How to deal with a family hoarder


Some people are better at ditching their junk than others – if you have a problem with a family hoarder then read on.


It can be hard to let go of sentimental items and many people find year on year that their free loft space grows ever smaller as the pile of photo albums and souvenirs grows ever larger. Most people stop when they fill the available storage space but there are some people that just can’t seem to throw anything away – even when boxes and piles of magazines stop them moving around their home.


Fans of “The Big Bang Theory” are aware that Sheldon is a hoarder – but he takes a pragmatic approach and will rent self storage to deal with the problem. If that’s a solution your relative can live with then it’s simple – rent a unit and move the junk (sorry nostalgic knick-knacks) into cheap self-storage.


If that doesn’t seem like a long-term solution to you then apply the four bucket approach to sorting through the stuff. You are probably going to have to be strict and ruthless but it is often easier to sort a relative’s belongings than your own!


1. The Keep Bucket

This bucket (or box, bag or indeed bin) contains everything they actually need and use regularly. Decide on a sensible cut-off time based on the item in question. A pair of everyday trousers needs to be worn more frequently than an evening dress, for example.


When the bucket is full you need to find homes around the house for the items in it. Hang up clothes. Put kitchen gadgets away in the kitchen. Return tools to the garage etc etc


2. The Reuse Bucket

If the owner can’t use the item maybe someone else can. This is the bucket you fill with donations to charity shops, items you’ll try selling on or things to give away to friends and family. Those shoes that were always too high and that spiraliser that was used once are ideal candidates for this bucket.


3. The Bin (Bucket)

This contains everything that is neither useful to you nor useful to anyone else. Magazines from three years ago, interesting stones, that mouldy straw donkey from a holiday you taken thirty years ago. All of them should end up in this pile to be got rid of. Don’t forget to recycle what you can!


4. The Everything Else Bucket

Obviously there will be some things that your relative wants to keep because they are attached to them or they form part of the family archive. Photo albums and videos for example. There is no reason, once you’ve sorted through the majority, why you shouldn’t keep some special items.


If you are beginning to see the tidy house lurking underneath the messy one you could be extremely tempted at this point to send everything in the fourth bucket away to a cheap storage unit. You have to ask yourself, however, “if they can live without these items at home do they really want to keep them?”. If there’s any shred of doubt about whether to keep or not then it’s time to reassess if the item is in the correct place.

Julie Lord

I have a Masters degree in PPE (UK) and now research and write as a freelancer on a variety of subjects such as personal finance, home improvements and work-life balance.

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