Compulsive hoarding is defined by the uncontrollable need to obtain items and/or the inability to throw anything away. The items overtakes the persons’ life to the point that they are unable to safely function in the home, even losing access to what is commonly considered basic necessities. Hoarders are often desensitized to the extremity of the situation or so overwhelmed by the clutter that they give up trying to change the situation.
Compulsive hoarding presents a concern to the family and friends of the hoarder, and in many cases, to the neighbors and overall community. While many hoarders feel protective of their environment and that their lifestyle is no one else’s business, there is a larger health concern for the person and those in their vicinity. Also, when the hoarding escalates to the outside of the home, it affects the value of the neighborhood negatively.
Let’s take a look at some of the dangers directly to the hoarder, and in some cases, we will be able to see how it can present a larger issue.
Fire – An extremely cluttered home is an easy place for a fire to start and to spread quickly. Many times, flammable objects like newspapers, junk mail, and tissue are haphazardly piled about the home. It is not strange to find this directly on a stove top. In cases where the hoarder has no heat, they will depend on the oven or burners for heat. This is often done with flammable things in the area.
Also, depending on the length of time the hoarding has gone on, the state of the house has decayed so much that the electrical is shoddy or damaged by pets and/ or vermin. In either case, it takes just a small mistake for a fire to start, and because of the clutter, it could be extremely difficult for a hoarder to escape in time. Also, the clutter presents a problem to fire fighters to get to the person, and it may be deemed too dangerous for them to enter such a home. The ferocity of such a situation could quickly and easily spread to the neighbors’ property.
Illness – Unfortunately, a hoarding disorder may make it difficult for a person to recognize the degradation in basic hygiene and life skills. There may be rotten food the person is consuming, or human excrement that hasn’t been properly disposed. Add to this the attraction of vermin and feral animals and that home becomes a breeding ground for bacteria, viruses, and diseases. Such creatures are used to scavenging and surviving and may readily spread to the hoarders’ neighbors, putting them in danger.
Falling – It is very hard to move around in an extremely cluttered environment. A lot of hoarders are elderly or otherwise infirmed and a fall in such a home could be a death sentence. First, since hoarders are many times solitary, there is no one in the vicinity to call for assistance. Also, if emergency services are able to get to the home, the magnitude of the clutter makes it extremely difficult to get to the resident much less bring in equipment such as a stretcher.
Economic burden – Many hoarders are in poor financial straits due to the extent of the disorder in their lives. For some, it is a manner of renting numerous storage units to house their collecting. For others it is due to the need to impulse shop. There are also the many fines and court fees some hoarders owe for not cleaning up their homes in a timely manner. Whatever the cause, the financial stress hoarders go through may pull them deeper into their illness – the desensitization, depression, and the resignation.
The dangers of hoarding are disturbing, especially when one considers it negatively affecting others around. No one wants to think of a loved one living in such conditions, putting their life at risk on a daily basis. Through gentle conversations about some of these dangers, hopefully the hoarder will recognize that help is needed.