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A Comprehensive Guide to Navigating the Complexities of Hoarding

Updated: Feb 9

Posted October 15, 2023


a home with a hoarding issue

In the realm of human behavior, hoarding emerges as a complex and often misunderstood occurrence. Hoarding is more than just clutter; it infiltrates lives, spaces, and communities, presenting a series of challenges that require careful consideration and understanding. This comprehensive guide delves into the intricacies of hoarding, providing a thorough exploration of its definition, manifestations, various levels, associated hazards, and the process of handling hoarding claims.


Understanding Hoarding


Definition of a Hoarding Disorder:

Hoarding is defined as a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, irrespective of their actual value. It encompasses ongoing challenges in getting rid of possessions, leading to extreme clutter that significantly compromises living spaces.


Social, Occupational, and Functional Impacts:

Hoarding extends beyond the accumulation of objects, causing substantial impacts in physical health, employment, finances, and housing stability. Emotional distress, social isolation, and family stress often accompany the struggle to discard items.


Previously Considered as a Symptom:

Historically viewed as a symptom, hoarding has been associated with various factors such as depression, trauma, fear of poverty, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and more. However, it is now recognized as a its own disorder with far-reaching consequences.


Prevalence and Characteristics:

Currently, there is no precise data on the prevalence of hoarding in Canada, but approximations range from 2 to 6 percent of the population. Hoarding can manifest across different age groups, with the average onset occurring in late childhood or early adolescence. There does not appear to be a gender difference in the prevalence of a hoarding disorder but there are differences with co-occurring problems. Hoarding does tend to run in families.


Recognizing Various Hoarder Types


Hoarders come in different forms, each exhibiting unique tendencies that shape their compulsions. Let's delve into the diverse manifestations of hoarding, shedding light on the intricate world of those who struggle to part with possessions.


1. Syllogomania: Classic Compulsive Hoarding

Characterized by the relentless collection of items lacking use, value, or emotional connection, Syllogomania leads to highly unsanitary conditions and health hazards. Rectifying the aftermath is often challenging until the source problem is addressed and the property is thoroughly cleaned.


2. Bibliomania: Information Hoarders

For these hoarders, knowledge takes physical form in the accumulation of books, magazines, newspapers, and literature, often involving individuals like lawyers and researchers. The sheer volume of material poses additional stress on a structure.


3. E-Wasters: Hoarders of Electronics

Often driven by fears of identity theft, E-Wasters hoard outdated electronics, citing the spread of personal data as a reason for retention. The perpetual evolution of technology coupled with the difficulty in discarding obsolete items, contributes to the hoarding.


4. Recycler: Planned Future Use with No Follow Through

The trend towards 'Upcycling' is a notable aspect, where they express an intention to repurpose items, showcasing a conscientious effort to reduce waste. However, the challenge lies in turning these good intentions into organized practices, as their living spaces become filled with items awaiting to be actioned.


5. Food Wasters: Dislike Letting Food Go to Waste

These individuals, motivated by a strong distaste for food wastage, commonly live alone and disregard expiration dates. Avoid challenging these individuals as they could defiantly consume expired food in front of you, oblivious to the potential consequences. Unfortunately, this habit not only poses a personal health risk but also attracts rodents and insects, creating an environment that can compromise overall well-being.


6. Collectors: Where the Collection Takes Over Functionality

The compulsion to preserve and collect, marks a distinctive manifestation of hoarding that speaks to both personal history and the emotional significance attached to the accumulated items. These individuals will retain items due to perceived “collectible value”. Often, these individuals were once store owners now grappling with the loss of their business, holding on to items, and perceiving them as valuable collectibles.


7. Shopaholics: Continuously Purchasing Items

Enabled by the internet and home shopping networks, shopaholics accumulate excess items while maintaining anonymity. Extreme couponing practices are increasingly prevalent, with living spaces overwhelmed by outdated flyers.


8. Animal Hoarder: Collecting Large Numbers of Animals

Driven by emotional stressors such as the loss of a loved one or economic hardship, individuals in this category find solace in collecting large numbers of animals. Unlike other hoarding types, animal hoarders don't merely accumulate inanimate objects; they extend their compulsion to living beings.


Understanding these diverse hoarding types unveils the complexity of this behavioral phenomenon, emphasizing the need for compassion and tailored approaches in addressing hoarding challenges.


The Classifications of Hoarding


Hoarding itself is not a covered loss, but it creates a situation far more likely to cause property damage. The Institute for Challenging Disorganization's (ICD) meticulous scale categorizes hoarding into five distinct levels, each reflecting the severity of clutter and associated hazards. This scale serves as a valuable tool for professional organizers and insurance restoration experts.


ICD Hoarding Scale:


Level I – Low:

• Clean and livable with some clutter.

• Occasional pet odours.

• Good housekeeping and healthy sanitation.

• Minimal pest evidence.


Level II – Guarded:

• Clutter has overtaken two or more rooms.

• One major appliance is non-functional.

• Limited evidence of housekeeping, with light unpleasant odours.

• Some pet odour, waste puddles, and light pet dander.

• Light to medium evidence of common household rodents/insects.


Level III - Elevated:

• Floor-to-ceiling clutter, extending outdoors.

• Narrow hall and stair pathways due to clutter.

• Two or more appliances are broken.

• Stagnant fish tanks, neglected pet areas, and audible rodent evidence.

• Heavily soiled food preparation areas and odourous garbage cans.


Level IV – High:

• Structural damage such as leaks or broken windows.

• Unusable bathrooms and bedrooms.

• Presence of mould, mildew, rotting food, and significant pest infestations.

• Hazardous materials stored, and flammable, packed materials in living areas.


Level V – Severe:

• Obvious structural damage, broken walls, disconnected utilities.

• Standing water indoors.

• Fire hazards and hazardous materials exceed local ordinances.

• Pets pose a danger to occupants and guests.


a hoarding cleanup in progress by two specialists

The Hazards of Hoarding


Trip, Slip and Fall:

Excessive clutter not only makes navigation challenging for occupants but also poses risks for insurance and restoration personnel. Hoarding transforms spaces into intricate mazes, creating scenarios where individuals might be stranded or difficult to reach in case of an accident.


Mould Growth:

Mould can be partially masked or fully concealed by the accumulated possessions. Relying on your senses, particularly smell, becomes crucial in detecting these hidden health hazards. Wearing an ANSI standard N95 mask is a prudent step when entering potential hoarding situations, safeguarding against respiratory risks. Consider the impact within multi-unit dwellings, where these issues can escalate.


Structural Integrity:

Amidst the chaos, it's essential to look beyond the clutter and assess the structural integrity of the property. A cautious examination of the exterior before entering is advised. In extreme hoarding situations, never venture alone; always ensure there's a coordinated approach with other professionals and not just the occupier.


Biohazards:

The consequences of hoarding extend to biohazards, encompassing animal decomposition, fecal matter, and blood-borne pathogens like Hepatitis. Zoonosis, the transmission of diseases between species, further intensifies the risks, requiring careful handling and protective measures.


Community Impact:

While hoarders may argue for the autonomy of their living conditions, the ripple effect on the community cannot be ignored. Beyond fire hazards spreading to adjacent buildings, hoarded properties become breeding grounds for rodents, vermin, and insects. In multi-unit dwellings, these risks are amplified, necessitating collective awareness and action to mitigate the impact on communities at large.


Navigating a Hoarding Claim


Approach with Caution: Recognizing hoarding as a mental health challenge requires a cautious and empathetic approach. Understanding the nuances of this disorder is crucial in providing effective support.


Document Everything: Thorough documentation through pictures, notes, and videos is the cornerstone for evaluating the conditions of hoarded properties. It helps in building a comprehensive understanding of the situation.


Compassionate Intervention: Beyond cleanup, offering professional counseling services is pivotal. Acknowledging the mental health aspect is the first step towards holistic resolution. Provide the tenant with reasonable notice and give them the opportunity to remedy the situation.


Legal Measures and Eviction: When conditions persist, legal counsel should be consulted after giving due notice. If necessary, eviction becomes a last resort in extreme cases.


Managing the Claims:

· Education: Equip adjusters, project managers, and contents staff with the knowledge to handle hoarding claims effectively.

· Building Trust: In some cases, specialists might be needed to establish trust with the occupants.

· Team Coordination: All actions and work must be coordinated and involve the occupant.


Expectations and Challenges:

Recognizing the struggle of hoarders and setting realistic expectations are vital. The ultimate goal is to create a functional living space while navigating the complexities of this challenging situation.


Conclusion


Handling a hoarding situation demands a delicate balance of expertise, compassion, and patience. This guide navigates the delicate process with care, addressing not only the physical clutter but also the mental health aspects associated with hoarding. Consulting with experts becomes paramount for a successful, sensitive resolution, unveiling the potential for a transformed and healthier living environment. Premium Restoration is committed to navigating the complexities of a hoarding claim, ensuring effective cleanup while respecting the dignity and challenges faced by individuals suffering from this mental disorder. Hoarding may present challenges, but with Premium Restoration, every claim is approached with professionalism, understanding, and a commitment to restoration beyond the physical spaces.









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