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Hoarders keep more than garbage

Updated on August 2, 2016

Therapy and medication needed to help disorder

An elderly Chicago couple were found barely alive buried under the debris they had collected and hauled into their home.

A Chicagoan was found dead, crushed under garbage he had collected in his home.

Another froze to death in the garbage in his home. Rather than paying his heating bill for two years, he has reserved his small pension to feed an ever growing number of cats living in and around his home.

A Cicero, Illinois man died after being overcome by smoke in his front hall vestibule. While he was only inches from his door, the garbage piled up against it made it impossible to open. And fire blocked his only other exit.

News media today, as well as a t least one cable television network, have shown us a glimpse into the world of those who compulsively hoard anything and everything. But this problem, usually confined to the elderly, is neither new nor glamorous.

And most often, deadly.

Hoarding is believed to a type of mental illness, related to obsessive compulsive disorders. Therapists believe suffers have experienced a great or traumatic loss, causing them to cling obsessively to all remaining ite3ms, no matter how significant, to reduce the likelihood of suffering another separation. But while separating may have been homes lost in fire, loved ones lost to divorce or death, the items kept appear to the average eye to be small and disposable.

Years of magazines build up in case are article is needed.

Mail cannot be discarded for fear of the loss of valuable information. However, that does not mean the mail it either opened, or responded to. A few years ago, the Illinois State Treasurer’s office contacted a woman when it was determined that hundreds of thousands of dollars in abandoned bank accounts were left to her. After several pieces of mail were returned to the state, a worker was dispatched to check the location. The woman kept mountains of mail in hundreds of brown paper grocery-store bags and inside books. Workers took weeks to examine each item to locate thousands of checks hidden within them.

Some hoarders keep clean things, creating clutter, blocking doors and windows, but avoiding the odors that often alert neighbors.

Others keep garbage, used pots and pans and share their homes with rodents and other vermin. As debris overflows, stench grows, and hoarders, who fear discovery and the loss of their belongings, seal themselves, regardless of outside temperatures.

Friends, neighbors, sometimes even family members are unaware of the hoarding situation. Hoarders use a variety of excuses to keep visitors outside their homes. One situation was discovered when an elderly man collapsed of a stroke. His wife called paramedics, who bodily carried out of the home, not only the man, but also woman who was screaming and thrashing to return inside.

Public health officials, responding to the fire department’s horrifying report, found heaps of trash over 6 feet tall. A small passage from the side door allowed a visit to walk to a bedroom. The living and dining rooms were long since impassible and the homes only bathroom was filled with garbage. The couple were using a commode in the bedroom for toileting and disposing of the contents into plastic milk gallons stored in the basement. While public health officials declared the home uninhabitable, it came to light that the couple had made a small living making and selling sandwiches to the neighborhood workmen.

Another kind of hoarder keeps living things, dogs, cats, birds, so many so that funds barely feed the animals and any attempts to clean up after the animals has long seem fallen to the wayside.

Animals aren’t allowed to use the yard for housebreaking purposes, as hoarders fear neighbors will recognize the extent of the pets. Some see themselves are rescuers, others as lonely and building a family.

When animal control officers finally remove the animals, it is most frequently found that many are in poor health; cross bred with other family members, and must be euthanized to be put out of misery because of bad care and lack of nutritious foods.

When hoarding situations are identified, the most common reaction to for society is simply to clean up the mess. And while that does address the public health aspect of these situations, it doesn’t impact the underlying root cause of the disorder.

One man requested county workers bundle the debris into black bags to be placed in a barn until a truck could be arranged so items could be hauled away. When workers returned a week later, all of the items had been removed from the barn, removed from the bags and returned to their places within the home.

In another case, feral cats had been so encouraged to hang around a farm that it became unsafe for humans to enter the surrounding woods because of emboldened coyotes looking for a free meal. The sounds of cat fights punctuated the air at all time of the day and night.

And government intervention to resolve the situation usually pushes the mentally ill hoarder deeper into secrecy.

While some hoarders, like the3 woman who was discovered with her stash of checks, are able to get safe placement in facilities, resplendent with clean bathrooms, fresh beds, regular meals and medication and access to counselors, others live out their lives in debris, embarrassment and denial.

Reminded that her 12 year old son had been removed from her home because of the garbage, one woman said, “Yes, I remember. He went to live with relatives because we didn’t have air conditioning.”

Only the same amount of time that it took to build the pile of trash will be required for therapy to remove it.


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      kburton 6 years ago

      Very informative and eye opening.