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Clutter and hoarding

Most of us have possessions in our homes that we don't want to get rid of. These may include clothes, furniture and common household items, photos or objects that bring back happy memories or remind us of loved ones, or things that form part of a hobby or personal collection (CDs, books etc).

Every now and again most of us will get the feeling that we've gathered too much 'stuff' and will have a clear out or spring clean to create some space.

But for some people gathering possessions in their home, and then not wanting to let some of them go, can become a problem. Suddenly they find that they are surrounded by too much stuff, with more coming in all the time, and don't know what to do.

This excessive gathering of possessions or 'clutter' in the home can then have a knock-on effect on other areas of a person's life:-

  • It can be difficult to get about the home because there are so many things in the way, and there can even be an increased risk of tripping, falls or other accidents
  • It can be more difficult to find the things you need for day-to-day life - keys, money, documents etc
  • There can be a hygiene risk as old food and dirt gathers unseen in corners of the property, leading to problems with mould, unpleasant smells, rodent and insect infestation and other hygiene issues. And this can then have a negative effect on neighbours
  • There is an increased risk of fire
  • And there can be a negative effect on a person's relationships and social life, as they become embarrassed about inviting people into their home, or as friends and loved-ones simply don't want to be in what they see as an unpleasant or uncomfortable environment

In the worst cases this 'clutter' can become even more problematic. Some people find that their homes can become full from top to bottom with all types of things - furniture, piles of papers, old clothes, things that they have found when out and about, and much more besides. Suddenly a person can find that there is literally no way around their home, and that they are living in one small space surrounded by mountains of possessions. To other people these possessions may seem like 'rubbish', but the person who has gathered them will attach great importance to them, and will not want to let go.

When the problem reaches this level it is known as 'compulsive hoarding'.

Many people with hoarding difficulties may suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), which may or may not be directly connected to their clutter problem. Hoarding is also often associated with other forms of anxiety and depression. In such cases the effects of their mental health problems may be affecting their ability to make decisions about how they live, and to deal with the problem as it grows around them.

Some people who hoard things may not necessarily be considered to have mental health problems. They can be capable of leading active and rewarding lives away from their homes. In such cases it could be argued that, if their situation is not having a negative or hazardous effect on people around them (for example neighbours), then they should be allowed to choose how they live their lives. 

We have already seen above that there can be negative impacts on the lives of people who hoard, and on the lives of people living around them.

It is rare that people who hoard will not find their lives slowly becoming more problematic or chaotic. In the worst cases they can be evicted from their homes, or can be served a notice from the local council's Environmental Health department because their homes are considered "filthy and verminous" in the eyes of the law; in such cases they will be expected to clear and clean their homes within a particular timescale, or to have their homes cleared compulsorily cleared by others (for which they will usually be expected to pay).

No matter what causes someone to hoard they should be encouraged to seek help to resolve the problem before it takes over or ruins their life.

If a person is showing a tendency towards hoarding they should talk to their GP to discuss whether or not they have a mental health problem which is contributing towards the problem.

Depending on the extent of the problem the local council's Adult Social Care team may be able to offer support to someone to sort  the problem out. A social worker will carry out an assessment of the person's needs with the them; if the person is eligible for support then a social worker will work out a plan of action with the person, and work with the person to bring the problem back under control.

Many local home care agencies will provide support with cleaning; go to our Support in your home page for more details, or search for 'domiciliary care' in the search box above for an extensive list of local care agencies.

More serious hoarding problems with hygiene and safety concerns may require more specialist support; search for 'hoarding'  in the search box above for details of organisations who may be able to provide this specialist support.

Support with clutter from Age UK's Safe At Home Service

The Age UK Safe At Home service provides Falls Prevention support for people living in their own homes, whose homes are getting cluttered with too many belongings. They can visit to assess, help make recommendations on how to make your home safer for you, arrange for small repairs and advise on healthy living and wellbeing.  The service is based in Kensington and Chelsea.

The NHS Choices website provides additional information on compulsive hoarding.

Hoarding UK is an organisation committed to increasing choice and control for people who compulsively hoard while ensuring the professionals are empowered to provide appropriate and effective interventions.

The Counselling Directory allows you to search for specialist counsellors and therapists who can support you with a hoarding problem, and offers specific advice on hoarding.

Hoarding Disorders UK aims to provide practical hands-on support as well as expert advice to those experiencing varying levels of hoarding, ranging from the chronically disorganised to the extreme hoarder.

Children of Hoarders aims to improve the lives of children from homes with hoarding issues.

The Help For Hoarders website has been set up by the daughter of someone who has had problems with hoarding, and aims to provide information and advice to anyone affected by hoarding issues.

Cluttergone is a professional declutter and organise service which helps people with the clutter that is getting in the way of their life.

FlyLady is a cheerful and user-friendly site offering advice and encouragement on sorting out your clutter.

Cloud's End provide a range of support for people with hoarding issues and those who work with them. Take a look at their leaflet to find out more.

The Association of Professional Declutterers & Organisers (APDO) has information on accredited specialist workers near you who can help you 'declutter' your home.

The British Heart Foundation will collect furniture and electrical items for free if they are in a good condition; these items will then be sold to raise funds for the charity.