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Sunday 31 December 2017

Challenges of clearing a hoarder's home

If you've ever had to clear out the home of a loved one after they've died, you'll understand how time consuming and emotionally draining it can be sorting out the legal red-tape stuff (probate), making decisions about what to keep, what should go where/to whom, etc.

So imagine having to do that for the home of a hoarder.

I've just done exactly that – it’s taken my family and I over two years to clear the property of my late father (who was a hoarder), visiting virtually every weekend; it’s just as well that I’m self-employed and was able to have the flexibility to fit other visits around work, and have a supportive family and professional organising and hoarding practitioner colleagues who were able to help.

Between us we've probably collectively spent over 1000 hours working on this exhausting project.

What I find incredible is that my dad’s hoarding behaviour was mild compared to what I’ve seen professionally in the homes of other hoarders.  Goodness knows how long it might take to excavate and dissect some of those homes in the event of the person passing away.

My heart goes out to family members who – like me – have to take on this challenge, and the burden of responsibility and commitment of time and energy that goes with it.

Children of hoarders worldwide who have had to do the same will no doubt relate to the following story.
There's been:
·      on average at least one trip to a charity shop or tip per week
·      umpteen bags of shredding (paperwork like car insurance documents dating back to 1952)
·      three removal vans full of unwanted furniture
·      several bonfires of furniture the charity folks won’t take
·      a stack of stuff that's been sold online (including three 1950's wooden TV sets that went to an opera school in London, a box of 1970's/80's Smurf figures that surprised us as they turned out to be quite collectable), and assorted computers from yesteryear)
·      53 original Oxo tins
·      a wash tub that turned out to be so old that it’s been donated to a museum
·      several hundred books and newspaper/magazine clippings
·      five decades of part-dismantled lawn mowers, washing machines, car parts in the garage, barn and four sheds, plus cans of oil that had been drained from cars about 30 years ago, together with assorted mechanic and DIY tools in varying degrees of rust or disintegration
·      a loft containing loads of radio transmitter equipment, vintage valves and transistors dating back to the 1950’s
·      Enough wood to build another shed!
·      LOTS of rubbish and dust!

And that’s not including:
·      the vast number of boxes containing photos, my Mum's paintings, assorted family memorabilia and yet more paperwork now stored in the loft/garage/spare rooms of various family members waiting for us to sort through over the coming months (hopefully not years….)  
·      the massive piles of assorted paraphernalia that’s been piled up in the house and garden waiting for the clearance people to deal with prior to the house being demolished because of years of neglect and disrepair

So my wonderfully supportive family’s journey (and time needed to reach a point of closure in order to finally grieve) continues....

Along the way the exercise has been likened to an archaeological dig, which is about right because of the layers of decades of paperwork, newspapers and technology we’ve found.

Occasionally people have told us “just put it all in a skip”; what they don’t realise is that the contents of every book, drawer, cupboard, box and disintegrating confetti-like carrier bag needed to be checked in case there were things like money or personal memorabilia inside. 

We would have missed all sorts of treasures, such as drawers containing money, jewellery, or family memorabilia and medals belonging to ancestors who fought at Gallipoli - which we hadn’t known about.
I count myself fortunate to a professional understanding and patience about hoarding behaviours and why I believe my father was a hoarder – because many other families aren’t able to accept and forgive when coming to terms with this debilitating disorder that can – and does - tear families apart. 

Thank goodness for specialist Professional Hoarding Practitioners like Heather Matuozzo of Clouds End CIC and Jo Cooke of Hoarding Disorders UK (author of the excellent book “Understanding Hoarding”, that I contributed to with a story about my experiences as the daughter of a hoarder) who are skilled at working with people who exhibit hoarding behaviours, and help them reduce the amount of possessions that they own before it becomes the job/chore of family members and friends to clear a property once someone has passed away.  

They're also busy training personnel from local authorities, housing associations, charities and the next generation of Professional Organisers and Hoarding Practitioners - thank goodness, as Rainbow Red has had so many enquiries this year from people asking for help that we can't cope with the demand for our services.

So, as I'm publishing this blog on New Year's Eve, you may be wondering about my New Year’s Resolution?

It's to plough through my parent’s possessions as soon as possible, reduce the amount of my own clutter and theirs, get my own home in order and ensure that whoever ends up sorting out my belongings and affairs when I die has a quick and easy job to do. 

Hopefully this blog will be thought-provoking enough to help you think about doing the same….

Wishing you a happy, health and as clutter-free New Year as possible!