Hoarding Case Study: Clearing a Hoarder House to Reunite Spouses
A gentleman in the mid-Atlantic region who asked that his name and location not be used here hired us to help with a project that was beyond his physical and emotional abilities. The man said he had let his house become a mess and that doctors wouldn’t allow his ready-to-be-released-from-the-hospital-wife to return to their home until he cleaned the house well enough for a medical bed to be installed and for the two seniors to live in an acceptably healthy environment.
We entered the home and quickly recognized that the man didn’t perceive himself as a hoarder but as someone who had simply collected too much stuff. He said he simply wanted us to clear paths in the home and empty a bedroom so that service providers could enter and install the bed. And while he said he was prepared to start moving to some of his collections, we knew from experience that getting him to actually let us do it would be a time-consuming challenge. We are not psychiatrists and can only help people as much as they’re willing to allow.
He initially asked us to move what we saw as hoards to his garage. We informed him that his garage was packed floor to ceiling with an assortment of collectibles, mountains of VCRs, VCR tapes, and trash. We explained that if doctors had to sign off on his wife returning, he would have to let us remove items from the garage that we could sell, donate, and recycle for him while also removing the trash.
Client gets defensive about his hoarding
The conversation turned into a delicate dance of diplomacy, with him sometimes getting defensive and angry. (Par for the course in these situations; we know how to handle them.) VCRs and video cassette tapes formed mountains inside his home, too. If he was wife was going to make it home, he had to make huge dents in the VCR problem. We asked him why he had so many machines and tapes so that we might better understand the situation and know how to help. He said he tapes TV shows.
Confused, we asked him why he didn’t simply migrate to the modern ways of recording shows. He said that would only allow him to save a hundred or so hours of shows. He likes to tape shows day and night so he can watch them later.
We asked him if he thought it was realistic for him, if he is taping shows almost all twenty-four hours a day, to ever watch it all. He said that was his goal. We asked him how many of the VCRs in the home worked. He said that maybe a third of the fifty to one hundred machines he had worked. We asked if he would let us remove the seventy percent that didn’t and take them to the electronics recycling station at our landfill.
Can we convince the hoarder to release one single item?
We used our years of experience to encourage him to let us start by taking just one broken VCR from the garage — bringing it to him to see first. He begrudgingly agreed. One removed VCR led to two — and on we went. We also asked him which was more important at that moment in time: keeping all of the countless thousands of new VCR tapes plus the thousands of tapes with old shows, or thinning the VCR herd and making room for his wife.
He suddenly started waving his right hand at entire piles of VCRs and tapes to shoo them away.
The key: give hoarders options, encourage them to make decisions
Little by little for the next few days, we continued to remind him of the goal and to offer multiple solutions for him to consider that would help him achieve it. It was critical for him to make the decision rather than us force our ideas on him. His willingness to surrender items began to increase. Meanwhile, his wife called frequently for updates. His mood began to lighten as he made progress — our team cheering his every success. We reminded him that every vintage collectible he released from a bedroom so packed that no one could enter it was a collectible that was going to go make someone else happy — and get him one object closer to reuniting with his wife. The more the mountains of clutter decreased, the more motivated he became to let more things go.
The end result of clearing a hoarder house to reunite spouses?
The man’s wife called just as we were all declaring victory. He beamed with pride as he told her the job was done and that she could come home. He put her on hold for a minute, turned to us, and told us that she wanted him to tell us how grateful she was for the work we did — thanking us for a job well done. Our whole team welled up with tears. Then the man who had spent much of our time together pushing back against our ideas and causing tense moments then added something else.
“One more thing,” he said. “I thank you, too.”
“Our pleasure,” I said. “Glad to be of help!”
We walked down the cleared hallway, exited the front door, and headed home with a great sense of satisfaction. Another Orion’s Attic hoarder house cleanup success story in the books.
Need help liquidating, clearing, or cleaning a hoarder house?
Contact us today. And learn more about our work with hoarders and hoarding houses in our Hoarding department.