Everyone’s home becomes messy from time to time, but knowing when a living space crosses the line into hoarding can be difficult.

Hoarding occurs when a home becomes so cluttered that it negatively affects a person’s life and health. Hoarding, often considered an obsessive compulsive disorder, is estimated to affect up to 6 percent of the population, or 19 million Americans.

But, how do friends and family know when a loved one has a hoarding problem or is developing hoarder tendencies?

Here’s what you need to know about the 5 stages of hoarding to help you identify whether a loved one has a hoarding disorder and what the severity of it is.

To view an infographic of these 5 stages, click here to view below. 

Hoarding Level 1

At this stage, family members may not be able to recognize that their loved one is experiencing hoarder tendencies. The household environment is considered standard, meaning:

  • 5 stages of hoardingEntrances and exits are accessible.

  • Household appliances are functional.

  • There may be some clutter, but it’s not excessive.

  • Surfaces are typically clean.

  • The health of the resident isn’t outwardly affected by the surroundings.

  • The resident still invites family and friends inside.

Bottom Line: You may notice some clutter, but overall, it isn’t impacting how the home is used or the health of the resident.

 

Hoarding Level 2

At this stage, hoarding tendencies become more obvious to a visitor. You will notice there is less attention paid to housekeeping, and clutter is beginning to overtake the home. One room may even become a dumping ground.

Other items you may notice include:

  • The family member or friend is becoming more withdrawn from interacting with others, and instead finds more comfort in his or her belongings.

  • One major exit may be blocked in the home because of an excessive amount of belongings.

  • Some plumbing or electrical systems may not be fully functional, or a major appliance may no longer work.

  • Odors may be present, such as from dirty dishes that have piled up or diminished sanitation facilities.

  • Whether the resident is taking medications properly is questionable.

Bottom Line: The resident may be aware of the clutter and even embarrassed it, causing them to feel anxious or depressed. Walking through this home may require light personal protective equipment (PPE) as well. This is an important stage for intervening and seeking help, since beyond this stage it becomes more difficult to convince the loved one to accept help.

 

Hoarding Level 3

There is no question there is a hoarding problem at this level. Clutter has begun to overtake the house, and even moved outdoors. Areas that are normally free of clutter, such as hallways or stairwells, now are at least partially blocked.

The house also features:

  • 5 stages of hoardingBroken HVAC systems that have not worked for longer than a season;

  • Several non-functional appliances, non-working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and possible structural damage;

  • An excessive number of pets, beyond what typical municipalities allow in their codes of ordinance;

  • At least one room not being used for its intended purpose, such as a bedroom or even a bathroom;

  • Hazardous substances in small quantities; and

  • Heavily soiled areas and sanitation problems.

Bottom Line: The resident likely will experience hygiene issues, and possible health issues from the environment and not eating well. Your loved one may also become defensive if you try to help. A heavier type of PPE is recommended when entering this home, such as gloves and respirator mask.

 

Hoarding Level 4

At this stage, the welfare of the resident is at a critical level. The home has become dangerous because of hazardous conditions that include mold, structural damage to the home and bug infestations. Other conditions at this level include:

  • Excessive outdoor clutter

  • Damaged walls and water-damaged floors

  • Poor animal sanitation

  • Rodents and excessive spiders and webs

  • Several rooms cluttered and impassable

  • Appliances used inappropriately, and kitchen no longer functional

  • Rotting and expired food

  • No linens on the bed

Bottom Line: Your loved one’s health may have declined sharply as well, and may even have stopped bathing altogether. Full PPE is advised at this point, including respirator masks, disposable coveralls and safety goggles.

 

Hoarding Level 5

Level 5 is the most serious stage of hoarding. In addition to the conditions outlined in Level 4, someone experiencing this level of a hoarding disorder is likely at rock bottom.

  • shelf-3190116_1920No room is used for its intended purpose.

  • Animals are at risk to one another and to people because of stressed behavior.

  • Broken plumbing, electrical and septic systems have made the home inhabitable.

  • Primitive sources are used for heating and lighting, such as candles or kerosene lamps.

  • Severe mold and infestations are causing health issues to the resident.

Bottom Line: Loved ones who are experiencing this level of hoarding also may have serious depression, and daily basics such as eating and sleeping are difficult.

Understanding The 5 Stages Of Hoarding

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Overview

This hoarding scale takes into consideration several aspects of what a hoarding situation may look like. This scale is intended as an assessment tool only, and not as a diagnostic tool for psychological evaluation.

Hoarding can quickly go from Level 1 to Level 5, if a family member or friend does not receive help. Understanding where you or a loved one falls on this scale may help you take the first step toward getting needed help.

It is important to intervene prior to getting to Levels 4 and 5. That is because it is at this point where health and safety become an issue. Often neighbors will complain about odors, excessive pets, and/or pests.

And, you definitely do not want to have to deal with a legal order, if you don’t have to.

But in the event that a legal order does become a factor for you or a family member, you must call in an expert for help. Look for one that has experience, will respond quickly and can help you navigate the legal process.

You can learn more about hoarder disorders and hoarder cleaning services that help families in a dignified and respectful manner.

 

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Renee Garcia

Renee Garcia

Renee grew up working in her father's cleaning business. With over 40 years experience and a passion for helping others, their family-owned business now focuses on specialty cleaning services for senior downsizing, hoarder homes and solar panels.

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