Clutter or Hoarding
A Serious Issue Requiring a Trained Approach
You have likely asked or overheard someone ask “did you see that episode of Hoarders or Buried Alive when…?” Popular hoarding programs have helped to shed light on the serious issue of hoarding, but have also helped to shape misguided opinions and misperceptions about people who hoard. Such programming is meant to ‘entertain’, not to educate about the complexities of hoarding. Hoarding behaviors, histories, types, levels and so on have become a major study for scientist and academics.
What is Hoarding? Who Hoards? How can a Hoarder be helped?
“Hoarding is a complex disorder that is made up of three connected problems:
- collecting too many items
- difficulty getting rid of items
- problems with organization
These problems can lead to significant amounts of clutter which can severely limit the use of living spaces, pose safety and/or health risks, and result in significant distress and/or impairment in day-to-day living.” International OCD Foundation
Types of Hoarding:
- OCD Based Hoarding or Compulsive Hoarding
- Older Adult Hoarding
- Animal Hoarding
- Information or Digital Hoarding
- Book Hoarding – Bibliomania
Clutter or Hoarding: A Measuring Tool:
The Institute for Challenging Disorganization has developed a 5-level hoarding scale allowing one to measure the degree of clutter or hoarding while factoring in health and safety considerations as well as the potential for structural and environmental hazards.
ICD Clutter-Hoarding Scale: A Residential Observational Tool
Level 1: Household environment is considered standard. No special knowledge in working with the chronically disorganized is necessary.
Level II: Household environment requires professional organizers or related professionals who have additional knowledge and understanding of chronic disorganization.
Level III: The ICD considers Level III to be the pivot point between a household environment that can be assessed as cluttered and a household assessment that may require the deeper considerations of working in a hoarding environment. Professional organizers, related professionals or others who are working with Level III household environments should have significant training in chronic disorganization and have developed a helpful community network of resources, especially mental health professionals.
Level IV: Household environment requires a coordinated collaborative team of service providers in addition to professional organizers and family. Such providers might include mental health professionals, social workers, financial counselors, pest and animal control officers, crime scene cleaners, licensed contractors and handypersons. Mental health and/or medical and financial issues are frequently involved.
Level V: Household environment will require intervention from a wide range of professionals. Professional organizers should not work alone in a Level V environment. A collaborative team of related professionals needs to be assembled to create and implement clearly defined goals and negotiated timetables. Members might include family, mental health professionals, social workers, building manager, zoning, fire, and/or safety agents. The individual with a Level V home might be involved in legal proceedings, such as a conservatorship, guardianship, divorce, custody, eviction or condemnation proceedings. Formal written agreements among the parties should be in place before proceeding.
At the risk of oversimplifying an extremely complex human behavioral issue, here are 4 character categories of individuals who struggle with hoarding.
- Perfectionists: stuggles with or diagnosed with anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorder
- Specific brain functioning patterns: ADHD-like symptoms, memory and decision making issues.
- Attachment issues: can manifest from trauma, grief, abuse, need for safety
- Fear and beliefs: all objects hold value.
How to help a Hoarder:
Like so many other secrets hidden behind closed doors, it is difficult to determine how many individuals would be classified as a hoarder. Some estimates suggest there are 700,000 to 1.4 million people in the US who compulsively hoard.
Those who hoard do not always believe they need help, nor do they necessarily want help. If, based on the hoarding scale (provided above) and your assessment (or preferably one conducted by a professional) you feel those living in the home are exposed to health risks and physical danger, please contact the appropriate community service department (listed above).
For additional resources and information please reference the International OCD Foundation (link provided below).
Finally, please contact SOCS for an assessment and/or additional support.
International OCD Foundation
The Institute for Challenging Disorganization Clutter – Hoarding Scale
Borchard, T. (2011). 10 Things You Should Know About Compulsive Hoarding. Psych Central