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Clutter vs Hoarding: What is the Difference?

Hoarding Cleanup Services

There can be a gray area between clutter and hoarding that makes it difficult to distinguish when a true problem exists. Some degree of clutter is normal to see in most homes, but hoarding is far from normal. Even so, suffering from hoarding tendencies is more common than some may believe. Approximately 1 in every 50 Americans has this crippling mental illness. As a result, their homes are littered with a high volume of items that can present physical and emotional challenges. Understanding how to differentiate between clutter and hoarding is vital for knowing when it is time to seek help.

What Is Hoarding?

Hoarding is the compulsory need to hold onto items. This means fear of throwing things away, but can also be the need to purchase and acquire new items to add to their collection as well. People that suffer from hoarding tendencies often have mental illnesses that can be caused by childhood trauma or adverse experiences. Similarly, people that have been deprived of items early in life may feel a greater need to acquire things as an adult. Some of the mental illnesses that are commonly related to hoarding are anxiety, depression, and OCD. Anxiety about getting rid of items, depression about the state of the home, and the obsessive need to hold on to things are just some of the ways these mental illnesses relate to hoarding behavior. Even though the mental illness may have caused the hoarding, it can continue to further perpetuate the disorder.

Negative Impacts Of Hoarding

The negative impacts of hoarding are widespread and can affect everything from a person’s quality of life to their relationships, careers, and livelihood. Most hoarders live in environments that can be considered dangerous. This could be a result of having chemicals in their home, mold or debris, decaying animals, and items that are considered a fire hazard. As a result, their homes are often unsanitary and may have adverse smells. This can cause a lack of visitors, which impacts social life. For hoarders with partners that do not suffer from the same disease, this can result in a loss of family or relationships. Hoarders also exhibit reclusive tendencies, tying them to their homes. They are less likely to have positive experiences, may not be able to hold a job, and can become severely depressed. Because hoarding is tied so closely to mental illness, those suffering from this debilitating disorder may not be able to take care of themselves either. For example, a home that is overrun with items can block access to things like the shower, sink, or fridge. A lack of sufficient nutrients, water, and proper bathing can result in adverse health conditions. The hyper fixation on “stuff” causes that to become the priority, with mental and physical health ending up suffering immensely. 

The Difference Between Clutter And Hoarding

It is important to be able to distinguish between a simply cluttered home and a hoarder’s home. While clutter can be an inconvenience, hoarding is a serious problem that needs immediate attention. The first sign to look out for is a lack of safety. There is a big difference between stacks of items like magazines and cups versus a completely blocked doorway. If the home does not have access to escape during an emergency, it is likely a result of hoarding. Clutter also does not correlate to uncleanliness. Having excess items lying around may make the home look unruly or messy, but it will not be physically dirty. Alternatively, a hoarder’s home will exhibit many signs of uncleanliness, such as animal urine or feces, mold, dirt, and grime. As soon as the environment becomes hazardous to health, it is safe to categorize the experience as hoarding. Once the accumulation of items has become chaotic and unmanageable, it has moved from clutter to an actual hoarding citation.

How You Can Help

The first step to getting a loved one help with their hoarding disorder is seeking medical attention. Visiting a primary care doctor to assess any physical harm incurred by the unsafe environment is vital. Next, psychiatric intervention should be considered as this disorder is rooted in trauma or adverse experiences. This will allow the person to sort through their emotions and experiences with a trained professional. Unless the root of the issue is addressed, the person is likely to resume their hoarding ways naturally. 

Once the physical and mental aspects are addressed, the home will need to be taken care of. At this point, it is best to reach out to a professional hoarding care company. These trained specialists will be able to safely and effectively cleanse the home affected. Their process is meticulous and follows a general rule of clearing the items out, cleaning the space, and decontaminating it. It is important to rely on professionals as they understand the potential hazards and dangers that may come with a hoarder’s home. Attempting to clean the space yourself could result in serious injury or harm. Also, it is important to consider how traumatizing this experience may be for the person affected. It is not recommended to have them witness the cleaning process as it may cause them distress. It may also cause issues for the cleaning service as they are likely to be interrupted. Bringing the affected person back to the home only once it has been cleaned is the best course of action for all parties involved.

Following these two steps, it is advised to continue checking in with your loved one to provide the support they will need to keep their hoarding at bay. Although the process can be taxing, it is vital for their well-being that the hoarding behaviors do not return.