Many of us know someone who saves every trinket, memento and keepsake. They find comfort in having these items and parting with them is difficult. We often jokingly refer to these people as ‘pack rats’ or ‘squirrels’ but their keepsake instincts are usually harmless. Hoarders however are excessive savers incapable of parting with things that most of us deem as worthless or simply trash. When a person is a hoarder, they pose serious risk to themselves, their neighbours, and particularly to fire personnel.
Hoarders are actually people who feel too distressed to discard items. They keep excessive amounts of unusable items, including books, animals, even recyclables and trash, to the point where their home becomes filled with these often worthless possessions. A hoarder may have experienced a traumatic event, or suffer from other mental disorders such as depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), or dementia.
A hoarder’s inability to discard items can be hazardous to themselves and others for several reasons. They may keep garbage, animal feces, excessive numbers of pets, and even dead animals that can cause illness and infestations. Their household clutter may have items piled up that block windows and doorways, or cause tripping hazards.
According to the National Fire Protection Agency, in the event of a fire, the excessive amount of materials in the home of a hoarder can be an accelerant to dramatically increase the size of a fire requiring additional fire department personnel and larger amounts of water to suppress and extinguish it. The extreme heat conditions of piles of burning materials can produce copious amounts of smoke to threaten firefighters as well as lead to the fire spreading to neighbouring homes. Excessive materials blocking entryways can prevent fire crews from easily entering or exiting the home, increasing the chance that occupants in these households can die because fire personnel cannot reach them. The National Fire Protection Agency notes that in addition to the blocked entrances and exits, excess materials can fall on firefighters.
Hoarders need help. Enlisting the assistance of professionals in a must when trying to assist a hoarder. Respect and kindness must be shown. Paul Davis Restoration has trauma specialists who are trained to deal with the difficult issues facing hoarders and their families. These specialists can assist with the hazardous conditions and do so with empathy and understanding.