Is there anything I should know or do before I hire a company for hoarding cleanup?
July 14, 2012 9:29 AM   Subscribe

Is there anything I should know or do before I hire a company for hoarding cleanup?

Thanks to this comment by salvia, I've identified a company that specializes in hoarding cleanup to tackle my small but 100% out-of-control apartment. I'd ideally like to be absent during the cleanup (largely due to my shame about the situation), but my contact seems open to detailed instructions about how I want things handled.

The company's estimate seemed high (comes out to ~$50/hour per guy if they use four guys?), but I have no experience in this area, and honestly, I feel like I'd almost pay any price just to have this taken care of. Of course I don't want to be a sucker, but I do feel comfortable that they will handle this sensitive work with more care than a run-of-the-mill cleaning company (or junk hauler), and part of me worries that if I negotiate down too hard, they won't treat what they find with as much care as I'd like. They are bonded and insured, for what it's worth, and recommended on

Has anyone worked with a cleaning company in this kind of situation, and do you have any advice for me before I proceed? Is there anything I should look out for in the contract? Anything you later regret not giving a firm like this specific instructions about? (Among other things, there are certainly some "adult" items that they will discover, not to mention tax documents and family jewelry, but my instinct is just not to mention it because they must have seen such things before... right?)

Any guidance you provide would be greatly appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Four professionals in one day can do what you might have imagined will take months. But if there are items of value, you'd better be there to help sort those out. For instance, an heirloom tea saucer doesn't look like much unless you know that the matching cup will be coming out soon.

You should have like 4 or 5 boxes set aside and collect triaged items to a course degree. Sort that stuff later, as in don't file tax folders by year etc.

Put your shame aside. Do they even know its your stuff? Wear a scowl and shake your head at the thought of your crazy aunt.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:31 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

> But if there are items of value, you'd better be there to help sort those out.

I think this might be the crux of the issue, though. They don't want to be there because it's a painful process and having to triage may well be a drawn out and grueling process owing to the nature of the neurological issues surrounding hoarding.

If this company specializes in hoarding cleanup, I hope they also have some sort of counseling resources or advocate that they can point you towards. Because if it's just you and a clean up crew and no mediator, then it could be a bit more difficult than need be.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:51 AM on July 14, 2012 [7 favorites]

You may want to do one or two sessions with a therapist who specializes in OCD/chronic disorganization to sort out how you want to handle this. My therapist wants me to talk to a therapist like that - the therapist in question actually works with an organization specialist on hoarding issues, and has all the insights and strategies and experience you can imagine. Once I'm a little more stable I'll probably take her up on it. There are also support groups full of people (local people) who have hired this exact kind of service and may well be able to tell you about them in detail.

In my experience cleaning types have seen it all, but also don't really care about your stuff. If you know there's specific items somewhere, buried, that you're really sure you want to keep, make a detailed list of them (find photos if you think you have some) and make sure they're bonded. Like, insist on seeing the insurance paperwork, and make sure it's for the current year and stuff. Also make sure to print out copies of your own renter's insurance paperwork (I've lost mine more times than I can count; just go to the website of your insurance broker and get a new copy.)

$50/hour per guy is a little high to me, but I'm in flyover country, and I think that really depends. When I was trying to recover my last apartment, the quotes from completely ordinary cleaning services were in the $300 range for about 500 square feet (I wasn't asking them to do anything about the trash and stuff; my family and I dug out first and it was just two years of grime and so forth to deal with.)

Do you have any friends who would be willing to sit there and be your advocate, in exchange for pizza and beer afterwards? Maybe you could have them put things in a box labeled "things that might have resale value" for you to go through later?

I HIGHLY recommend that you have them sort out documents for you if you can get them to do that. I have a huge problem with actually getting myself to look at papers; I often can't even open envelopes. Have them put stuff in files alphabetically by sender/company (AT&T goes in one file, IRS goes in one file,) so you can feel like you're in control later. This is what my sisters do when they come and help me: there are even some senders that we're able to just say unilaterally "throw that away." Like the dreaded Val-Pak coupon envelopes, for instance.

I also recommend that you write out exactly what you're worried about, and have them respond in writing. Don't use the phone, don't wait till they show up. You can bury the instructions about pornographic materials and Grandma's pearls in the middle of the page.

Lastly: I get that it's a bit rich for me to say this using a sock puppet, but. Try not to feel shame about this. It's a serious problem, yes. It probably should have been dealt with sooner, sure. But you're taking a really huge step here, even just contemplating how to deal with it. Typing out the anonymous question, getting the quote from the guys - all of this is PROGRESS. Really excellent awesome progress. GO YOU.

Oh, and this is not an emergency. If it takes two extra days to get this done right, take the two extra days. Not the two extra years, probably not the two extra months, but the two extra days, sure.

(Feel free to ask me about what I know; I have however never gone the exact route you're pursuing, in part because I care too much about some of my stuff.)
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 11:09 AM on July 14, 2012 [10 favorites]

It's fine to not be there during the clean-up, and probably will be easier for all concerned. A relative of mine had to have her apartment de-hoarded periodically and it would be done while she was on vacation.

they must have seen such things before... right?

Right. It takes a lot to shock someone who cleans houses for a living, particularly if they specialize in this area.

Congratulations on getting started on this. A very brave step!
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:09 AM on July 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Congrats! This is a great first step. You should definitely give them a list of things to keep an eye out for, even obvious-seeming things like jewelry and documents. I second the triage concept, but you should also arrange for them to pick up the unwanted stuff after you've sorted through it-- you don't want to fall into old habits. Finally, I'd suggest booking a normal house cleaner afterwards because the hoarding cleanup people will take out the trash, but won't make your home sparkle.
posted by acidic at 11:09 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Does that price include just labor or does it also include the cost to dispose of the unwanted items? If its all inclusive that seems reasonable to me.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:11 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, location effects price.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:12 AM on July 14, 2012

Assign a friend or relative to be onsite for the cleanup, and give them a list/heads up (and a couple of empty boxes) of ten or twenty things to look for, that are particularly valuable to you?

(ps I wouldn't worry about the "adult" things)

ps: GOOD FOR YOU. This is NOT an easy step to take and I am impressed with you.
posted by nkknkk at 11:12 AM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a Certified Professional Organizer, but IANYCPO. I presume no knowledge of your specific situation, beyond what you supplied in this post, but if I am understanding correctly that you are not the poster to whom you linked, may I note that if you have undertaken this entire project yourself, and these are your possessions for which you are granting removal permissions (esp. in your absence), you may not actually be a hoarder?

There are three types of disorganization: situational, chronic and hoarding. The first two are lifestyle issues, whereas hoarding is a medical condition -- the PET scan of a hoarder's brain can be identified as bearing differences from that of someone who is, for want of a better term, neuro-normative. It is not unheard of, but it is rare for a hoarder (whether undergoing medical treatment or not) to be able to cede control in this manner.

It can be VERY difficult to differentiate serious cases of chronic disorganization from hoarding, and the actual space and possessions of someone who is chronically disorganized may be identical to that of a hoarder; it's not the stuff, but the person's experiences, that determine these issues. Please interpret no judgment on my part related to whether you're experiencing chronic disorganization or hoarding; rather, a clear diagnosis of the latter or full understanding of either, can help guide your road to achieving your goals.

I don't know your location, or which service, or whether the company you've chosen works in concert with on-site therapists and/or professional organizers or not, or whether you are also seeking medical/therapeutic support beyond the confines of what this service will be providing. So, this should be construed as VERY general advice:

1) That rate seems reasonable, even a bit low, especially if they are specialists in this area and are skilled at sifting through items for sorting and are not just discarding things. They're not likely to be offended by asking if they offer any kind of situational discounts, but they're also unlikely to be willing to "negotiate". As Sticky Carpet points out, four people with no emotional relationship to the items will be able to complete much more work than four of YOU would be.

2) Can you have a trusted friend present at all times to observe and guide the process? While there's no reason, in the abstract, to anticipate problems, having an independent person supervise the process can add an extra layer of "mommy eyes" to ensure good, respectful behavior.

3) Perhaps you could clear a table and place boxes or tubs for them to place the following, pre-sorting so that you will have greater ease in working on them, on your own or with a qualified individual:

--Personalized papers (i.e., magazines get tossed after having been shaken to make sure no personal items are within, but anything handwritten or bearing official information, like your bank statement or tax returns can be "tubbed" for your later reference)


--Jewelry or collectibles (But if you "collect" things that are not immediately appreciable as "valuable" to a stranger, provide written and/or photographic guidance to the service.)

--"Adult" items (with a container that has a lid, so that when you return, the items are not the first thing you see when you walk in the door).

4) The contract should delineate how much control you will have regarding where outgoing items will be directed -- to an estate agent, an antique dealer or appraiser, a charity or charities of your choosing, recycling centers, etc., depending on your level of preference. You don't want to be nit-picky, but if you don't support a particular religious-backed non-profit and don't want your donations directed thusly, you should be accommodated.

5) Even if you are not present during the process, unless someone is acting as your proxy, it's important for you to be there at the end of the process to do a walk-through. Have the on-site supervisor review with you any problems they encountered, any structural or damage they found, instances of other dangers (like non-working smoke detectors, instances of toxic mold, plumbing leaks, etc.) and any other issues you or the service might need to raise.

6) Expect to feel a variety of competing emotions in the days following this process. The absence of the volume of possessions may, in turn, make you feel relieved as well as anxious. I strongly encourage you to consider follow-up care for yourself in two directions -- the MeFi standard advice of therapy (of a brand of your choosing) and considering working with a professional organizer who specializes in chronic disorganization and/or hoarding.

Two excellent resources to consider, are the directory searches at the National Association of Professional Organizers (general search, then refining for chronic disorganization and/or hoarding) and the Institute for Challenging Disorganization, formerly the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization. The latter's primary purpose is providing educational training and resources for professional organizers who work with chronically disorganized and hoarding clients.

Good luck with the whole process. You should be VERY proud of the efforts you're making. Yay, anon!
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 11:21 AM on July 14, 2012 [55 favorites]

As a data point, a company I worked for charged 45 dollars per person an hour for cleanup/gardening in San Francisco. We didn't have to be ultra careful or sort through people's personal items. We usually had an easier space to work in than the confines of a home. We charged an additional dump fee for all debris. So the price quoted sounds reasonable to me, especially if it includes disposal. Be sure to find out if that is the case.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:06 PM on July 14, 2012

$40-$60 per person hour is the going rate for this kind of work here in the Boston area. Kudos to you for tackling this, and best of luck!
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:05 PM on July 14, 2012

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