According to Healthline and the International OCD Foundation, hoarding occurs when a person struggles to discard items and collects unnecessary objects. Over time, the inability to throw things away can overrun the individual’s home causing increased risks of dangers such as fires, bacteria and mold, pest infestation, and more. While it may seem like a simple solution to remove the items from the property, there is an incredible amount of compassion required to delicately handle a hoarding situation as it relates to the families of those affected by the disorder. Throughout my career, my team and I have encountered many hoarding cases where our clients turned to us to help them in their time of need.
One instance where we saw this play out was in the case of a family member who had received notice from his brother that he was going to be evicted from his apartment due to the conditions of the living space. His brother’s hoarding had piled up in the small apartment, spreading throughout the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. Not only were these rooms messy with clutter, but they were also all impacted with a variety of feces, mold, rotting food and garbage.
Wreaking Havoc on a Home
Severe clutter threatens the health and safety of those living in or near the home, which can lead to health problems, structural damage, fires and more. On a personal level, conflict with family members and friends who are frustrated and concerned about the state of the home is also common.
The biggest dangers to a property affected by hoarding are:
- Fire caused by the clutter of flammable materials stacked throughout the house. Fires can also occur when objects cover a heat vent or damaged wires.
- Injuries due to falls or trips on hoarded objects. Piles in a hoarded home can become as high as ceilings, which can collapse, also resulting in injury.
- Diseases brought into the home from pests such as rats and cockroaches infesting the hoarded space.
- Mold growth resulting from the “perfect” combination of water damage and organic material, or old food that has not been thrown away.
- Structural integrity to the building itself due to the overwhelming weight of the excessive contents kept inside the space.
Tackling the Cleanup
Hoarding cleanup is not an easy task, and it is best done by restoration professionals who have the expertise and equipment to perform the job efficiently and safely. By no means was this particular case the worst I have seen in my tenure, but the timeline from the property management company was tight, so we needed to get to work quickly and efficiently.
We had a total of 48 hours to get the property cleaned up and ready for an inspection from the time we were notified of the job and arrived onsite. Our crews immediately went to work sorting through the piles and sanitizing the structure and the personal items to be returned to our client. This process requires input from the client so that they are engaged in the decisions of what to keep and what to discard. Our crews must approach these tasks with compassion and understanding. Failure to involve the client can result in a feeling of betrayal toward family members and loved ones who made the call and can even lead to heightened hoarding tendencies in the future to “make up for the loss.”
In this case, we instructed our client to write out a list of things to look out for throughout the property to keep (notes, family photos, personal artwork, etc.) and a list of items that were approved for PuroClean to dispose of (food, newspapers, damaged furniture). If an object did not fall under the list, our crew would take photos to send items for further approval. Opening up this line of communication established the trust from the client that we were handling personal items with the utmost care.
Our crew arrived onsite in protective gear, including disposable gloves and dust masks, to guard themselves against any bacteria and diseases present. We also brought a fire extinguisher, repellent spray, flashlight and a first-aid kit on hand. The equipment we used in each room to perform the job included heavy-duty trash bags, boxes, buckets, universal cleaning agents and disinfectants, and more. Once the initial staging area was ready, we immediately tackled the home starting in the room with the closest exit for a quick escape in case of emergency. The strategy we employ for trash and clutter removal is to begin from top to bottom.
When the entire home is clutter-free, we evaluate any necessary repairs to be done if needed. These can include repainting, re-carpeting, or damage restoration (after fire, water, mold or biohazard damage). Then, we utilize the PuroClean Rapid Defense Program to thoroughly clean all the contents in the house, including the salvageable items, followed by the application of hospital-grade, EPA-registered disinfectants on the non-porous surfaces. In addition, we use air scrubbers with activated carbon to absorb gaseous odors and to improve the indoor air quality in the home. Our technicians use the latest technology, products and equipment to remove pungent odors that may be present.
The Finished Product
People often ask me why my team at PuroClean performs this scope of work, especially if the job involves cleaning feces, mold and rotten food. When our client walked in to see the finished space, he immediately broke down in tears and hugged our staff because seeing the new space brought a huge sense of relief that his brother would be healthy and taken care of. The next day, the property management performed the inspection and was surprised to see such a dramatic transformation in 48 hours. Ultimately, the tenant was not evicted and was able to remain in the apartment.
These are the stories that motivate us to come to work each day and serve others, as these are homes, not just houses full of things. If our efforts can help someone in our community get back on their feet, we can rest easy knowing our job is complete.