Although hoarding is often associated with joking and laughter, when it reaches a certain point it can become a serious issue. Many hoarding problems can be associated with mental health issues, and having a hoarding disorder can affect daily life, social interaction and even physical health.

Portrayals of hoarding and object obsession exist throughout film and TV, such as Ariel collecting ‘human objects’ in The Little Mermaid. However, it can be hard to work out what hoarding actually entails, and the stages that lead to a hoarding disorder.

The 5 Stages of Hoarding: What Are They?

What Is Hoarding?

Hoarding can be defined in many ways and is a word often used in a joking or jesting nature. However, having a hoarding disorder can be quite challenging and will affect most aspects of your life. Individuals with hoarding disorder have consistent difficulty getting rid of possessions due to a need to save the items.

Hoarding is most often related to someone having experienced difficult situations and having deep painful feelings. These feelings can be translated as a coping mechanism for hoarding personal items. Hoarding disorders can also be associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder, with an obsessive need to save or preserve personal items.

So, what are the five stages of hoarding, and how much can it actually affect your life?

Stage 1: Obsessive Clutter

Obsessive clutter is the first stage of hoarding disorder. This may look different for each individual, however, it usually involves persistently collecting or buying new items without any necessity.

While obsessive clutter can be put into a hobby or collection of items- such as a coin collection- a lack of displaying these items or organisation is considered small-level hoarding. This obsessive clutter may also lead to excessive shopping for new items to hoard.

If someone is in the early stages of hoarding, they do not require any action from you as their home is still safe and sanitary.

Stage 2: Noticeable Clutter and Avoidance

At Stage 2, a possible hoarder will begin to avoid visitors to their home due to embarrassment, stress or anxiety regarding their hoarded items. A person who fits into this category may need professional help with cleaning and organising, and their space may exhibit the following:

  • main exits blocked with visible clutter
  • animal waste/animal faeces or hair around the house
  • minor problems with utilities, including electrical and plumbing issues
  • overflowing garbage
  • dirty dishes and laundry
  • growing mould and light mildew

Stage 3: Deteriorating Hygiene

Once a person’s hoarding disorder has reached the stage of deteriorating hygiene, it would be wise to seek assistance. At this stage, very poor personal and lifestyle hygiene has become apparent, and the individual may begin experiencing emotional distress.

A hoarder may become defensive about their living situation, and try to rationalise as they do not see the dangers of living in their current state. This home may now exhibit the following:

  • Insect infestations from ants, cockroaches, bed bugs, or lice
  • Obstructions in key living spaces
  • Multiple broken appliances
  • Untidied spills and breaks left for days
  • One room is not being used for its intended purpose (e.g. the bathroom is used for storage)
  • Possible light structural damage
  • Extremely soiled flooring

Stage 4: Structural Damage and Extreme Disorganisation

Stage 4 of hoarding is a more in-depth hoarding level than that of Stage 3. With continued structural damage creating hazards around the home, the hoarder will most likely be suffering from a more concerning mental health crisis. Personal hygiene will continue to deteriorate as well, with lack of bathing and odour becoming more apparent.

The house may now have:

  • Structural damage in the home (e.g. water damage, broken doors, plumbing)
  • An excessive amount of human and animal faeces
  • Clutter preventing entrance to stairs, rooms, and exits
  • Rotting and expired food
  • Odours and backup in sewage points

In this hoarding situation, calling housing agencies, protective services and even animal control may be necessary to restore liveable conditions.

Stage 5: Fire Hazards and No Utilities

The final stage of hoarding is the most severe stage. Stage 5 of hoarding disorder can look like:

  • Extreme indoor clutter making key living spaces unusable
  • No ventilation
  • Irreparable damage to the home’s structure
  • Disconnected utilities including water and/or electrical services
  • Extreme mould and mildew
  • Animal health is at risk, and animals are a danger to humans
  • Broken or crumbling walls and severe structural damage
  • Major fire hazards throughout the home (e.g. paper accumulation)
  • A noticeable accumulation of human and animal faeces
  • Most spaces in the home are inaccessible
  • Sewage issues

With severe structural damage, extreme lack of hygiene and a lack of mobility throughout the house, this stage calls for immediate assistance. It is recommended to seek professional help with regard to mental health conditions, house restoration and protective services if children or dependents are involved.

The Effects of Hoarding

The effects of hoarding disorder go way beyond the physical mess that is created. Not only does the individual with this issue undergo health hazards, safety concerns and often serious emotional distress, but it can affect their family members and friends.

A hoarder’s home and behaviour can lead to neglected social interaction, defensive and isolated mannerisms and eventually mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. As hoarding disorder is considered a mental disorder itself, the continuation of hoarding behaviour can become quite serious.

The three main ways that hoarding can affect an individual are:

  • Mental health: Poor mental health is the biggest and most concerning effect of the stages of hoarding. While it may not require action or seem to be a big deal in the early stages of hoarding it may be best to seek out help as soon as you notice the signs.
  • Social interaction: Social interaction with both close friends and family members, as well as the general public, becomes limited once reaching the later stages of hoarding. A hoarder may become defensive and rationalise their living situation as it helps them cope with the difficult emotions that they process through their hoarding disorder.
  • Hygiene and cleanliness: As a hoarder’s household becomes more hazardous and unsafe, it also becomes less clean and hygienic. This can lead to poor personal hygiene like not bathing or becoming odorous, or even lead to medical conditions such as fungal infections,

When to Seek Assistance

Working out whether you or someone close to you is at any stage of hoarding disorder can be distressing. Noticing signs of the early stages of hoarding is essential to getting help before the disorder becomes a safety concern.

Seeking out mental health professionals is a great way to tackle those difficult feelings that a hoarder may be struggling through, as well as talking through healthier coping mechanism options. If you or a person you know has reached the dangerous stages of hoarding disorder, mental health professionals may offer alternative treatment and therapy options such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

Finally, offering mental and emotional support to a friend or family member in need is always helpful. Making sure they always have someone to talk to or feel supported by is a great way to get them on the road to recovery.

How We Can Help

After getting personal help for hoarding, it comes down to the physical mess and rubbish that is left behind. It may be difficult for a recovering hoarder to give up their hoarded items and obsessive collections, however, it is a necessary step to full recovery and a safe living situation.

At 1300 Rubbish, we take the utmost care and respect for all jobs we encounter. No matter how big the mess is, we’re ready to take on anything! For all hoarding levels, our hoarding rubbish removal service will remove necessary junk, damaged house structures and hazardous waste. We will help you navigate the sentimental items that have nostalgic memories attached with respect, and give you the hoarding help you need.

After our removal service is finished, our professional removalists will even clean up any mess left over! You and your home will hopefully be left clean, safe and with a new mindset. Contact us now at 1300 782 247 or fill out our online form now for a free estimate.