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Hoarding: Signs, Causes, and Seeking Help

What is Hoarding?

Ask most people what they think hoarding is, and you’re likely to get a response heavily tinged with opinions based on “reality” tv shows. And, while this isn’t wrong, it’s not strictly right, either. Hoarding is defined as a psychological disorder and needs to be addressed with care, not cameras.

Simply put, hoarding disorder is an ongoing difficulty throwing away or parting with possessions because of a belief that they need to be saved. That’s it. The possessions that people hold on to can be anything: newspapers, clothes, trash, knick-knacks, animals--really, anything.

One of the most unsanitary and potentially dangerous forms of hoarding is animal hoarding. Animal hoarding situations frequently result in the buildup of animal waste, hair, and even bodies. All of which can be extremely hazardous to the health of humans and animals.

What Causes Hoarding?

It is unclear exactly what causes hoarding disorder. Some people blame the increasing availability of cheap, disposable products. Others blame rising levels of disposable income. However, more reliable sources like the Mayo Clinic ( indicate that it could be caused by some combination of genetics, brain function, and stress.

At Cleaning Cents, we have personally witnessed a large increase in hoarding cases since the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic and political reactions to it brought added stress, financial hardship, and social disconnection on an unprecedented scale across the US and, truthfully, the world.

What Does Hoarding Look Like?

Because hoarding worsens over time, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly when hoarding starts. Roughly put, there are five stages of hoarding.

Stage 1: Clutter

Virtually everyone has clutter and clutter, by itself, is not an indicator of hoarding. However, it is always where hoarding starts. This is not to say that homes must be kept perfectly tidy to avoid dipping into hoarding status. Problems arise later, as efforts to mitigate the mess break down.

Stage 2: Deteriorating Hygiene

Progressing to the second stage, clutter buildup has progressed to unhealthy levels as more dangerous clutter–like dirty dishes, trash, etc., are left out for progressively longer periods of time. This can lead to pests, rodents, and mold which cause health issues. This is the first stage at which behaviors could be considered hoarding.

Stage 3: Extreme Disorganization

Stage three emerges as clutter buildup begins to make day-to-day activities difficult and extreme disorganization leads to the accumulation of piles of detritus. This stage is likely hoarding and can quickly accelerate into the latter stages as the added stress of being surrounded by so much clutter and still unable to find anything you need can exacerbate the compulsion to keep everything.

Stage 4: Excessive Clutter and Behavior

At this stage, the piles of clutter are so large that it becomes difficult to use rooms for their intended purpose (sleeping in bedrooms, bathing in bathrooms). People at this stage require professional help as they likely now can’t help the compulsion to acquire and keep everything from old food wrappers and discarded newspapers to pets to piles of clothing.

Stage 5: Severe Unsanitary Conditions

The fifth and final stage of hoarding sees living spaces piled so dangerously high with accumulated possessions that there are only small paths between towering stacks of unsorted trash, food, clothing, and furniture. At this stage, pests are almost unavoidable in the space and it’s virtually impossible to bathe or use the bathroom. At this stage, extensive psychological help is needed along with professional cleaning, and–likely–fumigation and home repair.

Where to Seek Help in the Virginia Area

First, remember that this is a psychological disorder and needs to be addressed with as much care as any other. Also, remember that if you or someone you know is suffering from hoarding disorder, you are not alone. According to the International OCD Foundation, 2 to 6% of people worldwide suffer from hoarding disorder.

Fortunately, recovery is possible. 20 to 50% of hoarders who seek help and commit to the process recover successfully.

Recommendations for help:

If you have an elderly loved one or someone with children experiencing hoarding please reach out to your local APS (adult protective services) or social services dept.

Gloucester: 804-693-2671

York/Poquoson: 757-890-3787

Williamsburg/James City: (757)259-3100

OR directly reach out to us and we can facilitate help and funding for qualified individuals.

For aftercare therapy: Charlie Davis at Harlow Counseling (757)654-1074

For animal hoarding: Contact your local humane society, animal control, or county police dept.

How Cleaning Cents Can Help in Hoarding Situations

Cleaning Cents has experience with hoarding clients, cleanup, and handling of bio-hazardous materials. Additionally, we understand the sensitivity of the subject. We work with clients to help address issues. We handle every case with care, compassion, and discretion. We use unmarked vehicles, offer quick and efficient services, and keep our client’s details totally private.

Additionally, payment options are available for qualifying individuals. We’re here to help. Reach out today! 757-641-9623

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