6 Reasons Why a Hoarder House Can Be so Dangerous

What Is Hoarding?

Hoarding is not the same as collecting. Collectors look for specific items, such as model cars or stamps, and may organize or display them. People with hoarding disorder often save random items and store them haphazardly. In most cases, they save items that they feel they may need in the future, are valuable or have sentimental value. Some may also feel safer surrounded by the things they save. People with hoarding disorder excessively save items that others may view as worthless. They have persistent difficulty getting rid of or parting with possessions, leading to clutter that disrupts their ability to use their living or work spaces. But there is an explanation as to why people start hoarding. 

Hoarding disorder occurs in an estimated 2 to 6 percent of the population and often leads to substantial distress and problems functioning. Some research shows that hoarding disorder is more common in males than females. And it is also more common among older adults. Three times as many adults 55 to 94 years are affected by hoarding disorder compared to adults 34 to 44 years old.

Basics of Hoarding

Compulsive hoarding affects approximately 700,000 to 1.4 million people in the US.Compulsive hoarding is often considered a form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) because between 18 and 42 percent of people with OCD experience some compulsion to hoard. However, compulsive hoarding can affect people who don’t have OCD. The OCD Collaborative Genetics Study reported that genetic linkage findings are different in OCD families with and without hoarding behavior, suggesting that a region on chromosome 14 is linked with compulsive hoarding behavior in these families and that hoarding is a distinct genetic subtype of OCD. The compulsion to hoard often starts during childhood or the teen years but doesn’t usually become severe until adulthood.

Hoarding can be more about fear of throwing something away than about collection or saving. Thinking about discarding an item triggers anxiety in the hoarder, so she hangs on to the item to prevent angst. Many hoarders are perfectionists. They fear to make the wrong decision about what to keep and what to throw out, so they keep everything. Hoarding often runs in families and can frequently accompany other mental health disorders, like depression, social anxiety, bipolar disorder, and impulse control problems. A majority of people with compulsive hoarding can identify another family member who has the problem.

Treatments for Compulsive Hoarding

Compulsive hoarders rarely recognize their problem. Generally, only after the hoarding becomes a problem with other family members is the problem discussed. Compulsive hoarding can be difficult to control. It is usually treated in the same way OCD is. However, compulsive hoarding doesn’t usually respond as well as other kinds of OCD. 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) may be more effective for compulsive hoarding than medications, especially when it involves a therapist going into the home of the hoarder and helps her to develop habits and a consistent behavioral program to try to de-clutter her home, car, and life.

Financial Cost of Hoarding

Hoarding is not only a serious psychological disorder, but it can be extremely expensive. It is extremely costly in that the people are always buying things or picking up things that they won’t use or don’t need. In addition to the cost of purchasing these items, cleaning up a house of a hoarder is extremely expensive. Twenty years of trash results in mold issues, water damage issues, and complete structural damage. Which means all new appliances, carpet, walls, all new floors. Can you see where we are going with this? And these expenses can only happen AFTER everything has been removed from the house. Some cleaning services run $1,000 a day, with an overall cost of $20,000 to $40,000. This is all just to clean the house. Not including the cost of new appliances and home decor.

Health Concerns with a Hoarders House

Here are a few health concerns related to a hoarders house.

Air Quality Issues

Dust, odors, and ammonia from decaying waste products can cause serious air quality issues in a hoarder’s home. It may be difficult to breathe and respiratory problems may develop. It’s dangerous enough to clean up such an environment without respiratory protection, but if people and animals live in these conditions, it could have a very detrimental effect on their health over time.

Mildew and Fungus

Hoarders often have difficulty throwing away food, even if it has gone bad. Spoiled food on refrigerator and pantry shelves – along with plates of half-eaten food that sit out for days, weeks, or even months – harbor mildew and fungus growth. This makes the house stink and can pose serious health risks.

Sanitation Issues

Poor sanitary conditions are most likely to occur in homes where animal hoarding takes place. A high number of animals living together in a confined space promotes the spread of disease, especially if the owners fail to pick up after their pets. Animal waste can easily contaminate human and pet food, creating a very hazardous situation. Conditions can become so poor that some animals die, but their bodies are never removed, which exacerbates the sanitation problem even more.

Dangers Associated with a Hoarders House

Hazardous to Those That Help

Hoarding can also be harmful to those who are trying to help. Emergency workers have been injured trying to help the hoarder during lifesaving emergencies and there have been a few cases of firefighters dying after being trapped by the clutter.

Clutter can be a Deathtrap

Aside from the tripping hazards, clutter can be a deathtrap. Clutter piles can fall and block paths to get around the house or block airflow causing either low levels of oxygen or cool air on hot days. Clutter can fall on vents or block other airways, causing a lack of oxygen and rising carbon dioxide levels. This can be very dangerous as the hoarder might not notice difficulty in breathing until it is too late. Heavier clutter can also fall on the hoarder and potentially injure them or trap them under the pile of clutter.

Cleaning Hazards

The cleaning process can also be dangerous and proper planning should be considered. Mold spores may be released into the air and breathed in. Bugs can scatter if their habitats are disturbed, and can bite the one who disturbed them or those nearby. Bug bites can contain either venom or harmful bacteria, and also carries the danger of becoming infected. There is a risk that mold or water damage may have weakened the structure and as the area is cleaned could collapse. Cleaners can be hazardous if there isn’t enough airflow to carry the noxious fumes away. For this reason, it’s a good idea to have professionals help with the cleaning process. Professionals such as exterminators, pest control, and contractors (if you suspect mold or structural damage) should be consulted to assess any potential dangers before the cleaning project begins.

Hoarding cleaning companies are trained with cleaning hoarding situations and have experience with all the dangers associated with hoarding. Hoarding cleaning companies can assess the situation and will know if a professional such as a contractor, pest control, or an exterminator is necessary for the cleanup process. The cleaning process can be dangerous and should be carefully planned out regarding the dangers listed above.

Plumbing Problems

It’s common for the plumbing to go bad in homes where extreme hoarding takes place. With piles of belongings stacked precariously on every surface, it’s likely for items that don’t belong in the toilet or down the drain to end up there regardless. Clogs, sewer backups, and other plumbing issues ensue, leading to the unsanitary conditions so prominent in extreme hoarding situations.

Pest Infestation

Cockroaches, rats, flies, and other pests are attracted to rotting food and animal waste products. A severe hoarding situation can become a haven for pests that spread diseases to the people and animals living in these unsanitary conditions. 

Building Safety Issues

If it’s difficult to walk around the house because of all the junk, it could be impossible for technicians to perform necessary maintenance on HVAC equipment and sprinkler systems, creating a safety hazard. Trash littering the yard makes it easier for burglars to hide from sight and attempt a break-in.

When rats live in the walls, it’s possible for them to chew through wiring and cause electrical failure or fires. The sheer mass of combustible items in a hoarder’s home allows any fire that starts to spread quickly. Then, the extreme clutter might block windows and doors, a fire hazard that could make it impossible to escape.

Conclusion

As we have learned, hoarding is a mental disorder that causes individuals to save and store an unnecessary amount of items. We have also learned that it is usually only treated with cognitive behavior therapy and that it can cost the individual tens of thousands of dollars. And finally, we learned that there are multiple health concerns and dangers associated with a hoarders house. But put all these things aside, hoarding is a treatable condition that requires guidance and professional help. If you are considering attempting to help clean a hoarders house, you may want to consider hiring professional help. Unless you are more of a DIY type of person, make sure you have the proper ventilation equipment and protective gear. In conclusion, remember that these people can change, but they need help to change.

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Tyler Farr
 

Tyler is an energetic nature enthusiast who is currently considering moving into a tiny house. Tyler and his wife enjoy hiking, mountain biking, camping, and doing anything in the great outdoors. He hopes that the articles he writes will help others learn how important it is to take care of the environment.

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