Creeping clutter poses health hazards

A diagram showcasing the signs of clutter creep in someone’s home (Courtesy of Home Instead Senior Care)

Imagine walking into a home so cluttered with stuff that you have to dig through piles of junk to find the floor.

Stacks of magazines and papers covered inches thick with dust litter the home and practically scream fire hazard.

Food that has been long past its expiry date still lingers in the kitchen and undoubtedly there are critters preying on the mouldy leftovers.

Trying to find a spot to sit or sleep in the home is a daunting task, but despite the fact that the homeowner may barely be able to move, they cannot bare to part with their possessions.

Now imagine that this home belongs to a loved one.

“Everybody has clutter and I’m guilty of that as well,” said Janise Smith, Director of operations of Home Instead Senior Care.

“(But) when you are not able to find a path to walk from the kitchen to the bathroom or bedroom to the bathroom without bumping into paper or bumping into things that shouldn’t be there, that’s clutter to a degree that is hazardous,” she said.

Home Instead is a facility that offers in home care to senior citizens.

After seeing numerous cases of clients that have succumbed to hoarding practices in the Scarborough area, the administrative team with Home Instead began to research the problem and issued a press release on the issue.

“The reason we put out the release is that we notice a lot of seniors in the communities in the area we serve that are living in environments that are quite hazardous,” Smith said.

She described the case of one client who, over 30 years of living in the same home, had accumulated so much that her home was deemed as unlivable.

“You could barely even walk sideways,” Smith said. “We would pick up a book that was so old and was there for so long that if you blew on it the dust would overwhelm you.”

The woman eventually had to move from her home and lost her independence because of the clutter in her environment.

Smith said that while they are able to help a lot of their clients deal with the task of cleaning their homes, they cannot help everyone.

She also explained how important it is for family members to check on loved ones and help them get their compulsive hoarding under control before it causes adverse health and safety risks.

She said that a crowded home can cause tripping, create fire hazards and the mould and mildew accumulated from the cluttered environment can cause illness.

Smith advises children and family members of elderly citizens to be on the lookout for what Home Instead calls “clutter creep.”

“It creeps up on you. For example, you may place some clothing in the storage room and eventually the amount of objects in the home creeps up on you and it slowly gets to the point of hazard,” Smith said. “It’s better to be proactive than reactive.”

Some hoarders may have a sentimental attachment to their possessions and some may have a mental illness known as compulsive hoarding.

“One of the reasons people hoard is sentimental value and the need to conserve,” Smith said.

“There are also cases of people who may have suffered from a stroke or some other condition where they may be confined to a wheelchair and can’t do household chores or may have a compulsive love for shopping, accumulating and conserving possessions.”

To help these individuals Smith advises family members to help their loved one go through their things

“You could say, ‘I really want to encourage you to de-clutter, lets go through what you need, what you can donate and what you can throw away,’” Smith said.

There are some cases however, that may require the professional help of organizers and therapists to get the job done.

“It’s a hard thing if someone is loyal to their clutter,” Smith said. “Having some outside help makes the difference because they can look at it more objectively and can let the person know that their job is only to help.”

Smith believes that helping loved ones organize their living environments will help keep them happy and independent for as long as possible.

“To stay in your home and stay independent, de-cluttering is something you really have to consider,” Smith said.