Address the elephant in the room

What’s the elephant in this story? It’s the clutter. The mess. The piles on stuff being collected in case it’s needed one day. That’s right, we’re talking about hoarding and squalor.

But what exactly is hoarding disorder? It’s a mental health disorder which has the potential to affect all aspects of a person’s life such as their health, finances, tenancy, employment, and relationships.

Because of the clutter, it’s difficult for the person to function in their own home. Where would they sleep if the path to their bedroom is blocked or their bed is covered in stuff? How would they use the bathroom? How would they cook a meal in their kitchen? What if they tried to cook a meal but the stuff got in the way?

Let me share an alarming fact: According to NSW Fire & Rescue, 12% of all fire fatalities in NSW were people living in hoarding and squalor conditions. Why so high? Clutter is fuel, exit pathways are blocked, standard utilities are often misused or disconnected which leads to unsafe practices. It’s a high risk environment for both the residents and the rescue team called in to help.

Hoarding Disorder doesn’t discriminate. It can affect any gender, any age, any socioeconomic and cultural background. Estimates suggest there are as many as one million people affected by Hoarding Disorder (HD) or Severe Domestic Squalor (SDS) in Australia right now. The causes are varied but often include family dynamics, grief, loss, trauma, abuse, poverty and homelessness.

People with the disorder may have feelings of shame and guilt, and struggle to understand why they can’t stop their behaviour. Stigma and misunderstanding around the disorder makes the problem worse. Effective support comes in the form of a multi-faceted approach which starts with listening to the person. Their words will often give you clues for intervention. Holistic support must address the psychological, behavioural and emotional aspects of the issue to have a chance at being successful. One-off cleans just don’t work, and often make the problem worse with the person quickly reverting to old behaviours.

If you would like to know more about Hoarding & Squalor, or would like to attend a workshop, please contact us to discuss your needs.