“Sue“ is a retired professional who is well-to-do, rarely eats at home and has lived in her condo for decades. While everything seems perfect from the outside, Sue is the keeper of a dirty little secret.
When the unit above hers suffers a plumbing leak and the property manager has to gain access to Sue's unit to assess the scope of the problem, the manager not only can't get into Sue's bathroom to look for leak damage, he can't even get past her foyer. There are shopping bags, piles of clothing (some with the tags still on them), collectibles, hundreds of plastic recyclables, stacks and stacks of books, flea-market finds, and piles of newspapers dating back decades blocking every doorway, climbing up the walls, leaning crazily against half-buried furniture, and reducing hallways to narrow, dimly-lit footpaths only a foot or so wide. Much to her mortification and her neighbors' shock, Sue's secret is out: she is a hoarder.
According to the International Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Foundation, a hoarder is someone who obsessively acquires too many possessions and/or has enormous difficulty discarding or getting rid of them when they are no longer useful or needed. Of course, lots of people battle clutter, and lots of people collect things – but when this behavior spirals out of control and threatens a person’s health or safety or leads to distress it becomes a ‘disorder.’
In Sue’s unit, the piles of shopping bags, newspapers, and other detritus blocked exits, and the inaccessible bathroom made it impossible to repair the plumbing, which in turn lead to mold problems. Sue's situation was so bad that had there been an emergency, it would be impossible for first responders to get to Sue in time to help her.
Unless—as in Sue's case—you’re granted access to a person's home, it's often hard to tell if someone in your association is struggling with hoarding.