If your loved one has hoarding tendencies, it can be an emotional and challenging time for everyone involved. Cleaning can seem like an impossible task, especially when discarding items can turn into a highly emotional situation for the hoarder.
Hoarding, often considered an obsessive compulsive disorder, occurs when a person’s home becomes so cluttered that it impacts a person’s life and health. It’s estimated to affect up to 6 percent of the population, or 19 million Americans.
The first step in helping your friend or family member is to consult with a mental health expert. When it becomes the appropriate time to help a hoarder clean, below are 5 tips to assist with that process.
Tip 1: Assess The Situation
As you begin, assess the hoarding situation first. You’ll need to ask yourself some questions to determine which course of action is best. Questions may include:
Is the home filled with some excess clutter, or is there a greater problem?
Are walkways blocked by clutter where it creates a safety hazard?
Are there health issues in the home caused by the clutter and lack of cleanliness?
Is there damage to the home?
Are there pest or animal control issues?
Are there biohazards, such as blood or feces, apparent?
Does the hoarder realize there is a problem and want help?
Answering these questions will help you determine what assistance you may need while cleaning a hoarder’s home, such as specialty cleaning services to address the biohazards or home repair services if there is damage.
Read our article, Understanding the 5 Stages of Hoarding, to help determine the severity of the hoarding disorder.
Tip 2: Protect Yourself
Before you begin to clean, it’s important that you and everyone assisting wear personal protective equipment (PPE). Depending on the seriousness of the hoarding situation, you may need advanced equipment to ensure you do not expose yourself to biohazards.
This is an important tip not to overlook. Cleaning up a hoarder’s home may expose you to dangerous health hazards that include E.coli, Staph, mold spores, Salmonella and raised ammonia levels. Examples of PPE you may need include:
Glasses or goggles
Boots and shoe covers
It’s also a good idea to have a first aid kit, flashlights and hand sanitizer handy. Using personal protective equipment should be a priority throughout the cleaning process.
Tip 3: Form A Strategy
Knowing where to begin will give you more confidence as you start cleaning and is a great tip as you embark on this extensive hoarding cleanup. Here is an example of where to start:Begin With a Staging Area
Create some open space that can be used as a staging area. In this space, you will temporarily put contents from the hoarder’s home so you can better assess the items. You’ll also need to clear an open path to this space.Start Small
Begin with a small room to minimize feeling overwhelmed. Often, it’s best to start with a bathroom since in severe cases of hoarding, bathrooms are seriously neglected and need a deep clean. As you clean the rest of the home, you’ll also need access to running water and soap. However, leave spaces that are designed as storage areas, such as closets or garages, for last. These typically are overflowing with items and will be challenging to organize.
Get Rid of Trash First
Throw out any trash in the room first. This includes garbage and items that are too dirty or damaged to keep. Put aside items that should be recycled or dropped off at designated locations, such as medications and oil-based paint.Begin Sorting
Once you have discarded trash, it’s time to begin sorting. One room at a time, take each room’s contents to the staging area you created earlier. Separate them into groups with similar items. This allows you to see how many of one item you have. Pick the one you want to keep and donate the rest. The exception to this may be sentimental items such as family heirlooms or artwork. However, helping people who hoard decide what is truly sentimental may be the biggest challenge.Deep Clean
Once the living conditions are free of clutter, a deep cleaning process can begin. Many professional cleaning companies will provide services if the clutter is removed, making this part of your strategy easy to accomplish.
Tip 4: Support The Hoarder
As you begin the cleaning process, it likely will be an emotionally exhausting journey for the hoarder. Let your loved one know you are there for support - before, during and after the cleanup. Offering support will make the cleanup process go more smoothly, though it’s important to brace yourself for what likely will be a challenging situation.
Also, remember not to:
Make fun of the hoarder or show anger during the cleanup. Neither will make any headway with the hoarder, who likely will be very sensitive during the cleanup.
Downplay the importance of the hoarder’s belongings. Remember, the hoarder has been living this way for a while, and each item likely has sentimental connections, no matter how outrageous it may seem to you.
Ask why they hoard. In many case, a hoarder doesn’t know why or how his situation has gotten so out of control. Some may struggle to even see there is a problem.
Tip 5: And, Support Yourself
While your focus likely will be on your loved one and the hoarding problem, it’s important to support yourself through this process as well. A lot of work - physical and emotional - goes into hoarder cleaning. Some hoarders aren’t ready for the process, and need extensive counseling from a mental health professional before beginning.
It’s also okay to reach out for help yourself. If the hoarding situation is too large and beyond your capability, reach out to hoarder cleaning professionals. They have the knowledge and expertise to handle all of the cleaning issues that come with hoarder houses and will offer support throughout the hoarding cleaning process.