How To Manage Disposing Of An Excessive Amount Of Personal Belongings
The death of a loved one brings on many challenges for the surviving family members. Not only are they dealing with an onset of various emotions (grief, guilt, sadness, etc.) related to their loved one’s death, but they must also deal with the stressful tasks of finalizing their deceased loved one’s estate.
Funeral preparation and planning the funeral ceremony are only the tip of the iceberg. The deceased’s family is tasked with sorting out their deceased loved one’s financial affairs and deciding what to do with their home and personal belongings. As many would agree, cleaning out a house is hard work.
If you have ever moved from your home to a different residence once or multiple times, then you know the stress involved. You’ve likely gone through your things while packing and thought, “how have I accumulated so much stuff?” Many people use moving as a means of getting rid of things they have no use for and keeping only what they will need for their new home. It’s normal to sometimes keep stuff we don’t particularly need. However, a person with a hoarding disorder has no concept of how much stuff is, well, too much stuff.
Making Sense Of Your Loved One's Hoarding
Those with a deceased family member who was a hoarder may be in for a devastating surprise. Individuals with hoarding disorder know no limits when it comes to amassing items and objects.
Families may have to deal with years, sometimes decades, worth of clutter left behind by their hoarding loved one. The stress of clearing out belongings is magnified one thousand times dealing with the aftermath of a hoarder home once they died.
And for those who were not aware of their loved ones hoarding, the disbelief at how cluttered their living quarters were might be overwhelming. It is likely to cause feelings of shock, bewilderment, sadness, and even anger.
You might feel like you never knew who your loved one was, and you might feel guilty for not realizing they had a problem. All these emotions are typical for those learning how to deal with the death of a hoarder.
Just know that you are not alone in your situation. Unfortunately, there are many people have had to deal with a family member who was a hoarder. It’s not easy to process and it’s certainly not easy to clean out a deceased hoarder’s home. But there are others who have had to face the same problem you are facing now, and thankfully, they have provided resources to help you.
What Is Hoarding?
Hoarding is categorized as a psychiatric disorder that may affect as many as 1 in every 20 people. The disorder affects men and women equally and is more prevalent in individuals 60 years and older.
Hoarding disorder is described as a person who has persistent difficulty getting rid of or parting with their possessions. They have an increased need to collect and save belongings of every sort, and the mere mention of parting with them leads to insurmountable stress.
People with hoarding disorder may also hoard animals as well as trash. In every situation, their inability to let go of any of their possessions can, and usually does, lead to unsanitary and unsafe living conditions.
A hoarder’s need to acquire objects is rather impulsive and without any rhyme or reason. They will spend vast amounts of money buying things simply for the purpose of having them. Hoarders have a hard time organizing their items, thus leading to piles upon piles of clutter in their homes
This is in large part due to their inability to make decisions. Individuals who suffer from hoarding disorder suffer from poor decision making. Brain scans done on hoarders who were asked to throw away their things showed that there was considerable increased activity in the decision making part of the brain as compared to non-hoarders.
This is because hoarding disorder is associated with severe anxiety over making the wrong decision. Hoarders can’t properly weigh the outcome of letting go of their things, thus they keep everything.
What Causes Hoarding Disorder?
Hoarding disorder can begin as early as childhood but is more so commonly developed in later years. Adults between the ages of 55 and 94 are three times more likely to have a hoarding disorder than younger adults. The exact causes of hoarding disorder are unknown, but experts believe it to be related to genetics and trauma.
Genetic factors are said to account for 50 percent of hoarding tendencies, meaning a family history of hoarding is a risk factor. Trauma is the second most relevant risk factor in triggering hoarding disorder. Divorce, loss of a loved one, childhood poverty, and isolation are common traumatic events that may trigger hoarding in an individual.
The chances of developing hoarding disorder are even greater in individuals diagnosed with other psychiatric illnesses like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
Hoarding becomes a way for individuals to deal with their trauma or mental illness that is causing them grief. For hoarders who experienced trauma at the loss of a loved one or spouse, hoarding may be their way of filling the void left behind by their loss. They will especially have a hard time letting go of anything their loved one owned.
Elderly people are sometimes at risk for becoming a hoarder due to their likelihood of experiencing isolation. This is more so common in elderly widows and elderly folks without family or friends who may have already passed on. Excessive buying and hoarding become a compulsion that replaces the intimate social connection they no longer experience.
A person’s fear of lack may contribute to their hoarding, as they are fearful of losing what they have. This is common in those who experienced childhood poverty.
Poverty can be traumatizing, especially for younger children. Those who grew up without enough food to eat or clothes to wear may carry a fear of lack throughout their lives. This can increase their chance of hoarding later in life because they have a subconscious fear of experiencing poverty again.
Death & Hoarding
It’s not always certain what may have caused a deceased loved one’s hoarding. Oftentimes family members are not even aware of their loved one’s hoarding problem until after death.
This will sometimes lead to the surviving family experiencing guilt over not knowing about what was going on in their loved one’s life. They may feel guilty and frustrated that they weren’t there to help, and sad that their loved one went through it by themselves.
However, hoarding is a very difficult disorder to treat. It is likely the family members may not have been able to do much to help their loved one, even if they had known what was happening. Cleaning out a loved one's home who had a hoarding problem can be both physically and emotionally draining.
It’s hard enough to sift through a deceased loved one’s belongings that hold sentimental value for you. It’s even harder sifting through their piles of clutter and useless junk. Your emotions will range from guilt to sadness to anger.
It’s frustrating being left behind to clean up your deceased loved one’s hoard house. Why would they keep so much stuff? Didn’t they care that they were leaving behind family members to clean up their mess for them? How could they be so selfish?
These are all natural feelings to have while having to deal with the aftermath of their disorder. It’s easy to feel like your loved one left you to deal with their disaster without taking your feelings or time into consideration.
10 Tips For Dealing With A Loved One's Hoarding
It's important to understand that the pain and frustration your deceased hoarding loved one is causing you is likely unintentional. Remember, hoarding is a psychiatric disorder that alters their state of mind. They may have known they had a problem but didn’t believe they could do anything about it.
It’s an unfortunate situation for both parties involved, and even more unfortunate for the person left behind to clean it up. If you are dealing with the death of a family member who was a hoarder, you will need help in figuring out your next moves. Below we have put together 10 tips for dealing with a loved ones hoarding that you might find useful in dealing with your own situation.
1. DON'T DO IT ALONE
Walking into a hoarder’s home can be shocking. The level of clutter and stuff your loved one obsessively clung to will not make sense to you or anyone with sound mind. It can be devastating, especially if they were your loved one, to see where the hoarder lived their daily lives in such inhabitable conditions. It’s likely to be overwhelmingly emotional.
Having another family member or friend with you throughout the process will be immensely helpful. Emotional support is just as important as having someone there to help you physically clean up the mess.
It’s best to have a whole team of people who can help you manage the problem more effectively and efficiently. Reach out to family members and friends who would be willing to help you in your time of need.
In some cases, you may need to enlist the help of professionals. This is especially necessary in severe hoarding scenarios. A professional cleaning crew that specializes in clearing out hoard houses will take care of junk removal. For items that you don’t want thrown away, an estate seller will help you sell your loved one’s items worth salvaging. This will take away the stress of having to deal with it all yourself.
2. TAKE SAFETY PRECAUTIONS
Before you or anyone begin the clean out process of your loved one’s hoard house, it needs to be assessed for safety. Unfortunately, hoarding leads to unhygienic and sometimes unsafe living conditions.
The clutter makes a hoarder’s living environment ripe for roaches, rats, and vermin of every type to thrive. Hoarding houses have contained everything from animal and human feces, to rotten food remains, live animals, decomposing animals, mold, mildew, heavy dust, and oftentimes damaged flooring, ceiling, or walls.
Coming into contact with any biohazardous materials can be dangerous, especially without proper protective gear. That and damaged infrastructure to the house can make entering a hoarder’s home potentially dangerous, even life threatening.
It would be wise to get the hoarder’s house assessed for potential risk factors by a professional. Later in this article we will include resources for professional hoarding house clean-up. At the very least, be sure to have protective gear on while you or anyone else is inside your loved one’s house. Disposable masks, purifying full-face respirator, heavy exposure gloves, puncture resistant gloves, and biohazard suits are recommended before entering a possibly dangerous environment.
This is especially true if your deceased loved one was found dead in their home. Anything that may have touched the decomposing body of the deceased should be handled with protective measures and discarded immediately.
3. MAKE A HOARDING CLEANING PLAN
Cleaning out a hoarding house will be overwhelming. The insurmountable amount of stuff to sort through will seem nearly impossible. There is a lot of work to do, so it’s best to have a plan of action for getting through it. Compartmentalizing the work into steps will make the task seem less overwhelming.
Below are some steps you might want to include in your hoarding house cleaning plan:
- Plan which room you will start with
- Clean one room at a time before moving onto the next
- Clear out obvious junk first (trash, broken items, any unnecessary items, or things unable to be of use to anyone)
- Plan which types of items to sort through first (for example clothing, or a book or movie collection, jewelry, etc.)
- Make piles for sorting out what you will keep, throw away, give away, or anything you are unsure about yet. You can sort through those items again later and decide)
Let those helping you know about your plan. If you are afraid they will throw something away you would like to keep, ask them to check with you first. The more people you have helping you execute your plan, the faster the process will go.
4. MAKE A HOARDING CLEANING CHECKLIST
Like making a hoarding cleaning plan, it can be useful to make a hoarding cleaning checklist of what tasks need to be done in order of importance. This will be especially useful if you are in a time crunch to clear your loved ones home due to any pressure from a leasing company.
Assess the hoarding situation and determine which rooms should be cleared out first, which items need to be sorted through first, and who is going to focus on those tasks. It will be best to focus on parts of the home that you believe will take the longest to clear and recruit as many people as possible for the task.
A cleaning checklist will keep you on track and help alleviate the stress of any time constraints. Set goals as to when the tasks should be completed and do your best to meet them.
5. DECIDE ON WHAT TO KEEP, WHAT TO SELL & WHAT TO GIVE AWAY
When you have gotten rid of the obvious junk, you’ll have to decide on which of your deceased loved one’s belongings you will keep for yourself, which ones are worth selling, and which items should be given away.
This could be a difficult process as you may have some emotional attachment to your deceased loved one’s things. It may be tempting to keep as many items as you can find that remind you of your loved one. But remember that holding on will make it harder to let go.
Keep only certain things that hold the most sentimental value for you. The rest should be sold or given away. There are better ways to remember your loved one than holding on to their leftover things. You might find it helpful to have photo engraved jewelry for memories of your loved one as a token of remembrance.
There are also options for cremation keepsake jewelry that will hold more sentimental value than keeping an assortment of their things that will likely be kept in storage.
6. DON'T FEEL GUILTY
Feelings of guilt may arise when you begin to get rid of your loved one’s things. It’s hard discarding objects and items they once used or held dear to them. You may feel that in some way you are betraying them or their memory by throwing away their stuff.
But letting go of physical objects does not mean that you are letting go of the love you have for them. It does not mean you are getting rid of their stuff to forget them. Their memory will always be in your heart, that can never be taken away. After all, stuff is just stuff. Eventually, everything we possess will no longer have meaning once we are gone.
Your loved one would want you to move on in whichever way is easiest for you. They likely would have gotten rid of those same belongings long before now had they been in a healthy state of mind.
Don’t be afraid of letting go of them in order to heal and move on. It may be helpful to see a grief counselor during the clean-up. They may be able to help you work through your guilt. It could also be helpful to reach out to a mental health professional that specializes in hoarding disorder. They may have useful tips for dealing with the emotional stress associated with a deceased loved one’s hoarding.
7. HONOR THEIR WILL
When a loved one passes, one of the first things to consider is whether they had a Last Will and Testament. The will should state whom of their surviving heirs will be the beneficiary of their personal belongings.
If their will includes specific items they wanted left to specific people, contact those people. If not, ask family members and friends of your loved one if they would like to take something for themselves. This can make the sorting process easier, and you will be honoring your loved one’s will.
9. DON'T LET THE MATERIAL CLUTTER - CLUTTER YOUR MIND
Dealing with the hoarding loved one’s clutter will take a toll on your mental health. But don’t let the material clutter, clutter your mind. The cleaning process will be lengthy and a drag on your psyche, so be sure you are taking time for self-care.
Being in a bad state of mind will make the hoarding house cleaning process feel longer and more strenuous. You may need to take a day off to do something for yourself to take your mind off the stress.
Long walks, meditation for grief and healing, working out, or doing something fun with your friends are good ways of decompressing. Don’t let your predicament take over your life.
It can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel right now, but eventually you will get through this. Rely on your family and friends to help you navigate through this stressful time.
10. DEEP CLEAN THE HOUSE AFTER CLEANING
Clearing out the last of your loved one’s hoard will be cause for a sigh of relief. The hardest part is over, but there is still work to be done to ensure the home is liveable again. Be prepared to bring out the whole arsenal of cleaning products for deep cleaning your loved one’s home.
You’ll need to vacuum, dust, mop, and sanitize every corner of the house, including the walls and ceilings. It may be helpful to create a cleaning checklist, much like the ones they use in hotel rooms. Complete the checklist item by item for each room.
You will also need to check for mold and bug infestations. If either infestation is bad, you might have to call in for help from an exterminator. Depending on how bad your loved one’s hoarding problem was, there may be parts of the house that are too damaged to clean.
This could include badly stained carpeting, stained wood floors or cabinets, or damaged walls for example. In this case you may need to make some repairs before the home is liveable again.
Resources For Cleaning A Hoarder House
There are a number of resources available that can help families with everything from removing items from the home to selling items to even helping them utilize belongings in a personal way of remembrance.
HOARDING HOUSE CLEAN UP SERVICES
PuroClean is a biohazard clean-up company with locations all over the country. They will have a professional cleaning team take care of any hazardous materials found in your loved one’s hoard. A quick Google search for biohazard clean-up should bring up local companies in your area as well.
ServiceMasterRestore is another cleaning resource offered for hoarding homes around the country. They do both biohazard removal as well as junk removal, mold removal, as well as home restoration.
Hoarders.com serves 40 different states across the country in helping families deal with the aftermath of a hoarder's death.
SELLING & DONATION PICK-UP SERVICES
Check here and here for tips on hiring a professional estate seller. Hiring a professional estate seller is recommended for hoarders who accumulated potentially valuable stuff. It can make selling and getting rid of your loved one’s stuff easier, as you will not have to worry about doing it yourself. Estate sellers will connect you with buyers and sell your items for you. They do, however, charge a commission fee based on the gross sales of the estate.
Ebay.com is a great resource for listing and selling items online. You won’t pay a commission fee, but you will be responsible for packing and shipping items to buyers. Ebay is a better option if you have more time on your hands for listing and shipping sold items.
Host a yard sale for getting rid of unwanted items. Don’t stress over getting top dollar for the stuff you’re selling, even if you believe it to be of some value. The point is to get rid of things fast and selling at a good price is a better way of doing that.
Moving.com has a list of 8 charities that offer donation pick-up. Check out each charity to find out if they operate in your state. Most charities accept most anything, but some do have restrictions on what they will and won’t take. Make sure to check before you schedule a pick-up.
HOARDING SUPPORT GROUPS
Below are resources for various online support groups for hoarders and family members of hoarders. It may help you better understand how to deal with your deceased loved one’s hoarding problem by talking with other people going through the same thing. Remember, you are not alone. There are others who are available to help. Reach out for help when needed, and check out the resources below to start:
- Hoarders.com has an online support group for hoarders and family members of hoarders.
- Hoardingcleanup.com has an online chat group for hoarders, family of hoarders, therapists, and anyone who works with hoarders
- Recovery.org has a 12-step program to help hoarders and family members of hoarders. This may be helpful if you or another family member is diagnosed with hoarding disorder. It may also help you to better understand your deceased loved one’s hoarding problem.
- Childrenofhoarders.com is a support group and awareness campaign that help to bring light to hoarding disorder and its effects on their families.
- Facebook groups may also be a good resource for support. Do some research to find the best Facebook hoarding group for you. You will find a lot of people like you who are having the same struggles. It can be a good place to vent your frustrations.
CREMATION JEWELRY KEEPSAKES
In severe cases of hoarding, there may be very little belongings of your loved one you are able to keep. This may be because the risk of biohazard is too high, or because there is nothing worth salvaging, or because you simply do not have the space to keep them. Having something of theirs that holds sentimental value may be useful in helping you cope with their death.
Cremation jewelry made from ashes will allow you to keep something of theirs that is more personal and valuable than any of their belongings. Below are resources for finding your perfect cremation jewelry keepsake:
- Cremation jewelry comes in multiple styles for holding your loved one’s ashes close to your heart wherever you go.
- Jewelry made from ashes is jewelry that is specially crafted using your loved one’s ashes for a personal, unique way to remember them by.
- Fingerprint jewelry incorporates your deceased loved one’s thumbprint in various jewelry styles.
Hoarding Loved One Frequently Asked Questions
What Is the Average Cost To Hire Someone To Clean Out a Hoarder’s Home?
How much you will spend on hiring professionals to clean out a hoarding house will depend on the severity of the hoarding problem. Biohazard clean-up services have an average cost of $3,000 to $5,000 but can get up to $25,000 in specific circumstances. Depending on what service you go with that won’t even include junk removal.
Many junk removal companies charge hourly, so how much you spend would depend on how long it takes to remove the junk from your loved one’s home. Overall, the cost of professional hoarding house clean-up can get pricey.
What if I Don’t Have the Money To Clean Out a Deceased Loved One’s Hoarded Home?
If you don’t have the money up front to hire a professional hoarding clean-up company, then the process can be trickier. We suggest first checking with your loved one’s home insurance to see if they provide any financial aid for clean-up services. This may only be applicable if your loved one’s death was an unattended death in their home, and biohazard removal is required.
If the home insurance doesn’t cover it, check with different cleaning companies to see if they offer financial plans. If they don’t, you can try finding day laborers that charge by the hour. They will most likely be much cheaper than professional cleaning companies. However, this will mean you will have to provide protective gear and cleaning products such as garbage bags, storage containers, and sanitizing chemicals.
You will also have to rent a dumpster, which will cost you around $360 per week according to national averages. This depends on how big of a dumpster you need. Larger dumpsters are more expensive to rent than smaller ones are.
But if you can’t afford to spend any money cleaning up your loved one’s home, you can renounce your claim to inheritance. There is nothing that says you must accept your loved one’s inheritance. When you renounce or disclaim the property, it will pass to whomever is next in line to receive the inheritance.
If there is no one left to receive the inheritance, then it will go to the state and likely be condemned. This may be the best option if your loved one’s hoarding house is nearly unsalvageable.
You will have to factor in the cost of clean-up and the cost of repairing any home damage that will need to be fixed before it can be sold. In some cases, the cost of cleaning and repairing the home will outweigh any profit you would make from selling it. The cost does not have to be monetary either. You should also factor in what it will cost you emotionally.
Where Do I Start When I Have To Clean Out a Deceased Loved One’s Hoarded Home?
The first step in cleaning out a deceased loved ones hoarded home is to be prepared. Make sure you have all the necessary cleaning equipment and protective gear before you get started. This may include heavy duty trash bags, vacuum, sanitizing products, disposable face masks to protect your lungs from dust and mold, heavy duty work gloves for handling possibly contaminated or sharp debris, and boxes or containers for sorting items. You may also need to investigate renting a dumpster if you have a large amount of trash to get rid of.
The next step is to start cleaning in the main areas of the house. The entryway should be the first place you start as you will need to use it to walk in and out of your loved one’s home while cleaning and discarding items. Then move onto the larger rooms in the house and start clearing them one at a time. It may be helpful to move the larger furniture items out of the house while you clean so that you will have more room to move around.
What Is the Fastest Way To Clean a Hoarder’s House?
Cleaning out a hoarder’s house will be a lengthy process no matter which methods you use. The size of the house, the amount of stuff that needs to be dealt with, and the amount of damage to the house that needs to be repaired will determine how long the process will be. Hiring professional hoarding house cleaners and recruiting friends and family to help will make the process faster.
What Do I Say to Others When I Find Out My Deceased Loved One Was a Hoarder?
It’s difficult to admit to yourself, let alone other people, that your deceased loved one was a hoarder. You might feel embarrassed or ashamed of their problem. But hoarding disorder is a mental illness that affects people of every age in every culture. There is no shame in admitting that your loved one had a problem, or that you didn’t know about it. Often, hoarders themselves may be ashamed of their problem and hide it from their family and friends.
There is nothing more you need to say to your friends about your loved one’s hoarding if it does not concern them. Mental illness is present in nearly every family in some form. Likely, they will be understanding of your circumstances.
What Mental Illness Is Associated With Hoarding?
Hoarding disorder may be present on its own or a symptom of another mental illness. The most associated mental disorders present with hoarding is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and depression.
Hoarding may also be present with an eating disorder or dementia. Commonly, individuals who are diagnosed with one of the above mental illnesses have a higher risk of developing hoarding disorder.
The Aftermath Of Hoarding
Saying goodbye to a loved one is never easy no matter what the circumstances are. Dealing with the grief over a deceased loved one with a hoarding problem brings its own special challenges. You will be left to deal with troubling questions over your loved one’s state of mind as well as the physical aftermath of their disorder.
The healing process will be more difficult, and the clean-up process will take a toll on your physical and mental health. You should not be alone during this time. Count on your friends and family members for support or find support amongst others who are dealing with the same circumstances. The road to normalcy will be a long one, but you will get there.
December 2, 2021 by Jeri K. Augustus