five stages of hoarding

Understanding The Five Stages Of Hoarding

Hoarding is an often misunderstood behaviour. When most people hear the word ‘hoarder’ they
usually think of a dirty person surrounded by stacks of newspapers and an unusable bathroom.
More importantly, many people consider hoarding a choice instead of a disorder.

What is hoarding?

Hoarding is a disorder that causes people to collect items, animals or trash regardless of their
value. It is common for people to hoard clothing, photographs, boxes and newspapers,
household items, appliances, trash and more; no person is the same as another. Hoarding
disorder comes in all shapes and sizes; severity of a person’s hoarding disorder can range from
mild and unnoticeable to obvious and incredibly detrimental to the health of the person and the
people around them. Hoarding disorder can exist on its own or alongside other disorders like
obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD),
depression, and others.

The five stages of hoarding

In order to better understand the severity and progression of Hoarding Disorder, a scale was
created. The scale describes five stages or levels of hoarding according to the behaviours of the
person; the scale is meant to aid family members, friends and professionals, like HALO, to
understand how to better help people at each and every stage.

Stage 1: Least severe indicators

This first level of hoarding is likely not noticeable to friends and family. Perhaps the home looks
a little cluttered but all doors, windows and stairways are accessible and there aren’t any odours
in the home. At this stage a person might routinely purchase or collect items that are not needed
and have trouble getting rid of anything from their home.

Stage 2: Noticeable clutter to visitors and embarrassement

At this stage, a person with hoarding disorder may avoid inviting visitors into their home
because their hoarding behaviours have become more apparent; socially they may not be as
present as they once were. Clutter is visible in the home, one major appliance is likely not
working and at least one area of the home – a door, hallway, stairway, etc … has become
inaccessible. At this point odours would be noticeable in the home and mildew would likely be

Stage 3: Odours, poor hygiene/sanitation & unusable spaces

At Stage 3 it is likely that the person with hoarding disorder’s collections and items have spilled
outside of their home and are visible on porches, decks and backyards. Inside the home are
definite odours, multiple unusable spaces and multiple appliances and hygienic areas that are
no longer usable. Sanitation has become an issue and garbages may be overflowing and
surfaces and floors are likely not clean. Hallways are narrowed, multiple and unclean animals
may exist in the home and pests have likely made themselves at home within the space. The
person with hoarding disorder is likely suffering from poor hygiene, weight and health issues
from poor diet and living in unclean conditions.

Stage 4: Structural damage, sewage issues, infestation

Within this stage of hoarding disorder the home has suffered structural damage, spoiled and
rotting food would be noticeable in the kitchen and throughout the home and sewage issues and
odours exist as a result of unworking bathrooms and perhaps unsanitary animals in the home.
Due to these conditions there will be extensive pest infestation in the home including excessive
presence of insect webs, residue, waste, etc … with the potential for rodents and animals within
the structure of the home. Many areas of the home are now inaccessible including major entry
and exit points. The person with hoarding disorder has very poor hygiene and health – physical
and mental – at this point. These people are usually suffering from a mental health crisis at this
point and may occupy their mind with grandiose ideas and nostalgic memories.

Stage 5: Fire hazards, no utilities, mental illness

The most severe stage of hoarding disorder often involves the home being unlivable due to no
running water, no electricity, irreversible structural damage, human feces and animal infestation.
Oftentimes, people with hoarding disorder at this stage no longer occupy their homes and live
with family and/ or friends. It is not uncommon for people with this stage of hoarding disorder to
be involved in legal proceedings surrounding the condition of their residence.

The importance of getting help

Companies like HALO exist to help people with hoarding disorder as well as their loved ones
who surround and support them. HALO understands BOTH the job at hand (what is required to
clean a home in these states) but also the mental and emotional support required to support the
person with hoarding disorder and their family and friends who are along for their journey to
health. Ridding a home of items, animals and clutter is NOT as simple as dividing items into
piles – but is an important health-centered process for the person with hoarding disorder that
often involves referrals to mental health professionals. HALO is used to being and is honoured
to be a first point of contact for many people on their journey to a decluttered and clean home as
well as a decluttered mental state focused on wellbeing and health.

If you or someone you know identifies with any of these stages of hoarding disorder and you would like to have a conversation about how to move forward with HALO working as your ally, please be in touch – we are happy to help!