Identifying Hoarding Behavior

At Hoarding Cleanup Central, we understand that there are certain guidelines that should be followed in order to properly address hoarding behavior.  Properly addressing hoarding behavior all starts with identifying it for what it is as well as specifying the level of severity of the hoarding behavior. Today, we will be taking a look at the guidelines that should be followed in order to properly address hoarding behavior and hopefully help those combatting this disorder to get the help they deserve.

Not only will we be addressing what hoarding is but we will also be discussing what makes hoarding a public safety issue, how you can intervene, and how to identify the severity of the hoarding behavior in order to better address the issue at hand. With all of this information, it is likely that you will have a more effective impact on helping a friend or loved one who is displaying the signs of a hoarding problem. With that, let’s get started!

What is Hoarding?

In order to best address the problems associated with hoarding behavior, it is crucial that we first have an understanding of what hoarding is. According to the Mayo Clinic, hoarding disorder is defined as the persistent difficulty either discarding of or parting with possessions due to a perceived need to save them. Typically, those displaying hoarding behavior will become very distressed by the idea of having to give up any item of perceived value to them, translating to excessive accumulation of items regardless of any real value.

A hoarding disorder extends to many facets of the lives of those it affects. This is because hoarding often results in living conditions that are difficult to exist in. From cramped quarters resulting from a home being filled to capacity with items to an inability to navigate from one room to the next, hoarding puts a huge negative impact on those who are affected by the disorder. Some people even collect animals, resulting in keeping dozens if not hundreds of pets in unsanitary conditions due to being unable to care for them properly.

The severity of hoarding ranges on a scale from mild cases to more severe ones. While some cases of hoarding have been found to have less of an effect on the everyday life of those with the disorder, more severe cases have significant impacts that affect the daily functioning of the individual. It is important to take note of the differences in severity as this is one of the greatest tools in combating the disorder on a case by case basis. Those with hoarding disorder don’t see it as a problem and this can make treatment challenging for those trying to help. Intensive treatment can, however, assist people with hoarding disorder in better understanding their compulsions in order to live safer and more pleasant lives.

Why is Hoarding a Public Safety Issue?

Many people wonder why hoarding is dangerous. After all, on the outside looking in, it may seem as those with hoarding disorder aren’t necessarily hurting anyone (including themselves) with their own behavior. This is, however, far from the truth of the matter. Hoarding is considered a public safety issue for a variety of reasons and each of these reasons should be understood in order to fully realize the need for intensive treatment for those with hoarding disorder.

Firstly, the unsanitary conditions that those living with hoarding disorder have to exist in are dangerous and pose a significant threat to their health and happiness. Secondly, the accumulation of items within the homes of hoarders is typically so severe that there is an increased risk of falls which can result in injury. Another reason that hoarding is considered a public safety issue is that there is a possibility that those living in a hoarding environment could be severely injured by falling or shifting items. The accumulation of belongings usually results in an increased risk of fire damage due to these items posing a fire hazard as well.  

A few other reasons that hoarding is considered a public safety issue is found in the fact that the accumulation of items in the homes of hoarders is typically so severe that it gets in the way of them completing everyday tasks such as bathing or even cooking food. Along with this, hoarding may also encourage insects or rodents in the neighborhood, affecting all of those living around the hoarder. Finally, hoarding behavior may cause sanitation or odor nuisances from the presence of garbage, animal waste, and trash. Each of these reasons make it clear that hoarding is a matter of public safety and intensive treatment should always be the goal.

How Can You Intervene?

Hoarding is both a mental health issue and a public safety concern. Hoarding behavior has also likely been occurring for a long time for the individual that it affects and, for this reason, should be approached with compassion, patience, and understanding. If you have found yourself wondering how you can assist a friend or loved one who is dealing with a hoarding issue, it is crucial that you take the appropriate steps in order to intervene. Most frequently, intervening in a hoarding problem requires the use of agencies and other people.

Emergency intervention may even be required for those dealing with situations where the neglect or abuse of adults, children, or animals is concerned. Code violations may also call for the need for emergency action as well. It is highly recommended that family members or friends not attempt to intervene without the expressed cooperation of the hoarder as this can lead to the possible development of dangerous behaviors.

The Levels of Hoarding Severity

In order to be of the most help to someone dealing with a hoarding disorder, it is crucial that you first identify whether or not there is a confirmable hoarding issue. For this, the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization has determined 5 different levels of hoarding disorder:

  • Hoarding Level One: Clutter is not to the point of what is considered excess. All stairways and doors are still accessible, no odors are present, and the home is considered safe and sanitary overall.
  • Hoarding Level Two: There is clutter inhabiting two or more rooms, light odors can be detected and light mildew may be observed in bathrooms or kitchens. One exit is completely blocked. There may be some pet waste or dander and there is limited evidence to suggest proper levels of housecleaning.
  • Hoarding Level Three: There is excessive dust along with one bedroom or bathroom being considered completely unusable. Food preparation areas are heavily soiled with strong odors present throughout the entirety of the home. There may be an excessive amount of pets and clutter has now made its way outdoors as well.
  • Hoarding Level Four: There is sewer backup as well as flea infestation, lice on bedding, electrical wiring issues, food rooting on countertop spaces, and multiple instances of pet damage to the home.
  • Hoarding Level Five: A rodent infestation is present, the amount of clutter present in the bathroom and kitchen makes both areas completely unusable and the presence of both human and animal feces is observable. Electrical and/or water service has been disconnected at this stage.

Upon using the scale above to identify how much of an hoarding issue your friend or loved one is dealing with, you can take the necessary steps to intervene. In more severe cases of hoarding it is, again, highly recommended to seek the help of an agency. More mild cases, however, may be dealt with in the following ways once you have determined that it is not an emergency situation:

  • Take time to talk with the person in question
  • Let them share their story and always use a gentle approach
  • Respect the person’s attachments to their possessions
  • Be compassionate and supporting but remain calm and factual
  • Use Safety Code Guidelines to evaluate for safety
  • Never force interventions
  • Encourage the person in question to be involved in their own solution
  • Don’t act judgmentally about the environment

Safety Code Guidelines for Establishing Safety

As mentioned, it is important that you assess whether or not there is any issue of safety in the environment that your friend or loved one is living in. For this, it is crucial that you use the following safety code guidelines for establishing safety in the environment:

  • Establish 36 inch paths throughout the home
  • 24 inches should be established from all ceilings
  • A 36 inch barrier should be established around all heating elements
  • A 24 inch square should be established around all of the home’s windows, floor to ceiling
  • Smoke detectors should be in functioning condition across each floor of the home and each bedroom
  • Put a fire extinguisher in place for each of the home’s floors
  • Remove all combustible materials
  • Remove any and all gas or propane equipment or vehicles from the inside of the home

At Hoarding Help Central, we wish you the best of luck assisting your friend or loved one in combating their hoarding disorder. With a little compassion and know-how you can play a valuable role in the recovery process!