Loved ones find it particularly difficult to deal with compulsive hoarding in the people they care about. You can see so clearly that there is a problem, but the nature of hoarding is such that the hoarders really don’t see an issue with it; in fact, they may even defend their behaviour as proper and prudent. Consequently, these folks are generally not very likely to want to change or get help in any way.
Therefore, it can be a real chore to just get these folks to the point of accepting intervention. It’s not surprising that it’s hard to get people to change when they don’t want to change, as it’s tough for us to break habits even when we want to. In this instance, it’s especially difficult because you can’t really justifiably assert that they are a threat to other people or themselves, so you can’t really force them to get help. There are times when you can compel forced intervention by third parties. If things get so out of hand, then landlords can try to have tenants evicted who are not keeping up the property. Sometimes you may even have the Board of Health get involved to clean up a property that is a health concern in a neighbourhood. Hoarding food is a particular behaviour that can really lead to some of these hazardous levels of conduct.
Significant health problems can result when people amass such a food-based collection of garbage. As you can imagine, the primary issue has to do with them attracting pests. It’s essentially a foregone conclusion when people are hoarding food. What happens is that the people hoarding food are so determined to keep food that they will end up holding on to things, even if they are expired, and they just keep this stuff and eventually can no longer even keep up with it. Not surprisingly, this is the ideal buffet for rodents and insects to dine on. Living around a bunch of rat and mouse faces is not exactly healthy, and there are times when the infestation gets so bad that people can be attacked by the intruders. In Chicago, there was a couple hoarding food that was literally buried alive in their food-ridden home and when they were extracted from their residence it was discovered that rats had been biting on them!
Not to despair, there are some useful ways that we can start to support and align with folks who are hoarding food in an effort to help them face the reality of their hoarding. To be successful at it, it’s important to remember certain key facts in the back of your mind and have your conversations grounded in these principles if you want the best shot at reaching people who are hoarding food. One of the first things to remember is that you cannot argue with them, and doing so will make them your adversary. Do this and they’ll be so defensive that you’ll probably never be able to reach them. Note that they are inclined to think that hoarding food has some pragmatic benefit, so you are already trying to overcome what they see as rational.
There are some general key insights into what people who hoard are usually thinking that can be helpful. Hoarders are generally of the mindset that they are holding on to things of value. Some may even think that they can sell their stuff at some later date for profit. Other items may have sentimental value or represent a beloved friend or family member. The take home message here is that if you minimize the stuff they are collecting, you may be indirectly attacking the people or memories the stuff stands for.
A real important factor when confronting people who are hoarding food is the fact that they may have been hungry as a child, or somehow had to go without food or enough of it. Or, they may have even been unable to find work and take care of themselves by providing ample food. One sign you’ll see is that they are exceptionally enthusiastic about food that’s on sale, and may feel especially good about having saved money. This really helps you understand how easy it can be to find yourself in an argument since these are dicey areas. Anyway you can show some indication that you can understand their feelings will help. Note that you are not necessarily indicating that you agree with them hoarding food, but rather that you are a listening ear.
At the end of the day, it’s really important that these folks are ultimately entitled to handle things the way they want to. Therefore, we cannot force them to change and cannot barge our way into their lives unless they are a threat to themselves or others. We actually gain some ground when we talk about the fact that we appreciate their freedom to choose hoarding food. At the same time, it’s tricky because they are exercising a right to make choices when they are really not in control over their actions.