As published in the Savannah Morning News - 7 July 2013
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
- Too much shopping
is the most common way that people who hoard collect items—3 out of 4 shop
- Roughly 1 in
2 people who hoard report excessively collecting free things.
collection can also occur without any effort—for instance, food wrappers
or the packing material that comes with new purchases.
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
- 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.
newspapers and books are the most commonly hoarded items, but the list can
include almost anything.
- 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.
disorganization results in piles of possessions throughout the home that
consist of mixtures of worthless and valuable items, complicating attempts to
- 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
- 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
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.
week in Moving Mom…Working with Hoarders, Part III, oh my! Stay tuned!