Dangers of Hoarding and Cleanup Procedures
Hoarding is a type of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that compels people to stockpile items and get emotionally attached to them, regardless of whether they have any real value or not. So, hoarders not only have the compulsive need to constantly acquire more and more items, but they also refuse to throw anything away out of fear of losing something important, valuable, or useful. As a result, the piles of accumulated items keep getting larger and larger and start blocking off the living space in the hoarders’ homes, preventing everyday activities such as cleaning and cooking, and causing severe sanitary issues and safety hazards. The affected individuals, however, usually fail to see the problem (or refuse to acknowledge it) and don’t take any measures to improve the situation.
The living conditions in the hoarder’s home deteriorate quickly and become hazardous for anyone who goes in or around the house. The extreme clutter hinders one’s ability to move freely, compromises the intended use of the premises, and causes mold growth, pest infestations, structural damage, fire hazards, tripping hazards, and various health issues (such as respiratory diseases and infections). Hoarding is also known to overwhelm the mind, cause stress and anxiety, drain energy levels, lead to family conflicts and financial difficulties, result in depression and social withdrawal, etc.
The dangers of hoarding can impact not only the affected individuals, but also their relatives, friends, neighbors, and pets, as well as emergency workers, social workers, firefighters, medical staff, and anyone else who may be trying to help. Quick and efficient measures are required to ensure the safety and well-being of the hoarder and the people around him/her. Here is what you need to know:
Dangers of Hoarding
Hoarding poses great risks to the affected person’s health and safety, their homes and finances, relationships and social interactions:
Hoarding Health Risks
Hoarding can cause many different diseases, infections, and chronic conditions. The severe effects of hoarding on health result from:
Poor sanitary conditions – The large number of items in hoarders’ homes renders many essential daily activities such as cleaning, cooking, and bathing impossible. The poor personal hygiene and lack of healthy meals compromise the hoarder’s immune system and make him/her more susceptible to illness. Dirt accumulates in large quantities and creates the perfect opportunity for germs, bacteria, and other harmful microorganisms to grow and thrive. Decomposing items (including rotting food, trash, and even human or animal waste) release dangerous byproducts that can make the hoarder sick and create the ideal breeding environment for bacteria and potential disease. The situation is even worse when animal hoarding is involved – a large number of animals living together in a confined space facilitates the spread of germs and disease, animal waste can easily contaminate human and pet food, the bodies of dead animals may never be removed, creating a very hazardous situation, etc.;
- Poor air quality – The large amount of dust in hoarders’ homes and the odors and ammonia from decaying products cause serious indoor air quality issues and can result in various respiratory problems – chronic coughing, shortness of breath, inflammation of the lungs, etc. Clutter can even fall on air vents and/or block other airways, causing lack of oxygen and raising the carbon dioxide levels in the house. This can be very dangerous as the hoarder may not notice difficulty breathing until it is too late;
- Pest infestations – A hoarder’s home is a haven for pests and vermin – the rotting materials and decomposing items provide an excellent source of food for cockroaches, ants, rats, flies and other critters, and the piles of junk provide ideal hiding and breeding places for the nuisance animals. Once they find their way inside a hoarded home, pests can hide inside, underneath, and among the accumulated items, build their nests, find abundant food, and grow in number, unnoticed and undisturbed.
The resulting major pest infestation presents a number of serious health and safety risks – vermin carry various parasites, bring in a lot of dirt, spread bacteria and pathogens such as E. coli and Salmonella via their urine and droppings, transmit diseases (such as the West Nile virus from mosquito, the Lyme disease from ticks, or the Hantavirus from mice and rats), and pose potential physical harm to the people and animals living in the house (the bites of some bugs and rodents are quite dangerous);
- Mold problems – The stale air (the clutter prevents proper air circulation), high level of humidity (condensed water and leaking pipes remain hidden behind the clutter, clogs and sewer backups are common occurrences, etc.), and large amount of decaying organic material in hoarders’ homes provide the perfect breeding environment for mold. Spoiled food and dirty food containers that are kept in the house for months and even years also harbor mildew and fungus growth. This inevitably results in a severe mold problem that can cause substantial structural damage and serious health issues – mold can trigger allergies, damage the respiratory system, and aggravate existing health conditions.
Apart from the various health hazards mentioned above, hoarding can pose potential physical harm as well:
Increased risk of falls – Hoarders usually have their things thrown around in a haphazard way, so all kinds of items lie scattered all over the place, making it very easy to trip and fall. This may result in broken bones and fractures, sprains and wounds, etc.;
- Collapsing clutter – The piles of accumulated junk in hoarders’ homes build up to monstrous proportions over time and become unstable as the items grow in number and start disintegrating. The stacks can easily fall over, causing serious injury to the hoarder or trapping him/her under the debris.
Fire is one of the main dangers in a hoarded home as the large number of accumulated items creates an abnormally high fuel load, resulting in excessive smoke and fire conditions:
- Much of the clutter consists of flammable materials – paper, clothing, food, etc.;
- The proximity of so many flammable items to incandescent bulbs, stoves, and heaters increases the likelihood of a fire;
- Fires can easily occur when objects cover a heat vent or damaged wires;
- Rodent infestation is common in hoarders’ homes, so there’s a high chance of rats and mice chewing through wiring and causing electrical failure and fires;
- Faulty appliances and non-functional gas and/or electricity systems are typical for hoarders’ homes and may result in unsafe cooking and heating practices, increasing the risk of fire;
With so much combustible materials lying around, fire can spread quickly and overtake a hoarder’s home in seconds;
- Smoke also develops quicker and in greater amounts;
- Fighting the fire and searching for occupants is extremely difficult in these conditions;
- The large amount of items in a hoarded home results in a maze-like space that can cause problems for rescue workers who may not be able to navigate the home quickly enough to save the people trapped inside;
- Clutter blocks windows and doors, pathways and exits, trapping the residents inside and preventing access for firefighters. Besides, firefighters and anyone else who comes to help may also be trapped by the clutter and not manage to escape the fire.
Excessive clutter not only poses health and safety hazards to the hoarder, but can also result in substantial structural damage to the hoarded home:
- Hindered by the large amount of accumulated items and lacking the energy and motivation to take proper care of their homes, hoarders do not make any efforts to keep their property in good repair;
Access within hoarded homes is restricted by the clutter, preventing technicians from performing necessary maintenance on HVAC equipment, sprinkler systems, electricity systems, plumbing, etc. Therefore, problems with these systems remain unnoticed for a long time and result in considerable damage;
- Rodents make holes in walls, break ductworks, chew on electrical wiring, damage woodwork and internal structures of the home, destroy insulation, ;
- Mold grows in large amounts and damages the structural materials of the house;
- Water damage is common in hoarded homes, compromising their integrity for years;
- The great weight and uneven distribution of too much stuff in hoarded homes may lead to structural collapses – floors and other load-bearing parts of a house are meant to support only a certain amount of weight, so as the hoard grows, floors can buckle and support beams and walls can collapse under the strain.
Psychological and Sociological Harm
Last but not least, hoarding has a very negative impact on the overall quality of life of the affected person and can lead to:
- Financial difficulties – Hoarders usually have trouble finding and/or keeping a job (so they have no steady income), can’t tell the difference between valuable or worthless, and spend all the money they have on new items to add to their “collections”. As a result, they experience serious financial problems and find themselves in debt;
Legal issues – Neighbors would complain about a hoarder next door, as the smell, dirt, and pests from the hoarded house disrupt their own lives and create various safety hazards. This may lead to police investigations and possible eviction;
- Social withdrawal – Hoarding causes conflicts with others (family, neighbors, etc.) and prevents the affected individuals from friendships – hoarders don’t feel comfortable leaving their things to go out or inviting people over (they’re usually very embarrassed by the problem and afraid of being judged or forced to throw something away, not to mention the inconvenience of the clutter), so they often choose to avoid all social interaction;
- Depression – Hoarding is often triggered by a stressful or traumatic experience involving a bitter loss or a serious disruption of the normal lifestyle of the affected people. It comes as no surprise then that the mental disorder is accompanied by severe depression, anxiety, and stress. Unless timely and effectively treated, these typical hoarding symptoms only get worse with time and lead to even more serious mental illness and social problems.
Hoarders are emotionally attached to their belongings and lack the ability to set priorities and make informed decisions. Therefore, they can compromise their own safety and relationships just because they are afraid to throw anything away. When the well-being of the affected individual is in danger, however, hoarding help becomes necessary.
Removing the hoard and cleaning the hoarder’s home is not enough to help the affected person resume a normal life, but it is a necessary first step in ensuring their safety and well-being.
Cleaning a hoarder’s home, however, is a difficult and dangerous process:
The affected person may feel frustrated and upset by the hoarding cleaning process, so a lot of patience and compassion will be required to help them understand the severity of the situation and overcome their fears;
- There are many laborious tasks to complete – removing large piles of garbage, decluttering and sanitizing the premises, repairing property damage, etc.;
- There are various cleaning hazards – mold spores may be released into the air and breathed in, bugs may bite when their habitats are disturbed, structural elements weakened by mold and water damage may collapse, there may not be enough airflow to carry the noxious fumes away, cleaners may trip on a hoarded item or get trapped under collapsing clutter, etc.
Therefore, you’re strongly advised to hire professional hoarding cleaning services to do the job and restore the hoarder’s home to safe and healthy living conditions. The experts have the necessary equipment and rich experience to perform any necessary hoarding cleaning procedures in a safe and efficient manner. The professional hoarding cleanup process includes:
- Assessing the situation and developing a cleaning plan – The experienced technicians assess the severity of the hoarding problem, consult with pest control (if necessary), and decide on the most appropriate measures to be taken in the specific situation. Then, they create a detailed plan of the cleaning process and coordinate it with the affected person and their family.
- Earning the trust of the affected individual – The highly trained hoarding cleaning specialists use a considerate and compassionate approach, show respect for the affected individuals, help them realize how dangerous their living environment has become, and make them feel comfortable with the cleanup process. The hoarder is put in charge of the cleanup process to ensure that nothing is disposed of without their approval.
- Ensuring safety and efficiency – Workers put on protective gear, such as disposable gloves, dust masks, and goggles, before entering a horded home to protect themselves against bacteria and diseases. They also carry fire extinguishers, repellent sprays, flashlights, and first-aid kits and have all the necessary cleaning supplies (heavy-duty trash bags, empty boxes, buckets, brushes, sponges, mops, commercial grade vacuum cleaners, air scrubbers, disinfectants, etc.) with them.
- Preparing a staging area and a dumpster – A free, open space (such as a patio) is cleared to provide room for the contents of the hoarded home. A large dumpster is prepared for the garbage and contaminated items that need to be discarded right away.
- Securing the exits – Any items from the entrance area and hallways are removed so that pathways and exits are free from trash and debris. This ensures that the workers will have a free escape route in case of emergency.
- Removing the clutter – The technicians start working in the room that is closest to the exit – all the clutter is removed from top to bottom, trash is put in the dumpster, and salvageable items are placed in the staging area. When the contents of the first room are taken out, the workers move on to the next premise, and continue the process until the entire house is empty.
- Sorting out the hoarded items – Once the hoard is removed, the specialists sort out the contents and help the affected individuals and their families decide what to keep, what to donate, and what to discard. Trash and debris are bagged and thrown in the dumpster and contaminated and/or hazardous items are properly disposed of (according to the local regulations). Salvageable items are thoroughly cleaned and sanitized, restored to their original good condition, and returned to the family or delivered for donation.
- Restoring the hoarder’s home – When the house is free of trash and clutter, the hoarding cleaning specialists restore minor property damage (this may include repainting, re-carpeting, mold remediation, deodorization, etc. – any necessary major restoration or renovation projects should be left to certified and experienced specialists) and thoroughly clean and disinfect the premises and any furniture pieces, appliances, and other household items that will be put back into use.
- Organizing the home and keeping it neat and tidy – After the deep cleaning, the hoarder’s home is restored to a safe and sanitary condition. The experts help the affected person organize the remaining items and provide them with a clear and easy-to follow maintenance plan to help them keep their living space clean and safe. They also do short-term follow ups to ensure that the cleaning plan is being followed and provide further assistance if needed.
- Taking care of the paperwork – The technicians work with the affected individuals’ insurance companies and take care of the required paperwork from lawyers, trusts, and government agencies.
Using professional hoarding cleaning services guarantees a safe and efficient cleanup process. So, if you need effective hoarding cleanup services in the Lincoln, NE area, make sure you contact ServiceMaster of Lancaster County – we not only remove the clutter and sanitize the home of the affected individual, but also help them overcome their anxiety and resume a normal life. You can reach us anytime at (402) 413-8966 for more information about our experienced cleaning services for hoarders and a free estimate.