My mother loved my father very much. They wed in the mid-1960s and aside from work, I don’t think they were ever apart. November 12, 1988 was a day that changed my mother forever. In addition to being the day that my father passed away, it also marked the start of the disease that would take my mother 25 years later.

That disease – hoarding –  affects more than 250,000 of our fellow Arizonans. 

Following my father’s passing, we downsized from our two-story, four-bedroom, 1888 wood-framed home to a newly remodeled apartment over the flower shop my father had purchased eight years prior. It was smaller but newer, and a new experience with just my mother and I.

The new place felt crowded initially. Although time typically makes a place feel more familiar and comfortable, as years passed and rooms began to slowly disappear, the crowded feeling morphed into something much, much worse.

Mother started by hoarding simple items including newspapers, “Woman’s World” magazines, and anything printed or literature-related that should have been disposed of after being read. Before we knew it, three years had passed, and I felt as if I worked in a printing factory. We had no coffee table, no table on which to dine, nor did we have access to mother’s closet. If just one magazine was moved, the mountain of paper it was supporting would instantly become a cascade of literary chaos. 

After about four years of living in the apartment, I realized we did not have a washer and dryer anymore. Well, we physically possessed the machines, but the clothing mom wanted to keep and sort got to be so much I almost forgot there was a selection of headlines and gossip columns underneath the array of pastel and holiday sweatshirts and never-before used denim jeans.  

Thanksgiving feasts became a thing of the past as the stove shrunk from four burners and an oven, to three burners, to two burners and eventually no cooking and baking capabilities whatsoever due to the pile of random rubbish piled high in the middle of the kitchen. I did not want to attempt any kind of holiday feast, which was a shame. My mother was a wonderful cook. 

Mother passed away in 2013 from respiratory problems due to black mold, mildew and “giving up”. She was 69. The house was the monster. It was a week before a holiday and the last words I remember saying to her was “I love you” in a phone conversation. “I love you too” was the last of her voice. 

For some, especially with the New Year, it is a chore to purge and get organized; however, for others it becomes impossible. Pieces of the past accumulate year after year, and some do not know how to, or want to, get rid the mountains of stuff. It becomes overwhelming.

When possessions accumulate to the point that they impede the regular function of areas of one’s house, it is a “hoarding” situation. I encountered it first-hand growing up, and still do with family members who have the same disease and, occasionally, as an appraiser. 

Helping loved ones who may be hoarding begins with understanding how the disease, which affects more than 22 million people nationwide, is defined. It is categorized in five levels: 

Level 1: Clutter is not excessive; all doors and stairways are accessible with one room/garage that is no longer usable for its original purpose. 

Level 2: Excessive clutter, two rooms unusable, light mildew in kitchen and bathrooms, limited evidence of housekeeping.

Level 3: Extensive clutter, three rooms including one-bathroom unusable, unsanitary kitchen, strong odors; visible clutter outdoors.

Level 4: Hazardous clutter with bug and rodent infestation; most of the house is unusable; dangerous electrical, sanitary and living conditions; noticeable outside neglect.

Level 5: Severe clutter with dangerous levels of rodent and bug waste; house is uninhabitable with no utilities; this level makes the news due to animal hoarding.

Which level was my mother? Believe it or not, in two years (1989-1991) she went from Level 1 to Level 3. Any attempt to help, clean or organize would make her angry. I tried, but I could not tame the behavior. She would say, “How can I find anything as it is already in its rightful place?” Everything had a place and purpose in her mind, and that was her organization.

After I graduated from high school, her hoarding progressed (or regressed) to Level 5 and by 2013, led to her death. 

Do you recognize yourself or others in this situation? It is estimated that 2.5 percent of the world’s population are hoarders. TV shows have helped cast light on this phenomenon.

As appraisers, we know we have worked in every hoarder level listed. We also have the desire, answers and resources to help. Please feel encouraged to reach out to us. 

— Do you have an appraisal question or would you like more information on hoarding? Email us at editor@arcadianews.com.

We look forward to hearing from you.