Hoarding disorder is a serious health issue, not just for the hoarder, but for their friends, families, and communities. About 4-14% of Americans are diagnosed as hoarders, with factors being either genetic or a result of learned behavior. Although it can develop at any age, hoarding tends to manifest most in older adults, around the ages of 65 and up, as a result of trauma, depression, dementia, or schizophrenia.
Because many hoarders do not picture themselves as such, it can be hard to address the problem.
Furthermore, because hoarders feel an extreme attachment to their personal belongings, it can be difficult to gain their cooperation during a cleanup. However, due to the potential health, financial, and legal risks of hoarding, the problem needs to be confronted. Knowing when – and how – to stage a hoarding intervention will help to increase the likelihood of success.
How to Identify if it is Hoarding?
It is important to know the difference between a simple messy home and a true hoarding situation. The defining characteristics of hoarding are an obsessive need to collect items, extreme difficulty organizing, and a strong, often distressing aversion to throwing things away. The uncontrollable urges to collect will be present in a hoarder even when they do not have the space to access or display the new things they are acquiring. Similarly, hoarders will combat discarding their belongings even when the items are broken, soiled, or otherwise completely unusable. There are 5 levels of hoarding, each with their own unique symptoms that get more and more severe as the levels increase. Odors, unsanitary conditions, and overwhelming clutter will affect hoarders to varying degrees, depending on the level of hoarding. When hoarding gets out of hand, entire parts of the home can become inaccessible, and there will be no rhyme or reason whatsoever to the way things are arranged. This can be extremely dangerous to anyone living in the home, and in many cases it can affect those in the surrounding neighborhood as well.
Why Hoarding is a Public Safety Issue?
Although at a glance it might seem like hoarding only affects the hoarder, the effects of hoarding can put the health and safety of the public at risk. The unsanitary living conditions of a hoarder home can attract bacteria, viruses, and disease that can be incredibly dangerous to anyone who enters the home, and these illnesses can then be spread to others. Fall risks also increase in hoarder homes, as there are no clear pathways, and an abundance of things to trip over. This clutter can become a fire hazard, and in a state of emergency the condition of the home can put emergency services at risk, or make it impossible for them to enter the home in order to provide life-saving care. Bug and rodent infestations can grow so large that the pests invade the homes of nearby neighbors, and the poor sanitation could affect the air quality and pleasantness of the entire neighborhood around the home. For all of these reasons, code and/or law enforcement might get involved, leading to serious financial and legal trouble.
How to Stage a Hoarding Intervention
Staging an intervention might become necessary in the event that the hoarding disorder begins to negatively impact the life of the person hoarding. Because of all of the risks present in hoarding situations, it is natural for friends and family to feel inclined to get involved. However, it is essential to confront this situation with care, compassion, and a solid understanding of what exactly hoarding is. There are several reasons for this. First and foremost, it is incredibly important to always get the consent of the person you are trying to help, before making any decisions about their belongings – even when the answer seems completely obvious to you. Any forced clutter cleanup will simply distress your loved one, and likely result in more compulsive collecting and hoarding. Gaining the cooperation of a hoarder is key to minimizing the effects of hoarding disorder and getting healthy habits to stick. In addition to this, hoarders might become combative, stubborn, or difficult when having to discard something, even if it is for the best. Being prepared to deal with these challenges with patience, compassion, and kindness will help you to stay calm and make progress, and it will help your loved one feel supported during a difficult time.
Planning your Approach
1. Assess the situation. Understanding different types of hoarding, risks, behaviors, levels, will help you to develop a personalized plan. Assessment is always the first step in determining what exactly is needed for a hoarding cleanup, so that you can be prepared for anything.
2. Identify what type of hoarder the person is. Hoarding disorder is used to describe anyone with an unhealthy compulsive collecting habit, but there are actually many different types of hoarders that can be identified by what they accumulate the most. Knowing the kind of hoarder you’re dealing with will help you decide on the best approach for cleanup.
3. Create a reasonable timeframe. Having deadlines will stop you from getting overwhelmed, or experiencing tunnel vision that might distract you from accomplishing the next task. For example, if the whole cleanup will take 3 days, designate a few hours each day to junk removal, and another few hours a day to actually organize each room.
4. Proceed with the decluttering process. Once your goals and deadlines have been decided, it is time to begin planning out the decluttering process. Having a designated sorting, keep, and discarding area will make it easier to streamline the cleanup. Make sure that once it is decided to discard something, there is no second guessing.
Create a Decluttering Process
Clutter cleanup is a multi-step process. Below are 10 simple things that you can do to make decluttering and organizing as easy as possible during a heavy duty hoarding cleanup.
1. Visualize the End Result. This step harkens back to the assessment and goal setting of the plan development stage. Picture how you want the space to look at the end of the decluttering, make sure everyone agrees, and then stick to it.
2. Give Each Room a Purpose. Another important aspect of planning is deciding what each room will be for, and then designiting corresponding items for that purpose. Create zones in each room, such as “workout area” or “reading area” this way all items will be given a proper home.
3. Gather and Prepare Storage Containers. These containers will not be used to hoard more junk, but as a functional workspace where belongings can be sorted through. Designate containers for things like “keep” “discard” “donate” or “sell” so it is easy to wrap things up later.
4. Supply Check. Make sure you have everything you need, such as cleaning supplies, rubber gloves, and other items that will make tackling on-the-spot dust and grime possible. We also recommend a mask or bandana to cover your mouth and nose, to protect from dust and mold.
5. Choose where to Begin. Knowing where to start can be the hardest part of a clutter cleanup, as everything can be visually overwhelming. Pick which room is in the worst condition, or which area of the home bothers you the most, and work in order from there.
6. Decide on a Schedule. Pick what time you will begin, and make sure you arrive accordingly. Then, decide what rooms will be cleaned at what hour. Another thing to consider is what time the local trash and recycling centers close, so you don’t miss a beat during junk removal!
7. Out with the Old, and Nothing New. Do not under any circumstances bring any new items into the home until all of the clutter has been removed. Although it might seem like it could help, introducing new belongings will only slow down the decluttering process.
8. The 90/90 Rule. This tip helps with making tough decisions about items we might have become particularly attached to. If it has not been used in 90 days, and will not be used in 90 days, it is safe to say you can get rid of it.
9. The 20/20 Rule. Another great help with decision making that mitigates the fear of needing something in the future but not having it. If the unused item in question can be replaced within 20 minutes or for under $20, agree that it can be discarded and purchased again if need be.
10. One thing at a Time. Don’t rush. Trying to tackle everything all at once will lead to more overwhelming stress and confusion. Stick to your plan and go room by room, deciding on one item at a time until everything has been given proper attention.
Prepare a Storage System
Creating a storage system will help keep you organized throughout the decluttering process. It will also help your loved one to practice better decision making habits to curb their compulsive collecting right away. As mentioned earlier, having bins that are clearly marked can help the cleanup stay on track, as there will be no second guessing what is staying and what is going. Once the first room is cleared out, carry away all items meant to be donated or discarded before beginning in another room. This way, you will not simply be churning the clutter around the house until the end, and the gratification of progress can be felt right after the completion of each step. This will be a big motivator, especially in longer cleanups.
Contact a Professional Hoarding Cleaning Company
Hiring a hoarding cleaning company can always enhance your options for a successful clutter cleanup. Not only can a professional help to guide and advise your clan, but they can provide the manpower to get a lot done in a much faster amount of time. Now that you have an idea of what you would like to accomplish, and how you would like those things to get done, you can work with the hoarder cleanup professional to achieve those goals and get outstanding results. A hoarder cleaning expert will come prepared with solutions for all of your needs, foreseen and unforeseen, and they will help you to make the best decisions possible for the resources you have available.
For large junk removal days, a professional will come prepared with their own vehicles to haul it all to a facility, so you can stay with your loved one and help out where it matters most. A professional will also know how to best handle the situation should your loved one start to feel any distress, or become overwhelmed. Hiring a professional hoarding cleaning company will give you the ability to put your best foot forward during your intervention, and to get the best results possible as you help your loved one reclaim their life.
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How Can a Concerned Neighbor, Friend or Family Member Intervene
Because hoarding disorder is a mental health issue, the best thing that a concerned neighbor, friend, or family member can do is to show the person they are trying to help compassion. Let them know that they are not under attack, but that the people who care about them the most want to see them live happier, healthier lives. If your loved one is receptive, try to help them understand how their current lifestyle is putting them at risk, and talk about ways in which they can make their life safer. Suggest that they take a self assessment test, so that they can determine for themselves what issues they would like to be resolved. Although the end goal is to get them to throw things away, try to focus on how making better decisions will improve their quality of life. Listen to their concerns, and always treat them with respect. They will likely have a strong attachment to their belongings, and it is your job to offer them support while they work through letting go.
After gently expressing your concerns, start a conversation so that you can both come up with a plan of action together. It is important to have your loved one’s consent and cooperation throughout. Although not all hoarding situations require emergency responders, it is usually beneficial to bring on some level of professional help to oversee the cleanup. Make sure you get your loved one’s permission before bringing anyone into the home, unless your loved one is in immediate danger and 911 services are needed.
Our 7-Step Hoarding Process
At Hoarders911 we put almost 3 decades of experience into developing a plan to encompass all of the needs someone doing a hoarding cleanup might encounter. This all inclusive process is designed to be custom tailed to anyone’s unique situation, and we hope it will give you some insight as to what you will need to be prepared for a successful hoarding intervention and cleanup.
1. Assessment. Just as in the plan you will develop, our first step is to always assess the situation, and create a checklist of every aspect that needs addressing. This will include the size and amount of clutter, how badly the home is affected, whether or not there are any infestations or structural damage, and the overall goals and deadlines for the cleanup.
2. Clutter Cleanup. Once the analysis is complete and a plan has been developed, our experts will begin sorting through the clutter, working with you and your loved one to decide what stays and what goes. Our trained professionals will back everything up and haul it away in a single process, saving you time and energy as well as protecting your privacy.
3. Professional Organization. With what items are left after the cleanup, we will help you designate homes for everything, and put it all away. Ensuring that everything that is kept has a functional, accessible home immediately after cleanup will help to reduce chaos and clutter in the future. It will also help teach your loved one the skills they need to overcome their hoarding disorder.
4. Pest Control. Because the clutter that accumulates in hoarder homes can often breed bed bug and rodent infestations, we decided the best way to serve our clients was to handle everything all under one roof. We come prepared with non-toxic pest control solutions to streamline the hoarding cleaning, and protect your health and safety in the process.
5. Painting & Repair. Sometimes during a hoarding cleaning you might discover a wall that needs to be patched up, or other minor damages. Not only do we come ready to perform such minor repairs to your home, we will completely transform it with a fresh coat of paint. At the end of the service, your loved one’s home will look brand new.
6. Restoration & Construction. The rigorously trained professionals at Hoarders911 do not stop at minor fixes within the home. If more intense structural damage has been sustained because of the hoarding, we will work with you to develop solutions to recover the home, as long as it is considered legally salvageable by the experts.
7. Heavy Duty Cleaning. To ensure that your loved one’s home is not simply recovered, but that it is fully transformed, our hoarding cleanup team will execute an incredibly detailed deep cleaning service. The home will be diligently scrubbed from top to bottom. This process ensures that we leave your home in its peak condition, and that every inch is certified by an expert.
The Importance of Aftercare
The love and support that you give your loved one should not stop after the first signs of a successful hoarding intervention. It took time for this situation to develop, and it will take time for your loved one to unlearn the habits that created it in the first place. Seeking therapy after an intervention can help your loved one to hone the skills they began learning during the cleanup, and keep them on track when the distress of discarding so many of their precious belongings set in. But, they will need your continued support as well. Check in and let them know that you care, and that you are there for them. Help them to maintain a clutter free environment and ensure they do not begin compulsive collecting immediately after the cleanup. As with any mental illness, the symptoms will not go away overnight, it takes work. It is just as important to be compassionate in these moments as it is during the cleanup. So, remember that your loved one is working hard to change their life, and be there for them every step of the way.
Confronting your loved one about their hoarding disorder can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. With a thorough understanding of how hoarding disorder works, and a lot of compassion, you can play a big part in helping someone recover from a severe mental illness. Because hoarders tend to live in isolation, they often do not get the help that they need. But with your patience, understanding and support from your loved one can lead a happy, healthy life once again.
Remember to assess the situation, and plan ahead as much as possible. Doing so will help you to stay calm when challenges and difficulties arise. Do not spring an intervention on an unsuspecting person, but instead gently let them know your concerns, and that you would like to help.
Call in professional help to guide you whenever possible, and stay by your loved one’s side before, during, and after cleanup to help make the transition as easy as possible. If your loved one is struggling with a hoarding disorder, consider calling Hoarders911. Our experts are available 24/7 to provide judgement-free solutions for all of your needs.
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