Updated: July 17, 2013 7:06AM
What’s the difference between a slovenly person and a hoarder?
“When you lose functionality of your home, when you can’t cook, clean or shower because you have too much stuff, you’re a hoarder,” said Cory Chalmers, owner of Steri-Clean and featured expert on the A&E television show, “Hoarders.”
Chalmers is a former firefighter who has been called to many fatal fires that started in the homes of hoarders.
“It is a mental disorder, so if they don’t get help there is a 99 percent recidivism rate,” he said. “It’s not enough to simply go in and clean up their place.”
Chalmers said hoarding is a symptom of an underlying issue, often depression or some form of emotional trauma.
“People who hoard are filling a void,” he said.
Getting a hoarder back on track, he said, depends on the person.
“The longer a person has been hoarding, the harder it is get things changed,” Chalmers said. “Also, the older the hoarder, the less likely they are to change.”
He said hoarding is more common among the 50-plus age group because they are more likely to be living alone and have had more opportunity to experience a tragedy or trauma.
Another oddity is that some hoarders are adept at hiding their illness.
“They can work around it, hold jobs, convince others that everything is normal,” he said.
How bad can it get?
“We cleaned out a 1,000-square-foot house that filled 11 semi trucks,” Chalmers said. “We’ve seen homes with hundreds of animals.”
He believes hoarders know their behavior is abnormal, but “they just don’t know how to overcome that fear and ask for help.”