How to help a hoarder and his wife in Henderson, NV?
February 26, 2011 4:09 PM   Subscribe

How can I help my female relative who lives far away from me (NV) and is married to someone who is becoming a hoarder?

A close female relative's husband has developed a habit that I think may be considered hoarding. He has always been one to save every last bite of food, toilet paper rolls, empty pill bottles. . . but has begun saving hobby materials, seeking them out (like at thrift stores and sales) and bringing them home to stack up. Dirty dishes are stacked up in the sink and available surfaces that are not in the kitchen. Their house is bursting and on a recent visit, another relative said it was difficult to get doors open and that the living room had become masses of stacks. It's bad.

My female relative has never mentioned any concerns about this behavior, but she does not spend much time at their home these days. She struggles with a learning disability and "organization" herself and keeps personal issues really private. She is a public employee and works with children and parents, so I imagine she spends a lot of effort keeping this all a secret.

What can I do to help? My female relative doesn't know that I know what's happening and specifically asked others not to mention the state of their housekeeping to me. No one in our family has money to spare or can afford to take much time off of work to go to Nevada.

Appreciate any suggestions the hive can provide. I understand that this is a situation that can get worse--and become dangerous quickly--and am not sure what to do.
posted by Kalatraz to Human Relations (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
She struggles with a learning disability

Does she have any kind of formal support for this? Because if she does, that person/those people would be an appropriate resource to organize interventions.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:31 PM on February 26, 2011

Sadly, if your relative is an adult, and not a dependent or vulnerable adult (disabled or elderly), there's not a lot you can do. Be there for her, be a listening ear, offer to help her clean house if she needs it or pay for a cleaning service, but there's only so much adults can do for other troubled yet independent adults. Unless there are kids or animals at stake, in which case you can try to get in touch with the appropriate Social Services or Animal Control department (local to her).

It's good of you to want to help, and if she is actually being abused, or in danger of becoming homeless (the Department of Health has condemned her place or something) you can offer to help her with moving out on her own or even shelter her in your spare room if you can.

You might want to check out Randy Frost and Gail Steketee's book Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:31 PM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would consider calling local (to her) social services. You can leave anonymous tips about adults in danger; what you're describing is (at minimum) a fire hazard and probably a violation of health and safety codes.
posted by SMPA at 4:33 PM on February 26, 2011

Best answer: Considering that she didn't want you to be told about the issues in the house, you're just going to get her angry at whoever did tell you if you speak up about it. If she hasn't asked for help, and she's not in danger, I don't see how you can really intervene here.

The fact that she didn't want people to tell you also makes me think that maybe she does see a problem developing, but isn't ready to ask for help. What I would do is strengthen your relationship with her; show her that you're someone she can trust, someone who cares for her, so that if and when she's ready for help, she'll come to you for it.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 7:10 PM on February 26, 2011

The line between being a hoarder and a slob is fuzzy. I too would suggest dropping a dime to the local social service authorities. Using a phony story to keep everyone's lies intact. "I was dropping off flyers and happened to see in the window..." kind of thing.
posted by gjc at 7:11 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Nthing the above, and emphasizing that most of the time hoarding is an almost impossible to change behavior. Even if it were practicable for you to do so, unlikely that a one-time trip where you show up on their doorstep would resolve the problem, even if they let you in. At least in my one-time experience, and I suspect this is typical, intervention provokes anger - possibly a great deal of it.

But perhaps the relative who has seen this first hand could ask your female relative if it's ok to put social services onto the problem; the husband wouldn't have to know what got the ball rolling.
posted by Kevin S at 9:26 PM on February 26, 2011

I think WorkingMyWayHome is correct: from a distance, and with limited resources, the best thing you can probably do is try to build your relationship with her without bringing up the hoarding. When (if?) the time comes that she realizes she needs to ask for help, you'll be there for her.
posted by Neofelis at 10:05 PM on February 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ah! Hoarding....

Well, my first suggestion is understanding what the disorder is, be in from its wiki page or from the more involved clinical websites. Look at different causes, since its a form of compulsive behavior, people get real defensive even talking about it.

Next, do they rent or own? If you decide that interfering is the best solution, you might get in touch with their landlord, s/he might be in better condition to decide what an appropriate method of dealing with this situation may be.

Additionally, if and when it gets really out of control, it becomes a public safety issue, therefore a number of local agencies can get involved (sanitation, building code violation, neglect of people animals, fire hazard, etc). A simple google search will bring up a list of these for their county, and you can dial and explain the situation about particular dangers he is posing to his neighbors/family/pets/himself.

It's not a pretty situation, but it can be manageable, even from afar. Exercise your judgment first, of course, and see if meddling in this case is necessary to begin with. Good luck.
posted by mooselini at 10:55 PM on February 26, 2011

Best answer: Does she have children? More and more, Child Protective Services is considering certain hoarding behaviors a form of child neglect or abuse. They might be able to force a clean-up if there are children in the home.

Same goes for Adult Protective Services. They're dealing more and more with hoarding behaviors since the advent of the show Hoarders. If the husband has created fire hazard, or a situation where people can't get out of the home if a fire occurs, they might intervene.

Now, bear in mind that the above are solutions for the house. They aren't behavioral solutions, and the ultimate goal is to get the husband to change his behavior. If the behavior is intercepted early enough, a shock to the system delivered by CPS or APS may make him change his behavior, or at least seek counseling for it.

Building the relationship with your female relative is a good start, but bear in mind that she may not open up to you, because hoarders tend to be very controlling and manipulative and get their spouses and/or children to keep the secret. Take the advice in this post to nurture your relationship with your relative and show that you're there for her.

Read this book: Digging Out: Helping Your Loved One Manage Clutter, Hoarding, and Compulsive Acquiring by Michael A. Tompkins. This is an excellent book, written specifically for the spouse, family, and/or loved ones on how to deal with the hoarder in your life who does not and will not accept that he's a hoarder. It's not a book on "organizing tips" or anything for people who are merely disorganized. This book actually gives you a plan for communicating with your hoarder, identifying issues, working on your relationship with your hoarder, and in general coaxing your hoarder to a healthier way of doing things. You might be able to share some of the techniques with your relative.
posted by magstheaxe at 10:20 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you to all for helping me think through this. . . not sure what (if anything) to do just yet but excellent food for thought here.
posted by Kalatraz at 8:37 PM on February 28, 2011

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