Often people don’t learn about hoarding until the condition reaches the extreme: Piles of items stacked ceiling high, creating pathways through a home.
That image has played out on TV reality shows focused on cleaning out people’s homes.
Hoarding is a disease that affects 1 in 20 people, according to personal organizer Terina Bainter. Bainter owns Puyallup-based Clutter Cutters and is a member of the King-Pierce County Hoarding Task Force. She also is a member of the nonprofit Hoarding Project, focused on raising awareness.
Through her work with the Hoarding Project, Bainter met a man in Port Orchard whose hoarding challenges became so severe his home was no longer safe. Relationships were strained with family members and loved ones.
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The man agreed to talk with The News Tribune but requested his name be withheld for privacy reasons. The man has kept his hoarding issues private and is worried about the ramifications publicity of his situation could have.
He is 69 years old and a retired postal worker. For almost three decades he purchased second-hand items to turn and sell. He used storage units, but eventually his house was filled.
The man said he navigated crowded pathways through his house and couldn’t use the rooms for their intended purpose — one of the signs of the disease.
Last spring he had a medical scare. After a stay in the hospital, he returned home and saw his house in a new light. If medical personnel ever needed to access his home again, they might not be able to help him, he said.
“I wasn’t really aware of the danger I had put myself in and the total magnitude,” he said. “When I came back it was like I was seeing things in a lot truer context.”
I wasn’t really aware of the danger I had put myself in and the total magnitude.
Port Orchard man with hoarding disorder
His brother contacted the Hoarding Project for help. The man entered therapy to address mental health components of the disorder.
In October, volunteers form the Hoarding Project cleaned out the man’s home.
“When they came and boxed everything up and took the trash away and the garbage and made it so that fire and medical people could get in here, that was the big turning point,” he said. “It made me feel like I was safe in my home again.”
Almost three months later, his home isn’t empty, but he can use the stove and refrigerator, his laundry room is accessible, and he can once again shower. There is open space on the floor, he said.
He still struggles with the disorder.
“You take three steps forward and two steps back,” he said. “Because it’s a mental condition it’s not as easy as having the strength to overcome things. You have to learn to readjust your thinking and what’s important.”
The man credits Hoarding Project volunteers with helping him regain control. He also encourages others facing similar challenges not to lose hope.
“It’s an awakening, but it takes a lot of strength to open the door and walk through it to see what’s out there as far as assistance or moral support,” he said. “You need that outside source to motivate and praise you.”
For more information
Pierce County’s Community Connections Aging and Disability Resource Center is hosting workshops on hoarding for people to learn about the disorder and available resources.
▪ Wednesday, 6:30 p.m., Sumner Library, 1116 Fryar Ave., Sumner.
▪ Jan. 23, 9:30 a.m., Soundview Building, 3602 Pacific Ave. S., Tacoma.