Excessive clutter is common in all houses where hoarding is an issue. Many times, when people have not helped in a hoarding environment before, the task seems impossible. However, after helping in over 450 hoarding cleanup environments, I have listed some great ways you can be of assistance while helping to declutter a hoarder’s house. Another tool you should consider is a fire extinguisher, which should be left outside of the entrance of the home being used (multiple fire extinguishers if multiple entrances are being used). Learn to use the fire extinguisher before staring the job, in case you need to use it.
First, make sure you are working safely. In many hoarding environments, there are a wide variety of hazards that you need to be aware of before you begin work. In most environments, you will want to wear rubber or vinyl disposable gloves, which you will need to inspect often to ensure there are no holes or tears. In extreme hoarding houses, you will want to wear a pair of leather gloves over the top of the disposable gloves to reduce the likelihood of cuts and scrapes. Next, you may want to wear an N-95 disposable mask, which can be bought at any hardware or box store. These masks deter the amount of airborne particulates that can be inhaled. Mold, mildew, dust, dust mites, and other small airbourne particles are easily inhaled if proper respiratory protection is not worn. Boots are always recommended in working in hoarding environments, as many times the floor may not be completely visible at all times and there is an increased risk of falling items. I would always suggest having hand sanitizer present along with a small medical kit.
Next, have the person with the hoarding disorder (I don’t approve of the use of the word hoarder) to identify any trash and debris that can be removed from the home. Focus on removing items that are obviously trash or items that will no longer be used in the home after the job is complete. Keep in mind that the more items that can be permanently removed from the house, the easier it will be to clean and organize the home after job is complete. Start in a room closest to an exit and work your way in. You don’t have to clean the entire room before starting another room, but you do need to make enough progress in the first room that starting another room will not compound the problem. Make sure the path that you create is kept free of debris, as it is easy to trip in hoarding houses.
When enough progress is made, inspect the home for potential fire hazards. Fire hazards can be excessive paper on or near the stove or pilot lights, too many electrical cords plugged into a wall outlet, a damaged or frayed extension cord, a door or window that is mostly or completely blocked by debris, excessive clutter on the stairs inhibiting movement, etc. Identifying and correcting fire hazards could literally be the difference between surviving during a fire and being trapped in the home if a fire occurs.
Once the debris and trash has been removed and the fire hazards have been addressed, you can begin to clear out one room at a time. Remove all items from one room, then clean the room from top to bottom, using a medical grade disinfectant. Make sure you clean the ceilings and ceiling fan blades, interior windows, blinds, curtains, window sills, doors, baseboards, light switch covers, and closets. This may be a good time to replace light bulbs as well. When the room has been properly cleaned and sanitizied, you can begin to bring in large furniture that will remain in the home. Make sure each piece of furniture is properly dusted and cleaned and place it in the area where it will remain after you finish the job. Once the furniture is placed, you can then begin to return items to the room. If the task is too overwhelming, you can always hire a hoarding cleanup company /hoarder-cleaning-columbia-sc. Encourage the person with the hoarding disorder to keep anything that will not be used in the next year to get rid of the items, or store the items outside of the house, whether it be a storage unit or a shed. Observing these suggestions will help you tremendously when working in a hoarder’s house.