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Understanding Hoarding and How to Help a Hoarder Cleanup

 (modified Jan 8, 2020)

Hoarding is classified as a mental health disorder, according to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic. Hoarding disorder is defined as a persistent inability to discard or part with possessions. A person unable to discard items has a perceived need to maintain possession. Indeed, an individual with hoarding disorder experiences what can be profound distress even at the thought of parting with these items. These items can be nothing more than trash, things having absolutely no value.

Over time, an excessive accumulation of items occurs. In the end, the accumulation of hoarded items ends up taking over a hoarder’s residence.

If you have a family member or other person in your life that you believe is suffering from hoarding disorder there exists, a comprehensive strategy you can employ to assist with the situation. The strategy aids you to come to an understanding of hoarding as well as to develop viable tactics to assist a hoarder in gaining control and cleaning up his or her residence.

Overview of the Dynamics of Hoarding Disorder

As noted a moment ago, the comprehensive strategy to assist a person with hoarding disorder is to develop a meaningful understanding of the dynamics of hoarding disorder. Coming to an understanding of hoarding disorder is a multifaceted process that begins with understanding the essential symptoms of the condition.

Symptoms of Hoarding Disorder

A part of piercing beyond the shroud of secrecy likely maintained by a hoarder, there are specific symptoms associated with hoarding disorder that you should be able to identify, according to Psychology Today. You must take care not to confuse a disorganized individual, or even a sloppy one, with an individual suffering from an actual case of hoarding disorder. The primary symptoms of hoarding disorder include:

  • Excessive acquisition of items for which a person has no need and for which there is insufficient space to stow
  • Profound and persistent difficulty in throwing away or parting with items in any manner, no matter the actual value
  • Growing inability to make decisions
  • An oftentimes overwhelming need to hold on to these items
  • Exhibition of procrastination
  • Difficulties with planning and organization
  • Demonstration of fear, anger, or other heightened emotions at the thought of discarding items
  • Clutter accumulates to the point that ever-increasing areas in a residence become unusable

Results of Hoarding Disorder

The results of hoarding disorder do not develop overnight. Rather, the results of hoarding and become more severe over time. With that noted, the primary results of hoarding disorder include:

  • Growing social isolation, including from family and friends
  • Expanding stacks or piles of items, including newspapers, clothing, books, knick-knacks, food and even trash
  • Items or possessions begin to clutter and crowd walking spaces and living areas, spaces gradually becoming unusable
  • Over time, key spaces in a residence become unusable (a hoarder will be unable to cook as the kitchen and appliances become unusable; a hoarder will be unable to bathe or appropriately engage in other personal activities as the bathroom becomes inaccessible)
  • Items, particularly trash, food, and even human and animal waste, accumulates to unsanitary levels
  • Growing problems functioning and tending to the basic tasks of daily living
  • Growing conflict with others, particularly family members and close friends

Common Risk Factors for Hoarding Disorder

Each individual who ends up afflicted with hoarding disorder experienced a unique pathway to the development of hoarding disorder. There are a trio of primary factors that appear to most commonly contribute to an individual becoming diagnosed with hoarding disorder.

First, an individual might have an emotional or mental disposition to become a hoarder. A person might have a temperament or personality that is inclined to procrastination and intensiveness. In addition, a hoarder may suffer from depression or some type of anxiety, including post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Historically, hoarding was classified as a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Within the past generation, hoarding was classified as a disorder separate from OCD, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Second, a person who develops hoarding disorder likely is an individual with family members who have suffered from this condition. In the alternative, even is a person with hoarding disorder lacks a family member with that condition, he or she may have relatives who suffer from profound procrastination or indecisiveness.

Finally, a person who experiences hoarding disorder may have experienced a particularly stressful life event. Examples of stressful life events that are associated with hoarding include:

  • Death of a loved one (particularly a spouse)
  • Divorce
  • Eviction
  • Loss of possessions (particularly in a fire)

A Look at Pet Hoarding

Sadly, pet hoarding is a more commonplace problem than even mental health professionals and others can quantify. As the moniker conveys, pet hoarding involves the unhealthy accumulation of animals. Of animals hoarded in the United States, the most common are cats. Dogs are in second place.

Animal hoarding is not confined to dogs and cats, however. Animal hoarding has included rodents, farm animals, bird, and others.

Pet hoarding results in unsanitary circumstances in a residence. A hoarder who collects pets ends up with a house strewn with feces and even the rotting carcasses of dead animals.

A couple of key points need to be made in regard to pet hoarding. First, the hoarder very well may have started the process of accumulating animals for laudable reasons. For example, he or she may have begun the process by retrieving animals from a shelter. Second, a pet hoarder is not likely to see the harm that comes to animals in a hoarding situation. An animal hoarder is likely to view his or her self as a savior and not engaged in something that brings harms to pets.

The process of assisting a pet hoarder can prove to be more challenging than is the case of dealing with a hoarder of items. Health risks are more profound. Remediation of the hoarding scene is more substantial and complicated. (A professional hoarder property cleanup specialist is vital.) In fairness to them, the welfare of the animals involved in the hoarding situation must be taken into account. In the end, hoarded pets are innocent victims themselves.

Steps to Assist a Hoarder Take Control of Home and Life

When you reach the juncture at which you are certain a person in your life is suffering from hoarding disorder, you face an even more daunting challenge. You undoubtedly want to assist a hoarder in your family or among your friends in gaining control over his or her life – and that can prove to a challenging endeavor in a variety of ways.

As you move towards taking tangible steps to assist a hoarder you need to understand that a person with this disorder requires professional assistance in two primary areas. First, a hoarder must have professional mental health assistance. The stark reality is that a person with hoarding disorder who doesn’t obtain appropriate mental health assistance but has his or her residence cleaned up will carryon with hoarding in well over 90 percent of cases.

Second, a hoarder requires professional assistance from a qualified, experienced, compassionate hoarder property clean up specialist. As noted previously, and will be discussed in detail shortly, hoarding can result in a residence being left in unsafe, unsanitary, and dangerous condition.

Experts have identified seven elements of a comprehensive strategy to help a hoarder take control of life and home. These are:

  • Reach out and listen to a hoarder without judgment
  • Present multifaceted assistance options to hoarder
  • Develop comprehensive action plan with hoarder
  • Engage other professionals
  • Gradually commence clean declutter process
  • Recognize hoarder as final decisionmaker
  • Develop strategies to prevent hoarding in the future

Reach Out and Listen to a Hoarder without Judgment

Once you believe you’ve identified hoarding symptoms, behaviors, consequences in the life a loved one, you have reached a juncture at which you can consider initiating steps to assist that individual. The first step in the process is to reach out (gently) and listen to the hoarder without judgment.

Listening intently without judgment is extremely important when you initially reach out to an individual afflicted with hoarding disorder. If you succeed at gaining a hoarder’s trust, you will be able to make suggestions to that person – again, without expressing judgments about the individual or his or her situation in the process.

As a final note on reaching out and listening to a hoarder, as well as gaining his or her trust, bear in mind that this process may take time. Remember: a person did not become a hoarder overnight and resolving the situation will not happen quickly.

Present Multifaceted Assistance Options to Hoarder

Once the trust of a hoarder is gained, you reach a point at which you can present to the individual a variety of multifaceted assistance options for the hoarder. As has been discussed previously, these assistance options need to include such things as:

  • Therapist our counselor
  • Physician
  • Professional hoarder property cleanup specialist
  • Professional organizer
  • Your own assistance
  • Assistance of other family or friends

Develop Comprehensive Action Plan with Hoarder

Once different assistance alternatives have been discussed and considered, the next endeavor is to work with the hoarder to develop a comprehensive plan of action. This needs to not only be comprehensive and cover all aspects of taking control and cleaning up a residence, it needs to be detailed and in writing.

You might even want to consider devising a structure for the action plan that renders it something like an agreement made between you and the hoarder. In this way, the document can enumerate what both you and the hoarder are committed to do, how it will be done, and what rights each of you have in the process. For example, the hoarder has the right to be the final decision maker. You have the right to leave the process if the hoarder consistently fails to follow through on commitments that individual makes.

Engage Other Professionals

A short list of professionals that commonly are retained to assist with a hoarding situation were enumerated a short time ago. Once a specific action plan is devised and put into effect, the time for engaging professionals has arrived.

One of the first professionals to get on board is a therapist or counselor who is versed in assisting people with hoarding disorder. This professional represents an important team member when the process of decluttering and cleaning up the residence commences.

A hoarder property cleanup professional should also be retained at this juncture as well. The role of a hoarder property cleanup professional is examined in greater detail later in this guidebook. Engaging an organizational specialist can also be helpful in laying a foundation to avoid the reoccurrence of hoarding behavior in the future.

Gradually Commence Declutter Process

Your initial inclination may be to make arrangements for a professional hoarder property cleanup specialist to arrive at the hoarder’s home and remediate the situation thoroughly and quickly. As much as this may seem to be the logical course to take, when it comes to a hoarder it’s entirely wrong.

The hoarder must be directly involved in making decisions about how the declutter and cleanup process will proceed. You must always bear in mind that parting with items accumulated in the residence will be remarkably challenging for the hoarder.

One way to ease a hoarder into the declutter and cleanup process is to create a staging area in which items can be removed from the house and stowed for a period of time. This permits a hoarder some breathing room to get comfortable with the idea of permanently eliminating items from the house.

Many successful hoarding cleanups begin with taking on one room initially and before moving elsewhere about the residence. This establishes a defined goal, the accomplishment of which will be readily seen by all involved in the process.

As order slowly is restored to the residence, a hoarder will be able to not only see light at the end of the tunnel and get used to getting rid of items that have not real value or use, he or she will also be able to see the benefits of having access to more of the residence.

Recognize Hoarder as Final Decision maker

Throughout this guide, reference is made to recognizing that the hoarder has be placed in the position of being the decision maker when it comes to addressing a hoarding situation and undertaking a cleanup. This bears repeating as one of the key elements of the overall process to assist a hoarder in gaining control of his or her life and to accomplish a thorough cleanup of the home.

Develop Strategies to Prevent Hoarding in the Future
A therapist or counselor, as well as an organizational professional, can assist a person who hoarded into developing strategies and practices to prevent this from happening in the future. The assistance of these professionals may be necessary for a more extended period of time. Again, as has been noticed before in this guide, a person didn’t develop hoarding disorder in a short period of time. Breaking the binding ties of hoarding disorder can take a period of time to complete.

Safe Cleanup of a Hoarder’s Residence

Earlier in this guide, reference was made to the fact that as a hoarding situation progresses, a residence becomes not only untidy but unsanitary and dangerous. Over time, due to the accumulation of everything from rotting food to human waste, biohazardous conditions develop on the premises.

Biohazards are dangerous pathogens that can cause severe illness and even death when contact is made with them. The reality that a hoarder ran the risk of being exposed to these pathogens in his or her own would be compounded if untrained people took it upon themselves to clean up the residence.

Special techniques, equipment, and tactics must be utilized to thoroughly and safely cleanup up biohazards as hoarding scene. As a result, the hoarder, the team assisting in the process, and others are best served by hiring a skilled hoarder property cleanup professional. Not only does a biohazard remediation specialist with experience in hoarder property cleanup have the resources to conduct a thorough cleanup, a professional undertakes the process in a safe manner.

Other Resources to Help You Help a Hoarder

There are other resources that may prove helpful to you when faced with the prospect of assisting a hoarder. You should consider seriously availing yourself of all of the resources that seem appropriate to the particular situation you confront.

A growing number of communities have been active in developing support services to assist hoarders and well as their family members and others in addressing a hoarding situation. For example, some communities have established hoarding task forces. These groups typically consist of different governmental agencies, private organizations, professionals, and community volunteers. Examples of agencies, organizations, and individuals that can be part of a hoarding task force include:

  • Professional hoarding property cleanup services
  • Mental health professionals to work with a hoarder
  • Adult protective services
  • Child protective services
  • Animal welfare organizations (if pet hoarding is an issue)
  • Organization hoarding specialists
  • Support groups for family members of hoarders

Information on what might be available in the way of a hoarding task force, or similar entity, typically can be obtained from a city or county government’s online directory or a county health department.

Hoarding Therapists and Counselors in Southeast Louisiana

Anita Lopez
Metamorphosis Counseling
2302 Government Street
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70806
(225) 240-1551

Amy Stevens
Brightside Counseling Services
1651 Lobdell Ave, Suite 203-B
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70806
(225) 341-8312

David Walton Earle
Metamorphosis Counseling
10802 Landsbury, Suite B
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70809
(225) 627-8491

Emily Hausladen
Metamorphosis Counseling
2133 Silverside Drive, Suite G
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70808
(985) 267-0587

Robin Toler
2303 Government St
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70806
(225) 399-4192

Susan D Vos-Dupree
10431 Siegen Lane, Suite 103
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70810
(225) 263-6807

Courtney Sykes
1651 Lobdell Ave, Ste 203B
Baton Rouge, Louisiana 70806
(225) 399-4168

Kelly Sincavage
12320 Hwy 44 Suite 3D
Gonzales, Louisiana 70737
(225) 681-3407

Suzanne A. Chabaud
OCD Institute of Greater New Orleans
315 Metairie Rd, Suite 200
Metairie, LA 70005