Hoarder property cleanup can be a complicated task. As the extent of a hoard progresses, the process of taking on and eliminating the clutter necessarily requires the assistance of a professional hoarder property cleanup service. A key reason why professional remediation is vital is that an advanced hoard is more than likely to include biohazardous materials that present a serious threat to the health and wellbeing of the hoarder, those involved in cleaning the property, and others.
Definition of Hoarding
Hoarding is a psychological disorder, according to the Mayo Clinic. Hoarding disorder is characterized by a persistent difficulty to discard or otherwise part with possessions due to a perceived, pervasive need to save them. The net result is an excessive accumulation of items, regardless of the actual value.
Signs and Symptoms of Hoarding
Specialists at the Mayo Clinic have identified a set of signs and symptoms of hoarding. Some of all of these signs and symptoms may exist in a particular case.
- Excessive acquisition of items that are not needed and for which there is no available space to store
- Persistent difficult disposing of things a person possesses, no matter if these items lack value
- A strong, pervasive need to save these items accompanied by being upset with the mere thought of disposing of them
- Building up clutter (usually within a residence) to the point that rooms become inhabitable
- The overarching tendency towards perfectionism, avoidance, procrastination, and indecisiveness
- Mounting difficulties associated with organizing and planning.
Levels of Hoarding: The Clutter Hoarding Scale
The National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization has delineated five levels of hoarding. This is called the Clutter-Hoarding Scale. Within each of the five levels on the Clutter-Hoarding Scale, there are four specific categories that are utilized to define the severity of clutter accumulation and the potential for hoarding.
Level I on the Clutter-Hoarding Scale represents a normal home environment. All doors and stairways are accessible. There may be minor evidence of pet accidents. In addition, there may be a slight presence of insects or rodents. There may be a small amount of clutter, but nothing excessive. Sanitation at the premises is safe and normal. There are no odors.
No professional assistance is needed to address clutter issues at a residence.
The next level on the Clutter-Hoarding Scale represents a home with at least one exit blocked. One major appliance is not working. In the alternative, the heater or the air conditioner has not worked for a period of over six months.
There is limited care for pets. In addition, there is pet waste and pet odor about the premises. The premises demonstrate moderate evidence of insect or rodents.
At least two rooms in the residence are unusable because of clutter. There is little evidence of house cleaning, including no real evidence of even basic tasks like sweeping or vacuuming.
Food prep surfaces are soiled and unhealthy. Garbage cans are overflowing. There are noticeable odors throughout the residence.
Professionals are needed with a background in working with the chronically disorganized. This includes specialists with experience in organizing items as well as those with experience in assisting a person with chronic issues associated with the organization.
A Level III hoarder has clutter that is visible from the outside of a house. There is a minimum of two non-functioning appliances in the house. The hoarder is using extension cords in an unsafe manner. By this juncture, there is at least limited damage to the structure of the residence.
There are likely to be between one to three animals on the premise that exceed the limits set by the Human Society. There may also be unmaintained aquariums or bird cages in the premises.
Not only is there physical evidence of rodents in the form of droppings, but there is also likely audible evidence is this type of infestation. There are also likely to be fleas at the residence, as well as a moderate amount of spider webs.
One bedroom or bathroom is unusable and unsafe because of clutter. Hallways and stairways are constricted, also as a result of clutter.
When a hoard reaches Level III, there are also hazardous materials present at the premises. These can include:
- Spilled chemicals
- Broken glass
- Biohazardous materials
The house has not been cleaned for a more extended period of time. There will be accumulated dust, excessively soiled floors and other surfaces, unchanged bed linens, dirty laundry and garbage strewn throughout the house.
In order to effectively remediate a Level III hoard, a professional is needed who is skilled in cleaning up this type of environment. In addition, an expanded network of professionals is likely to be needed to undertake this type of cleanup process if the hoarder is living. This particularly includes a mental health professional with experience in dealing with hoarders.
By the time a hoarder reaches Level IV, the house itself has structural damage. There are mold and mildew in various places in the residence. There are electrical hazards. The sewer system is likely backed up.
Typically, there are four animals at the premises in excess of the Human Society limits. There are pet dander and animal urine and feces located throughout the residence. There is evidence of wild animals, including squirrels and bats, inside the residence at different times. In addition, there is almost certain to be an infestation of fleas and lice.
The occupant or occupants of the residence are unable to use bedrooms because of clutter and habitability issues. The bathrooms are also likely unusable.
There are no clean dishes on the premises. There is rotting food in the kitchen and even elsewhere in the house.
A coordinated team of professionals is needed to address the hoard and issues associated with the hoarder. There are likely matters at issue beyond the hoard at the premises. These include issues associated with the hoarder his or her self:
- Psychological issues
- Medical issues
- Financial issues
A professional hoarder cleanup service will need to be part of the team to bring the property into a habitable state. In addition, the involvement of a hoarder’s family or friends will need to be involved in the process as well.
By the time hoarding reaches Level V, a house is virtually unlivable. There is structural damage. In addition, there typically is no power, water, or sewer service. There are also excessive hazardous materials at the premises.
Obvious insect and rodent infestation exist at the property. The kitchen and bathroom are unusable. There is no real sleeping space for the occupant in the residence. There is human and animal waste located throughout the premises.
At Level V, assistance is needed from multiple sources. A full team should be organized before the process of addressing the hoard is undertaken. The team members need to include a professional hoarder property cleanup service. Family members, if available need to be part of the team. Psychological, medical, and financial professionals need to be included in the team.
By the time a person is a Level V hoarder, the individual’s mental health may be at a juncture at which a guardianship and conservatorship may be necessary to protect his or her interests going forward.
Hidden World of a Hoarder
Evidence exists that suggests hoarding has been an issue for people since the times of ancient Egypt. Archaeological evidence exists that suggest people in ancient Egypt died amidst their hoards. In other words, there is evidence to suggest that for thousands of years, many hoarders have lived in a hidden hoarding world of their own, without people around them knowing what was really going on in their homes.
A majority of hoarders become adept at concealing what is going on within their homes from other individuals, including their own family members who do not reside with them. A typical hoarder believes that their actions in accumulating items are somehow appropriate. A hoarder is of the mindset that he or she possesses items of value (even when much of what is hoarded is worthless or even trash). They do not want to disclose what is going on in a residence because they believe others will want to take their “property.”
Hoarders will not welcome people to their homes. They make up a myriad of excuses for why others aren’t invited to into their residences. In many instances, the excuses are so convincing that those around them never think that hoarding is the issue at hand.
There are even some hoarders that carry on normal activities of daily living away from their residences. There are people at certain levels of hoarding, as will be described in detail in a moment, that hold jobs and even socialize with friends and family – away from home.
Hoarding Cleanup Strategies
There are three general scenarios in which a hoarder cleanup is necessary. These are:
- Cleaning up the residence of a living hoarder
- Cleaning up after a hoarder passes away
- Animal hoarding
Helping a Hoarder Cleanup a Home
If you have a family member or other loved one that is hoarding, you may finally have succeeded in obtaining at least tacit agreement with that individual to clean up his or her residence. In such a situation, and depending on the nature and extent of the hoard, you need to start the cleanup process incrementally. The strategy is to get the person who has been hoarding to “buy into” the idea of eliminating clutter.
This can be accomplished by having the hoarder participate in the property removal process. The hoarder can select items that he or she is willing to consider parting with. These items can be removed from the residence, but temporarily stored in a transitional area, allowing the hoarder some time to make a final decision about disposing of the property.
Keep in mind that if biohazardous or other dangerous materials exist on the premises, they need to be eliminated immediately. These materials provide a serious health threat to the hoarder and to anyone involved in cleaning up the premises.
Home Cleanup When a Hoarder Passes Away
There are two common situations involving a hoarder who dies. First, you may have a family member who was hoarding and then passed away. Second, you may be a landlord who has a hoarder tenant that passes on. Facing the necessity of cleaning up an accumulated hoard in these types of situations can seem beyond daunting.
In this type of situation, odds are strong that the death of the hoarder will not have been promptly discovered. In fact, weeks or even months may pass between the death of a hoarder and the discovery of the remains. The very lifestyle of a hoarder makes it highly likely that a considerable amount of time will pass before the individual’s body is discovered.
This reality necessitates the professional assistance of a highly experienced, appropriately trained hoarder property cleanup specialist. Because of the nature of this type of cleanup endeavor, the professional must be duly registered with the State of California Department of Health.
Animal hoarding is defined as a situation in which an individual is housing more animals than properly can be cared for, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Animal hoarding presents a number of concerns:
- Safety and welfare of hoarder
- Animal welfare
- Public safety
By definition, when a person is classified as an animal hoarder, there will be an abundance of biohazardous material at the premises. This includes animal urine, feces, and other bodily fluids. It will also include the remains of dead animals, in most cases.
Hoarding Cleanup and Biohazardous Waste
Hoarder property cleanup nearly always presents of risk of exposure to biohazardous waste. Biohazardous waste potentially associated with a hoarding cleanup is defined as waste that contains blood, various biological fluids, and other biological materials from a human or animals that may contain dangerous pathogens, according to the University of California.
Personal protective equipment is a must when it comes to hoarder property cleanup. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention establishes which is utilized in the way of personal protective equipment needed to remediate a hoard:
- Mask or respirator
- Uniform, apron, or smock
- Disposable gloves
- Disposable shoe covers