The medical community didn’t officially recognize it until 2013. That year, the American Psychological Association finally included hoarding on its updated list of mental disorders. If the condition affects someone you care about, dealing with it can be very difficult.
When you’re unsure about how to help a hoarder, where do you start?
A hoarder’s living space is often dangerous and unhealthy for the individual as well as those who want to help with hoarding cleanup. We see it on a regular basis through our restoration services here in Chicago and the suburbs.
Help With Hoarding Cleanup: 10 Steps That Make a Difference
Deciding on how to help a hoarder and improve the situation isn’t easy, so it’s important to take the right approach. Based on our years of field experience, we’ve developed the following guidelines that address both hoarder cleanup and the affected individual.
1. Be Prepared for the Worst
Sadly, hoarders tend to keep their disorder to themselves. Unless something prompts a visit from first responders or a landlord, hoarding can go on for years without detection. You may encounter an environment overrun with debris, fallen into disrepair and stacked from floor to ceiling with personal belongings.
2. Explain Why the Situation Is Dangerous
On your first visit, calmly explain different dangers in the hoarder’s home. Help the individual understand how accumulated trash and clutter encourage toxic mold growth, insect infestations and rodent invasions. Point out structural damage that can lead to rotted floors, crumbling walls and collapsed ceilings.
3. Get the Hoarder Involved
As you work on plans to help with hoarding cleanup, let the individual know that you want and value his or her input. Be respectful and compassionate. A hoarder doesn’t want to continue living in an unhealthy environment, but the situation seems overwhelming. Explain that by working together, you can make things right again.
4. Outline a Plan for Keeping and Discarding
Ask the hoarder to help develop a set of reasons for keeping or discarding items, and write them down as part of an overall cleanup plan. Establishing guidelines helps you both identify what can stay and what has to go.
5. Be Patient and Work Slowly
It takes years for the hoarder’s home to become so badly cluttered. It takes time to work through everything, so start with a small area. Be patient, tackle one room at a time, and ask permission as you move, store and discard items.
6. Have a Strategy for Trash Removal
The volume of debris, broken furniture and ruined belongings from a hoarder’s living space is usually too much for regular trash pickup. Some neighborhoods allow rented dumpsters on a property for extended cleanup situations. If this isn’t possible, consider hiring a private company to haul away trash.
7. Recognize What Can be Recovered
As you dig through years of accumulated items, understand that some things have strong sentimental value. Others can be restored and made useful again. The hoarder takes comfort in knowing that not everything has to go, and that makes the process easier on everyone.
8. Line Up Off-Site Storage
Most self-storage facilities offer inexpensive, month-to-month lease options. It’s often easier to work through the cleanup project when you can store large items off-site. Temporary storage also serves as a transition area. It helps the hoarder adjust to letting things go without a sense of total loss.
9. Hire a Professional Cleaning Service
As you and the hoarder begin making progress, suggest bringing in a professional cleaning service. Explain that their teams are specially trained and certified to handle unusual projects. If the property needs repairs, their work can restore the home, and they tackle big jobs like dangerously dirty air ducts and hidden mold growth.
10. Help Address the Disorder Too
Once the home is back in good shape, you still need to address the underlying condition that causes hoarding. There are many avenues available that can help affected individuals. A hoarder seldom explores these options, so put him or her in touch with local organizations and outreach programs.
When Are You Responsible?
Our guidelines are designed for everyone who wants to help ease a hoarder’s situation. If you own or manage the property, you may have to deal with additional considerations. While you’re responsible for keeping the premises safe, you must proceed in compliance with the Fair Housing Act.
Do your best to work with the hoarder, document your interactions, and consult an attorney who understands FHA compliance. Often, you can bring in a professional cleaning service and charge those costs back to the tenant. Eviction should only be considered as a last resort.
We Can Help
All across Chicago, hoarder cleanup poses challenges every day to so many individuals and families. If you’ve had any experiences with hoarding, join the conversation through our Comments Section. We always appreciate your input.
Our dedicated teams handle all types of house cleaning and hoarder junk removal in Chicago and the suburbs. It’s a difficult situation for everyone involved, and we understand. When you need discreet, compassionate help dealing with the effects of hoarding, please give us a call here at ServiceMaster Restoration by Zaba.