by filial love for Mom. At the end of Mom’s weekend trip, the siblings welcome Mom back to clean, orderly home expecting Mom to get emotional—overcome with gratitude.

As Maria explained, the returning hoarder gets emotional for sure, but it’s not gratitude. From the hoarder mom’s point of view, her children lied to her, violated her home, and stole her possessions—some of which may have great sentimental value. And to make matters worse, within three months the typical hoarder, after a forced clean out, will re-clutter the space.

Such good intentions can have such a horrible outcome! Mom is in a worse position than before the forced clean out. The clutter is back, and Mom no longer trusts her own children.

If you think you have a loved one who has a clutter problem, call a professional like Maria and take advantage of her 20 years’ experience. The small investment in your time may save life-long relationships and ensure that your loved one gets the lasting results he or she needs.

Next month, we’ll look at a metric to help us understand the severity of a hoarder situation.