While hoarding isn’t a new phenomenon, television series such as A&E’s “Hoarders” and TLC’s “Hoarding: Buried Alive” have brought attention to this psychological disorder. Hoarding takes collecting to extremes; hoarders often hold on to things such as trash or old newspapers and refuse to throw anything out, ultimately to the point that the mess overwhelms their homes. When a hoarder passes on or decides to seek help for hoarding behavior, family and friends are often called upon to help clean up, which can seem like an overwhelming task.
Safety precautions should be followed with any cleaning operation, but in the home of a hoarder, they may be more important. The unknown within a hoarder’s mess makes the cleaning situation difficult and risky to anyone trying to clean. Cleaners run the risk of coming across mold, mildew, rotten food, flammable materials or any number of other hazards. In many cases, people cleaning a hoarder’s home don full-body painter’s suits, thick gardening gloves, goggles and particle-filtering masks, which can be purchased from home improvement stores. In addition to hazardous materials, you may come across rusty nails, old nails or other potentially harmful items, so moving through the house carefully and handling items with care becomes important.
It may be tempting to grab everything and toss it in one go, but by trying to tackle the whole house in only one or two days, you run the risk of becoming overwhelmed much more quickly. As with cleaning any home, handling the cleanup one room at a time, or even one corner at a time, allows both the people cleaning up and the hoarder to take in the situation more slowly. Focusing on smaller areas makes the rest seems less overwhelming. For instance, one cleaning pass can be devoted to clearing out a bathroom or bedroom before taking a break and moving on to another section of the house. Once everything has been removed from the home, it’s then time to sort through it to see what can and can’t be saved. During this part of the cleanup, you’ll need plenty of trash bags and bins for sorting. You may even want to hire portable dumpsters or large containers such as Pods in which to store things.
Over the course of the cleanup process, it’s likely that the hoarder will feel anxious and upset. Handling these feelings is as important as clearing out the mess. In a "Reader’s Digest" article, Dr. Fugen Neziroglu recommends seeking the help of a therapist experienced with hoarders and others with obsessive-compulsive disorders. Having a therapist on hand eases the anxiety of the person and makes cleaning easier for everyone involved. Neziroglu advises against secretly cleaning a hoarder’s home without permission, as this can lead to adverse emotional affects.
Sometimes, a hoarding cleanup operation becomes too much to handle alone or with only a handful of people. It could be that the house turns out to have more damage than originally thought or the cleaning project becomes too overwhelming. In these cases, calling in a professional cleaning company may be a good idea. Professional companies that deal with cases of hoarding feature the equipment and experience to properly handle even the worst cases of hoarding. Calling in outside help also cuts down on the amount of stuff that needs to be trashed; local charities often times perform donation pick-ups that can haul away any items from the home that are still useable but not needed by the owner.