The hazards of hoarding


There are so many elements to moving house. The most difficult thing is sorting through possessions and the sentimental items.

Often it seems like a mountainous task and people don’t know where to start. Over the years, possessions build up and before you know it, you have a big job on your hands. The prospect of all that sorting is one of the main reasons people are reluctant to move, particularly as they get older as the thought of it can be extremely daunting.

The word clutter is a late Middle English variant of dialect clotter ‘to clot’, influenced by cluster and clatter. It is a word often bandied around when referring to having too much of an item or items. Regular decluttering is important even if you are not moving, although for some it is not that simple – there is a huge difference between those who have accumulated too much over the years and those who have built up an excess of items which often have little or no monetary value – Hoarders.

A hoarding disorder is where someone acquires an excessive number of items and stores them in a chaotic manner. The person suffering with this disorder is usually very attached to the items and reluctant to throw them away, usually resulting in an unsafe and unhygienic living environment. In the UK, one or two people in every 100 (that’s up to a million people) are hoarders

The Journal of Psychiatric Research has published findings based on research in the USA that highlighted that compulsive hoarders are also likely to suffer from ailments including obesity, sleeplessness and diabetes. Something I can well believe given the situations I have been in.

As well as ensuring stress-free house moves for clients, Your Home Move also works with individuals, families and Social Services providing a service which helps hoarders to create a safe and sanitary environment in which they can live.

Hoarders often do not see that they have a problem and I am mostly introduced to them because due to an accident or illness, their living conditions have become apparent to a third party whether it be a friend, neighbour or the authorities.

In my experience, even those that do realise they have a problem are reluctant to seek help because they feel extremely ashamed, humiliated or guilty about it. They are also not good at making decisions and therefore are overwhelmed by their situation especially when it has got beyond control.

The reasons for hoarding are not fully understood, however can include:

  • It can be a symptom of another condition, e.g. if people have mobility issues and can’t physically clear up, or those with learning disabilities or dementia.
  • Mental health problems including depression, psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia and those with OCDs.
  • Self-neglect.
  • Family history of hoarding.
  • Have grown up in a cluttered environment and don’t know any different.

My team and I have been in environments that you sometimes see on the TV – rooms and entire houses where you can’t walk in the doorways due to the junk mail, books, DVDs, carrier bags – you name it. I have been up to my knees in rubbish, rodents and excrement. It can be daunting at first that’s for sure.

I don’t always meet the people I am helping, as sometimes they are waiting for their home environment to be deemed safe so they can return from hospital, but when I do, and am with them while I do the clear up, it takes a sensitive and slow approach to get them to trust me. They have to be given autonomy in order to decide what I can get rid of on their behalf, but this is often a difficult task.

It is an overwhelmingly emotional situation for them and it is vital that the team are sensitive and kind, but that said, firmness is definitely required. They are always hugely apologetic about the ‘state of the place’ which we always say is ‘not a problem’ because that is most definitely what we are there for.

It can be testing for us too, both physically as well as mentally, but when the job is finally done and the cleaners have worked their magic there is no greater job satisfaction. I just keep my fingers crossed that it gives each person a new lease of life and they get appropriate help so they are able to maintain their new clean and safe environment.

For over a decade Suzanne has been helping individuals save time and alleviate stress when moving house, moving into care homes, sheltered accommodation, or downsizing to a smaller property.

Her remit at Your Home Move is vast and includes buying and selling property, sorting through personal possessions and confidential paperwork, taking items to charity or consigning them to auction, change of address administration, packing and unpacking and ensuring that every aspect of the move goes smoothly.

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