Clutter and hoarding go hand in hand for individuals with the condition sometimes referred to as compulsive hoarding or "hoard and clutter syndrome." This condition is loosely defined as the excessive gathering of needless items. The home of a hoarder is typically filled with clutter to the point where rooms are no longer usable.
Hoarders deal with many complex issues that prevent them from getting rid of their clutter. Despite any efforts they may make to organize their belongings, the root of the problem lies in the fact that they will not get rid of their clutter or stop hoarding because for them this is a compulsive need. The level of clutter in serious hoarders’ homes can be so severe that it results in unsanitary and unsafe living conditions. Mold, mildew, and rodent and insect infestations thrive in this type of environment.
The piles of paper that many hoarders collect in the form of newspapers, magazines, books, mail, and other documents can make the home a severe fire hazard. Untidy piles of belongings often make it difficult to move from one room to the next. This situation is especially dangerous for elderly family members who are more prone to falling and seriously injuring themselves in an environment of clutter and hoarding.
Helping someone who struggles with clutter and hoarding to reclaim her home can be difficult. Before any physical work can be done, the individual must seek psychiatric help. Many hoarders suffer from a form of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), which causes them to continuously bring new items into the home. Behavioral therapy from a trained professional is necessary to relieve the anxiety associated with cleaning out the clutter and to prevent the hoarder from simply returning her home to the previous state in a few months’ time.
Once the individual is prepared to tackle the clutter and hoarding that has overtaken the home, the monumental task of clearing out what is likely years’ or decades’ worth of possessions takes place. Cleaning out the clutter can take months and thousands of dollars’ worth of work, not to mention the cost of repairing a home with water damage, mold, or infestations.
The National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization has created a Clutter-Hoarding Scale that can help concerned friends and family members as well as the hoarders themselves to determine how severe the problem is. Warning signs of a hoarder with a serious problem include passageways narrowed due to clutter, entire rooms that are unusable because of the accumulation of items, obvious household odors, and hazardous messes such as broken glass.