Senior Hoarding Issues: When They Can’t Let Go

Senior Hoarding Issues: When They Can’t Let Go

Senior Hoarding Issues: When They Can’t Let GoAll too often, adult children of hoarding seniors enter their parents’ home to find loads of dirty laundry on the floor, stacks of mail, expired food, and many other unusable items. The rooms have lost their usefulness because they are packed with unneeded items—often in stacks several feet tall. From your shocked point of view, it seems illogical that someone would want to live in all the clutter.

Before beginning the struggle of helping them part with the junk, take a moment to look at it from their perspective. Understanding where they are coming from is half the battle. Let’s examine a few reasons many seniors can’t or won’t let go of the junk.

It’s Overwhelming

Think about this, as people go through life, they obtain items through shopping, presents, or they might pick up something (like flyers or pamphlets) while they’re out and about. Then you have mail, garbage, recycling, dishes, and other neglected household chores or items that collect on a daily basis. Eventually, this leads to stacks of stuff sitting around gathering dust and taking up space. Something that used to be a small hurdle suddenly becomes an unsurpassed mountain.

Such a large undertaking may overwhelm and exhaust seniors who may be struggling with larger issues. If there have been recent changes in their health, then they may feel incapable of doing it alone. Others may not know where to start, so putting it off or ignoring the problem is an easy way of avoiding the headache of handling it. Tip: Offer to help them. Start by breaking up the tasks into smaller ones and only in one room at a time.

Sentimental Attachment

Many seniors associate a memory with each item they keep. However for a hoarder, every item that comes into their possession has sentimental value—even something as simple as a stack of magazines. If you suggest that they clean and get rid of some of their items, they might become defensive over the reason they have it in the first place. Tip: Suggest they keep small scraps to create scrapbooks to keep the memories alive and cut down on the clutter.

Guilt or Fear

Guilt is a common feeling seniors have when confronted with the realization that they need to get rid of some of their things. Perhaps if they get rid of a gift that was given to them, they will offend the gift giver. This goes along with their fear of the unknown. Sometimes seniors wonder what is going to happen if they get rid of their things. It’s almost as though they are parting with a little bit of themselves. It can be frightening to let go. Tip: Suggest sending their unneeded items to someone who could use them. If they feel that their items are going to help others, then that might help ease their fears and guilt.


It’s common for seniors not to receive many visitors. For numerous seniors, their social life tends to dwindle at different points in their lives. To make up for the lack of company, they start to collect items to replace people. Unfortunately, this can transform into obsession and more clutter is needed. Tip: Suggest that they become more active at a local senior center or maybe send a personal caregiver to visit every day if you can’t be there.

If you need additional help with someone who is struggling with hoarding, contact Kendall Van Blarcom today for personal consulting services. He understands what it’s like to help someone with hoarding because he has worked with many seniors who are dealing with it.

Get the help you need, so you can help the senior in your life.

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Kendall E. Van Blarcom, Psy.M.,