Identifying Signs of Hoarding & Squalor

What is Hoarding?

Hoarding is the process of acquiring and saving possessions. While most people acquire and save things that other people wouldn't, hoarding becomes a problem when it interferes with functioning, causes distress, causes conflicts with others or creates hazards in the home.

"Hoarding Disorder" is defined as persistent difficulty discarding or parting with personal possessions due to strong urges to save items, distress and or indecision.

Factors That May Contribute to Hoarding Disorder
  • Ambivalence about or resistance to change
  • Organizational skill deficits
  • Problems with emotional attachments
  • Erroneous beliefs about possessions
  • Impulse control problems
  • Behavioral avoidance.
While not a mental health diagnosis, severe squalor has also been identified as a problem in our community.

Signs of Severe Squalor That May Necessitate Intervention
  • Blocked exits
  • Rooms / appliances unable to be used for intended purpose
  • Many fire hazards
  • Unsanitary living conditions
  • Structural damage
  • Number of animals exceeds local ordinance
  • No utilities
The following tools can help determine if your loved one might be suffering from hoarding disorder or living in severe squalor:
Why Is Hoarding an Issue for the Fire Service?
  • Hoarding can be a fire hazard. Many occupants die in fires in these homes. Blocked exits often prevent escape from the home. In addition, many people who are hoarding are injured when they trip over things or when materials fall on them.
  • Responding firefighters can be put at risk due to obstructed exits, falling objects, and excessive fire loading that can lead to collapse. Hoarding makes fighting fires and searching for occupants far more difficult.
  • Those living adjacent to an occupied structure can be quickly affected when a fire occurs, due to excessive smoke and fire conditions.

What Can Be Done to Help?


  • Express concern
  • Offer to help
  • Provide education
  • Negotiate
In true cases of hoarding disorder, mental health treatment may be necessary. Other helpful tools may be crisis intervention, relocation to a controlled environment and family consultation.


  • Lecture, nag, argue, plead or threaten
  • Throw things out without consent
  • Isolate
  • Enable
Remember, stress only contributes to the problem. Also important to know, court orders or jail time (without treatment) are rarely successful.

It's very important to be positive and supportive when helping someone dealing with hoarding disorder or living in severe squalor. Do your best to let them know that you care and you want to help them get the help that they need in order to lead a safe and healthy life.

In order to get someone proper help and treatment please visit the community resources page to find professionals that can help in our area.