Hoarders Get Clean-Up Help

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The spring season means cleaning up and throwing out unused items for many households, but others are trapped in a pile of stuff they won’t let go. It’s called hoarding and while the problem is getting more media attention, cleanup companies say it’s also becoming a larger share of their business.

The cable show “Hoarders” on A&E shines a spotlight on the problem of people who continue to collect possessions and won’t throw away anything. It’s estimated that one in 50 people in the U.S., or about 6 million people, suffer from hoarding.

Sixty-two-year-old Sherrie Zimmerman has lived in her Columbus condo for 18 years. She says she knew there was a problem, but didn’t know what to do. “I got to the point where out in the garage, I couldn’t work on the stuff anymore so I’d bring some lumber in here into the living room,” Zimmerman said.

Eventually she could barely open her front door. With the support of her sister, she got help and found a professional organizer. Birdie Brennan worked with Zimmerman weekly for four hours for more than a year, slowly paring down items.

“It was hard to find a place to sit. Sherrie had her office chair clear and sat there. And I got a little stool and kind of cleared enough floor to sit the stool and sat on the stool,” Brennan said.

After three years, Brennan returned to Zimmerman’s house. Stacks of newspapers sit close to the front door. Mail piles up on the living room carpet. Cat toys crowd the floors and empty pots stand in random places.

“That 10 gallon pickle pot is something I’m going to take to auction and get rid of that, at some point in time,” Zimmerman said.

Brennan said there’s more awareness of hoarding today and more people are calling for help. She said about 25 percent of her business now involves helping people who have trouble letting go and can’t organize their homes. And she’s not the only one seeing more of a need. Owner of A Team Masters in Cleveland, Betty Brown works with some clients in Columbus. In 2002, Brown started focusing some of her business on hoarders. Today, she estimates it’s a large percentage of her work.

“We have to be somewhat compassionate because we’ve really had women that have gone upstairs with a friend and cried because we were down there throwing away all the things that they considered a possession of theirs that they might have wanted to keep,” Brown said.

Brown explains she works with a crew of four people for heavy duty jobs. They can spend sometimes more than a week in a home where a hoarder once lived. Brown describes a home where a diabetic man lived.

“Whenever he did his shots he just flung the needle, so the construction company couldn’t go in and clean. There were over a thousand needles in that home. But there were tons of trash. And his refrigerator had 12 boxes of partially eaten pizza in different stages of decay,” Brown said.

Although it is not a state requirement, Brown relies on her certification to handle blood contaminated items to dispose of the trash. The cost to hire a cleaning company can cost thousands of dollars. Brennan stressed that any long-lasting results won’t happen unless the hoarder participates in the clean-up.

“Most of the calls I get from the television shows though are relatives wanting to help someone else, and that doesn’t work,” Brennan said. “You know the person has to be ready.”

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