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Self Help Tools For Hoarders

“Changing a lifelong habit is a difficult thing.

Even after clearing one’s home, many people who hoard have to always keep on top of their hoarding behavior. People can and do change and it is possible to say one is over something like this, but until we know more about what causes this, we won’t know what a “cure” will look like.
One important component to successful treatment is not only to clear out each room, but to learn how to live and be comfortable with a cleared room.”

-Randy Frost, Ph.D., Expert on Compulsive Hoarding


“It’s not a house problem, but a people problem.
You can treat the house, but that doesn’t treat the problem.”
-David Tolin, Ph.D., Anxiety & Disorders Clinic, Hartford, CT


  • Cost-Benefit Analysis: Before you can decide to change the behavior of hoarding you have to understand how “keeping things” is helping you or functioning for you.The behavior may seem meaningless in the midst of hating oneself for not being able to change. Sometimes the function of one’s hoarding is hard to see when you are in the middle of it. A useful tool to elucidate the hidden payoffs of hoarding is the Cost-Benefit- Analysis. The following is a series of helpful hints with this tool because it is so vital to determining one’s motivation, ability, and desire to change.Take a piece of paper and draw a vertical line down the middle of the page. On one side write all the advantages of hoarding and on the other side write all the disadvantages of hoarding. This may seem overly simple or you may say that you can find no advantages to hoarding. An example of what a made up client might say with prompting in a physician’s office.Advantages:
    • Don’t have to make any decisions right now
    • Don’t have to feel any uncomfortable feelings such as fear of regret or loss
    • I can do something more fun
    • I piss off someone in my family who I am angry with, but still appear innocent (unintentional but desired revenge to someone who has wronged me)
    • I stay dependent and connected to someone I love
    • People know something is wrong with me and take care of me
    • I become the problem in my family and distract from an even biggerproblem going on (IE. depressed mother focuses on daughter’s hoarding instead of bad marriage that could potentially break the family apart)
    • I hold onto memories, I have instant access to the past
    • It is safe in some way
    • It feels familiar, I wouldn’t know how to act or be without it
    • It’s my way of resisting a controlling person in my life

    Now do the same thing with the disadvantages.
    These are usually easier and more straight forward.

    After exhausting this list of advantages and disadvantages (you might enlist others you feel comfortable with to brainstorm with you to make sure you haven’t forgotten any), you are ready to rate the disadvantages compared to advantages.

    If you were balancing the two on a scale, given not just the quantity but the severity and quality of the listed points, which would be stronger the disadvantages or the advantages.? 50/50 70/30 or 5/95? Be brutally honest using your intellect and emotions.

    If the disadvantages of hoarding out weigh the advantages….. congratulations you are ready to change and most likely will with proper effort, time, and support.

    If in being rigorously truthful you find the advantages outweigh the disadvantages don’t despair… you have discovered a very helpful insight which will steer you on the proper path to recovery. You have discovered that the hoarding is your solution to a life problem. Now your task is not to tackle the problem of hoarding but to first to find a new solution to your true problem.

    This should not be used in place of psychological/psychiatric care or evaluation.

    *Source of this information


Perfectionism (from Squalor Survivors)

Many people struggling with squalor face another battle – perfectionism.

Dr. David Tolin suggests,

“The question to ask yourself is not whether you can use the object, but whether you really will use the object. A good rule of thumb is that if you haven’t used an object in over a year—say, you didn’t even know it was there until you found it on the bottom of a pile— you probably can live without it.”


Be brave.

“Beating compulsive hoarding requires you to face things that are very scary,”says Dr. Tolin. “I can’t tell you not to be scared, because you can’t really control that. But you can be brave. Be willing to face your fears. Be willing to risk making the wrong decision. The people who gain the most are usually the people who are willing to risk the most.

Watch Dr. Frost with a Hoarder (an actor?) on a non-acquisition shopping trip…shown: catastrophic thinking (no cookbook=no friends)…purchase resisted…high anxiety level…time passes, anxiety goes down. Patient says:“Guess the book wasn’t so important after all.”


Hoarding book (latest) by leading experts:
Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, by Randy Frost

Tools & Techniques

Questions to ask yourself while de-cluttering:
By: Elaine Birchall, MSW RSW, Social Worker, Ottawa Public Health; Coordinator :Ottawa Community Response to Hoarding Coalition, March 2006

Questions About Acquiring

• Do I have an immediate use for it?
• Do I need it? How many do I already have?
• Can I get by without it?
• Do I feel compelled to have it?
• Can I afford it comfortably?
• Do I have time to deal with it appropriately i.e? maintain it?

Questions About Discarding

• Do I need it?
• Do I have a plan to use this?
• Have I used this in the last year?
• Can I get it elsewhere i.e.. the library?
• Do I have enough space for it already clear and available?
• Do I love it?

Questions About How to Organize & Let Go

• Start with one area; spend as many future work periods as needed to complete your goal for this area.

• If entrances, exits or areas near heat and ignition sources for example, (furnaces, stoves, portable heaters, baseboard heaters, water heaters or uncovered light bulbs, are a cluttered, start with them first for safety reasons and continue working in that area until clear. The 1st fire safety priority is clear routes into and out of the residence. The 2nd priority is entrance and exits from each room.

caution: Extension cords should not be used for permanent wiring purposes i.e.. instead of adequate electrical outlets connected to the electrical panel. Make sure smoke detectors are functioning.

• Begin by creating categories for possessions
• Sort into discard, recycle/giveaway & keep piles
• Use questions provided in “Acquiring & Discarding” Sections to decide.
• Continue until chosen area is clear
• Imagine and plan and a more pleasing use for the cleared area
• Plan for preventing new clutter build up for that area by following the ideas in “Relapse Prevention.”

Relapse Prevention

• Evaluate current reasons for cluttering
• Get yourself support:

1.trusted family & friends
2.knowledgeable counselor
3. Knowledgeable professional organizer
4. Online support as provided above

• Schedule regular times to organize & let go
• Invite visitors home
• Anticipate known stressors and your reactions
• Apply skills developed so far and search out others to build on
• Identify resources for the future
• Be gentle with yourself and keep working at it.
• It’s what you do every day, no matter how much, that will get you where you want to be.

“The person who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”
(Dane County Elder Abuse Office – “This Full House”), Dane County, USA – 2000


Dysfunctional Thought Record (DTR):

A technique frequently used by Cognitive Behavior Therapists. (From the website of James Claiborn, PhD.)

“One of the tools many people have found useful in working on OCD including hoarding problems, is a Dysfunctional Thought Record or DTR.

Blank DTR
Instructions on how to use


Downward ArrowWatch it in video with Dr. Randy Frost
(also, a worksheet can be found in the back of the Buried in Treasures book about Hoarding)

Understand what you’re afraid of, and recognize when your fears are irrational.
Ask yourself:

What’s the worst that can happen if I throw this out? And how bad would that really be?
If you’re not sure whether your fear is irrational, try an experiment. Try making a specific prediction about what will happen if you discard an object.

Then discard it, and really look to see whether that bad thing happened.



Don’t overthink.

“If you have to go through a long and complicated decision-making process for each and every item before you get rid of it, you’ll never get free of the clutter,” Dr. Tolin says, “Most decisions are not that complicated. If you find that the decision takes you more than a couple of minutes for a particular object, you are probably making it too complicated.”

Professional Organization-Cleaning The Right Way
Thank you to students at Catholic Memorial CSD for providing the link above to help understand the role professional organizers may have in the road to recovery from hoarding.

Additional Reading:


Sent in to COH Site by a hoarder in recovery to post:


This is kind of drastic, but I think sometimes “what would I do if I only had “x” number of years to live? Or, only one year to live? Well, we all have a finite time to live, but what if that end were imminent? Sometimes this helps motivate me and I ask myself these kinds of questions:

— do I want to leave this earth having this mess as my legacy?
— what about all my unrealized plans?
— what about my children and all of the things I have promised them?
— what will their memories be of me, will it be of my “stuff” or of me as a person and the things we did together?
— what about the people going through my things when I am gone, what will they think — will they laugh at me, throw everything out w/out regard to value?
— what can I reasonably accomplish right now to make a difference in my life?
— what is the most important thing that i need to address right now that does not involve aquiring something new or bringing something into the house?
— how can I make a positive change right now to move towards my goal of a less cluttered environment?
— what are my hopes and dreams?
— can I really expect to finish all these projects? if not, which ones do I love to do? which ones can I let go?
— when will “someday” come?
— perhaps that someday is now!

And, then I start. I start in a small corner and work outwards from that spot. Sometimes I jump around, although, a professional organizer said this isn’t good. But, sometimes I do it anyway. I always try to go back to where I started, though, and I try to finish the small task that I started. Sometimes I move quickly and sometimes I move slowly, but I move. I move and try to make decisions quickly and make progress. I try to keep focused on a long term goal(s) made up of small short term goals. What has to happen to make that long term goal a reality? I try to not get overwhelmed and focus on that one area — that one short term goal. I sort “like with like” and keep moving. Sometimes I take a break. But, after that I keep going. The key is to get up and move and start. Somewhere, just start.


Need Help Learning & Sticking To Household Routines?

ImageThe FLY Lady (flylady.net) talks about how clutter really affects your life, and how it is costing you: From her book, Sink Reflections, pgs. 24-27 :

Clutter is things that do not bring you joy, you do not love, or you don’t need.
Things that you use, love, and enjoy are necessary and important to have. Things that you have in your home that you don’t need or don’t like will have the opposite effect on you: they will make you feel negative and dragged down.

Clutter is disorganized.

You may have things that you love and things that bring you joy, but if they are just stuck everywhere and have no real order to them, they will still have the same negative effect. You may have a beautiful collection of antiques but if they are everywhere, covered in dust, with no sense of flow, then you are not really enjoying them to their full potential.

Clutter can keep you living in the past, or reliving the past.
When you have things around you that don’t bring you joy from your past, you can’t move forward.

Clutter causes problems in your family.

Clutter makes you feel embarrassed and ashamed. How many times have you turned people away or not invited people to your home because of the clutter?

Clutter has a way of taking over our lives before we even know it. Clutter becomes that unwanted houseguest that you can’t get rid of. It robs us of peace while we are home and it also steals any bit of joy when we leave home. Worse, it creates a feeling of dread when you know you have to return to that mess. How many times have you stayed late at work just to avoid the clutter in your home? What about those of you that will not go anywhere because of the chaotic state of your home?

Clutter has to be conquered.
Don’t think so? Look at some of the things we give up so we can devote our lives to this selfish houseguest. I received a message once from a lady who gave up her family vacation to clean and declutter their home for the safety of a crawling baby.

Clutter-filled homes are not welcoming to friends or family.
So we do not invite them over often. When we do, we almost kill ourselves trying to get the house presentable so we will not be embarrassed. You knwo the drill. Major Crisis Cleaning until 3:00 a.m. because they are coming the next day. As a result of not wanting to make the preparations, we alienate ourselves from our friends and family by closing our doors and throwing away the key.

Clutter does not allow your mind and body to rest.

The guilt of all the clutter keeps you working non-stop. You can’t organize clutter; you can only get rid of it, like a cancerous tumor. Purge it from your life and you will find out what living is all about.

Clutter causes you to turn down invitations to lunch or weekend getaways with your husband. It will also get in the way of you taking time for you. It yells at you, “You don’t deserve to have any fun; you have not taken care of ME yet!” Oh, selfish clutter. Like a spoiled child, it requires all of your attention.

Clutter also sends a subconsious message.
Clutter tells the world that you are not worthy.
We have all heard it. If you can’t take care of this, you can’t have anything else. We have been brainwashed by this clutter to believe that we do not deserve to have nice things, since we can’t keep our home looking presentable. So we buy more clutter at yard sales and junk shops because it only costs a dollar.

Now don’t fuss about this, I love yard sales as much as the next person, but think about the mentality for a few minutes. Don’t we deserve to be surrounded by pretty things that we love, instead of someone else’s cast-offs? When we quit wasting our money on more clutter to feed the already growing demon in our home, we can save to purchase things that make us smile.

Clutter never wants you to leave home.
This is why it makes it so difficult for you to pack and go on vacation. Laundry has to be done; you have to get people to come to the house to feed your critters, or worse yet, you need someone to housesit for you. Clutter will never allow strangers in its domain. It wants you all to itself. The bills have to be paid. Before you can go, clutter invades your finances and family responsibilities. You don’t have wills done because it is just too much trouble. You stay home, so you won’t have to make the decision of who will care for your children in case of an accident.

Clutter loves to make you sick. Clutter attracts dust which then can affect your health. How many of you suffer from headaches, sinus problems, and allergies? This way you are totally dependent upon its way of life. It robs you of your health, so this gives you an excuse to give it more clutter. The more there is the happier it becomes and the sicker you get. Sometimes you will not allow people to come into your home to help because clutter has quarantined you. Or shall we say imprisoned you in your dungeon?

Here is yet another way to see clutter:

  • Clutter is to our homes as cholesterol is to our arteries. This is scary, so let’s examine the similarities:
  • Cholesterol clogs arteries. Clutter invades the pathways of our homes.
  • Cholesterol increases blood pressure. Clutter causes stress in your life .
  • Cholesterol reduces your life span. Clutter decreases your joy in living.
  • Cholesterol costs major money when you treat it. Clutter pushes money away from you.
  • Cholesterol causes heart disease. Clutter destroys closeness in families .
  • Cholesterol is a result of over-indulging in fatty foods. Clutter is a result of over-indulging in stuff.
  • Cholesterol causes arteries to harden. Clutter causes hearts to harden.

Clutter’s main sustenance is chaos.
When you are running around your home searching for something in all the mess, clutter is celebrating with a feast. Trying to find a document on your desk is not fun for you, but clutter begets clutter. You end up making an even bigger mess during the search.

Clutter loves ignorance, because you know no other way to live.
If you did, clutter would not have a home that provides it with all the undivided attention that you give it. You have never enjoyed a peaceful afternoon without clutter vying for your every thought and deed. It knows that if you ever feel once ounce of peace, you will tell it to hit the road, because that peace is contagious.

Go to http://www.flylady.net to learn about babysteps and starting the Fly Lady program if you are interested. (it’s free, and it has helped thousands and thousands of people!)

Inspirational Quotes:

Learn to get past some of the imperfections
-it’s ok to make mistakes.
“You don’t have to do a perfect job,
“Just a good enough job.”
-Dr. David Tolin, Compulsive Hoarding expert

It all depends on whether you have things, or they have you.
-Robert A. Cook

You can’t have everything, where would you put it?
-Steven Wright

If Nothing Changes, Nothing Changes.

One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach.
One can only collect a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few.
-Anne Morrow Lindberg

Change your thoughts and you change your world.
-Norman Vincent Peale

Alone you can do it.
But it can’t be done alone.
-Sandra Felton, Messies Anon. Founder,  on support

The only way around is through.
-Robert Frost

There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist,
or accept the responsibility for changing them.
-Dr. Denis Waitley

In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing.
The worst thing you can do is nothing.
-Theodore Roosevelt

People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself.
But the Self is not something that one finds.
It is something one creates.
-Thomas Szasz

The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.
-William Faulkner

I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.
-William Ernest Henley

A man can get discouraged many times but he is not a failure
until he begins to blame somebody else and stops trying.
-John Burroughs (1837-1921 Author)

Your life is filled with possibility.
Reach high, look forward and never give up.
The world is waiting for you.
-Marian Wright Edelman

There are many ways of going forward,
but only one way of standing still.

-Franklin D. Roosevelt

Abundance is not something we acquire.
It is something we tune into.

-Wayne Dyer (American Author)

Not what I have, but what I do is my kingdom
-Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881 Scottish Author)

To wish you were someone else is to waste the person you are.

Long-range planning does not deal with future decisions,
but with the future of present decisions.
-Peter Drucker

Striving for excellence motivates you;
striving for perfections is demoralizing.
-Harriet Braiker

Every really new idea looks crazy at first.
-Alfred N. Whitehead

The past does NOT equal the future!
It is the moment of our decisions that our destinies are created!
-Anthony Robbins

Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.
-Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931 Lebanese Poet)

Begin somewhere. You cannot build a life
on what you intend to do.

-Liz Smith

We must all suffer one of two things:
the pain of discipline or the pain of regret or disappointment.
Jim Rohn

The valor that struggles is better than the weakness that endures.
-George Hegel (17701831 German Philosopher)

Every accomplishment begins with a decision to try.
-Edward T. Kelly

Want is a growing giant whom the coat of Have was never large enough to cover.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

What would life be like if we had no courage to attempt anything?
-Vincent Van Gough

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again, expecting a different result.
-Albert Einstein

Don’t let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put
that passing time to the best possible use.
-Earl Nightingale

It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare,it is
because we do not dare that they are difficult.


Effort only fully releases it reward after a person refuses to quit.
-Napoleon Hill

Real success in life means the individual’s conquest of himself; it means how he has bettered himself not how he has bettered his fortune.
The great question of life is not “What have I?, But What am I?

-William George Jord




Would you change? (D.Austin)



Permanent link to this article: http://childrenofhoarders.com/wordpress/?page_id=1871

  • Grateful soon to be ex-hoarder

    Awesome advice thank you.

  • Rating and is a measure of hoarding 5 item semi-structured interview, which can also be used questionnaire. The questions include five questions about the mess , and the difficulty of rejection , and excessive acquisition and distress caused by hoarding and resulting weakness . Preliminary studies indicate that we have a score of 14 or higher indicate a potential problem of hoarding.