Ever seen a garage so packed with boxes, piles of newspapers, old clothes and seemingly useless odds and ends that it offered no room for anything else? That doesn’t mean a hoarder lives there. But if the inside of the home looks similar, with clutter everywhere, there could be a serious problem.
Hoarding is a disorder.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), “Hoarding is the persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value. The behavior usually has deleterious effects—emotional, physical, social, financial, and even legal—for a hoarder and family members.”
Neighbors can be affected as well and the hidden dangers include infestations of roaches, rats and accompanying disease. Densely packed homes can provide the perfect conditions for dangerous house fires.
An 84-year-old woman lost her life this December in a house fire in Novato that was so cluttered from floor to ceiling, it hindered rescue efforts. Families often are faced with difficult, tense, confusing choices, when a loved one exhibits the symptoms of hoarding. They might include:
- Indecision about where to put things or what to keep
- Severe anxiety when attempting to discard items that may seem insignificant
- Difficulty organizing or even categorizing items and possessions
- Inability to throw away possessions
- Suspicion of other people touching items
- Distress, such as feeling overwhelmed or embarrassed by possessions
Where do you go for professional help?
The County of Marin’s Health and Human Services Department offers the Hoarding Alliance of Marin Resource Guide to help people with too much clutter and those who love them.
Getting someone to admit they have a problem is often the first step.
The ADAA offers a strategy to help families intervene if the condition is a danger to a loved one, and some communities have ordinances about hoarding when possessions tend to spill into the yard. In a 2013 NY Times article, it noted that, “More than 85 communities — from San Jose, Calif., to Wichita, Kan., to Portland, Me. — have established task forces, hoping to stave off catastrophes and help hoarders turn their lives around.”
Hoarding puts Social Workers, Emergency Medical Technicians, Paramedics, Police and Fire Fighters in unnecessarily difficult and often dangerous situations when contacted for an emergency. Helping a loved one unclutter their home will be difficult, if not impossible, without addressing their disorder.
We are often called in once conditions have become unlivable, or after the death of the homeowner. It is never easy in either case. We find it is much more helpful to remain calm. We are not there to judge or to add more pressure. We are there to work with the person or family. In any situation, when we are called in to help a family get organized, whether to remove years of clutter, downsize for a move, prepare a room for someone recovering from an illness, or to prepare for a remodeling project, we’ve learned that letting go of possessions can bring up unexpected, deep emotions. Forcing someone to let go before they are able can cause greater family conflict and anxiety. Patience is important and can give an individual the time to let go.
If you have an organizing project that you’d like help tackling, give us a call today at (415) 827-5529 or (707) 235-1917. We can make the entire process more manageable.