The American Psychiatric Association defines Hoarding Disorder as a persistent difficulty in parting with possessions. However, we shouldn’t confuse this with a messy lifestyle or too much clutter. Hoarding Disorder is more complicated than that – severely impairing an individual’s day to day functioning. (To learn more about the specific symptoms and management of Hoarding Disorder, speak to a mental health professional in your area or check out this article from PsychiatryAdivsor.)
When someone you love struggles with Hoarding Disorder, it can be hard to know how to help. Therapists, friends, and family can offer much-needed support along the road to recovery, but you can’t force someone to change their habits. And even with cooperation, recovery often means taking on an overwhelming and potentially hazardous cleanup project.
Whether you’re tackling your own hoarding behaviors, helping a loved one, or find yourself inheriting a hoarding property – you’ll want to set yourself up for success. That means building a plan and setting obtainable goals. It also means avoiding these common mistakes, which can make already challenging situations a dozen times worse.
Hoarder House Cleanup – Common Mistakes
Don’t skip the research and don’t cut corners.
One of the most common mistakes we see is inadequate preparation. Of course, that’s not terribly surprising. After all, it can be difficult for owners to estimate the amount and type of clean up for a project of this scale. Furthermore, effective cleanup will call for knowledge of your local landfill requirements, as well as building codes, regulations, and work permits. That type of information can be somewhat specialized, as well as specific to where you live. Even so, knowing your local regulations and requirements can help avoid fines or delays.
We suggest you start by taking an inventory of the large objects you can see, the size of the rooms, as well as the visible damage to the structure. Use that information to plan accordingly for permits, dumpsters, and donations.
On that note, be aware that you’ll need to dispose of some items more carefully than others. That may include taking them to a recycling center or selling scrap metal. It’s worth looking into different organizations, too, since many recycling and scrap metal companies will happily pick up your items for free.
If you’re in the Salt Lake City area, our county’s landfill clearly explains what they will and won’t accept on their website. Certain items (such as fridges, TVs, paint thinner, chemicals, and tires) can only be dropped-off on certain days and at specific locations. There’s also a unique classification system for hazardous waste.
Dumpsters will have their own rules too. They have contracts about what they can take. For instance, a lot of contractors won’t haul paint or batteries. And, yes, they’ll absolutely track where their loads came from. In other words, if a dumpster company is caught at the landfill with the wrong items, it’s likely to come back on you. So make sure to do your research and follow their rules.
Don’t try to accomplish everything in one day.
In a typical hoarding scenario, it’ll take years to collect the items present. Consequently, it could easily take you days, weeks, and even months to fully remove that amount of clutter. Be sure to plan ahead, and take it one step at a time. We’ve known far too many people that have hurt themselves or worked to the point of exhaustion trying to clean out a hoarding house. So please be careful, and put your own health first.
Plan days with friends and family to make the most out of your dumpster rentals. (You may also need to rent tools to disassemble furniture, heavy-duty saws to cut debris down to manageable sizes, and the proper equipment for lifting and moving heavy objects.) If you need a more expeditious cleanout, you may want to hire a cleanup company to assist you. A simple web search should help you locate one nearby. If you’re in Utah, then AEI Decon is happy to help.
Don’t neglect your safety.
There are many health hazards associated with hoarding, and it’s shocking how many people underestimate the dangers. Hoarding houses often build up human body fluids and fecal matter, vermin and mouse droppings (which carry diseases like the Hantavirus), bedbugs, needles, other sharps, and more. And to be clear, in most scenarios, we aren’t talking one or two piles of droppings – or a few sightings of bugs. You’ll likely hit nests, piles of animal leavings, and so forth. So make sure to use cut-resistant gloves, respirators, and hazmat suits. (These suits should have hoods and cover the knees.)
A word on insects. Many of the world’s crawling creatures (especially bedbugs – which are difficult to exterminate) love to hitch rides on clothing. So be aware of cross-contamination and don’t wear your gear into your own home.
Many are tempted to skip this step, assuming jeans and t-shirts are sufficient. Unfortunately, that’s simply not the case. Remember, hoarding often generates decay of items. Paper, for instance, will decompose (especially when exposed to moisture.) That prompts mold buildup, which can be harmful to your health (especially for people with allergies.) Dust builds up too, and such environments are prime breeding grounds for small particulates (viruses, bacteria, and so forth).
Similarly, bottles and cans often fail and leak solvents and caustic materials. Many of these are harmful to your skin and can cause burns. It’s also easy to unintentionally touch your eye or mouth. So be sure to avoid this common mistake – and wear the appropriate gear.
Don’t get caught with your guard down. Be prepared for what you may see.
Hoarding Disorder can create terrible heartache for people and their animals. In fact, many hoarders have too many animals to keep track of, and you may see evidence of abuse or neglect. For example, in one home (while working through about ten or fifteen years worth of debris), we found a collection of birds. Sadly, they were forgotten, crushed, and buried; their bodies left behind – as were their droppings. These types of scenarios are heartbreaking and all too common. So be ready and mentally prepared for the reality of facing the true consequences of hoarding.
You may have to deal with live animals too, including colonies of rats or dozens of homeless pets.
Finding a Cleanup Company
Obviously, we cannot cover all the risks you may encounter in a single blog. So, it’s important that you stay vigilant and make a thorough action plan. You may also want to seek a consultation with the local Certified Decontamination Specialists in your area before you start. If you’re having trouble finding one, you might try a local health department. They may be able to refer you to a reputable cleanup company.
If you’re in Utah, then feel free to call AEI Decon. We specialize in affordable decontamination, including hoarder house cleanup. Give us a call for you’re free consultation at (801) 888-6698.
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