In recent years, it has become apparent that this condition may be more widespread than previously believed and that dealing with hoarders requires not just caution and care but special expertise.

The American Psychiatric Association estimates that 2 to 5% of the population could be classified as compulsive hoarders (people who suffer from a disorder that impedes their ability to discard things, regardless of value). As the illness often manifests behind closed doors, it is difficult to get an accurate count. Some are collectors and compulsive buyers, some are perfectionists and environmentalists.

Although some have obsessive-compulsive tendencies, not all of them have that trait. One common thread is the importance hoarders place on each item they possess. Since you are dealing with someone’s behavior, it is one of the most difficult problems a social worker can face. Because hoarding is a mental illness, residents are protected under the federal Fair Housing Act. Your best-case scenario is that a letter asking the tenant to clear his or her home prompts action, but most hoarders don’t respond to the first notice. Getting adversarial, however, is not the answer. If you suspect a neighbor or someone you know might have a hoarding problem, there are a variety of organizations and workshops that address the issue. To find a decluttering professional or clinician in the tristate area, try the directory at the Hoarding Disorder Resource and Training Group website. Nationally, try the International OCD Foundation website, SUPPORT GROUPS: EIS (Eviction Intervention Services) Housing Resource Center, Mutual Support Consulting, or Clutterers Anonymous.

See you in two weeks, Chris