It is estimated that 2-5% of the population in the USA has a problem with hoarding issues. If you also look at how many folks who don’t hoard, but are impacted by it, the number is estimated at a staggering 100 million people!
I think of it like a web in which the person with the hoarding issue happens to be the center of the situation. It is their personal trauma that often is the root cause of the hoarding issue. Often the reason the hoarding occurs is that they have not found an alternative way of processing their personal trauma. Collecting items may be comforting for them. Items can also be a way to stay attached to a memory that they fear will disappear if they let the item go.
The amount of items can grow and become astronomical over time, leading to something where the person cannot navigate their home. Sometimes this is referred to as a “goat path” that is the only trail through the residence.
Stuff can overtake the space, rendering bedrooms, kitchens and bathrooms completely useless. The stuff crawls up the walls and creates avalanche hazards. The items can protrude into the goat path, causing a person to lose their balance or fall down, grasping at air as they are unable to reach a wall or a railing to steady themselves.
Often scooting along the goat path is the only way to reach the bathroom or the refrigerator or the only door they use to enter and exit their residence.
Fire Hazard Ahead
The sheer amount of stuff is also a fire hazard! Often extension cords are strewn across the piles of stuff and over time they can become frayed and start a fire. Sometimes people die in the fire because of the ambient heat created by the amount of THEIR stuff. *Fire fighters CANNOT EVEN enter the residence sometimes! Sometimes they have entered the residence and cannot get back out. Often the stuff will slide and block their only exit. Yes, our first responder FIRE FIGHTERS have DIED trying to rescue a human being living in their hoarded residence.
In some areas a home with a lot of stuff will be coded as a “heavy content home.” If it is known to them and they go out to the fire, they may attempt to enter, if they can and it is thought a human being might be in the residence. However, sometimes all they can do is contain the fire, so it won’t spread to other outbuildings or neighboring residences.
An Aging Population
As of 12:25pm PST on 7/17/17 there were 326,581,249 people in the United States of America based on the live counter found at http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/us-population/. And this number is increasing moment by moment!
Also our population is aging! Sometimes people get to the age where they can no longer maintain their residence. Or a serious long term illness may render them unable to maintain their home, items may fall and just stay on the ground. These items build up and also can create a trip and fall hazard. For older folks, a trip, fall and broken bone can lead to hospitalization, a follow up nursing home stay and sometimes an inability to return to their home due to the amount of stuff in their residence.
An Outside Source
It is often only once an outside source gets involved that any traction can be gained on cleaning up or at least making the residence habitable again. People with hoarding issues tend to have a lack of insight about the severity of their problem. They may not report their living situation ever, to anyone because they do not understand the problem it presents.
Often a person is questioned at the time of discharge from a hospital or facility about who will help or guide them when they get home. Sometimes the severity of the hoarding isn’t known until the person is about to go home and then they can’t.
Is it Urgent Yet?
Then it can become an urgent, have to clean it out now situation. The person with the hoarding issue may not have any say about their personal items at that point and it can be very traumatizing for them to have other people sort through their items. If the person is able to return to their home, they may begin hoarding again immediately and with much more vigor. People often re-hoard so quickly that in 6 months in can look like it did after they hoarded for 10 years.
Part of the reason is that the person with hoarding issue is now re-traumatized and their coping mechanism is to return to hoarding. This is why forced clean outs are not the best way to deal with a hoarding problem. It is far better for the person to be able to learn about making decisions and have some say so on how the items are disbursed. Although, if it is at crisis point a forced clean out may be required for a number of reasons.
A person with a hoarding issue in general will benefit in working with a mental health professional in order to begin to address the trauma and issues that are causing them to hoard to begin with. Even when a person may seek treatment, they may never disclose the trauma and/or their serious hoarding problem to their mental health practitioner. Then, it is often hard to find a mental health professional who knows about hoarding and/or how to effectively treat the person with the problem.
Let’s Get Involved
Effective ways to handle hoarding issues are out there, but it is only a small contingent of folks who understand this and are working on bringing this information to the forefront. Yes, there have been a lot of shows regarding hoarding and for the most part they have been helpful in raising awareness that hoarding is a problem and very stressful for all involved.
However, I find the shows to be very drama oriented and being the #AKOPTH (Adult Kids of Parents That Hoard) very difficult for me to watch for any length of time. Although I know it’s a t.v. show, I know what that “smell” is and it is as haunting as the images portrayed on the screen.
Plus, I totally and completely understand the frustration of knowing you want to help the person, but they SIMPLY WILL NOT LET YOU. Nor will they let anyone else HELP THEM.
It seems that the only effective method of intervention is one in which an outside force begins to put pressure on the situation. This could be a landlord, a neighbor that complains, a court order, a family member at their wits end, a property manager or perhaps social services.
Once the pressure is on though, that is when we can make or break the situation. We don’t have to go in and be the end all and be all. We can detach somewhat and look at ways to 1)reduce trauma, 2)utilize teamwork, 3)create a plan, 4)do the work in an empathetic fashion.
Yes, there is a way to do this by gum! No, it isn’t necessarily quick or cheap! But-it can result in reduced trauma for the person with the hoarding issue. We can approach them gently, humanely and in kindness! We can have a conversation that doesn’t start with “Let’s throw it all away…” because in an instant that person becomes defensive and alienated.
Start A Conversation!
We can however start a conversation with them! “Hello, Mrs. Jones! How are you today?” Ask questions and listen to what they are saying! We can be a sounding board and often they have not had a conversation with a caring person with their hoarding issue, EVER! They may isolate themselves in their homes, buried in their stuff. There is a shame, a stigma and an overwhelming fear of being found out and forced to deal with the hoarding issue.
That is not to say that many of these folks hide away all the time. In fact many of these folks are amazing volunteers, employees and church members! You may never know that someone has a hoarding issue until you maybe give them a ride home or attempt to visit them at their residence. Even then, they may not acknowledge that there is problem of any kind.
A person with a hoarding issue is a human being, just like you or me. Believe it or not, we all have some kind of issue in our lives that we may not want to have discovered. And hoarding crosses all socio-economic lines.
Be Kind & Speak Up
So if you happen to know someone who has a hoarding problem the best thing I know of is to be kind and for goodness sake have a conversation with them! You might just begin the process of saving their life and anyone else who might be trying to rescue them in the future.