Is cleaning up after a hoarder really that big a deal?

I know there is a show called ‘hoarders’, and in extreme cases there could be explosives, biohazards, animals, etc., but typically, I don’t get what the big deal is.

This article on Newsweek:

http://www.newsweek.com/2011/01/26/an-unwanted-inheritance.html

bemoans the horror left to the next of kin of a hoarder because of the grief plus the clean-up of their crap. The guy in the article had to take SIX MONTHS off work to deal with the death of his hoarder mother, and that still wasn’t enough time. O.k. I just don’t understand this. I can’t believe it would take more than a month for any normal house. Yes, I understand his Mom could have the Hope Diamond and the deed to the house hidden among her piles of used magazines, but if you accept the fact you won’t find them at the start, it seems like an easy clean-up process. Pile 1: anything obviously valuable (probably very small), Pile 2: anything you can donate that can be reasonably picked up or dropped off (larger pile), Pile 3: everything else - goes straight into a giant dumpster in the driveway. Even the worst house should be clean in under a month barring the aforementioned hazards. I would clean the house one room at a time and have a contractor working behind me to fix everything for the house to be sold. The default assumption would always be that everything goes into the dumpster unless there is reason to believe otherwise.

My inlaws are quasi-hoarders in that when their own parents died, they stuffed all their crap into their giant garage, which is now a giant pile of junk. Once when I had a week between jobs, I tried to go through some of the bigger items (like furniture) to make a dent, and the only problem I encountered was the in-laws themselves, who wanted to argue about the disposition of every piece of crap, which made it an unmanageable process. If those people were already dead, there would be no one to object and the whole garage would have been clean inside of two days in my opinion. So what is the big deal I’m not understanding about this? Just assume the true value is in the house itself and the land, and anything you happen to find of value along the way as you throw out the trash is just a bonus.

Here’s a clue from the article:

If you’re willing to treat the hoarded material disinterestedly, it can go quickly; you can use a shovel. But if the piles contain stuff you’re potentially interested in, whether because of its objective value or for sentimental reasons, it can take a long time.

I already considered how my wife will react when that day eventually comes with her own parents. She is a very reasonable person, however, and would likely tell me what limited heirlooms might be present to keep an eye out for. If not, she would accept that piles of miscellaneous crap really are just that, and if she found it too sentimental to deal with, I would do the dumping without her. More than likely, she’d cherry pick a handful of things as they went into the dumpster, but would help in the clean-up just as I suggested. I’m not saying the hoard has to be tackled the day of the funeral, as any reasonable person needs time to grieve, but seriously, SIX MONTHS?

I haven’t had to deal with a truly horrific hoarder, but I’ve had to clean out after some pretty bad tenants for a landlord. There can be health hazards that slow down a clean up - fleas, feces, mold, etc. In some instances disposal of certain items is difficult - for example, getting rid of an old mattress around here is nigh impossible without some inventiveness. Most garbage pickup won’t take them and if you put them out by the curb they won’t be picked up. A dumpster containing one won’t be picked up or emptied. The local recycling center won’t take them. I wound up taking a large knife to them, cutting the padding away from the springs and into small acceptable chunks, then taking the bare springs to the recycling center as scrap metal. Somehow, that was acceptable.

So sometimes you slam into unexpected difficulties that might not even make sense. But yeah, being utterly ruthless does make the clean up go faster.

One of my great aunts died a couple years ago. She was a hoarder. It took my father and his sisters weeks to get her house cleaned and ready for sale. As has already been noted, it’s a much quicker process if you can just back up a dump truck and have everything hauled to the land fill. When there are family documents, photographs going back several generations, family antiques, and other items of value mixed in/hidden in all the crap, it becomes a much slower process.

There might be important legal/family documents in there that he was trying to retrieve. If the hoarder also piles newspapers to the ceiling and uses those as nice stash spots for randomly-hidden documents, the cleanup people are in trouble. You may not value some of those things as much as the people stuck cleaning, but that’s their choice.

My grandmother was not much of a hoarder, but it still took two months before we were ready for an estate sale. Going through someone else’s things takes time. When there are multiple people involved there can be arguments over who gets what, what should be sold, what can be tossed. After the estate sale, there was another few MONTHS of work in getting the house repainted, the carpet replaced (she’d been a heavy smoker), some minor repairs taken care of.

It goes fast if 1) no one is sentimental and pretty much everyone agrees its all hitting the trash. 2) you can afford to throw money at it for professionals to help with the cleaning, repairs, even the trash hauling.

When its one person sentimentally attached to the person whose stuff it was, paging through their “inheritence,” with the work of not just evaluating and tossing, but the issues involved in cleaning what can be a hazardous waste zone - it can take a LONG time.

Many of the hoarders on that show have valuable documents buried in their piles of crap. Some have been shown finding jewelry or family heirlooms that they thought they’d lost. If a survivor/heir wanted to be sure that they weren’t throwing away something of value (sentimental or otherwise), they’d want to take time. That’s why it can take such a long time.

My mom isn’t quite to the extent that she’s ready for her own Hoarder’s television show, but she’s pretty close. (Her plumbing still works, and the electricity hasn’t set anything on fire and her roof is new, but I’ll be damned if you can make it to the sofa, let alone sit on it.)

My brother has told her that when she dies, he’s setting the house on fire. I think he’s kidding. Personally, I don’t care. I think if all that crap is that important to her, she should make arrangements to be buried with it. As far as something of value being in that house…nothing she could possibly own is worth the mental (and physical) cost that it would entail to go through all that stuff. Just to find something of value? Please. There’s not enough money in the world to have to deal with that.

No thank you.

I think too many people hold onto too much stuff. Cart it out in Hefty bags, or call a dumpster for delivery. If the person is really a hoarder, then the condition of the “valuable stuff” is likely to be in such poor shape that it’s lost most of it’s value.

…this post makes me want to clean…

Board member Rilchiam specializes in this kind of cleaning. Maybe she’ll pop in.

My uncle is a hoarder, in poor health, and my mother is his heir. When the day comes that she has to clear out that mess, Mom faces 5 acres, with a house, two mobile homes, two barns, a travel trailer, a couple of transport trailers, and numerous cars/trucks/vans crammed to the brim with STUFF. Included in that stuff are things like

Family photos.
About 10 rolls of uncirculated quarters from each state and territory issue (i.e. $100 x 50+)
Who knows how many other “collectible” coins.
Several collectible/valuable hand- and long guns.
Jewelry that belonged to his first wife, and needs to be sent to her oldest daughter.
And so forth.

There’s just enough good stuff salted throughout the Superfund site that we’ll have to sort through it. I can easily see it taking 6 months or more. (And I say that “we” will have to go through it, because my mother isn’t really in the best physical condition, so my brother and I will have to do most of the grunt work.)

I’m not looking forward to this ordeal, but Mom will insist it must be done, and done “right.” (In the unlikely event that Uncle J outlives my mom? Bro and I have agreed that he’ll bring the marshmallows if I bring the hot dogs for the bonfire!)

My MIL is a serious hoarder. I love her dearly, but in the house she and my FIL live in, her stuff fills the living room, the dining area, the guest bedroom, the den, her sewing room, and increasingly, the bedroom she and my FIL share. The usable space in the house amounts to the kitchen and bathrooms, the area around the master bed in the bedroom, just enough room at the dining table for two people to squeeze their dinner plates in on the table and sit down, a small area around my FIL’s recliner in the den, the room my FIL uses as his office, which he refuses to let my MIL into more than briefly, and paths through the other rooms connecting said locations.

Based on past experience in cleaning up parts of her house to render them temporarily usable while we visited, I’m convinced that in event of her death, I could render that place largely clean and usable in two weeks, while not losing a single item of sentimental value to anyone besides her, not losing a single bill, bank statement, or other document of financial importance, and even organizing her craft materials of any value for sale or donation to people who would make good use of them.

We’d have to park a dumpster or two out front, but nobody in the family would have a problem with that.

And after that, my FIL would call in an exterminator to deal with the cockroaches, but that’s the easy part.

Just as a datum, one of my ex-Grandmothers-in-law developed a habit of saving stacks of old letters and bills. She’d slit open the envelope, read or deal with the contents, then replace the letter or bill in the envelope. They never grew to stacks, just to small piles on her desk, table, near the front room chairs, etc. I remember when a visiting relative spread the word to the clan that she had started putting savings bonds and stock certificates in some of them. She considered it security. If someone broke in, they wouldn’t think to ransack a pile of old letters and bills.

And, no, she never told anyone about it. Telling someone would lessen the security. I wasn’t still part of the family when she died, but I heard that no envelope left her house unsearched. If she’d been a hoarder, half the family would still have gone through every bit of it, on principle. You just don’t throw money away, especially money that’s collecting interest.

Part of it, I would assume, is you can’t tell what you need to toss.

I knew of a lady, Jane, who kept everything. She was from the Great Depression era and NOTHING would go to waste. She would take a bath and not let the water drain out. Then she’d get a bucket and use the bath water to put in the back of the toliet tank to flush it. That way no water would be wasted.

This was a lady that bought stock and there was some impropriety involved. Long story short, it was a Canadian company and she had EVERY SINGLE correspsondence from that company for 20 years. The Ontario government flew her out at their expense to testify at this fraud trial. She had more documentation and evidence than you’d believe possible.

But Jane had money and other things. She knew where everything was, but when she died, it took her daughter months and months of sorting, because she had no clue of what was what.

I recall in 1979 I found a bottle and I said, “What is this?” She said, “They’re cherries from the World’s Fair.” I said, “You saved cherries 15 year old cherries?” She said, “No the 1939 World’s Fair.”

Nice lady and I don’t know if she was an actual hoarder, 'cause outside of her saving things, she was perfectly normal. It’s just everything had a personal memory and story, (Which she could tell you, even though she was in her 80s) attached to it.

Yo! ::trots in with fist upraised:: I saw this the minute I logged on, but I have more to say than I have time for at this moment. Back later!

And also, just reading an article doesn’t really drive home what they’re talking about. Catch an episode of the show Horders to get a better idea of the sheer scope of what they’re talking about.

She’s too busy cleaning up after hoarders :smiley:

My brother and I have been known to joke with our parents that when the last of them dies, we’re just going to bury them, and then go set fire to their house rather than go through all their stuff.

I suspect that we already know where the worthwhile stuff is, and that the rest of it is crap that we can safely chunk or foist off on our children.

My mother and aunt have been sorting through my grandpa’s house, (he’s not dead, but lost his marbles and in a home). He wasn’t a hoarder per se, but had done no house maintainance since… well… my mother left home and stopped doing it.
I can easily see that a house with large areas inaccessable through junk heaps could take 6 months. His house has taken maybe 4 months to be got to an almost rentable state. The carpets (and likely bits of the floorboards) were rotten, the window frames had decomposed and the windows were falling out, the plaster was falling off the walls, the wiring was illegal and dangerous and the entire bathroom needed ripping out and replacing.

It’s not just getting rid of the junk- in his case, that only took a few weeks, but getting it actually clean took months, and really still isn’t finished.

Much like others have said, I had two aunts that lived together that verged on being hoarders. They also kept stacks upon stacks of old newspapers and magazines (think National Enquirer) that they in turn saved money in randomly. So whenever the last of the two passed away, it took my mom forever to sort through all the junk and round up the cash that they’d left hidden behind.