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Restoring Safety by Removing Hoarded Items

Posted January 21, 2023 by Mike Lewis under Tips

Restoring Safety by Removing Hoarded Items

Understanding Hoarding Disorder

Hoarding disorder is a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items.

Excessive accumulation of items is the hallmark of hoarding disorder. The large amount of possessions fills up and clutters active living areas to the extent that intended use of the space is no longer possible. Living spaces become unusable and unsafe.

Common hoarded items include:

  • Clothes
  • Newspapers, magazines, and books
  • Mail, receipts, and lists
  • Household supplies and food
  • Collectibles like toys and DVDs

Hoarding is different from normal collecting. Hoarders have persistent acquisition habits and experience emotional attachments to their belongings. They find it extremely difficult to organize items and make decisions about what to keep and what to discard.

Dangers of a Hoarding Situation

Hoarding poses substantial health and safety risks. Clutter obstructs movement around the home and creates trip hazards. Blocked entrances and exits make it difficult to escape in an emergency.

Other serious risks include:

  • Falls – Cluttered and obstructed walkways lead to trips and falls. Seniors are especially vulnerable to fall injuries.
  • Fire hazards – Flammable objects piled close together can easily ignite and impede escape. Hoarding greatly increases the risk of fire and limits firefighter access.
  • Poor sanitation – Spoiled food, vermin infestation, mold, and contaminated surfaces can cause illness and infection.
  • Social isolation – Hoarders are often deeply ashamed of the state of their homes and withdraw from friends and family.

The more excessive the clutter in a hoarding situation, the higher the risk of harm to the inhabitants, neighbors, and first responders. Action must be taken to restore safety.

Removing Hoarded Possessions

Restoring a safe living environment in a hoarding situation involves:

1. Assembling a response team

  • Mental health professional – Provides expertise in hoarding disorder and helps motivate the hoarder.
  • Cleaning crew – Responsible for sorting possessions, recycling, donating, and disposal.
  • Friends and family – Provide emotional support and assist with cleaning.

2. Securing the hoarder’s cooperation

  • Emphasize safety risks – Use incidents like falls, fires, or vermin to illustrate dangers.
  • Suggest gradual progress – Start small by clearing pathways or a single room.
  • Provide reassurance – Assure the hoarder you will respect their feelings and preserve cherished items.

3. Setting goals and expectations

  • Establish priorities – Focus first on high risk areas like exits or the kitchen.
  • Take photographs – Document possessions to review items before discarding.
  • Agree on quotas – Set daily goals for number of bags or boxes to remove.
  • Schedule monitoring – Arrange for follow-up visits to prevent re-accumulation.

4. Sorting, cleaning, and organizing

  • Categorize items – Sort possessions into keep, donate, recycle, or trash piles.
  • Pack securely – Use stable boxes and clearly label for transport.
  • Clean thoroughly – Get rid of dirt, pests, allergens, and buildup.
  • Maintain order – Establish optimal shelving and storage to prevent future clutter.

The process requires significant time, effort, and sensitivity. Progress may be slow but each small step makes the living environment safer.

Providing Support and Follow Up

Removing large amounts of hoarded possessions can be extremely traumatic for a hoarding sufferer. Ongoing support and monitoring are vital for maintaining safety gains.

  • Check in regularly – Visit or call to assess condition of cleared areas.
  • Offer reassurance – Be patient, calm, and understanding about setbacks.
  • Provide counseling – Encourage continued mental health treatment.
  • Develop a relapse plan – Strategize how to handle re-accumulation if it occurs.
  • Celebrate successes – Reinforce progress made with praise and positive feedback.

With compassion and the right professional help, hoarding sufferers can learn to manage their symptoms, declutter their homes, and reclaim safe living spaces. Consistent follow up is key to sustaining improvement over time.

My Personal Hoarding Story

I developed hoarding behaviors after a traumatic loss. I filled my home with shopping purchases, memorabilia, and clutter. My obsession with holding onto things I didn’t need grew gradually over several years.

Of course, I was in denial about having a problem. But my concerned husband Jim began urging me to address the hoarded piles filling our house. When he injured his back falling over a stack of boxes, I finally acknowledged I needed help.

With Jim’s support, I began meeting with a therapist experienced in treating hoarding disorder. She helped me understand the psychological roots of my compulsions. We set goals like filling one trash bag per day. Although difficult, I succeeded in slowly clearing clutter and reclaiming living areas.

There were panicky moments when I worried about discarding something important. Jim learned to help calm me when I became distressed. His patience and reassurance got me through the worst moments.

Though an ongoing battle, I now have my hoarding under control. My home is decluttered and safe again. I’m so grateful for the support I received in overcoming my hoarding compulsions. My advice is to get help early before the problem becomes unmanageable.

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