Moving is stressful, especially for Seniors, but when that person is also a hoarder, it’s especially tough. Hoarding is defined as an excessive, guarded accumulation of possessions, an intensely emotional attachment to things that most others see as trivial. It can isolate a person, lead to unsafe living conditions, and damage family relationships. There are no easy solutions in a move of this type, but there are some steps you can take that may help make downsizing a hoarder a little easier on everyone involved.

  1. People who hang onto belongings have a real fear of change, and they need reassurance that their things, which are often their identity and security, will be safe. Therefore, before you begin packing, take photos of each room or area. Let them know you are doing this in order to have a complete inventory of their possessions so nothing gets missed or forgotten. If they are willing, include them in the picture.
  2. Schedule extra time to listen. As with all of us, being heard and acknowledged will help ease anxiety. Even a haphazard box stuffed with miscellaneous things may have a story behind it, so ask him or her how they happened to collect a particular type of item or what it is about that collection that makes him or her feel good.
  3. I almost never recommend putting things into storage to sort through “later”, but in the case of a hoarder, it may be the only option for items that aren’t needed and won’t fit into the new space. It is usually too stressful for most hoarders to consider letting go of anything while also dealing with the stress of moving.
  4. When packing, if the person is not willing to throw things away that are obvious junk or trash, pack them together in separate boxes marked in a special way, such as “Misc.+”. Decide what is the best thing to do with these boxes based on how big the new space is, what is truly needed and how much space is available for storage.
  5. Manage your own expectations. Hoarding is a legitimate affliction, one that is hard to overcome. Your job is not to fix the person, but to mitigate the worst of the mess while transitioning him or her to a better environment.
  6. Hire a Senior Move Manager or Professional Organizer if at all possible. It is truly the single best strategy to help an elderly hoarder pack and move. These professionals know how to work with individuals who are reluctant to move, and can often accomplish more than a well-meaning family member. Hiring an objective, experienced move manager will also ease the family’s stress and reduce family conflict.

When you are acting in a person’s best interests, regardless of their emotions, it’s your job to stay focused, have a plan and seek help from the person’s doctor, therapist and other professionals. By working together as a team, the adjustment to a new hone can be much more successful.