Hoarding is a debilitating condition where sufferers amass excessive numbers of items within their homes. These items, which might not cost anything, are often stored in towering and unorganised piles, creating clutter that’s virtually impossible to manage.
Estimates predict around 2-5% of the population are hoarders – that’s possibly more than 1.2 million people in the UK. Yet, it’s only in the last few years that hoarding has been officially recognised as a serious, psychological disorder.
Growing awareness of hoarding prompted the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) to launch the first-ever National Hoarding Awareness Week in 2014. While in May 2018, academics from Oxford University designed a ‘clutter scale’ with charity Hoarding UK, to help people determine whether or not they’re hoarding at home.
The dangers of hoarding
Large amounts of clutter can make everyday living particularly troublesome for hoarders, impacting their quality of life, and potentially the lives of their family. But it can also make a home very dangerous to live in, with risks including:
Piles of combustible materials (such as paper and plastic) will cause a fire to spread quickly in a home, and can increase fire risks in areas like the kitchen. Meanwhile, clutter could block access routes and make it harder for people to escape in an emergency. Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service say that hoarding is one of the main causes of fatal fires in the UK.
There are a number of ways clutter could impact the structural integrity of the building. Clutter in the loft could cause ceilings to sag or collapse, while in other areas it could disguise issues such as leaks, damp or mould, which could cause damage to the building over time.
Health and safety
With piles of clutter stacked around the home, there’s the obvious risk of stacks falling on someone and injuring them. Also, as cluttered homes are difficult to clean, dirt, mould and faeces from insects and rodents can build up – this can result in a number of health problems, like respiratory issues from poor indoor air quality.
How hoarding can impact home insurance
These dangers mean hoarders post a greater risk to insurers, but insurers may not know someone is a hoarder at the time of providing them with a policy. However, some of the potential consequences include:
- Inability to accurately calculate the cost of items within the house, causing the homeowner to be underinsured.
- Being denied a claim if the loss was deemed inevitable due to the accumulation of belongings.
- Difficulty pinpointing the cause of damage if access is a challenge, which could lead to a claim being denied.
- Having a future home policy denied following a claim, if an insurer visits your home and asserts that it’s in a poor condition.
How to deal with hoarding tendencies
Help for Hoarders has shared some practical tips for dealing with hoarding tendencies, and the top five are:
- Acknowledge the problem
It’s generally accepted that someone has a hoarding problem if rooms cannot be used for their intended purpose.
- Seek help
You might feel ashamed or scared that you’ll have your belongings taken away, but telling people will enable you to seek practical, psychological and emotional support.
- Start small
Pick a small area in your house to clear and work on it for a minimum of 15 minutes every day. Setting small goals will help you recognise your progress and will motivate you to keep going.
- Make quick decisions
Give yourself just 10-20 seconds to decide whether or not to keep each items – taking any longer might increase the chance of you getting attached to those items.
- Resist temptation
When clearing out a room in your home, refrain from buying new items as much as possible.
By taking steps to control your hoarding tendencies and clear your home from clutter, it will become a far safer and more comfortable place to live.