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Spring Cleaning: Not So Easy for Hoarders

Spring is finally here, I think. The flowers are beginning to blossom, days are getting longer and the weather is becoming warmer. Spring oftentimes symbolizes a rebirth and starting anew. For me, it also implies I should begrudgingly partake in some type of spring cleaning at my house. This notion of spring cleaning can be traced back to several cultures including the Persian New Year where Iranians “shake the house” in anticipation of the New Year or possibly the Jewish culture as they remove leavened foods to prepare for Passover. It can also feel natural since there is more sunlight, so our brains produce less melatonin and we have more energy to complete the tasks. Although it may feel natural to want to clean and organize, especially at this time of year, it might be impossible for some people to achieve. Over the last decade or two, we as a society have learned quite a bit about hoarding. No, hoarding is not your prized collection of sports memorabilia proudly displayed throughout the house or your coin collection kept under the bed (although your spouse may tell you differently). Hoarding is when someone collects or keeps large quantities of things that have little or no value. The items are kept in disarray and prevent furniture and walkways to be used as they are intended. The home can become unsafe when walkways are blocked, excessive paper creates fire hazards, or the weight of the clutter jeopardizes the structural integrity of the home.

Hoarding cannot be cured by a simple house clean-up and a little tough love. In fact, it can very much have the opposite effect. In 2013, compulsive hoarding was designated as a distinct form of mental illness. It requires on-going support and services for a chance at successful outcomes. So what can you do if you believe someone you know is a hoarder? According to the International OCD Foundation, it’s important to acknowledge everyone must make their own decisions at their own pace. Show sympathy towards the hoarder’s attachment to their possessions and build trust by never throwing something away without permission.

Although we have learned so much about hoarding, we still have a long way to go. For many of the professionals I work with, they find out about a home when an emergency has hit. Maybe a senior has fallen or code enforcement has been called. It is costly to declutter a home. Oftentimes, the hoarder is unable to pay for the clean-up themselves. It is also expensive and difficult to find a trained professional who can provide the support and therapy needed throughout the process. Locally, we are working to learn more and find out what other communities have done to help hoarders so we can have a plan to better assist hoarders in the future.

If you would like to learn more about hoarding, visit the PA Behavioral Health & Aging Coalition Website at or the International OCD Foundation at If you need help understanding the resources available in our community, please feel free to reach out to the PA Link to Aging and Disability Resource Center for a listing of services. Please call our toll-free Call Center at 1-800-753-8827 or email me at

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