Do you work with Hoarders?? This is a question I get asked almost every time I tell someone that my full-time job is working as a Professional Organizer.
Here, I’m answering that question. I’ll also explain where my boundaries lie professionally when working with this population, and what you need to know if you plan to work with Hoarders as a Professional Organizer.
Should you add “working with hoarders” to your list of services as a Professional Organizer?
First, let’s look at the definition of hoarding and how it impacts someone’s life. Now, don’t worry I’m not going to show you a bunch of horrific photos we’re just going to review the specific symptoms of someone with HD aka Hoarding Disorder.
Specific symptoms for a hoarding diagnosis include*:
- Lasting problems with throwing out or giving away possessions, regardless of their actual value.
- The problems are due to a perceived need to save the items and to distress linked to parting with them.
- Items fill, block and clutter active living spaces so they cannot be used, or use is hampered by the large amount of items (if living spaces are clear it is due to help from others).
So, you can understand why someone would think of hiring a Professional Organizer or decluttering expert to assist someone with HD.
Do I work with clients diagnosed with hoarding disorder?
My answer is “sort-of,” let me explain.
I have a decluttering service called “Post-Hoarding Clear-out” that I provide for spouses and family members of people who did hoard items in their home, but it’s rare that I work directly with someone who is actively hoarding. The reason I do not typically work with an active hoarder is that it is a mental health issue and that there’s nothing I can do to fix someone with this disorder. My process is more efficient when I work with people who make good decisions about things that they can let go of as part of the decluttering and downsizing process. Working directly with someone diagnosed with HD or showing hoarding tendencies may be a waste of their money and my time.
That is why I call the service I provide “Post-Hoarding Clear-out.” It means that I work with the family members after the hoarder has moved to another location or they passed away and it is someone else’s responsibility to clear out the space. My client has a legal right to dispose of the property, they are the parent, adult child, widow, or heir. This is an important distinction as you never want to dispose of someone’s property without their permission, but in these cases the property is inherited or considered abandoned.
I can use my skills in project management, and my safety training to provide a confidential and ethical service. I’m insured and have a good working relationship with haulers and movers. I’m the queen of quick sorting and know eco-friendly ways to dispose of things and determine if items have monetary or sentimental value.
Assess the Level of Clutter.
If these are your strengths as well, you may consider adding this service to your Professional Organizing business. Of course, like me, you will want to set some professional boundaries.
If you are not familiar with the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD), you will want to check out the resources they have on their website including the Clutter-Hoarding Scale®. The Clutter–Hoarding Scale® is an assessment measurement tool that gives professional organizers definitive parameters related to health and safety. This is an amazing diagnostic tool. It ranks spaces on a scale of 1 to 5 based on how clutter is affecting the functionality and safety of the home.
Set Professional Boundaries when working with Hoarders
I personally do not work in any spaces that would be considered condemned or contain biohazards like mold, bodily fluids, heavy smoke, chemicals, or pest contamination. I do not work in any space where there was ever any kind of animal hoarding.
There are other companies that have the proper supplies and protection to work in those kinds of spaces, interestingly they are sometimes the same companies that provide crime scene clean up, just to give you an idea of their level of knowledge.
If you are interested in working with clients with Hoarding Disorder or supporting family members it is important to know what environments you feel safe emotionally, physically and can provide a professional service. Sometimes the most professional thing you can do is refer business to another company when the clutter is just too much.
The Clutter Hoarding Scale® and other resources from ICD can help. And if you do plan to directly work with clients who are actively hoarding, you’ll want to have a good working relationship with a mental health professional in your area who services patients with HD, an understanding of your local zoning and disposal laws, and get training on the brain-based challenges that lead to extreme clutter.
To learn more about working as a Professional Organizer check out my Introduction to Professional Organizing course, or visit my online school for starting your career in Professional Organizing.
Subscribe to my YouTube channel for more videos on downsizing, decluttering, and the business of organizing!