When you hear the word “hoard” most people think “dragon”. A glittering reptilian giant curled around piles of gold coins and gem-crusted helmets from long-forgotten heroes. Every pile is precious, every item has a story behind it. That is exactly how hoarders see their own towering collections of personal items.
This pile contains every school project their daughter ever brought home. That box contains holiday ornaments from decades of shared family memories. This hall table is holding the craft supplies that never quite became a craft and that cabinet is overflowing with important paperwork that just hasn’t been dealt with yet. Each is worth a dragon’s hoard in memories and intentions. Disturb any pile, and you may topple the whole structure, along with the emotions attached to it.
This is the challenge faced by both hoarders and their loved ones when a hoard becomes too big to handle. It’s one thing to fill a craft room with organised totes of yarn, yet to be woven, or to cover the garage wall end-to-end with hanging tools. But when doors can’t be opened and paths can’t be walked, that hoard of memories and intentions has become a safety (and psychological) hazard.
If you or someone you love is living in a hoard that is overtaking the house, it’s time to declutter
How Does One “Declutter” a Hoard, You Ask?
So you’re looking at a mass of stuff collected over years, maybe decades. It’s stacked to the rafters, maybe it’s completely filled a room. Maybe it’s filled the house. And you’re thinking “How do I ‘declutter’ this?”
The important thing to remember with a hoard is that every item is precious. If you, dear reader, are the hoarder in question then you know that ache when you think of throwing away something valuable, or that might be valuable later. To declutter a hoard is to break it down into manageable, organisable pieces again. What has become a mass was once individual items that were important one at a time. Some are collections that are important together, but not when lost in the mix.
Decluttering is sorting first, then really deciding what you need and what has value in the next stage of your life. If your loved one is hoarding, approach the whole task with this in mind.
One Room at a Time
When tackling a hoarded house, it helps to work one room, or even section of room, at a time. Don’t take on more of the hoard than you and your team (if you have a team) can handle. Clear one area at a time, or if high stacks are a problem, take off the top layer first. Organising and sectioning your work will help break through the monument of stuff that has accumulated.
The Hoarder is the Star Player
Whatever you do, do NOT start throwing stuff away unless the hoarder themselves says it’s Okay. Remember that every stack is a memory or a plan. These memories and plans will need to be processed. Let them make each decision to keep, toss, donate, or upcycle.
Make Up-Cycling an Option
Hoarders often don’t want to see their things go to waste in a landfill, so make sure there are other options. Clean and packaged things can be donated to someone in need or even resold on eBay (sometimes for a mint!) and salvaged things can be recycled or upcycled. This can make the getting-rid-of process so much easier.
Ruined Items? A Picture Lasts Forever
Keep a camera handy for the decluttering. A hoard is a collection of memories, and it can hurt to see those memories soiled, damaged, or even just given away. Take a picture, a nice picture, of each item and create an album to help the hoarder who loved these items re-access the memories without the item physically present.
Bring Cleaners Into Cleared Spaces
Once a space is cleared, it’s time to clean all those revealed surfaces and lost areas. A cleaning team can help you get into the corners and polish the home to good-as-new. Call in the cleaners for the whole house or even just one freshly cleared room at a time to restore your home to a comfortable, livable space.
Separate the Clutter
The first step is just to break up the hoard. It can help to make use of your lawn on a nice day, because the floor will fill quickly. The hoarder in question should sit in a chair on the lawn and review each box that comes out. It can help to make (big) labels to generally identify each pile. Label one box “books” and another “baby clothes and toys” based on your memory of what’s in the pile. Don’t dig in, yet. Just start thinking about what’s in each box and taping on labels. Get to about 5 or 10 boxes before you start sorting the ‘section’ you just cleared from inside the house.
Remove Trash and Send Salvage to be Up-Cycled
The next step is to filter out trash. Unfortunately, even the best-intentioned hoarders often lose things like junk mail and empty packaging into the hoard. Empty boxes, plastic wrap, and other debris can be thrown away with confidence, but a hoarder may want to look their old mail before agreeing to toss things. It helps to remember that most things like banking statements and pay stubs can be looked up online, now.
Then sort out things that are broken, dirty, or ruined due to being lost in the hoard. Your hoarder (you, perhaps) will need to look over these things and accept that they have been ruined. Some things they won’t care about, but there will be at least one ruined item that was truly meaningful and this is often a break-through moment about the severity of the hoard. Be gentle (to yourself or your loved one) during this time.
If the hoard includes salvage (ex: found pipes, containers, and light fixtures), upcycle them! Send them with the rest of the plastic and bottles to be sculpted into modern art or melted into something new. Hoarders often appreciate seeing lost items find new purpose and can let go easier that way.
Define Your New Lifestyle
The next step is deciding what remaining valuable items stay, and what goes. The question here is the life that happens after the declutter. You can’t keep everything, and most of the things don’t need to be kept forever. Most people only need a few outfits in the closet, a few pieces of furniture, and a well-stocked kitchen. In fact, hoarders often live simply because they can no longer reach into the vast piles of stuff.
So define that new life. Most things, from this perspective, can be stored as keepsake memories, but don’t need to be a part of everyday life. As long as there’s no threat of throwing things away, it also becomes easier to choose just a few things to make part of your daily life, and what is stored in the home.
What to Do with the Rest
Have Nearby Storage Ready to Go
Always, always, always have a storage space ready when clearing a hoarded house. You can guarantee whether the hoard fills one room or the entire house that too many things for tidy, practical storage will come out – and even remain after sorting – to go back in. Storage makes it possible to safely hold onto keepsake boxes without adding them back to the clutter environment. Nearby storage can also make it possible to clear the house so it’s livable, then sort everything out of the storage area after the house is clean and nice again.
Donate Things that are No Longer Needed
So you’ve gotten rid of the trash, cleaned the dirty items, and a lot of good stuff has shaken out of the pile. What do you do with the mountain of still-nice stuffed animals, the still-packaged bread maker, or the wealth of unused craft supplies? Donate!
Hoarders often want to see these lovely, valuable items go to a good use. Often, to make someone else happy, they just haven’t gotten around to sending each one as a gift or completing the craft project. Donating is a wonderful way to see those collections go to their intended purpose – the happiness of others. Think of the children who will have a Christmas this year from the toys, art supplies, and baby clothes? Donate an over-full closet to a charity that helps the homeless rehabilitate and get jobs. Donate that box of
Get on eBay Together
Find some awesome vintage stuff that is neither keepsake nor trashed? Ancient board games, VCRs, game consoles, and just items haorded without being opened can all be sold on eBay for both profit and an opportunity to up-cycle. Some, though not all, hoarders love the idea of selling what they have, they always intended to, and a friendly trip through eBay with a helpful loved one could be just the ticket to not only finally seeing value from those collections, but also getting a little funds for home renovations.
Do you have a hoard to declutter? Whether you’ve finally had enough of your own collection or you are worried for a loved one, these tips can help you overcome the logistic, emotional, and psychological hurdles of decluttering a hoarded house and enjoying the result afterward. Explore your local storage options to clear spaced and give yourself time to sort each box personally. Hire local cleaners to help restore your home to a beautiful, livable space once again.