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Organizing a Hoarder’s Den: The 6-Step Process

How many Americans suffer from hoarding tendencies? According to psychologist and hoarding specialist, Dr. David Tolin, between two and five percent of the U.S. population “may meet the criteria for being hoarders.” By contrast, he says that panic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder affect one and two percent, respectively.

These numbers are surprising. How can two to five percent of the U.S. population have hoarding tendencies without it having made headlines? Hoarding is an invisible disorder. Often, hoarders do not have guests come around their homes because they do not want people to see how they live. Because society cannot see the disorder, it’s thought of as non-existent. Research has shown this to be unfounded. The Scientific American published an article showing that compulsive hoarders generally suffer from some sort of cognitive disorder. 48 percent of hoarders suffer from social anxiety, while 50 percent battle major depressive disorder.

In trying to suppress feelings of anxiety, depression and social stress, hoarders collect objects and things for a sense of control. Inevitably, their collections become out of control.

An unorganized individual who keeps ketchup packets on the counter and dirty clothes ringing the laundry hamper is not a hoarder. Someone who has constructed towers out of miscellaneous items (to you) measuring several feet tall, has only narrow passageways for walking and rooms stuffed with objects so that you cannot see the floor can be categorized as a hoarder.

Hoarding situations are grievous to the physical and mental health of the dweller and a disaster to the well-being of the home. If a house is deemed untenable, even homeowners insurance can be cancelled by the insured’s insurance provider. This means if the houses catches fire or a houseguest is injured on the premises, the homeowner will not have insurance to cover property or medical damages, putting them further at risk of catastrophe. If your loved one is living in a precarious housing situation, no amount of time spent searching for homeowners insurance rates is going to make a difference: they will be denied coverage.

To help your loved one clean up their life, here are some things to do:

Draft a plan. Don’t enter the home guns blazing; this will only cause distress. Have a sit down with your loved one and discuss what they have in mind of keeping and donating. Do not refer to their items as things to be thrown away.

Identify items by emotional connection to the afflicted. Your loved one will have a reason for keeping items that you may view as garbage. Listen to them and try to understand where they are coming from. This can be difficult, as at this stage they are not yet recognizing the dangerous position they are in. In seeing that you are making an effort to work with them, your loved one will be more willing to start the decluttering process.

Arrange the items by function. Discuss which items are most significant and separate them as such. Again, do not refer to any of the items as trash.

Express value of donations. If there are multiples of one item, suggest the owner make a donation to someone in need of said duplicate. By mentioning that the object of the object will be used and taken care of, your loved one will be more willing to part with it.

Do not refer to the objects as trash. Just to restate, calling the hoarder’s collection a pile of trash will not magically make them want to get rid of it. Instead, they will feel judged and more of an outsider. In some cases, it could bring more tension to an already tense situation.

Hire a cleaning crew. After arranging the to-be-kept and to-be-donated items, have the house deep cleaned. Suggest that you and your loved one spend the day elsewhere doing a fun shared activity. This will make it easier for the cleaning crew to get into the home and throw out the actual trash without putting undue stress on your loved one.

And finally, when all is said and done, find a new homeowners insurance plan with CoverHound.

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