Reaching out to a Person with Hoarding Disorder: False Starts Can Be Part of the Process

A couple of weeks ago we received a telephone call from man named Max in Colorado. He quickly explained that he was in search of a hoarder property cleanup service in the Los Angeles area. He went on to explain that he was long-time friends with a man named Frank who lived in LA and who explained the night before that he was laboring under a serious issue with hoarding. Max and Frank had attended college together some years earlier.

After talking to Frank, Max called a mutual friend who lived in LA, a woman who said she was aware of Frank’s issues with hoarding. She said that on a couple of prior occasions Frank had agreed to let her and a couple of other people come to his home and assist in bringing order to the residence. On both occasions, when the team of friends arrived at the residence, Frank refused to let them in. In addition, after the second visit to Frank’s home, he stopped talking to her. During the phone conversation, a decision was made that Max would try to coordinate getting a professional hoarder property cleanup service to Frank’s home because the man struggling with hoarding was at least communicating with him.

How the Man from Out of State Became Aware of the Hoarding Issue

Max was in somewhat regular contact with Frank, the man with a hoarding issue. Even with that contact, he did not know of the hoarding situation until the night in question. Max explained to me that he was on Facebook that evening and came across a post on Frank’s page that read like a suicide threat. After posting the thread, Frank wasn’t responding to anyone that replied to his initial statement. In addition, Frank wasn’t answering his home.

As a consequence, from his home in Colorado, Max called the police and asked them to perform a welfare check at Frank’s home, explaining the tone of the Facebook post made a short time earlier. When the police arrived at Frank’s home, the did find the man to be alive. Frank did not seem to be suicidal. What the police also discovered was a severe hoarding situation at Frank’s house.

With Max on the phone, the police indicated that they were going to contact adult protective services to ascertain if they might have services to assist Frank. Max indicated that he would work with Frank to get professionals to the residence to assist in cleaning up the accumulated hoard.

Frank would telephone Max one more time after the police left his home. During that call Max confirmed that he would seek out a reputable, professional hoarder property cleanup service in the morning and would visit with Frank again after at least some preliminary arrangements were made. Max contacted us not long after that phone call.

The False Start Hoarder Property Cleanup

During course of the day we received an initial phone call from Max about Frank, arrangements were made for us to go to Frank’s residence three days later to examine the premises and give those involved an idea of what would be involved in a property cleanup in this situation. Max had been able to restore connections between Frank and some of their mutual local friends – at least that is what Max believed. A couple of these people would join us at Frank’s residence for an initial inspection of the premises. There was a consensus among everyone – including Frank – that having familiar faces at the scene would be helpful to him.

When the day arrived for the initial visit to the property, we pulled into the driveway to find a couple of people standing outside the residence. It is rather common for people to be standing outside a house that is need of hoarder cleanup.

Getting out of our vehicle, I quickly learned that Frank was not opening the door. No matter what he agreed to several days earlier, he had no desire to permit anyone in his house that morning. The friends at the scene attempted to convince him to at least allow my crew the chance to take a look at the situation in the home. They had called Max in Colorado and had him telephone Frank to encourage him to continue with the process. Nothing was working. 

The man was communicating with his friends to some degree through the door. Evidently he remained standing on the other side of the door the entire time I visited with his friends. He finally said that we “needed to work this around his schedule,” which is in fact what we did that morning. In any event, after some extended back and forth, we all agreed we would reconvene at the home Friday morning of that week.

Before this scheduled time, Frank’s local friends made it a point to go to his house and visit with him in person. They reassured him that they would be present during this initial meeting at the house. They promised him that nothing would happen regarding removing and disposing of his items without his knowledge and approval.

I learned from his friends that by all accounts Frank was desperate to get his house cleaned and under control. He sincerely believed that the state of affairs at his home was destroying his life.

As we did a week earlier, we all convened at the residence only to find that Frank would not allow us to enter. Rather than a fairly civil conversation between the door, Frank screamed for us all to go away. He shouted that he would never talk to those people who were his friends and who genuinely were concerned about his wellbeing.

I could readily tell Frank’s friends were disheartened. I was able to share with them that helping a person who hoards could prove to be a challenging, extended process. I was able to tell them of success stories we’ve had in our profession, stories of people whose homes we cleaned up and restored to a livable condition. I stressed that they should not give up hope.

Postscript

A few weeks after our last visit to Frank’s home, Max (the friend of Frank from Colorado) telephoned again. He thanked me again for taking time to come to Frank’s home. He explained that Frank still wasn’t talking to him or any of his friends.

He went on to explain that when he thinks of Frank, he thinks of a “college kid,” a young man he knew quite a few years earlier. He ended his conversation with me saying:

“I don’t know how Frank ended up where he is at … and I don’t know how he’ll get out of it.”

In many ways, that sums up our experiences in working with people suffering from hoarding disorder. Oftentimes people close to a hoarder have no idea a problem exists. When they learn of a hoarding situation, they find it hard to fathom how it developed. And, time and again, there is a sense of helplessness among people who have a person they care about who hoards. An important thing to remember is that these are all natural and understandable responses.