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Digging Out: Helping Your Loved One Manage Clutter, Hoarding, and Compulsive Acquiring

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Many people who hoard understand the extent of their problem and are open to help. This book is not for them. Digging Out is for the concerned and frustrated friends and family members of people who do not fully accept the magnitude of their hoarding problem and refuse help from others. If you have a friend or loved one with a hoarding problem and are seeking a way to guide him or her to a healthier, safer way of life, this book is for you. In Digging Out , you will find a complete guide to helping your loved one with a hoarding problem live safely and comfortably in his or her home or apartment. Included are realistic harm reduction strategies that you can use to help your loved one manage health and safety hazards, avoid eviction, and motivate him or her to make long-term lifestyle changes. You'll learn how to handle a roommate or spouse with a hoarding problem, identify and work through special considerations that may arise when the person who hoards is frail and elderly, and receive guidance for healing strained relationships between people who hoard and their friends and family. Take heart. With this book as a guide, you can help your loved one live more comfortably and safely, salvage your damaged relationship, and restore your peace of mind.

208 pages, Paperback

First published April 1, 2007

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About the author

Michael A. Tompkins

23 books17 followers
Michael A. Tompkins, Ph.D. is co-founder of the San Francisco Bay Area Center for Cognitive Therapy, Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and a Diplomate and Founding Fellow of the Academy of Cognitive Therapy. He is the author or co-author of numerous articles and chapters on cognitive-behavior therapy and related topics, as well as six books. He is a certified supervisor for the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy and the Academy of Cognitive Therapy and serves on the Advisory Board of Magination Press, the children’s press of the American Psychological Association. He has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and on television (The Learning Channel, Arts & Entertainment) and radio (KQED, NPR).

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Displaying 1 - 28 of 28 reviews
Profile Image for Kylie.
91 reviews1 follower
January 10, 2010
Really, really useful for families of hoarders. My father is a hoarder and I found the information in this book to be very helpful in dealing with him. It's not like the TV shows that show just going in and throwing everything away; it deals with building trust and the long term. Those of us who have to deal with hoarders know that it can't be "fixed" in a day.

I passed it on to my sister since she is the one who lives closest to him and deals with the hoard on a daily basis. Hopefully she will find it as helpful as I have.
Profile Image for Holly.
4 reviews
January 5, 2011
Fantastic manual for family members and friends of hoarders. I really think that the "Harm Reduction" method is really the best approach to take with a loved one who has a long-standing problem with saving and acquiring.
Profile Image for Aphrael.
294 reviews2 followers
June 8, 2016
very focussed on severe hoarding and harm reduction. good tips on beginning and continuing the conversation, but stopped reading at the harm reduction plan
Profile Image for Paul P.
62 reviews
March 4, 2022
Provides a practical model for meaningful yet non-confrontational conversations with someone suffering from hoarding disorder (HD). Also focuses on negotiating and using a “harm reduction contract” to guide the reduction of items. Most surprised by the book’s challenge for the “helper” to view things objectively and to bring compassion to the interactions.
Profile Image for Jo.
755 reviews35 followers
July 2, 2021
tl;dr = It can't hurt to try it.

Full reaction = With this book, I feel that you really need to pay attention to the subtitle. The "digging out" part (AKA, the title) is all optimistic and sounds like freeing yourself from the burden of stuff. But the keyword in the subtitle is "manage." This book is about not trying to get your hoarder to stop hoarding. It's about how to get your hoarder to stop putting him/herself in danger with the hoarding. It's about how to hoard in a way that won't cause the hoarder to get buried in the stuff and starve to death. But when your hoarder talks about moving two states over in a year and a half because they can't afford to stay in their current home, but then does nothing to make that move possible, this book just incites despair. Don't get me wrong, "out of danger" is a great place to be. But this book is about keeping your hoarder where they are right now, not helping your hoarder MOVE.

Nothing said in this book was inherently wrong, as far as I could tell (since I'm not a mental health professional/hoarding expert), but there was a fair amount that I didn't want to hear. For example, the bit about forgiving your hoarder: The more they talk about letting go of resentment and bitter feelings, the more I felt resentful and bitter. Before reading this, I didn't even know I felt that way. Disappointed, sure. Tired, of course. But resentful? Bitter? News to me. (Though it does explain a lot about the chronic fatigue. Resenting is hard.) So now I have this whole new level of emotional turmoil to deal with.

Other things that are valuable advice, but I just don't want to do it:
- Create a harm reduction contract with your hoarder.
- Enforce a harm reduction contract with your hoarder.
- Revise the harm reduction contract with your hoarder.
- Call a bunch of people and try to get them to help with the creating and enforcing the harm reduction contract.
- Remove any belongings you may have in the home.
And put them where? Because I still live in the hoarding house. [Passive-aggressive rant about my morning removed because I am trying NOT to to be a passive-aggressive patootie-head.] I feel like that kind of situation wasn't really addressed. There was one bit about being assertive where it was, "[Hoarder relation], we agreed that you wouldn't store things in my room, and you broke your agreement. Please remove the newspapers from my bed before nine tonight or I'll move them into your room" (pg. 67). Otherwise, the book seemed to assume that the hoarder lives alone. Or possibly with another hoarder. But not with a (mostly) non-hoarding person who just wants to do stuff NOT on her bed once in a while. And definitely not with more than one (mostly) non-hoarding people who just want to eat breakfast at the same time.

Maybe it's (past) time to get back into therapy. Especially since my hoarder has clearly stated, more than once, that they will not go to therapy unless everyone they live with also goes to therapy. (This is a not-very-subtle hint, person who reads my reviews and also lives with me.)

So. Is this a good book for relatives/friends of hoarders who want to help their hoarder stay safe? Yes. Might it be a good starting place for even someone in my situation? Probably. Does it make me feel like this is a thing that can happen? Perhaps. Do I feel good about the future of the hoarding problem in my life? Abso-f*ckin-lutely not. But if you have a loved one who hoards, don't let my angst stop you. My hoarder and I probably don't have access to a support network like yours. I suspect that I'm diagnosably anxious. And I'm definitely stressed out and overwhelmed in non-hoarding areas of my life right now, so you're probably way better off than I am. And if you aren't, then you have my sympathy and maybe this is a good place to start.
Profile Image for Lauren Williams.
112 reviews2 followers
September 5, 2019
Digging Out: Helping Your Loved One Manage Clutter, Hoarding & Compulsive Acquiring by Michael A. Tompkins, Ph.D., Tamara L. Hartl, Ph.D. and Gail Steketee, Ph.D. offers a methodical, scrupulous, comprehensive and clinically-developed program for a support team to attempt to help a person with hoarding disorder clear his or her environment to an extent which will make that environment safe. The authors' guiding principle is that it may not be possible to ever convince a person with hoarding disorder to let go of even an insubstantial number of possessions or to stop acquiring unnecessary items. But it is often possible to persuade a person with hoarding disorder to clear his or her spaces such that they are safe(r). And that needs to be considered a success.

The protocols are designed with an assumption that the endangered person's team consists of family, perhaps friends and/or community members such as congregants of a church, and perhaps professionals like housing authority representatives or animal control officers. The authors underpin their understanding with a stipulation that these team members may have no practical training in therapeutic or conversational techniques which might make the discussions between members of the team (which must include the person with hoarding disorder) more effective or less-time-consuming. The authors are honest: the process will be painful. And, potentially richly empowering, fulfilling and healing.

And it starts with forgiving. The people who have been harmed by the person with hoarding challenges must forgive the person with challenges. The person who engages in hoarding behaviors quite probably has to forgive well-meant, poorly structured offers of and attempts to help. It was extremely startling to see the protocol in Digging Out include such a mission. And convincing.

Lauren Williams, Certified Professional Organizer(R), Owner, Casual Uncluttering LLC, Woodinville, WA, USA
Profile Image for Zen.
278 reviews
November 7, 2021
Digging Out presents some difficult and complex ideas to tackle a difficult and complex problem; hoarding. I think Tompkins and Hartl are realistic about the time and energy it would take to help a severe hoarder, and they emphasize that hoarding is something that develops and continues over a long period of time, therefore the interventions would also take a long time. Helping a hoarder is very slow going.

I think that while this book is well laid out, the approaches require a very high level of therapeutic communication ability that may be beyond the average person. These skills are taught to helping professions, and if you do not have that background, I think the chance of failure would be very high. The one thing that stands out with Tompkins and Hartl's approach is their emphasis on harm reduction. From my limited personal experience helping a hoarder, I think this is the only realistic way to tackle the problem. Focus on area's that are dangerous and don't worry so much about the rest. Also, keeping yourself healthy as a helper is a very good point because dealing with a hoarder is exhausting.
677 reviews4 followers
August 21, 2021
I started reading this book to see whether I might fit the profile of a hoarder. I found that I might have a tendency toward obsessive acquiring (mainly regarding books!). But this book is really about how to help "a loved one" manage their hoarding so that they can live (and stay) in their home in a safer environment, rather than to cure them of the hoarding. The scripted sample dialog meant to better help the hoarder seems a bit unrealistic-- isn't the hoarder going to be a little suspicious and say "why are you asking me all these questions that sound like a psychologist wrote them?" Nevertheless, a good way to start the process.
Profile Image for Kim.
7 reviews
April 1, 2021
This book is an excellent resource for friends and loved ones of those who are struggling with hoarding. The Harm Reduction Approach is one of the primary tools to work with those who have Hoarding Disorder, and is especially good for families and friends to have an easy-to-read tool book for that approach, like this one.
Profile Image for Sarah Fox.
290 reviews5 followers
September 29, 2019
This caught my eye in library as I was looking for books on hoarding and stuff. I recently moved to less stuff and dealt with parting with stuff. I also moved into shared housing and questioned others.
Profile Image for Kara.
554 reviews6 followers
March 31, 2018
Helpful in understanding why someone accumulates, gives ideas of how to help, and re-help, gives hope even after failed attempted.
Profile Image for Quek Liu Ting.
3 reviews8 followers
November 10, 2019
Practical steps for managing hoarding, written for hoarder's caregivers. Helpful for caregivers to have a better idea on the steps required to start managing hoarding. Written in US' context
Profile Image for Jennifer.
802 reviews41 followers
April 16, 2021
Honestly this could have been condensed into 40 pages. The basic message is focus on harm reduction rather than expecting your family member to suddenly change from hoarding to minimalism.
Profile Image for Hannah Daniels.
94 reviews1 follower
December 30, 2021
Great for families of severe hoarders in denial, not people who have clutter (those people aren’t hoarders anyway) or have been working on their stuff for awhile and have functional homes
Profile Image for Candace Haskell.
132 reviews2 followers
November 14, 2022
Excellent simple analysis of clutter/hoarding behavior of a loved one which helps the nonclutterer understand the psychology of the afflicted loved one. The authors give practical advice of how to manage the condition and prioritize health and safety for the loved one.
Profile Image for Laren.
490 reviews
February 6, 2015
If you have a loved one who is a hoarder, and you are wanting to help them with this problem, you should read this book early on while you still have the energy and drive to do so. When the problem has been evident for years and years already though, you may no longer have the patience to go through the entire process with your loved one because it isn't quick. As such, I can't comment on the value of, or the success of the plan as outlined. But if you fall into the latter category (even if you don't realize it until you read this book) you may want to read "Dirty Secrets" by Jessie Sholl to help you with your own insight into why detachment is a very valid personal choice in this situation.


Profile Image for Rosz.
54 reviews10 followers
September 25, 2018
Clear and helpful. This is one of the best books for helping someone deal with their hoarding tendencies, whether you are family, friend or service provider. It mainly talks about harm reduction and working with all the people involved. The main thing it does though is 'help the helper' understand the right approaches. It may help people develop better ways of dealing with their relationship dynamics and will certainly be an eye-opener to anyone who thinks they just need to clear the stuff to solve the problem. Touches on motivational interviewing to inspire which is a great strategy.
Profile Image for Anna.
64 reviews
November 30, 2013
By the time you get to the practical suggestions for helping someone with a hoarding problem, the author has you feeling so discouraged and that the effort involved is going to be too great and require so many years to accomplish anything, that you feel like giving up without even trying. I would skip reading the first couple of chapters and go straight to the plan of action! One might be more apt to try it that way first.
Profile Image for Mishqueen.
339 reviews34 followers
August 15, 2015
A very good reference for people dealing with a loved one with serious safety and health issues due to true hoarding. It addresses the ever-constant presence of strained relations and properly applies a high level of importance to that relationship.

I haven't had a client with this level of trouble, nor am I trained as a therapist. However, if I am ever asked for casual advice along these lines, I would feel comfortable recommending the family member to read this.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
Author 1 book7 followers
March 30, 2013
Loved this book. As a Professional Organiser, I found it a valuable tool not only for helping me deal with my clients, but helping those families that have a hoarder with very low insight and resists all help, despite the dangers they face. I'll be recommending it to anyone with a hoarder in the family.
7 reviews9 followers
March 6, 2011
it's a fine book, i just lost interest a few chapters in b/c the hoarder is an aunt/uncle and i think the problem is theirs for now. when it falls to the cousins, i'll have some background and hopefully can be helpful.
Profile Image for Eli.
24 reviews
March 1, 2014
This book really helped me understand what my grandfather (hoarder), my mother (compulsive acquiring, clutter) and myself (compulsive acquiring) have and are currently dealing with in our lives. I recommend it to anyone who is touched by hoarding.
Profile Image for Debra.
140 reviews
April 10, 2010
Written by a UCONN alumna. Provides helpful communication techniques and offers strategies for harm reduction. Gave me a new perspective to consider the situation.
Profile Image for Liz Voce.
24 reviews
June 27, 2012
A great book to help loved ones cope and deal with hoarding in the family.
Profile Image for Karen Kruzan.
Author 2 books1 follower
July 18, 2017
Great book for anyone trying to help a loved one who is in too deep. I recommend it every time I give a workshop or get a call from someone trying to figure out what to do. The authors are upfront about the complexity of the problem, what to expect when trying to address it, and the changes even the reader needs to make in order to have any progress.
Displaying 1 - 28 of 28 reviews

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