These days, there is definitely a trend towards trying to get rid of clutter and getting more organized. However, there is a fine line between being a bit messy and having a situation that is bordering on hoarding.

These days, mental health issues are gaining more prominence. There is a larger understanding that while hoarding may on some level be a choice, it is also often rooted in trauma. In many cases, their surroundings reflect the inner torment or sadness or even anger trapped inside.

Having too much clutter can reflect something about your mental state or simply the way that your life is right now. Some people are dealing with medical issues or taking care of someone else or their life may be so full and they may feel so overwhelmed that the apartment or home does get a little messy.

You could argue that the difference between ‘messy’ and ‘hoarder’ ends up being how sanitary or healthy the abode is to live in. A little clutter means some dishes in the sink, perhaps papers on the table, or just a general state of disorganization.

With hoarding, you likely cannot get to the sink because there are other things in the way of the sink. That’s okay, because you may not have the energy to do the dishes anyway. Half of them are paper in the garbage, which is overflowing. As a result of that, there are now fruit flies and bugs in the house.

You get the idea. Largely, there is a moment where things cross over from messy but managed to a state where it is just not healthy to live inside. If there is cat litter or pet waste on the floor or other surfaces, if the bathroom is a mess, if there are dishes all over the counter, if children are living in a home that is not conducive to safety or health, then that is a situation that is more hoarding or symbolic of mental or emotional challenges rather than just messy.

These types of hoarding situations can begin to affect others when they are not isolated in a home or singular unit but exists in a multifamily or shared unit. In the end, if left untreated, it may be up to building management to decide how to approach the situation– particularly if the abode is violating bylaws or safety codes. They may be able to set up the resident with care and connect them with resources and qualified professionals that can help.

Management should keep an eye out for clutter starting to spill out and fill up patios or porches or out the front door. An empathetic approach is best when dealing with someone who is having a hoarding issue. Using sensitive language and “I” statements is also key. Provide written requests in writing that specify what you would like them to do in terms of fixing the issue.

Remember that simply cleaning may not help the problem as what is driving hoarding may still exist. Sometimes building staff may be the only contact that people who are dealing with hoarding behavior have. Keep this in mind. Intervention and recovery may involve getting the help and support of family members, and having contacts on file for this purpose may be useful.

Building safety means that fires from hoarding may be a risk and are tough to put out. As hoarding is a reclassified disorder, the ADA may be consulted for a hoarding situation in a multifamily building. Having legal as well as professional counsel on how to best proceed on this issue may be a good idea.

Hoarding residents can require additional time and resources over other residents. Whether a relative or building manager, be sure that you are educated and know what to do from a moral, empathetic, and legal standpoint. It is a disorder, but having a network that knows what to do and how to handle this disorder could make a huge difference for a tenant as well as improve building safety overall.