Home Forums Unclutter Your Life in One Week Your story Cleaning out a hoard house (sorry, long post!)

This topic contains 34 replies, has 22 voices, and was last updated by  Swede 5 years, 9 months ago.

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  • #160341

    Swede
    Member

    My questions are:

    Has anyone any experience in cleaning out a hoard house? Any advice? Things to think of? Anything I should stock up on apart from bin bags, gloves and dust masks? Food and drinks of course… but anything else?

  • #233415

    clutterbug22
    Member

    Cleaning out a hoard house (sorry, long post!)

    Swede,

    No advice as yet but just to say that I think what you are trying to do is wonderful and I hope that progress does eventually get made for everyone’s sake. My mother is a hoarder as well and her house is something that I have to do deal with in the future.

  • #233420

    xarcady
    Member

    Cleaning out a hoard house (sorry, long post!)

    Swede, I admire you greatly for trying to help your family. It would be much easier to walk away.

    There’s a good chance that if you rent the container, no matter how much your siblings’ mom has promised that she’ll let the un-hoarding happen, she’ll back out at the last minute. Then you will either have to march into the house and start throwing things out while she gets upset and tries to stop you and tries to get things out of the container, or you will have spent the money for nothing.

    I’ve worked with two relatives in clearing out their homes. One was just a pack-rat who saved everything until it got to be too much. Then he wanted to get rid of most of it but didn’t know how. The other was a true hoarder.

    My suggestion would be to start small. See if you can get access to the inside of the house. Then announce that you will be working on one small, clearly defined area. Not a room–that’s too big. But your little sister’s dresser or closet (it might be less threatening if it belongs to another person). If you can’t get into her room, then the two square feet in front of the bedroom door.

    Do small, clearly defined spaces for a while. Then your siblings’ mom might be willing to handle a larger clear-out.

  • #233429

    Cleaning out a hoard house (sorry, long post!)

    I’ve been lurking for a long while but your post prompted me to register so I could post. It’s all good advice but I agree with xarcady – there’s every chance that the sight of a big container at her home could trigger a panic response, whether she’s agreed to doing this or not. It would be such a shame for you to spend such a large sum of money only to have it go to waste. Frustrating as it must be, a slower “baby steps” approach may be more likely to work.
    That said, whether you’re going ahead with the big clean or taking a step by step approach, please, please take care of your own health. They will have developed a certain resistance to the germs in that house which I doubt you’d have. I’d recommend a good non-drowsy anti-histamine for the dust and dander and also make sure you’ve had your tetanus jab updated. Sorry if it sounds overly dramatic but you can’t help them if your own health is compromised.
    Good luck with whatever you do!

  • #233432

    Swede
    Member

    Cleaning out a hoard house (sorry, long post!)

    Hi all,

    First of all – thank you for taking the time to both read and respond. This means so very much to me! <3

    Unfortunately it’s so bad that start small won’t do anymore. Something drastic needs to happen.

    Tetanus shot was GREAT advice! I’m def getting that done. I’m at the age for a top up on that anyway. 🙂

    I have to run now (and I should stop ranting), but please… any sort of advice is welcome. I need to think of every angle before I tackle this.

    Thanks again. Will read and re read this many times before it’s time. 🙂

  • #233434

    djk
    Member

    Cleaning out a hoard house (sorry, long post!)

    You are so generous, Swede.

    I’ve never seen packrattery or hoarding except on TV so I can only try to imagine what you’re facing. You are courageous and kind and I hope your efforts will pay off for your siblings as well as their mom!

  • #233438

    Cleaning out a hoard house (sorry, long post!)

    Hi Swede – I’m sorry things have come to this situation but it’s great that you have your own support system. I’ve dealt with people in similar situations to this and although I’ve never had to be the one shovelling stuff out maybe I can make another couple of suggestions? You may not be prepared for the smell of the house. I don’t mean the normal smell but what will hit you when you move anything rotten or decomposing. So I’d really, really recommend a good quality mask (ie not the cheapest ones as they’ll let more of the smell through, not to mention any airborne germs) plus – a really old method but it helps – bring Vicks to put into your nostrils before you start. Also if the smell gets too much then start to shallow breathe through your mouth. Stay outside as much as possible and wear clothes that you’d be happy to either boil wash or bin as soon as you get home. The smell lingers. Sorry if that’s too much information but better prepared than getting a shock on the day?

  • #233439

    Cleaning out a hoard house (sorry, long post!)

    Swede, I do remember your descriptions from way back when. I recommend reading this book before you start. It’s available on kindle download. http://www.amazon.com/Stuff-Compulsive-Hoarding-Meaning-Things/dp/0547422555

    It has an excellent description of the psychological issues involved. You need buy-in from the people who live there. There are tips on making agreements in the book.

    For people who avoided making decisions on their stuff, the thought of making hundreds, then thousands of decisions can be overwhelming. I don’t think any of the hoarding websites or books deal with time required for the sheer number of decisions that have to be made. A thousand items means a thousand decisions; if each takes a minute, that’s 16 hours right there. So sorting a pile of newspapers and magazines is impractical: throw the whole thing in the trash. Oh, and ask first to see that any valuables/jewelry/what-not are not hidden in with the trash. Have a special box for medicines- mark it “do not discard” or some such thing, and add the date (so you know it is not from 1997).

    In practical terms, I recommend concentrating on one room at a time, if possible. Maybe the child’s room or the kitchen. I also recommend “practice” before the big dumpster arrives. Setbacks are normal, decide in advance how you will handle them. Can you start with a small dumpster, not the thousand-euro size?

    Take care of yourself. Wear gloves, long pants, old shoes, long sleeved shirt, scarf over your hair. Mask.

    Don’t eat in the house. Plan on a meal out for lunch and to eat dinner somewhere other than the house with your friend. You’ll need something to look forward to.

  • #233443

    bandicoot
    Member

    Cleaning out a hoard house (sorry, long post!)

    i believe that the first step is to get some mental health support for your siblings’ mother, or at least to encourage her to find some.
    it sounds as though she desperately needs therapy.
    i would sort of be making it a condition before i plunked down any money…..i’ll help you, but you have to help yourself too.
    otherwise, you might manage to clean the place (and it will be traumatic for everyone if she is resisting) and in a year, it will be right back to how it is now, because none of the underlying stuff has been dealt with.

    your family is very fortunate to have your care, energy and enthusiasm.

  • #233445

    Cleaning out a hoard house (sorry, long post!)

    Bandicoot is right. Therapy is needed.

  • #233450

    Jackthetiger
    Member

    Cleaning out a hoard house (sorry, long post!)

    Swede, I have nothing to add apart from my good wishes for a successful outcome. It is important for your siblings to be able to have a clean and healthy home where they can bring their friends. You are doing a wonderful thing.

    Could your father help with the cost of the container? It is his property after all.

  • #233454

    Ella
    Member

    Cleaning out a hoard house (sorry, long post!)

    Swede: I don’t have anything to add regarding logistics or psychology. But for your personal safety I recommend also buying wraparound goggles to protect your eyes (and your friend’s) from stinging ammonia fumes from the cat pee. I’m afraid that’s going to be an ongoing problem, even if you succeed in the big cleanup you’re hoping for. The cats have learned to pee all over the place, and they’ll keep on doing it.
    Wishing you all the best. Your friend sounds awesome.

  • #233478

    Rosa
    Member

    Cleaning out a hoard house (sorry, long post!)

    i don’t really have advice, I’ve never done this.

    But, from knowing some kids of hoarders and reading a LOT of COH blogs…try not to get your sibling’s hopes up too much. She can’t fix her mom. You guys MIGHT make progress on the house, but if she’s imagining making everything better and her mom being happy with her and everything being great…at best it is going to be a lot of work, her mom is going to be neutral to angry/scared, and even in a non-hoard house things don’t magically stay clean after you spend a whole day getting the whole place perfect.

    Actually, I’m remembering that I *did* do this, on a small scale; a friend asked me to do some tidying at her house while she was in the hospital, because family were coming. Three of us spent ALL DAY fixing, cleaning, mopping, tidying, doing laundry…and she was mad at me for like 3 years over some things we moved. And was snippy because I bought a new broom when I couldn’t find hers, and then left it there – WHERE did this STRANGE BROOM come from did you leave JUNK at my HOUSE?

  • #233488

    mdfloyd
    Member

    Cleaning out a hoard house (sorry, long post!)

    Swede: I agree with everyone’s advice, but I would really encourage you to have the folks involved donate money to help them “own” the process when y’all get started. It’s awfully expensive for one person, especially since it’s iffy.

    Have you considered contacting Hoarders or would your family be too ashamed? If they still have forums, you might check in case others have tried your method.

    No question that some psychological help is needed here, and might be enough to turn things around.

    You are a kind and brave woman, Swede. Please try to at least get the animals outta there, especially the birdies!

  • #233491

    Swede
    Member

    Cleaning out a hoard house (sorry, long post!)

    Thank you all! This forum might be the best place on the internet. <3

    I have read HEAPS of COH blogs and it really helps me to see what others have done. Not to mention to not feel so alone in this.

    Getting outside people of any kind in is an absolute no. She will not let anyone in the house.

    Will try to carefully word a text message to their mom this week and see what she has to say about the whole idea. I’m nervous!

  • #233493

    Cleaning out a hoard house (sorry, long post!)

    Swede – please remember that there is nothing for you to feel ashamed about. You’re doing more for them than many people would do. In fact you’re doing the best thing of all which is to be a good role model for your siblings. You’re demonstrating kindness, thoughtfulness and how to step in and take responsibility. We cannot change another person’s thoughts or behaviours – we can only change our own and hope that that will give them the idea that change is possible. And it looks as if that’s already starting to happen. Keep going and look after your own physical and mental health through the process.
    Also mad_scientist is absolutely right – plan to eat elsewhere and definitely plan a nice meal out with a friend as a treat afterwards – you’ll be too tired to cook and you’ll deserve the reward!

  • #233497

    bandicoot
    Member

    Cleaning out a hoard house (sorry, long post!)

    swede, nobody here is judging you, OR your siblings’ mother.
    this is a mental health issue. one might as well judge someone for having asthma or diabetes.
    i think it is terrific that you can talk about it openly here. and healthy too.

    every hoarder case i have ever heard of, there is a person with a great big sad trauma at the heart of it.
    hoarding is usually a response to something else that is going on.
    i would keep gently pushing the therapy option.

    you are amazing and they are fortunate to have you.

  • #233498

    Shortbird
    Member

    Cleaning out a hoard house (sorry, long post!)

    Another vote here for the “Stuff” book.

    Hoarding Woes and You is, possibly, the blog you need. They’ve dealt with rotting boxes piled upon rotting boxes, dead animals, stuff those animals peed on when they moved into the hoard, how to keep the human neighbours happy when you’re renting skip after skip (dropbox in the US?). And they’ve done this clearing process twice in a row. 🙁

    Good Luck!

  • #233503

    sash
    Member

    Cleaning out a hoard house (sorry, long post!)

    Good luck Swede! This will not be an easy matter, and its fantastic that you are so committed to helping your family, as well as realistic about what you can potentially accomplish.

    If, for instance, you cannot get your sister’s mother to commit to this, would it be possible to focus on just your sister and get stuff out that is hers? As you’ve said she’s only 12, it doesn’t seem fair to have her in charge of the entire process, and it will probably tire her out quickly. I wouldn’t want her to overcommit herself and then become demotivated about the whole process.

    I cannot imagine being in this situation, but I hope that if I ever am, I can react the way you have.
    Best of luck (again)!

  • #233504

    Allison
    Member

    Cleaning out a hoard house (sorry, long post!)

    I really like your approach to the situation, you seem to have it very well thought out ahead of time and that is definitely going to work in everyone’s favor to be prepared both physically and mentally! Your plan to keep it positive is fantastic! That can prove difficult for so many people in this type of situation, both for the hoarder and for the people surrounding them. When people approach these situations with a more positive attitude they are able to communicate more effectively and more gets done as a result.

    I think you are going to do just great! But as far as your sibling’s mother goes, you might want to see if she would be interested in seeking counseling afterwards as the illness will still be there despite everything being gone. With the extent of the hoard, I could easily see her resorting back to her old ways of hoarding again if she doesn’t seek treatment. Good luck with everything! What you are doing is very admirable and life changing for the people that you are helping. The implications can be profound.

  • #233509

    Rosa
    Member

    Cleaning out a hoard house (sorry, long post!)

    I’m with everybody else who says you’re doing awesome. Just having someone tell them they’re worth the effort has to be huge for your siblings.

    I was thinking…we’re all focusing on your stepmother but is there a way for your siblings to access therapy? I don’t know how it works where you live, here there are school counselors kids can access on their own without their parents being in charge of it.

    Not only is having at least one committed, sympathetic adult (you!) a huge factor in how well kids weather difficult home situations, I do think the attention being given to hoarders now means it’s going to be a lot easier for COH growing up today – there’s a label, and a community, and more public understanding. One of my parents is alcoholic and that’s such an established, open thing that when I’m having problems with that parent I have a whole network to call on for support. And there’s no shame at all, as far as I can tell, not for the kids – it’s just a thing that happens in a lot of families.

  • #233511

    glossta1
    Member

    Cleaning out a hoard house (sorry, long post!)

    Swede, what you are doing is superb, and so is your thoughtfulness and advanced planning – I wish you all the best with it.

    I’m UK-based, and so some of this might not work in your area, but here it is in case. Here in most areas households have a large wheelibin for rubbish. Also most districts have a council-run rubbish tip or re-cycling centre otherwise known as ‘the council dump’ where members of the public can get rid of stuff they don’t want free of charge (companies can’t use it, and vans aren’t allowed in case they are companies). I didn’t see transport mentioned in your posts. Does anyone have a car? Better still a car with a towing trailer? That way you could take the couch and a few other big things to the dump, plus the wheelibin full of the worse items. It’d be gone straightaway, and wouldn’t cost you so much. I am shocked at what you have to pay over there for a skip (as we call them), and the very fact that you have spent so much might add a layer of emotional complexity.

    I wish you all the best.

  • #233594

    RebeccaL
    Member

    Cleaning out a hoard house (sorry, long post!)

    Only because I’ve watched way too many episodes of “Hoarders,” I’d suggest setting up ground rules way in advance on what will get tossed.

    Categories would depend on the items in the house, but it seems that having items which don’t need to be reviewed could *hopefully* help the process go a little faster. Ex: expired food, soiled papers, newspapers/magazines, broken items, etc.

    And if there are any items which can be agreed upon to donate. Maybe clothes your sister has outgrown, for example.

    Good luck!

  • #233595

    Swede
    Member

    I am very happy you all think my plans sound… doable? And sane? I have been thinking and worrying and scheming for over a year now (since I moved back to Sweden) and it’s been frustrating not being able to just go in and clean it myself. I know I could if they’d let me! I’ve had some massive health issues last year (caught a serious eye disease, had a tumour removed from my back, an exotic rare disease from my holiday in Thailand and last month a mysterious bleeding inside my leg – thanks Murphy) but I still sort of kick myself for just doing “nothing” for a year. The fact that I’ve been uncluttering all of my own stuff doesn’t seem to matter in this regards, my big sister guilt is harsh.

    Thank you for all your nice words, but I don’t really feel like I deserve them yet. I will make sure I live up to your expectations though. 🙂 Calling the skip company tmrw with all my questions!

  • #233596

    Swede
    Member

    Cleaning out a hoard house (sorry, long post!)

    Oh, and Rosa; the strange broom still makes me giggle every time I re read it. Totally sounds like my dad! 😉

    @RebeccaL – I think we posted at the same time! YES, the rules are a great idea. I was also planning on booking the skip now (if she agrees) and tell her to think about what she wants to get rid of to make it easier once it arrives. I don’t think we’ll be able to donate anything judging from the smell. I am very environmentally focused but in this case I don’t think we’d be doing anyone any favors by trying to clean up their crap… :/

  • #233603

    chacha1
    Member

    Cleaning out a hoard house (sorry, long post!)

    Swede, I agree that the state of the balcony (having kept it clean once cleaned) is a very promising sign. And I applaud your desire to help your family.

    I don’t have much to add, as you’ve been considering this for a long time and have a good plan, except for this: could you suggest, perhaps via your youngest sister, that your stepmom start putting a sticky note on everything that is OK to go?

    It doesn’t even have to have anything written on it. Everyone would just agree that “yellow note means GO.” That way the decision-making could begin immediately and no one would even have to ask when the container is delivered.

    When the time comes for cleaning … here in the U.S. we have a product called Murphys Oil Soap which is substantially non-toxic and very nicely citrus-scented due to its composition. It’s great for cleaning just about anything, but especially wood. And cats don’t like citrus. If something like that is available in Sweden, it’s a great thing to have under the soon-to-be-decluttered kitchen sink.

    Personally, I think that if you give cats a clean place to pee, they will usually choose that. Peeing out of place is almost always a sign of illness, stress, or making a statement about dissatisfaction with the living conditions. 🙂

  • #233607

    Cleaning out a hoard house (sorry, long post!)

    @chacha1 – I second the idea of using a citrus scented soap – I know mosquitoes don’t like it so maybe it’ll help keep out other insect life too? Plus it sounds as if they don’t have many pleasant sensations they can link to their home so if it smells nice maybe that’ll be a positive reinforcement for them?
    @Swede – the guilt is natural enough for a sister but, if you can, try to take a step back from the situation. However often you visited I feel sure that this would have happened anyway. It seems to be that, like some alcoholics, their mother has to hit rock bottom before noticing she has a problem, let alone acknowledging and dealing with it. You’re doing the best you can and if you could step back from the situation and think about it as a stranger would then you’d realise that your own health problems would have prevented you from helping them at the time. You’re getting better so that means that you’ll be stronger and more able to help them now …

  • #233619

    Mimi
    Member

    Cleaning out a hoard house (sorry, long post!)

    swede, i am so sorry that you have to deal with this. please don´t feel guilty, it is your siblings´ mother´s life and you are not responsible for it. but is good that you offer your help.

    i don´t know a good advice but i would be careful with too much pressure (strict rules, the biggest container, a schedule etc) because it could lead to a defensive reaction. so i would recommend smaller steps. they will make a change, and you could celebrate the success and then go on.

  • #233650

    Sky
    Member

    Cleaning out a hoard house (sorry, long post!)

    Dear Swede, It is very touching that you care so much for your siblings. I agree with you about the animals. It is hard to give them away but it sounds like it would be in everyone’s best interest.

    Please be careful health wise. Disease is rampant in feces, rotten food, trash, etc. Wear long pants, socks and shoes, gloves, a mask. I remember on an episode of Clean Sweep with Peter Walsh, he got a fungus on his legs from helping a hoarder.

    My goodness, you are brave!

  • #233652

    Ella
    Member

    Cleaning out a hoard house (sorry, long post!)

    Seconding what Sky said. Brooks Palmer also became quite ill with respiratory problems from cleaning out hoards, so now he only does phone consultations.

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