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Compulsive Hoarding: Many Families Lose Loved Ones to House Trash

Updated on April 7, 2015

Someone I Know...

This is in the basement. All of this stuff was destroyed by a pipe burst and now there is unhealthy levels of mold and mildew growing. The inside of the house is much worse!
This is in the basement. All of this stuff was destroyed by a pipe burst and now there is unhealthy levels of mold and mildew growing. The inside of the house is much worse! | Source

Sad But True

I was recently asked by one of my friends to help him clean out his mother's entire house. She has been Hoarding for over 30 years. After the death of her husband (1984?) she stopped throwing things out and constantly bought everything that was on sale.

The picture above was taken after I cleared enough room to get the basement cellar door open.

To make matters worse, there has been a steady leak of water in the basement so everything is moldy. Needless to say, I have to wear a respirator just to go down there.


Are You A Hoarder?

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The Hoarding Epidemic

Hoarding in America is becoming an increasingly dangerous trend. Many people are forced out of their homes because they are deemed unsuitable for human living conditions.

Compulsive Hoarding is also called Pathological Hoarding and results when someone has a psychological need to acquire and store things, even if it's unhealthy or unsafe. There are different kinds of hoarding, but basically, people are considered hoarders when they have so much stuff in their home that it is nearly impossible to get around.

Many Hoarders are aware of their situation but are reluctant to change it. Often times a psychological breakdown occurs when people aiding the effort begin to throw the hoarder's stuff out.

Although Compulsive Hoarding is not new, it has gained recent exposure nationally due to television shows that present the condition in real life on their shows. Some of these shows include A&E's Hoarders and TLC 's Hoarding: Buried Alive.

There are a lot of people suffering from this disorder. There is no way to count the actual amount of cases of Compulsive Hoarding there are because most hoarders keep to themselves. They become very lonely and often are widows and mothers who have seen their children grow up and move away. There is a psychological element to it where there is a deep desire to be private but not alone. They accumulate things to try to fill an empty void that they feel.

In some cases, intense psychotherapy can help a person with this behavior problem. The key factor in changing the behavior is the attitude and desire towards changing that behavior and accepting therapy and change. Some people will never overcome this disease. We read in the headlines about dead animals found in the house and unfortunately, many of these people succumb to their own mess. If that's not bad enough, when the person dies the family is usually help responsible for cleaning up or else the house could become condemned and property taxes accrue while the house just decays.

The point is, there are a lot of Hoarders out there and family members need to step up and try to get them help. It may not always work, but it is worth trying.


Is Someone In Your Family A Hoarder?

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How to Help a Hoarder

Ultimately, it is the person afflicted with this diseases' grasp that has to make the decision to clean up the mess. This is not an easy task and the person will need positive support from family and friends during this time of transition.

Often times family members of compulsive hoarders get a negative attitude towards the hoarder and this only adds to the psychological part of the disease. To be an effective supporter, one must understand that there is a lot more to this behavior than simply being lazy or careless. There is a desire to hoard that stems from the brain and the person can not help themselves.

The best thing a family can do when planning a major cleanup is to prepare themselves for the entire process. There is more involved than just going into the house and start throwing everything out. Remember, the hoarder has a personal attachment to every single item that they hoard. Be prepared for emotional breakdowns and a lack of desire to follow through with the project by the hoarder. After a few hours they may get very distressed and withdrawn.

It is highly recommended that the person who suffers from compulsive hoarding disorder seek psychological counseling while dealing with this issue. Often times the reason for hoarding is something deep within themselves and this needs to be recognized and dealt with by a professional.

Always use Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) to protect yourself from danger!
Always use Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) to protect yourself from danger! | Source

Starting the Big Cleanup Project: Things to Consider

Here are some things you should consider while approaching the hoarder and the cleaning process:

  • Be kind, patient and understanding. A supportive attitude towards the person will go a lot father than a poor attitude.
  • Have a meeting with all those involved and whenever possible, have the counselor on site at the beginning of the clean up.
  • Be prepared for set backs and let downs. This is a normal part of the problem and constant encouragement will help motivate the hoarder.
  • Use caution when cleaning. Many of these hoarding sites contain unsafe conditions including animal feces and carcasses, mold and mildew, rats and mice which carry diseases and a variety of environmental toxins.
  • Use gloves and Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) such as eye protection, breathing respirators and any other equipment as needed.
  • Never work in an environment that you don't feel safe in! If floorboards or stairs are rotted or in disrepair, consult a carpenter or engineer to see what can be done to improve the safety of the site.
  • Rent a large dumpster. Multiple dumpsters may be needed for large projects.
  • Take pictures and video of before, during and after. These photos will document the progress and can be used to reassure the hoarder in their times of regret.


After the Cleanup: What Happens Next?

The cleaning of a Hoarder's property may take several days to several weeks to complete. Remember, this hoarding behavior has been in effect for years so don't plan on getting everything done in a few hours!

After the cleanup is finished, make sure that the person effected by hoarding continues to see a therapist. Studies have shown that people who do not continue in treatment tend to go back to their hoarding behaviors in very short period of time.

Many times after everything is cleaned up, the hoarder can feel lonely and depressed. You may want to invite them out of their environment several times a week. That way when they return home, they can experience what it is like to walk into a healthy clean environment that is their own.

Family members should make frequent visits to the site and continue support for the person affected. If the person starts showing signs of going back to old behaviors, show them pictures of the mess at the beginning and the clean results at the end. Sometimes they need to be reminded of how bad things really were before they cleaned everything up.

Never give up on the people you love! Celebrate this milestone and show them how much you really care for them. Remind them that you care so much for them and that is why you helped them to clean up!


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    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      @Sinea Pies: This is very frighting! It happens to many people we know and sometimes we don't even realize it. When people lack mobility options, things stack up very quickly. Often times the elderly become victims of this behavior.

      I have an acquaintance that cleans out houses on the side and he has told me several stories of ridiculous packing and hoarding. It occurs more than we think.

      Many times when a person dies and leaves their packed house behind to their family members, the family has to spend a lot of money on the cleanup and it can be a very emotional time.

      Sometimes the houses are so bad that they are condemned as unsafe to live in. The only hope that people have if they are a hoarder is to seek professional help.

      Thanks for sharing your experience! I appreciate you stopping by!


    • Sinea Pies profile image

      Sinea Pies 5 years ago from Northeastern United States

      This is frightening. I can imagine how elderly people, especially, can get into this kind of mess, though. My husband was a real estate broker and one of the homes he was asked to list was part of an estate. The elderly lady who had lived in the house never threw out a newspaper or magazine for decades! It was a nightmare and her family was heartsick when they discovered how bad it had become.

    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Hello debbie roberts! There is a lot of this going around and it is very sad to see someone go through this. Some cases are just literally unbelievable. It is amazing that people can survive under these living conditions. Many times this behavior is caused or made worse after the loss of a loved one. The only way to help these people is to be supportive and consistent. Thank you for your insightful comment! I appreciate you stopping by!


    • debbie roberts profile image

      Debbie Roberts 5 years ago from Greece

      I watched a very sad television documentary recently about a man who hoarded to the point that he had to crawl across the rubbish in his house, it could be compared with a rabbit warren. He slept upright in a chair in a hole amongst the rubbish and barely ate. He knew he had a problem and needed help, but after his mother died he just got worse.

      In the documentary you saw his struggle and in the end with the help and persistence of fellow villagers he got most of his house and garden cleared. It wasn't easy for him or them.

      You are right when you say that we must try to help hoarders if we know of any, this man was the worst known hoarder in the UK and whilst he's not cured, he now has friends who try and keep his hoarding in check. A little patience and kindness can go along way and in the case of this chappie can make a big difference in the quality of life.

      An interesting hub.

    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      I am honored with your responses! I am so glad that this article has gotten some of you to think and change your own situation. Thanks for all the comments and I wish you the best of luck decluttering!


    • dilyana1976 profile image

      dilyana1976 5 years ago

      A very useful article! Recently I've been obsessed by the theme of decluttering my home and my life. Reading such materials, I feel more motivated and enterprising. I'm really grateful to you.

    • dilyana profile image

      dilyana 5 years ago

      Aren't we all hoarders in different aspects?

    • profile image

      Tim 5 years ago

      A great article. very useful.

    • profile image

      Valentina 5 years ago

      After watching shows about hoarders and reading such stories, personally I feel extremely motivated to declutter my home. I think it's healthily. Thank!!!

    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Thank you all for the insightful comments! I realize now how many people are truly effected by this behavior. I appreciate you stopping by!


    • alphagirl profile image

      alphagirl 5 years ago from USA

      sorry to hear. Perhaps she needs counseling. Some people have a real fear of losing everything. So they hang on to everything.

    • Jlava73 profile image

      Jennifer Vasconcelos 5 years ago from Cyberspace and My Own World

      Hi JS,

      My mother is a hoarder, I didn't realize it was a problem until she moved in with me after my Dad passed away. I could not believe the stuff she would keep and it drove me nuts. I think the "stuff" serves as a wall to keep people at a distance - at least in her case anyway. Sometimes upbringing plays a role as well.

      Great Hub!

    • smcopywrite profile image

      smcopywrite 5 years ago from all over the web

      hoarding is a mental health condition that must be dealt with. we had a hoarder family member that we constantly cleaned out her house and because she wouldn't follow through with her mental health therapy she simply continued to hoard. it's a catch 22 many times. you want to help them be safe, but you cannot make them get help.

      great hub and content. thank you

    • Jo_Goldsmith11 profile image

      Jo_Goldsmith11 5 years ago

      Really good topic. I watch the same shows that you talked about here. I think it is so sad that there are people that go through this. I wish there is a way we could partner these folks with one pet. Then maybe that will help fill their void. I voted up! Useful, awesome info and interesting! :)) shared on twitter & FB too

    • Camille Harris profile image

      Camille Harris 5 years ago from SF Bay Area

      I recently learned about hoarders in my Abnormal Psychology class. The DSM-IV-TR (current version) does not include a separate diagnosis for them, but the new DSM is rumored to be including a designation for these individuals.

      As you've stated above, many hoarders encounter a stressor such as the loss of a loved one that triggers this behavior. We recently watched a case where a woman completely filled her home with trash (none of the items appeared to be usable) and was forced to move into a trailer on her property. She began filling the trailer as well. Not just with trash, but with animals like chickens and goats.

      Her family staged an intervention and she became irate, then broke down when the professionals tried to take her animals to get them the care they needed. Turns out 6 of her 16 children died, and the remaining children were removed from her care for abuse and neglect. Her hoarding began soon after the children were removed.

      I think shows like "Hoarders" and "Buried Alive" are good because they bring mental illness to our front doors, so to speak. The people on these programs are suffering, and while we may initially find their behavior detestable, it soon becomes evident that they have very little control over their impulses to hoard.

      Anyway, great Hub and thanks for the Hub love!!

      Keep up the great work!

    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Wow, Holmes221b! That's disgusting and sad at the same time. These things do happen. What is really sad is that the neighbors became so desensitized to the smell that they never even thought to check on the neighbor. I appreciate you sharing your experience!


    • profile image

      Holmes221b 5 years ago

      I once had a job as a house clearer. One flat, where the resident had hoarded everything, including rotting food and even his own urine in bottles. Each room was full to the ceiling with rotting foul smelling rubbish. To make matters worse, the man who the flat belonged to had died and remained in his flat for over a month. It was only when the green slime started coming through the ceiling of the flat below that his neighbours called the police. They were so used to the smell, that his rotting body wasn't enough to bring what had happened to their attention.

    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Very good point mvillecat. Many hoarders hide their behavior behind closed doors mainly due to embarrassment. Many people with this disorder hold normal jobs and have normal friendships. Often times friends wonder why they are never invited to their house. Great point! I appreciate your comment.


    • mvillecat profile image

      Catherine Dean 5 years ago from Milledgeville, Georgia

      I am currently enrolled in a professional organizing course and I am dealing with hoarders in my work. It is a very sad condition which does not get enough attention from the medical community because these people are living so privately. Thanks! I voted up.

    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Hi ThoughtSandwiches! I can really relate to this too. I have almost every notebook from middle school and high school! I saved quite a few text books as well. I always think I'll need the information for reference some day. Funny thing is, I found some old essays and poems I wrote along time ago and turned them into Hubs! I guess that is me justifying my own version of hoarding! I appreciate your votes and comment!


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