You may not notice that a loved one has begun hoarding until you find them in the middle of a literal mess. Hoarding can create a risk of eviction or may lead to children being put into protective care. To avoid these problems, you need to be proactive. Here is where you can start.
You need to have an open dialogue with the person about their behavior and how it is negatively impacting them and the people around them. Remember that you can’t help them unless they want to be helped.
If they consent to your help to clear out their home, remember that this is, in fact, their home. Don’t just throw out any item that you find needless or excessive. Ask them their boundaries and what items are off-limits when it comes to decluttering.
For some people, the impulse to hoard items or animals is the result of a mental illness, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Others manifest the impulse after health events such as a stroke or traumatic brain injury.
Help them connect with a licensed mental health professional to address underlying issues that may have contributed to the problem, as well as help them process their feelings during the clean-up.
On reality TV, the show hosts usually get a job done in a matter of days or weeks. If you are doing the clean-up on your own without the help of a professional, that is not a very realistic time frame. While you should set goals for your efforts, you need to be honest about what you can achieve. Take it one room at a time, one day at a time.
You may also want to break down your efforts into phases. First, declutter a room and get rid of the excess items. Next, establish an organizational system for what is left. Lastly, tackle the actual cleaning, such as vacuuming or dusting.
If your loved one has been hoarding animals or has experienced a significant pest infestation such as rats or mice, it may be unsafe to clean the home yourself. If there is an exceptional amount of feces, decaying matter or dead animals, you should reach out to biohazard cleaning services as they are trained and equipped to handle potentially toxic material safely.
Play It Safe
Even if you don’t need a biohazard cleaning service, you should still clean with a healthy helping of caution. At best you will be dealing with air pollutants and dust, and at worst you may stumble upon black mold or human waste biohazards better left to the professionals.
Exercise situational awareness, as hoarding can cause damage to a home through weight stressing the support structure. The clutter may also hide busted pipes or water damage, which leads to rot and weak floors that could result in dangerous falls.
Even after the mess is gone, your loved one will still require ongoing support that may include home maintenance and behavioral monitoring. However, just because it doesn’t have a tidy ending, it doesn’t mean the situation is impossible or not worth the undertaking.