An overpowering stench of rotten food, body odor and urine permeated the dingy hallway. The closer I walked to Larry’s apartment, the stronger the odor. I saw the eviction notice when Larry opened his door. Long, flowing white hair and grizzly beard, blue jeans and suspenders, he walked with the aid of a cane. He looked like a much older version of the hippies I remembered from the 1960′s. He lived in a hoarder’s paradise, full of books, garbage, clothes strewn throughout the apartment, dirty dishes in the sink and elsewhere, a cat, and enough cockroaches to infest an entire apartment building.
“How can we help you?” I asked.
Larry pulled a dirty handkerchief from his pocket, wiped his watery eyes and tried to silence a hacking cough.
“I’m sorry. I’ve been ill and the medications sometimes make me cry.”
Though I felt like running away from the smell, the horrific conditions and him, I knew we could make his life more manageable and cleaner (for the time we worked with him).
“Well, we’re here to help, not judge.”
Larry had a week to move out of his apartment and into his new community in Kansas City, KS. As a hoarder with no family members to keep an eye on him, he had accumulated thousands of things that had little value except to him. And he wanted to take them all. We developed a plan of action and I encouraged him to take only the things he needed, loved or couldn’t replace.
When I returned with my team, we coated the inside of our noses with Vicks (a crime scene trick). Larry had no bed. He slept on a pile of clothes and blankets. One of my team members volunteered to wash all of his clothes in a laundromat. With mask and gloves on, she triple bagged the clothes. At the laundromat (much less money than the cleaners) she sorted, tossed, washed, dried and folded his clothes. At the apartment, we packed Larry’s beloved books and prepared his bookcases for the move. We cleared his desk. He chose the kitchen items he wanted. We refused to take the badly infested furniture into the new community and he seemed to understand why we had to leave so much behind. We talked with Larry throughout the process, reassuring him that his new home would meet his needs better than his current one.
I hired a moving company experienced with moving hoarders. We visited the new community and designed a floor plan. Luckily, we had recently cleared an apartment in a very nice community and for a small amount of Larry’s money I purchased a bed, headboard, nightstand, dresser, sheets and towels, a microwave, and a few lamps. The community provided him with a sofa and chair and I donated an old coffee table and end table. We moved things from two different locations quickly so his new apartment would be move-in ready by late afternoon on moving day. We unpacked everything and put it away, arranging the books exactly the way he wanted. We hung his pictures and made his bed (it had been years since he slept in a bed). By the end of the day, he realized the scope of the work we did on his behalf and thanked us.
No two clients are alike but the skills required to meet their needs remain the same. How can we help you meet the needs of your clients?
*The client's actual name was not used in this blog post.