A Hoarders Nightmare owner Christine Hahn helps people get rid of their unwanted stuff.
A Hoarders Nightmare owner Christine Hahn helps people get rid of their unwanted stuff. Marc Stapelberg

Behind closed doors: A hoarder's nightmare

AS FAR as specialist cleaners go, Christine Hahn may be our region's first 'hoardbuster'.

Ms Hahn owns Lismore-based business helping people de-clutter their houses, A Hoarder's Nightmare, and wants people to understand hoarding is a mental health issue.

"The common misconception is people think hoarders are lazy...but that is not the case," Ms Hahn said.

She said criteria for having the disorder includes an excessive level of acquisition, an inability to let anything go and impaired functionality - e.g. if you can't sleep in the bed or wash the dishes in the sink.

She's come across clients living in squalor among piles of rubbish, others hoarding years worth of paperwork, cupboards full of clothing, 'ailment cures' from years gone by, broken appliances and electronics, old excess furniture, the list goes on.

One particularly difficult client session Christine relayed on her Facebook page was when she re-visited old clients who had gone back to living in squalor, where she spent two hours just picking rubbish up off the lounge room floor.

She said giving them AM and PM tasks to achieve such as taking dirty dishes to the kitchen, emptying bins, wiping benches and putting food back in the fridge was a way to tackle it and while the jobs may seem obvious to most of us, to others, with disorganised thought patterns, and no history of being taught how to do things, these jobs are completely foreign.

Another of one of Christine's client's belongings were ruined in the most recent Lismore flood, but they weren't immediately able to dispose of the items despite having previously told her: 'If a flood comes through town again, I won't have to deal with it all, it will be taken care of.'

"However, since the flood, they have spent considerable time washing and fixing many of the things that were damaged. I talked to them about the value of their time and energy in doing all of this versus the value of the items. They admitted that the items of lesser value were discarded, but they felt obliged to clean everything else."

Her clients are predominantly referred to her through community health organisations.

"I do work in squalor where people hold on to rubbish and don't throw anything out and those environments are quite intense but it is nothing to do with being lazy," she said.

"Hoarding is so under-researched...you need to look at the genetic component, chemical imbalances in the brain and trauma," she said.

"Often it stems from the loss of a loved one or people who have been sexually abused or learned behaviour - people have grown up in a hoarding house and its the only thing they know. You can't put a blanket reason over everyone."

Ms Hahn said the disorder is treatable, but there is a lot of relapse and if you think you can sort out someone's space in a month, think again.

"It's a long term thing...I've worked with people that I've been working with for a couple of years."

"There's lots of tears shed as they go through their things and find things they haven't seen for years and the memories it invokes, so it's really important to treat them with respect.

"Most hoarders are elderly people because it's something that takes a long time to get to."

A Hoarder's Nightmare is believed to be the only business specialising in house de-cluttering from Newcastle to the Gold Coast, and Christine has travelled to clients in Coolangatta, Tweed Heads, Kyogle and Iluka.

She also specialises in deceased estate and houses for sale.

"One of the deceased estate's I worked on was a two story house that every cupboard we opened we thought 'oh my God there's more'," Ms Hahn said.

"We filled four skip bins, had a weekend-long garage sale which made $7000, and got the house ready for open houses."

She said TV shows which focus on hoarding was "voyeurism" and tended to "capture people at their worst".

"It is something that's behind closed doors and there is probably a ton of people in this area alone that are hoarders that no one knows about because you don't see it."

Take note shopaholics - Ms Hahn said the concept of 'retail therapy' doesn't work and will do you no good in the long run.

See ahoardersnightmare.com.au.

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