As many as 15 million people in the U.S. may suffer from compulsive hoarding, a disorder characterized by an individual’s inability to discard items others may view as worthless, and a persistent difficulty getting rid of, or parting with possessions, leading to clutter that disrupts his or her ability to use living or work spaces. It can cause substantial distress and lead to disability, even eviction.
Matt Paxton, “Hoarders” television personality and author of “The Secret Lives of Hoarders” (Perigee, $16), understands hoarding requires special expertise in extreme cleaning and restoration and is now serving as the in-house expert on hoarding for ServiceMaster Restore. He will provide specialized hands-on training to franchisees across the country to help professionals understand hoarding, as well as how to identify and help hoarders.
“I have been helping hoarders for years, but simply could not help enough people with my small team,” said Paxton. “At the end of the day, it is a big deal: 10-15 million people are dealing with it. And, it’s not just women or men, it’s everybody.”
Hoarding is now recognized as its own disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Previously, it was considered to be related to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
“As of this year, the APA [has] deemed hoarding a mental disorder, just like alcoholism and drug abuse,” Paxton said. “It’s a big deal because it used to just be a subset of OCD, but what the classification now means is that there will be research around it which includes funds for research and therapy.
“We are at the beginning of understanding the disorder, but the good news is that the stats tell us that if they get therapy for the tragedy — what we call the ‘trigger’ — then they often are better. If they don’t get the therapy, the house fills right back up.”
Hoarding requires special expertise in extreme cleaning and restoration, but it also requires compassion and understanding. Many people don’t know where to start or how to help but there is help out there and it will get better. They just need to take steps toward taking action to get help.
“A classic hoarder is not saving stuff for survival; they’re saving stuff to give things away,” explained Paxton. “Age doesn’t cause hoarding — it’s grief, trauma and tragedy.”
Education and compassion are needed — not just for the hoarders, but the families impaired by hoarding disorder, too.
“For nearly 30 years, we have been providing restoration services to homeowners and business owners in the Philadelphia area,” said Robert Neef, owner of ServiceMaster by ARTec. “When someone experiences a major loss due to a fire or other event, it’s a very emotional experience. We help them not only get their houses back to normal, but we help guide them through the process. We will bring this same compassion and understanding to those who suffer from hoarding.
“Together, we’ll restore homes into safe and healthy conditions.”