Hoarding disorder affects an estimated two to six percent of the population. It often begins in the teenage years and becomes more prominent with age.

    Maintaining a clean and functional living space can be incredibly challenging for individuals who experience hoarding. In this article, we aim to offer a thorough cleanup guide featuring useful tips to assist those grappling with this condition.


    What is Hoarding Disorder?

    Hoarding is a mental health disorder characterized by the excessive acquisition and inability to let go of items even if they hold no value or practical use. This behavior often results in cluttered, disorganized living spaces that can pose safety and health hazards. People with hoarding disorder struggle to make decisions about discarding possessions, which can cause emotional distress and negatively impact their daily lives.

    The reasons why people hoard vary but hoarding often stems from a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Individuals who experience hoarding may have a family history of the disorder, a history of trauma, or a coexisting mental health condition such as anxiety or depression. While hoarding can affect anyone, it’s more likely to become noticeable as people grow older, with the problem typically well-established by the time it’s identified.



    Symptoms and Causes of Hoarding

    Hoarding disorder is a complex mental health condition that affects many people worldwide. It’s essential to recognize the symptoms and understand the differences between cluttering and hoarding to provide appropriate support and interventions.

    Symptoms of Hoarding

    Here is a list of some common symptoms of hoarding:

    • Over-Collecting Items: Acquiring excessive numbers of items that are often of little value or practical use
    • Trouble Throwing Possessions Away: Distress at the thought of parting with possessions, leading to a reluctance to discard even seemingly useless items
    • Building Up Clutter: The inability to let go of items, resulting in excessive clutter that can create unsafe or unsanitary living conditions
    • Uninhabitable Rooms and Spaces: Difficulty using rooms for their intended purpose due to clutter, limiting the functionality of living spaces
    • Sleeping with Clutter on Bed: Sleeping with clutter, which impacts sleep quality and overall well-being.
    • Problems with Planning and Organizing: Struggling with planning and organizing possessions, leading to disarray and further accumulation of clutter
    • Delaying Decisions When Cleaning: Difficulty in decision-making around what to keep and what to discard, resulting in delayed action or an inability to clean up

    Cluttering Vs. Hoarding

    Many tend to use cluttering and hoarding interchangeably, but there are some key differences between them, as described below.

    Cluttering refers to a disorganized and messy living environment due to an accumulation of items. While it can be a sign of hoarding, cluttering alone is not necessarily indicative of a hoarding disorder. People with cluttering issues may be able to discard items without significant emotional distress.

    Hoarding, on the other hand, is a mental health disorder characterized by excessive acquisition, an inability to discard items, and resulting clutter that interferes with daily life. The emotional attachment to possessions and the distress experienced when attempting to discard them distinguishes hoarding from cluttering.


    The Five Levels of Hoarding

    Hoarding behaviors can manifest in varying degrees of severity. By identifying hoarding’s development stages, we can better comprehend the extent of the problem and provide appropriate support and interventions. Here are the five levels of hoarding:

    At this stage, clutter is noticeable in rooms, but it is not alarming or considered a disorder symptom yet. The living environment remains functional, and there is no significant interference with daily activities.

    At level 2, there may be signs of deteriorating hygiene, such as unclean surfaces or a slight odor in the home. Clutter may begin to impact the functionality of living spaces, and the individual may start to exhibit hoarding behaviors.

    At this stage, the living conditions become more concerning, with rotting food, mold, or mildew present. Some rooms may become inhabitable due to excessive clutter, and the individual may experience social withdrawal or isolation.

    Level 4 hoarding is characterized by infestations of pests or rodents and potentially unstable living conditions. Structural damage to the home may occur, and utilities such as water or electricity may be disconnected, further worsening the living environment.

    At level 5, the situation is critical, with almost all living spaces rendered unusable due to extreme clutter. The individual may face eviction or legal action, and there is a significant risk to physical and mental well-being.


    5 Types of Hoarding

    Hoarding can manifest in various forms, and understanding these different types can help us better support those experiencing hoarding behaviors. Here are five common types of hoarding:

    1. Shopper Hoarding

    Shopper hoarding is an uncontrolled urge to buy items, often in excessive quantities, regardless of an actual need for those items. Those experiencing shopper hoarding may have difficulty resisting sales, discounts, or the temptation of acquiring new possessions, leading to a surplus of items and clutter in their homes.

    2. Food Hoarding

    As you would expect, food hoarding is excessively stockpiling food items, often well beyond their expiration dates. This behavior may stem from a fear of scarcity or the desire to feel secure. Food hoarding can result in unsanitary living conditions, as spoiled or rotting food attracts pests and creates health hazards.

    3. Trash Hoarding

    Collecting and storing items that most people would consider garbage or worthless is trash hoarding. People may believe these items have potential value or use in the future, making them difficult to discard.

    4. Animal Hoarding

    Hoarding a large number of animals, often without the resources or ability to care for them properly, is classified as animal hoarding. People may have difficulty recognizing the negative impact of their actions on the animals’ well-being, resulting in overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions for both the animals and their owners.

    5. Paper Hoarding

    Paper hoarding is the compulsive collection and storage of various forms of paper, including newspapers, magazines, books, mail, and documents. Those exhibiting symptoms may feel an emotional attachment to these items or fear losing valuable information, leading to a buildup of paper clutter that can pose fire hazards or limit living space functionality.

    paper storage
    Image Source: Canva

    The Impacts and Dangers of Hoarding

    Hoarding can have significant negative consequences on an individual’s health, safety, and overall well-being. It’s essential to recognize and address these risks to create a safer, healthier living environment.

    Dangers of Hoarding

    Hoarding can pose dangers for the individuals affected with hoarding symptoms and those around them, including:

    • Increased risk of falls and injury: Excessive clutter creates obstacles and tripping hazards, leading to an increased risk of accidents and injuries
    • Contaminated air: Dust, mold, and allergens accumulate in cluttered spaces, causing respiratory issues and exacerbating allergies
    • Plumbing problems: Blocked access to plumbing fixtures can lead to leaks, water damage, and other problems going unnoticed and unaddressed
    • Mildew and fungus: Moisture trapped in clutter can cause mildew and fungus growth, posing health risks and damaging a home’s structure
    • Sanitation issues: Clutter can make regular cleaning difficult, resulting in unsanitary living conditions
    • Pest infestations: Hoarding can attract insects and rodents, posing health hazards and causing damage to the home
    • Loneliness and isolation: The shame and embarrassment associated with hoarding can strain relationships and lead to social isolation

    Impacts and Risk of Hoarding

    The risks and consequences associated with hoarding can be emotional, physical, and social. They include:

    • Depression: The overwhelming nature of hoarding can contribute to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and depression.
    • Long-term Anxiety: The constant worry about possessions and the inability to cope with clutter can lead to chronic anxiety.
    • OCD/ADHD: Hoarding has been linked to other mental health disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
    • Health/Respiratory Issues: As mentioned above, poor air quality and unsanitary living conditions can contribute to various health issues, including respiratory problems.
    • Homelessness: In extreme cases, hoarding can lead to eviction or loss of housing, ultimately resulting in homelessness.

    8 Steps on Starting a Hoarding Cleanup In Your Home

    Embarking on a hoarding cleanup journey can be overwhelming, but breaking the process down into manageable steps can make it easier and likelier to succeed. Below are eight steps to help you begin the journey toward a clutter-free and healthier living space.

    Step 1: Decide to Make A Change

    Recognizing that hoarding is causing problems and committing to making a change is the first crucial step in addressing the issue. Acknowledge the challenges you may face, but be determined to improve your living conditions.

    Step 2: Set Small, Realistic Goals

    Start by setting small, achievable goals that will gradually help you declutter your home. For example, focus on a single room or even just a specific corner of a room. Breaking the process down into smaller tasks will make it feel more manageable.

    Step 3: Make a List of All Items and Rank Them On Hoarding Comfortability

    Create a hoarding ranking ladder by listing all items and rooms in your home, and rank them on a scale of 1–10 based on your comfort level with removing or decluttering each item or area. This method will help you prioritize tasks and focus on the areas you’re most comfortable addressing first.

    Step 4: Determine If This Is A Paid Job

    Decide whether you’ll tackle the cleanup yourself or hire a professional hoarding cleanup service. Professionals can provide specialized knowledge and support, but the decision ultimately depends on your comfort level and financial situation.

    Image Source: Canva

    Step 5: Create a Support System to Handle Triggers

    Establish a support system that includes friends, family members, or mental health professionals who can help you cope with emotional triggers that may arise during the cleanup process. Having a support network in place will make the journey more manageable.

    Step 6: Establish A Set Time To Work On Your Goals Each Day

    Dedicate a specific time each day to work on your decluttering goals. Consistent effort, even in small increments, can lead to significant progress over time.

    Step 7: Designate a Keep, Trash, and Donate Zone

    Create designated areas for items you want to keep, discard, or donate. This system will help you stay organized and make the decision-making process easier as you sort through your belongings.

    Step 8: Be Proud of Your Successes

    Celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem. Recognizing your progress and being proud of your achievements will help keep you motivated and committed to your decluttering goals.


    Decluttering and Cleaning Room By Room

    Tackling the decluttering and cleaning process room by room can help make the task more manageable and efficient. Below is a guide to help you navigate the process and maintain organization in each area of your home.

    Cleaning Supplies Checklist

    • All-purpose cleaner
    • Broom and dustpan
    • Buckets and mops
    • Cleaning rags and sponges
    • Disinfectant wipes

    Bathroom

    Begin by removing expired and unused toiletries, then clean and sanitize surfaces such as countertops, sinks, toilets, and bathtubs. Install organizers to maintain a clutter-free environment.

    Living Room

    Start by decluttering unnecessary items and organizing belongings. Clean and dust furniture, vacuum carpets, and wipe down surfaces. Implement storage solutions to keep the area tidy. 

    Kitchen

    Discard expired food and declutter kitchenware. Wipe down countertops, appliances, and cabinets. Organize your pantry and implement space-saving solutions to maintain order.

    Bedroom

    Begin by decluttering personal items and clothing. Clean surfaces, vacuum the floor and launder bedding. Utilize under-bed storage and drawer organizers to maintain a clutter-free space.

    Closet

    Remove unused or out-of-season clothing and organize the remaining items by category. Implement space-saving solutions like slim hangers or multi-tiered hanging organizers.

    Home Office

    Declutter paperwork and office supplies. Organize your desk, clean surfaces, and implement filing systems to maintain order. Consider using wall-mounted shelves for additional storage.

    Stairways and Hallways

    Clear any clutter, clean surfaces, and vacuum or mop floors. Install hooks, shelves, or storage benches to maintain organization in these transitional areas.

    Garages, Attics, and Basements

    Begin by decluttering and organizing stored items. Dispose of hazardous materials properly and clean surfaces. Implement shelving and storage solutions to keep these spaces tidy and functional.

    Following this room-by-room approach can help you maintain organization and cleanliness throughout your home, making it a more enjoyable and functional space for everyone.


    What To Do With Unwanted Items

    Once you’ve finished decluttering your home, you might be wondering what to do with the salvageable items you no longer need. Several options are available to help you find new homes for these items, and many organizations and charities will gladly accept your donations.

    • Recycle: Recycling is an environmentally friendly option for disposing of items such as books, glass bottles and jars, old newspapers and documents, and some electronics. Check your community for designated recycling facilities to properly dispose of these items.
    • Sell: Selling your unwanted items through platforms like Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, eBay, or Poshmark allows you to earn some extra cash while providing a discounted item for the buyer.
    • Give to Others: Offer your unwanted items to friends and family who might need or appreciate them.
    • Repurpose: Get creative and repurpose your unwanted items into something new and useful, such as turning an old t-shirt into a cleaning rag or using an old dresser as a TV stand.
    • Donate: Donating to organizations or charities is a great way to give your items a new purpose.

    The dropdown tabs below include five organizations that accept donations:

    • This nonprofit can take gently used clothing, electronics, furniture, and more. 
    • Contact Information: Visit goodwill.org to find a donation center near you.
    • The Salvation Army will take clothing, furniture, appliances, and more.
    • Contact Information: Locate a donation center at salvationarmyusa.org.
    • This establishment takes new and gently used furniture, appliances, building materials, and more.
    • Contact Information: Find a donation center at habitat.org.
    • Dress for Success takes professional attire for women.
    • Contact Information: Visit dressforsuccess.org to find a donation center.
    • BBBS takes clothing, shoes, accessories, and more.
    • Contact Information: Locate a donation center at bbbs.org.

    By considering the options we’ve described above, you can ensure that your unwanted items find new homes or purposes while benefiting your community and minimizing environmental impact. 


    Helping Someone with a Hoarding Disorder

    Supporting a friend or family member who struggles with hoarding disorder can be challenging, but your help can make a significant difference in their journey to recovery. Approaching the situation with empathy and understanding is crucial. Below are a few tips on how to assist someone dealing with hoarding.

    Be Patient & Offer Emotional Support

    Recovery is a slow process, and setbacks may occur. Stay patient and supportive throughout their journey, offering encouragement and understanding. Listen to their concerns and feelings without judgment. Recognize that hoarding is a complex mental health issue, and show compassion when discussing their situation.

    Assist with Decluttering, Then Stay Involved

    Offer to help with the decluttering process, but respect their boundaries and decisions. Work together to develop a plan that prioritizes safety and organization. Check-in regularly to see how they’re progressing and offer continued support. Your ongoing involvement can help maintain motivation and prevent relapse.

    Encourage Professional Help

    Gently suggest seeking help from a mental health professional or therapist specializing in hoarding disorders. This can give them the tools and coping strategies necessary to make lasting changes.

    By following these tips, you can provide valuable support to someone dealing with hoarding disorder, fostering a positive environment for their recovery.


    Additional Assistance for People with Hoarding Disorder

    Numerous resources are available to individuals struggling with hoarding disorder to help them on their journey to recovery. From support and counseling options to organizations that aid in downsizing, there’s help for every aspect of this complex condition.

    • Habitat for Humanity ReStores: Donate or shop for gently used home items
    • Buy Nothing Project: Connects people through local gifting, sharing, and lending
    • Local Tool Libraries: These are local nonprofits offering tools to borrow for home repair and gardening
    • Local Furniture Banks: Providing items for refugees and others in need

    By exploring these options and seeking support, people with hoarding disorder can take steps toward a healthier, more organized lifestyle.

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    Alexis Bennett

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    Alexis is a freelance writer with nearly a decade of experience covering the home services industry. She’s built considerable expertise in roofing, plumbing, and HVAC, as well as general construction and real estate matters. In her free time, Alexis enjoys coaching women’s golf. She lives in the Triad area of North Carolina.

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    Alexis Curls is a content strategist on the Today’s Homeowner team. She specializes in home services research. She graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor of Science in Public Relations.

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