In most homes, stoves are one of the most used applicances to prepare meals. In houses affected by hoarding, though, stoves can pose a major risk to the resident and neighbors. When clutter is too close to the eye of a stove (especially the pilot light in a gas stove), the risk of starting a fire skyrockets. Debris can easily fall onto the stove, causing an item to catch on fire. When an item catches on fire in a hoarding environment, the results can be catastrophic, as the clutter can act as an accelerant, giving your loved one less time to put out the fire or get out safely. When trying to manage the clutter in a hoarding environment, make sure the stove is an area to clear.
Tripping hazards are a major concern in hoarder houses. The accumulation of debris on floors throughout the house raise the risk of the resident tripping and possibly falling. However, when clutter and debris is left on the stairs, that risk is multiplied, especially when the resident is using a cane, walker, or other walking aid. When clutter is accumulated on the stairs, the use of the handrail is limited, and items on the stairs are difficult to see, which makes safely using the stairs less effective. When forming a harm reduction plan, be sure to include keeping the stairs clear to help your loved one remain safe.
In many areas of the house, clutter can be inconvenient, even a nuisance. However, when excessive clutter is present near entry and exit doors, the resident’s risk of exiting a house quickly is greatly increased. All entry and exit doors should be kept clear of clutter to enable the resident to exit quickly and safely, but also to allow EMT workers and firefighters easy access to the home. You can try to convince the resident to move the clutter by the door to another area of the house, if you can’t convince them to remove it completely.
Space heaters have a reputation for being prone to ignite fires, but when placed in a hoarding environment, where clutter and debris are excessive, there is a much greater risk of fire. If any paperwork, plastic, or other flammable items come in contact with the heat source, a fire will occur and the resident may not have time to exit the home. When working with a hoarder, make sure to stress the importance of keeping the areas directly around a space heater clear of debris.
In many homes, extension cords are used to allow appliances and other electronics to be used safely in areas away from the wall outlets. In hoarding environments, many of the outlets will be inaccessible due to clutter, so the resident may use extension cords that originate in other rooms. When these cords are repeated pinched in doors and/or windows, the wires may eventually touch, which could start a fire. Make sure when you are conducting an inspection of a hoarder’s house that you look for extension cords that are not being used properly. You may recommend clearing out a small area in front of an outlet blocked by clutter to help the resident use electronics in a safe manner.
Although there are many other areas for safety concern in a hoarder’s house, the above list represents many of the major risks. When performing a hoarding cleanup, these areas should be addressed to keep him/her safe. Learning to identify major safety concerns in cluttered environments can help reduce risk the resident, as well as neighbors, EMT workers, police officers, fire fighters, etc.