Hoarding: A Home into a Warehouse

You can’t even begin to understand hoarding until you are personally affected by it. Hoarding robs you of your space, your joy and your relationship with family and friends. Your home slowly becomes a warehouse. Hoarding is not something you can just stop or change overnight. It’s a real disorder.

The Washington Post indicated in 2016 that compulsive hoarding affects 19 million Americans and has been found to ruin families. In my personal experience with a hoarder in my family, I can attest to the great struggles that we face with our loved one. It is difficult to get a hoarder to accept help. If you have a loved one who is a hoarder you may want to first seek professional counsel. It’s not about going in and cleaning out a home. It’s about getting the loved one the mental help they need to overcome the disorder. In our situation with our family member, the issue is that every item that is being hoarded has a memory attached.  So to the hoarder, this memory cannot be discarded. For that reason, our loved ones home has become a full blown hoarded house.

If your loved one is in agreement to get help call professional services to handle the situation. It is the best way to go. They are trained in how to handle these situations. If they aren’t willing to let professional services in be prepared for a slow and time consuming process. Try to put a team of people together and have an organized plan of attack, see my tips below for how to handle a hoarded home.

Safety First: You will want disposable gloves, dust mask, comfortable shoes (old ones), flashlight, first aid kit and a fire extinguisher. You need to protect yourself from molds and other health concerns that may be present in a hoarder’s home. As you can imagine when a home is packed there is opportunity for things to ignite so keep that fire extinguisher handy.

Supplies: Boxes, sharpie, packing tape, trash bags, shovel, tools for disassembling items, dumpsters, 6 foot tables for staging of items and you may want a fan.

Exit Plan: Upon entry you must first clear a path to an alternate exit. Typically in a hoarders home doors and windows are blocked. In the event of an emergency you may not be able to get out through the door you entered in.

Checklist: Make a checklist, take a walk around the home and look for safety issues first. Check extension cords, medications, expired foods and household cleaners, hand rails and throw rugs that can become a trip hazard.

Patience: You will want your loved one to be involved with this process. Keep in mind that the emotional ties and memories are all part of the attachment. You will need patience and during this process. You can’t just pick it up items and trash them. This will agitate your loved one and create setbacks.

Staging: Check to see if there are any large pieces of furniture that you could dispose of or move out first to give you more room to work. Set up your boxes and large trash bags and 6 foot table for your staging area, you may have to set it up outside and that’s ok. Select a small room to start in first. I think it is good to start small so that you can see your progress and get encouragement from that. A bathroom may be a good place to start especially if you will need to use it.

Separating: Have boxes set up and marked “MOVING,” “DONATE,” and “TRASH.”  Start filling them up with the help of your loved one. Mark contents in all boxes being moved for easy identification. Continue this process through each room until that room is complete. You will eventually need an empty room to store all of the boxes that are moving. Take breaks often and stay hydrated.

Donate: Reach out to local organizations that will pick up salvageable items that you could donate. Ask for a tax donation deduction slip. Schedule them to come out daily for pickups. As your trash dumpster fills up call and have it removed and a new one dropped off. If there is salvageable furniture contact an auctioneer to have items taken to auction.

Tina Cressman

Moving Resources Manager

Tel Hai Retirement Community


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One Reply to “Hoarding: A Home into a Warehouse”

  1. I love that you encouraged patience and having the loved one involved in the process! A recommended book (that I have not had opportunity to read) is “Digging Out” by Tompkins & Hartl. The International OCD Foundation has great resources at http://www.ocfoundation.org/hoarding.
    Tina, thanks for bringing sensitive awareness to this challenging disease.

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