Nearly once a week I get a call from a prospective client that says… “my INSERT BLANK is a hoarder and they need help”. What they are trying to tell me is that that person has a lot of stuff and, in their opinion, more “stuff” than most. That said, although I know what they mean, often, that person is probably not “hoarding”. I hope this information helps clarify some of the misconceptions about hoarding.
The following information is from the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (www.challengingdisorganization.org) and from the American Psychiatric Association:
What Is Hoarding:
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.
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.
The Institute for Challenging Disorganization, aka ICD, has devised The Clutter-Hoarding Scale which is an assessment tool to help determine what hoarding is and how to identify the level. This tool helps professionals determine what kind of help is needed. The Clutter-Hoarding Scale is not used for diagnostic purposes or for any psychological evaluation of a person(s).
There are 5 categories and 5 levels of the Clutter-Hoarding Scale:
The 5 Categories are:
1. Structure and Zoning: Assessment of access to entrances and exits; function of plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems, appliances and structural integrity.
2. Animals and Pests: Assessment of animal care and control; compliance with local animal regulations; assessment for evidence of infestations of pests (rodents, insects or other vermin).
3. Household Functions: Assessment of safety, functionality and accessibility of rooms for intended purposes.
4. Health and Safety: Assessment of sanitation levels in household, household management of medications for prescribed and over-the-counter drugs.
5. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Recommendations for PPE (face masks, gloves, eye shields or clothing that protect the wearer from environment health and safety hazards).
The 5 levels indicate the degree of household clutter with Level I being the lowest and Level V being the highest. Below are the criteria regarding two of the above categories: Structure and Zoning and Household Functions. I chose these two as they are the ones that most people can relate to and/or identify with. The others can be found at https://www.challengingdisorganization.org/clutter-hoarding-scale)
The 5 Levels are:
Level I – This level is considered standard.
• All doors, stairs and windows are accessible, plumbing, electric and HVAC are operational; fire and CO detectors are functional.
• No excessive clutter; all rooms properly used, appliances functional; good housekeeping and maintenance.
Level II – Household environment requires either Professional Organizers or related professionals who have knowledge and understanding of chronic disorganization.
• One Major exit is blocked; 1 major appliance or HVAC device is not working for longer than one season; some plumbing or electrical systems are not fully functional; fire or CO detectors are non-existent or non-functional.
• Clutter beginning to obstruct living areas; slight congestion of exits and entrances, hallways, stairs; some household appliances not functional; inconsistent housekeeping and maintenance.
Level III – This Level is the pivot point between a cluttered household and a potential hoarding environment.
• Outside clutter of items normally stored indoors; HVAC devices not working for longer than one season,;fire or CO detectors non-existent or non-functional; one part of the home has light structural damage which occurred during the past 6 months.
• Clutter obstructing functions of key living spaces; building up around exits, entrances, hallways and stairs; at least one room not being used for intended purposes; several appliances not working; inappropriate usage of electric appliances and extension cords; substandard housekeeping and maintenance; hazardous substances in small quantities.
Level IV – Household environment requires a coordinated and collaborative team of service providers including, but not limited to, Professional Organizers, family, mental health professional, pest and animal control officers, licensed contractors, financial counselors, etc.).
• Excessive outdoor clutter of items normally stored indoors; HVAC devices not working for longer than 1 year; CO detectors non-existent or non-functional; structural damage to home lasting more than 6 months; water damaged floors, damaged walls and foundations, broken windows, doors or plumbing, odor or evidence of sewer backup.
• Diminished use and accessibility to key living areas; several rooms cluttered to extent that they cannot be used for intended purposes; clutter inhibits access to doorways, hallways and stairs; inappropriate storage of hazardous/combustible materials; appliances used inappropriately; improper use of electric space heaters, fans or extension cords.
Level V – Household environment requires a collaborative team including, but not limited to, Professional Organizers, mental health professional, family, zoning, fire and/or other safety agents, etc.).
• Extreme indoor/outdoor clutter; foliage overgrowth; abandoned machinery, ventilation inadequate or non-existent; HVAC systems not working; water damaged floors, walls and foundation, broken windows, doors or plumbing; unreliable electrical, water and/or septic systems; odor or sewer backup; irreparable damage to exterior and interior structure.
• Key living spaces not usable; all rooms not used for intended purposes; entrances, hallways and stairs blocked; toilets, sinks and tubs not functioning; hazardous conditions obscured by clutter, appliances unusable; hazardous and primitive use of kerosene, lanterns, candles, fireplace/woodstove as primary source of heat and/or light.
Although I have provided information regarding the categories and levels of hoarding, this only skims the surface. If you want more information, please go to challengingdisorganization.org where there is a plethora of information on this subject.