Cleaning a hoarder’s home can be an overwhelming process. That’s why knowing where to begin will help make the process more manageable and feel more attainable.
As the loved one of a hoarder, you want to make the home safe, clean and habitable. It’s an important step in helping hoarders who struggle with this obsessive compulsive disorder.
With any challenging process, putting a plan in place and taking one step at a time can help ensure the plan is completed successfully. Below we’ll help you get started with your plan to return your loved one’s home into a clean and safe environment so that you can then focus on helping your loved one get the additional help he or she needs.
Before You Begin
Before you begin cleaning, it’s essential to get organized. Everything you’re about to do involves working to rectify an extremely disorganized situation. If you begin going through a hoarder’s belongings with no plan in place, a successful ending is unlikely.
It’s important to get all the resources you need to be successful in place before you begin.
We strongly recommend consulting with a mental health professional, who can provide support throughout the cleaning process, identify the underlying cause for the hoarding and begin any treatment deemed appropriate.
Enlisting the help of professional hoarder cleaning services also will ensure a much smoother and organized cleaning process and can provide a number of resources, especially if the hoarding situation is severe.
Other assistance you may want to contact or have contact information ready including:
- Licensed exterminators
- Garbage bin rental companies
- Licensed contractors, including plumbing, electrical and appliance specialists
- City zoning officials
- Real estate professionals
Lastly, it’s important to gather any personal protection equipment you may need to protect your own health. Depending on the seriousness of the hoarding situation, you may need advanced equipment that protects you from biohazards, such as:
- Disposable gloves
- Dust masks
- Glasses or goggles
- Boots or shoe covers
- First aid kit
Once you have the above preparations in place, you can move on to the actual cleaning process.
Create A Staging Area
As you clean and go through a hoarder’s belongings, you’ll need to have an area where you can temporarily store items.
Find an open space that can be used as a staging area. In a less severe case of hoarding, this may simply be a clutter-free room. In more severe stages of hoarding, you may need to use an area of the yard, a garage or patio.
This space is where you will place contents from the hoarder’s home temporarily so that you can better assess the belongings. Make sure you have a clear, open path to this space to ensure efficiency and safety during the cleaning process.
Pick Your First Room
Choose a small space, such as a bathroom or a spare bedroom.
Getting one of these locations clean first provides additional benefits as well. As you continue cleaning, you’ll need access to running water and soap. Once clean, a spare bedroom could be used as a staging area that will be in close proximity to where you are working.
Do not choose a space that is designated as a storage area, such as a closet or garage, as the first room to clean. Save these for last. Although they may be small, they can be some of the most challenging spaces to clean since they often overflow with items.
Dispose Of Trash And Begin Sorting
Before you begin sorting through belongings, throw out any trash you see first. This will allow you to better evaluate and get a clearer picture of what belongings are in the space.
Trash should not only include garbage, but items that are too dirty or damaged to keep as well. Place items that should be recycled or cannot be disposed of in the trash aside, such as medications or oil-based paint.
Once you’ve removed trash, you can begin sorting:
- Take all the contents from the room to the staging area you created earlier.
- Separate items 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.
Sentimental items are an exception to this sorting plan. However, hoarders tend to have an emotional attachment to all items they possess, reasoning that the items still hold value, even if they are broken. This will present a challenge for you that you should be prepared for as you clean the space.
Deep Clean The Space
Once items are removed from the initial room you began with, a deep cleaning process can begin.
Cleaning a space thoroughly is especially important if you began the cleaning process in a bathroom since you will now access that area regularly. However, depending on the size of the home and the level of hoarding your loved one is experiencing, it may make more sense logistically to deep clean after several rooms or the whole house is empty.
Making a professional hoarder cleaning company part of your strategy can provide several benefits during this difficult process. Most importantly, a cleaning company that specializes in hoarding situations will be equipped to handle hazardous conditions that often present in hoarding cases.
Hoarder cleaning companies also can assist from the beginning, offering services and resources that include:
- Forming a cleaning strategy to designate what work will be done and when
- Arranging for equipment and supplies, including dumpsters and contractors
- Implementing the cleaning strategy to restore the home to make it safe and livable
- Deep cleaning health-related risk areas that require more safety precautions
- Removing items from the home, including trash, appliances, electronics, hazardous waste, yard waste and construction waste
- Helping identify and transport unwanted items identified for donation
- Helping with repairs to the home
- Connecting you with a network of professionals, including estate sale companies, licensed exterminators, city zoning officials and professional organizers
Although professional hoarder cleaning companies will advocate for your loved one’s interest, they also will remain neutral without an emotional attachment to the belongings - allowing the cleaning process to move forward efficiently and as quickly as possible.
When searching for a cleaning company that specializes in hoarding, make sure compassion, respect and professionalism are top priorities for any company you work with, since the process of cleaning a hoarder’s home can be emotionally-charged and difficult.
What Happens Next
Now that you’ve completed cleaning the first space, it will be time to move on to another space and repeat the process above.
Here are some things you’ll need to keep in mind as you proceed through the home:
Many individuals struggle to overcome their hoarding disorders. Setting up continued help with an experienced hoarder cleaning service is important since the company knows relapse can occur and will provide additional benefits as the hoarder’s journey continues. Check to see whether the company provides ongoing services, which can make it easier to get help next time.
Support the hoarder. This will be an emotionally exhausting journey for the hoarder. In addition to providing support, it’s important to never show anger during the cleanup or downplay the importance of the hoarder’s belongings. Neither will make any headway with the hoarder, who is likely to be very sensitive during the cleanup.
Support yourself. While your focus will likely be on your loved one, it’s important to support yourself through this process as well. A lot of work goes into cleaning a hoarder’s home, both physically and emotionally. Make sure you get the support you need as well during this difficult period.
Even after the cleaning process is complete, addressing the hoarding situation is not. Hoarding can be a lifelong struggle and one for which your loved one will need continued support.
That’s why seeking the help of a professional mental health expert and a cleaning company with extensive experience in hoarding cases is so critical. Creating a plan before you begin cleaning and taking advantage of the available resources will help keep the cleaning process on track and help provide a favorable outcome for both you and your loved one.