hoarding house clutter

What To Do When You Inherit a Hoarding House

A pile of stuff on a floor in a hoarding house.

The pants were draped atop the bedroom dresser, right where they had been since Ruth’s husband passed years ago.

But his possessions were not the only ones still cluttering her St. Louis, Missouri house. In fact, Ruth had held onto the belongings of not one, but three dead family members.

In Season 6 of the hit A&E show “Hoarders,” producers introduced Ruth whose episode became known as one of the worst hoarding house situations ever revealed in the show’s more than 10-year history. Though it is typical that people hold onto mementos after a loved one’s passing, Ruth’s entire house had become a shrine to the three family members she had lost, every bedroom packed with clothing and memorabilia, and other items Ruth had compulsively begun to buy — creating a potential fire hazard.

Ruth couldn’t let go of her house full of stuff belonging to her dead family members. But what happens when the shoe is on the other foot, and you find yourself with a house full of stuff — because you have inherited a hoarding house from YOUR family member like Ruth?

The Causes of Hoarding

It’s estimated that 1 in 20 people have hoarding tendencies, which can begin to reveal as early as between the ages of 15 and 19. True hoarding disorders should be taken seriously.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, people over the age of 60 and people with psychiatric diagnoses, especially anxiety and depression, or those who have experienced a traumatic life event are the most likely to be diagnosed with a hoarding disorder. The exact meaning of “hoarding” is not the same as that of “collecting,” and can be more closely defined as “disorganized clutter with lack of a consistent theme.”

Symptoms of hoarding disorder include persistent difficulty discarding or parting with any possessions, a perceived need to save items and distress associated with discarding them, and a living space cluttered to the point of causing either fire or tripping hazards and/or health safety concerns.

Hoarding the belongings of deceased loved ones to the point of creating a hazardous living situation is bad, but there are many hoarding situations that could be ranked from extreme to bizarre to completely unsanitary and obscene. Cases have been documented, for example, of hoarders storing dead cat bodies, rotten eggs, jugs or jars of urine and living with thousands of rats (both dead and alive).

Though it is not known exactly what causes hoarding disorder, it’s important to remember that if you know of someone suffering from it, hoarding is a complex issue that leaves many of its victims feeling overwhelmed or embarrassed by their situation. If you need help organizing your loved one’s hoarding house to a livable condition once again, Alabama Bio-Clean technicians have been providing compassionate and respectful hoarding cleanup and sanitation services throughout the state of Alabama for more than 10 years, and we stand committed to help you and your loved one restore order to their home.

However, if you have found yourself strapped with the monumental task of deciding what to do with a hoarder home you’ve inherited, read on for our advice.

Tips for What To Do With a Hoarding House

Hoarding situations can be extremely unsanitary and, unfortunately, you likely will not know exactly what you are getting just by sight alone.

If this is an unattended death discovery situation inside a hoarding house, it’s important to recognize that anything the decomposed body has touched is considered a biohazard. There could be a threat of blood-borne pathogens, viruses and bacteria, and this environment must be handled by a professional biohazard cleaning company.

If you’ve inherited your deceased loved one’s estate following their passing and discover they were a hoarder, there are a number of things you can do to help ease your (and your own family’s) peace of mind as you attempt to restore order to a messy situation. Here are just a few:

  • If there is a will, see if it gives instructions. A will could give specific instructions for what should happen to particular items (such as wedding rings, photos, rare books, cash, etc.). If it does, make sure those items are secured and preserved. Keep inventory of any cash or valuables you find going forward. If there is not a will, you might let close family members make requests.

  • Resist the urge to throw everything away. Though a lot of what a hoarder’s house contains may appear to you to be junk or trash, our technicians at Alabama Bio-Clean will be the first to tell you that valuable items could be, and often are, hidden underneath. Conducting clean-up, we’ve often found hidden treasures in hoarding houses — everything from family bibles and cookbooks, to gold coins and once even $100,000 (all valuables are put aside for you and your loved ones)!

    Instead of tossing things out, sort things into three piles (please make sure to wear protective gear, such as gloves and a respirator). Sort them into garbage, donate and keep piles. Go room-by-room and limit the items you want to keep to small, meaningful things, immediately tossing things that need discarding (think food in the pantry, junk mail, newspapers, etc.).

  • Consider getting help from a professional. In mild cases of hoarding, it’s likely worth your while to hire a professional cleaning crew. In more extreme cases (think where there are environmental hazards present such as mold or vermin), you’ll need to contact trained and certified biohazard experts.

  • Call the home insurance company. If you are dealing with an unattended death, most home insurance companies will pay to clean up damages from an unattended body, including items in the home impacted by the decomposition. In this case, it’s a good rule of thumb to check with the home’s insurance provider.

  • Don’t hold on to guilt. Choosing to get rid of a hoarding family member’s stuff is not a reflection on how much you loved or didn’t love them. Hold on to the small items that have value and let the rest go, free of guilt. Handle the situation as quickly as possible, so you can properly mourn.

Alabama Bio-Clean Are the Trained Top ‘Hoarding Helpers’ Near You

When you’ve inherited a hoarding house and don’t know where to start with sifting through the accumulation of stuff, call a professional biohazard team that handles hoarding cleanup and sanitation, like Alabama Bio-Clean. In this type of situation, you deserve to be able to mourn the loss of your loved one without the added stress of worrying what to do with their over-abundance of belongings.

Alabama Bio-Clean, utilizes state-of-the-art equipment and the safest chemicals on the market to provide a wide range of decontamination and deodorization services for your residence. Our company complies with government regulations set forth by the Alabama Department of Emergency Management (ADEM), the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA), federal and state departments of transportation, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

But most importantly (to us), we are compassionate, accountable and committed to being the best, most discreet ‘hoarding helpers’ you can find, managing the mess of your inherited hoarding property so that you can get back to concentrating on what really matters.