Five tips for working with clients who are hoarders

Hoarding affects some 500 thousand to one-million people in Australia, according theChildren of Hoarders organisation. If it seems more prevalent now than ever before, you can nod to the myriad of reality shows about hoarding or the media headlines for creating awareness; but truthfully, hoarding is a shame-based disorder that has, until fairly recently, been swept under the proverbial rug. This year that rug has been lifted and sent to the dry cleaners.  In early 2013 Australia officially recognized compulsive hoarding as a mental disorder.

People who suffer from compulsive hoarding disorder tend to be fairly reclusive when it comes to the home front, for obvious reasons. But they still need a variety of services from tradespeople. Sometimes they’ve initiated the service on their own. At other times a well-meaning relative or local government body has taken action to have a clean-up service come in for safety reasons. Either way, there are some guidelines that can make your job as a tradesperson in a hoarders home a little easier. Here are our 5 top tips:

1. Put safety first. Every company has safety standards for carrying out their service and these cannot be compromised. Your client will need to understand and comply.  Having said this, it’s one thing to have that compliance and quite another to expect it to stick for the duration of your time in a hoarder’s home. You may be able to manoeuvre around items strewn on the floor, but it’s definitely a risk to work in an environment of precariously perched piles of clutter. Assess your risk and act accordingly.

2. Educate yourself.  Understanding a little about compulsive hoarding and how it impacts lives can prepare you for your work in a hoarder’s home, particularly if you will be there for a period of time. Without this knowledge it’s easy to be judgemental and wonder why your client can’t throw away what you deem to be worthless.  You’ll find that hoarding is not merely a physical desire to keep something. There are significant emotional factors as well. Read more about hoarding here.

3. Practice compassion and patience. The more educated you are, the easier it will be for you to practice compassion and keep your cool. After all, it’s hard to get your job done when the client is blocking access to a stairwell or room you must use. It’s always best to stay calm, compassionate and think outside the box for a solution.

4. Have support. In many cases it’s important to have a support person for your client present while you work. Often this could be the homeowner’s family, professional organizer, or therapist; somebody your client knows and trusts who can help you navigate the inevitable obstacles to completing your work.

5. Manage expectations. As a rubbish removal expert ( who has worked with many hoarders, I’ve always told my crew not to expect a hoarder’s house to be like any other job. Managing expectations will help you achieve success. Ensure you’ve seen the home before the day you start so that you can adequately plan. Make sure the client is aware of everything you will do. And understand that one outcome of your work in a hoarder’s home may well be not finishing the job to your regular standards. With piles of items on the floor or against a wall, it’s hard to fully clean a carpet or paint a wall.

Working with hoarders can be challenging, yet it’s rewarding to help and see what a difference you’ve made in their home. Good Luck!

Justin King owns both the 1800-GOT-JUNK? Brisbane and 1800-GOT-JUNK? Melbournefranchises. He is an expert in rubbish removal and junk disposal in Australia. Justin prides himself on disposing of junk and rubbish responsibly (by way of charitable donations or recycling). Connect with Justin on Google+