Hidden Hazards in the Home

As people age, it seems like things get harder to do. Whether it is going up and down the stairs, completing chores, or getting rid of things no longer needed. This can lead to an accumulation of too many items in one’s home and a vicious cycle of not having the energy to clean, then being over-whelmed by the volume of cleaning and decluttering needed. Our company, Steri-Clean Colorado, works with clients whose homes’ have piled up with possessions, sometimes creating a hazard for both the house and its occupants. In some extreme cases our clients are actually hoarders. Many of you have seen the reality tv show “Hoarders” on A & E. There are more households in Colorado like this than you might think!

First, we should make a clear distinction between collecting and hoarding. How do you know if you have a problem? According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, collectors take pride in their collections and keep them organized and displayed for everyone to see. Hoarders often become withdrawn, embarrassed and do not want people to see their “collections.” Hoarding is the accumulation of any type of clutter to the point where it impacts the functionality of the home. Rooms can’t be used as they were intended, and often become unsafe. A hoarder is also unable or unwilling to remove items that others would deem useless.

Hoarding impacts millions of people throughout the U.S. and studies suggest that 3-5% of the population has hoarding tendencies. Hoarders may look the same on the surface, but each hoarder is unique, and must be treated as such. Hoarding is usually triggered due to a traumatic life event such as a death, divorce, loss of a business or even a head injury.
Often people believe that hoarding is a result of being poor or uneducated. The truth is that most hoarders have an above average IQ. It is common for highly educated professionals such as teachers, psychologists, nurses, engineers, and attorneys to have a higher tendency for hoarding. In many cases, hoarding becomes their passion, identity and their way of life. Finding a new identify for these people is sometimes the most difficult challenge. Sadly, some may never change their behavior even with professional help.

Disposophobia is the fear of disposing of items and is the clinical term for a person that is a hoarder. There are many different types of hoarding, classified by items hoarded:

  • Animal hoarding. This is one of the saddest types of hoarding because it impacts large groups of animals. There are approximately 250,000 reported animals that are victims of animal hoarding every year. You may often see these stories on the news, as people will take on more animals than they can support both physically and financially. Usually this is reported by a neighbor, and the humane society will become involved.
  • Book hoarding. Bibliomania is a compulsive disorder which involves the hoarding of books to the point where social relations or health are compromised.
  • Mail hoarding Mail hoarders typically keep mail that is not needed. They will let the mail/junk mail pile up until the house is no longer safe to walk through or inhabit.
  • Trash hoarding. Trash hoarding is one of the most dangerous forms of hoarding because of the potential for the spreading of disease. Insects and rodents are attracted to the trash, and this can create an unhealthy environment.

Hoarding of any kind does create hazards in the home. A major risk for hoarders is rodent infestation. Four species of rats and mice carry the hantavirus. While the hantavirus is not common, it has a fatality rate around 33%.Currently, there is no known cure or vaccine for hantavirus. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It is best to focus on prevention by avoiding contact with rodent droppings and areas where they may be found.
Extreme cases of hoarding can cause structural damage to the house. Hoarding increases the fire load for a house, which means that if a fire were to break out, it is harder to contain or extinguish as there is more fuel for the fire. Some emergency responders will not enter a house if it is hoarded for fear of injury to the first responders.

Hoarded homes are also susceptible to mold. Mold associated with hoarding can be extremely dangerous to the respiratory system of the home owner. Many times, water leaks will go unnoticed due to visibility issues, or garbage will allow mold to grow. The term “toxic mold” refers to molds that produce mycotoxins. Exposure to high levels of mycotoxins can lead to neurological problems and in some cases death.

So how do you deal with this? Dealing with a hoarding situation can be very challenging. In many cases these are complex situations that need to be dealt with carefully.. It is important to understand that people need professional help, empathy and support to change their behavior. Hoarders are not crazy or lazy, and often need help in taking the first step toward clean-up and recovery. It is important that any cleanup effort is more than just having a junk hauler remove all of the items. To protect the individual, the cleanup company must take care to sort contents appropriately and work with the homeowner to declutter. Equally important, is a post-cleanup focus on professional aftercare to ensure that the home remains decluttered and safe. Without the appropriate mental health support the hoarder is very likely to return to their unsafe ways. They need a safe, clean home free of hazards.

Steri-Clean is a national franchise with over 20 years of experience. Steri-Clean Colorado is locally owned by Andrew and Annemarie Roberts. Steri-Clean Colorado provides discrete personal service, detailed plans for clean-up including saving items of sentimental or financial value, and a network of specialists to provide after-care and support. If you need help or know someone who does, call 1-800-462-7337 or visit Colorado.steri-clean.com for a free consultation and estimate.