Gracious Moves - Senior Transition Specialists
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Working with Hoarders - Oh my! Part II

As published in the Savannah Morning News - 7 July 2013

Working with hoarders – oh my! Part II  

Last week we cracked open a door on the subject of hoarding and I mentioned there are many types.  The toxic hoarders, requiring Hazmat suited professionals to do everything but tear the house down, are thankfully few and far between.  Today, we will explore problems associated with hoarding and the levels of hoarding that we face in the real estate and move management business.  

In the last 5 years, with foreclosures and short sales being a significant part of our real estate world, we Realtors® have experienced trashed or neglected homes, some with animals left behind, and many that require professional clean out.   These environments create dangerous issues, such as flea, bug and rodent infestations, unsanitary conditions, water leaks with the inevitable mold issues, coupled with lots of stuff left behind. 

When you combine all of the above, it’s a toxic home, and we have tackled this type of situation though managing roof /plumbing/water leak repairs, mold remediation, bug and flea treatments, rodent capture, all followed by the eventual clean out of the house when it is safe to do so.  

According to Randy Frost, PHD, with the International OCD Foundation, hoarding is a complex disorder that is made up of three connected problems: 1) collecting too many items, 2) difficulty getting rid of items, and 3) problems with organization. These problems can lead to significant amounts of clutter which can severely limit the use of living spaces, pose safety and/or health risks, and result in significant distress and/or impairment in day-to-day living.  

Collecting Too Many Items: 
  • Too much shopping is the most common way that people who hoard collect items—3 out of 4 shop too much.
  • Roughly 1 in 2 people who hoard report excessively collecting free things.
  • The collection can also occur without any effort—for instance, food wrappers or the packing material that comes with new purchases.

Difficulty Getting Rid of Items:
  • The hallmark of hoarding behavior is not being able to let go of things. Throwing away, selling, giving away, or even recycling are very difficult for people who hoard.
  • While, to most people, the objects saved may seem worthless or worn-out, in truth, people who hoard usually can’t let go of anything and often have homes filled with otherwise useful items that are buried under the piles.
  • The reasons for saving these things are largely the same as for the reasons people who don’t hoard things. The most frequent reason for saving things is to prevent waste, followed by informational content, emotional attachment, and finally, liking the way something looks or feels.
  • Some people who hoard believe they can get rid of items, but the process is so time-consuming they often give up, leaving the clutter to grow.
  • Clothes, newspapers and books are the most commonly hoarded items, but the list can include almost anything.

Disorganization:
  • In addition to collecting too many items and the difficulty getting rid of items, most people with hoarding problems can't organize their possessions. These problems may be associated with information processing, problems with attention, categorization, and decision-making.
  • Attempts at organizing usually result in hours of moving possessions from one place to another without any effective result.
  • The disorganization results in piles of possessions throughout the home that consist of mixtures of worthless and valuable items, complicating attempts to de-clutter.

Recognition of the problem: ·        
  • Not realizing the seriousness of hoarding is common among people who hoard.

  • Five Levels of Hoarding:  According to the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization (NSGCD), there are five levels of hoarding that are outlined by the NSGCD Clutter-Hoarding Scale. Each level is defined according to several parameters, including:
  • condition of the building
  • number of pets and how well they are being cared for
  • presence of pests such as rodents or insects
  • whether or not the rooms of the residence are usable
  • accessibility of doors, hallways and staircases
  • sanitation and cleanliness of the residence

Level I- A normal or standard house with accessible doors and stairways, minor evidence of pet accidents, a slight presence of insects or rodents, some clutter but not excessive, and normal safe sanitation with no odors.

Level II- One of the exits is blocked, and one major appliance, heater or air conditioner has not worked for more than six months; there is pet odor and pet waste, limited care of fish, reptiles or birds, and moderate evidence of insects and rodents. The use of more than 2 of the rooms is prevented by clutter, and passageways are somewhat narrowed. There is little evidence of house cleaning activity such as sweeping or vacuuming, and moderate amounts of mildew in kitchens and bathrooms. Food preparation surfaces are soiled, garbage cans overflowing, and there are noticeable odors.

Level III- Clutter is seen outside the house, there are at least two non-functioning appliances, unsafe use of extension cords, and slight structural damage to the house. One to three pets exceeds limits set by the Humane Society (not counting litters of puppies or kittens that are being well taken care of.) There are unmaintained aquariums or bird cages, audible evidence of rodents, an infestation of fleas, and moderate amounts of spider webs. Hallways and stairs are constricted, and one bedroom or bathroom is unusable due to clutter. Hazardous substances such as broken glass or spilled chemicals are present. The house has not been cleaned and there is dust, obviously unchanged bed linens, excessively soiled surfaces, garbage and dirty laundry throughout the house.

Level IV- The house has structural damage, mold and mildew, damaged walls, electrical hazards and a backed-up sewer system. Four animals exceed Humane Society limits, and there is animal waste, pet dander, spider webs, and evidence of wild animals such as squirrels, bats or raccoons inside the house, as well as an infestation of fleas and lice. The occupants are unable to use the bedrooms, and are sleeping on the couch or floor. There are hazardous materials and flammable material in the living area. No clean dishes can be found, and there is rotting food in the kitchen.

Level V- The house is basically unlivable. There is structural damage, no water, power or sewer, standing water, and excessive hazardous materials being stored. Obvious rodent and insect infestations are present, the bathroom and kitchen are unusable, the occupant may or may not be sleeping in the house, and there is human waste and rotten food present.

These definitions of the levels of hoarding are helpful for professional move managers or organizers and mental health professionals or social workers to determine what type of intervention or treatment is appropriate. We will continue to explore what to do when you or a family member is faced with a hoarding situation and ways to tackle the toughest move.

Next week in Moving Mom…Working with Hoarders, Part III, oh my!  Stay tuned!

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