5 Stages of Hoarding Explained

Most of us have had a messy room or two at some point in our life and some probably still do. Laundry unfolded, paperwork stacked on the desk, and other cluttered, messy signs are a normal part of life. However, there is a point to where the mess becomes out of hand and truly becomes a problem.

Hoarding is a serious condition in which a person has a persistent problem with discarding possessions or other things because of a perceived need to keep them. Everything from knickknacks to trash, the specific details of hoarding vary from person to person. The scary part is that seemingly normal people can suffer from this problem, and it can consume their lives.

Hoarding is different than collecting because collectors look for specific items that have value and organize or display them.

The effects of hoarding

The effects of hoarding go beyond just the mess that arises. There are serious safety concerns regarding the collapsing of piles to sanitary/biohazard messes. Not only are hoarders the victims in the situation, but the loved ones are as well.

Emotional, physical, social, financial, and even legal consequences can result from an irrational compulsion to save and store things that are of little to no value. Hoarding can impact all ages and demographics but is more often seen in older age groups. In severe cases, individuals can become reclusive and isolated from family, friends, and other social interactions. Unattended deaths are a cause of serious concern, especially with older victims of a hoarding condition.

The National Study Group on Compulsive Disorganization developed a scale to define the levels of hoarding to help professionals and family members understand various situations. There are 5 stages of hoarding and each progressively defined as more severe.

Five stages of hoarding

Level 1

The least severe level of hoarding. There are few indicators at this level, and it may be difficult to tell because the condition might be hidden by the lack of actual clutter. The individual has difficulty throwing items away and shops unreasonably for things they do not need. Level 1 situations may include the following:

  • Light clutter
  • No noticeable odors
  • All doorways and staircases are accessible
  • No more than three areas with animal waste throughout the home

Level 1

Level 2

This level includes some noticeable characteristics and hoarders at this level will most likely avoid letting friends or family into their home due to stress, anxiety, or embarrassment. Level 2 can include the following:

  • At least one blocked exit
  • One appliance out of order, malfunctioning ventilation system, including no cooling or heating for at least six months
  • Clutter in the walkways throughout the home and in one or more rooms
  • Light mildew in bathrooms or kitchens, limited housekeeping evidence

Level 3

Individuals at this level may have poor personal hygiene, weight control issues, and emotional distress when confronted about their home and/or lifestyle. Level 3 can include the following:

  • Cluttered household items outside of the home
  • At least two broken household appliances for six months
  • One area of the home with light structural damage
  • Excessive number of pets (past regulations) and neglected living spaces
  • Visible rodent, flea, or spider web infestation
  • Narrowed hallways
  • At least one unusable bedroom or bathroom
  • Excessive dust, dirty clothing, and/or soiled flooring
  • Noticeable odors throughout the home

Level 4

Individuals at this level of hoarding may have seriously poor hygiene (weeks without bathing) and poor mental health. Significant characteristics of this level can include:

  • Noticeable mold and mildew
  • Structural damage to the home that is at least six months old
  • Sewage issues
  • At least three areas with visible aging animal waste
  • Unusable rooms
  • Rotting or spoiled food in kitchen areas
  • Fleas, lice, bed bugs, or other insect infestations
  • More than one blocked exit

Level 5

This is the most severe type of hoarding, and at this level, individuals may not be able to live in their own home. They may also discharge waste into nontoilet receptacles that remain inside the home. Level 5 can include the following major characteristics:

  • Severe structural damage to the home
  • Broken walls, fire hazards throughout the home
  • No electricity or running water
  • Clutter on every surface
  • Noticeable human feces
  • Most of or the entire home is inaccessible

While these hoarding levels lay out the severity, each person’s specific situation will be different. The important takeaway is that hoarding is a serious condition and must be handled the right way.

At Spaulding Decon, our trained biohazard remediation professionals know how to clean up a hoarder’s home and understand the emotional attachment to the belongings. That’s why our teams can create custom cleanup plans and work with mental health professionals to ensure that your loved ones get the help and support they need through the difficult cleanup process.

To find a Spaulding Decon team nearest to your location:


      More Hoarding Information:

      Below are several more resources regarding hoarding, hoarding clean up, and hoarder mental health.

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