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Hoarding - more than just a pile of problems (Part 3)

His flat was so stacked up with items he collected from outside that the door could not open fully. (Source: O'Joy case photo)

Thankfully for Mr Neo, he did not have to go through as traumatising an experience as Mdm Tan. Mr Neo was 72-year-old, single and staying alone in a one-room rental flat. His flat was so stacked up with items he collected from outside that the door could not open fully. It could only open halfway and there was no room for movement inside the flat. Indeed it was so packed that Mr Tan had no space to sleep inside his flat and he spent every night for the last few months sleeping at his void-deck. His main purpose of collecting the items were supposedly to sell them off, but he never did.

HDB received complaints from his neighbours about his flat being a fire hazard and wanted to do decluttering. Instead of doing so immediately, HDB connected with O’Joy and gave us a grace period to work with Mr Neo, with the hope of preparing him mentally for the eventual clearing. O’Joy counsellor visited Mr Neo many times, reminding him of HDB’s decision and deadline, and even suggested helping him to “sell off” some of the items he hoarded, but Mr Neo turned down his help.

On the day of clearing, Mr Neo became very distressed and even went down on his knees to beg the cleaners to stop taking away his stuff. The counsellor tried to comfort him and kept him from breaking down completely. He continued to be there for Mr Neo, visiting him a couple of times in the week after the clearing. After the clearing, he was able to sleep properly in his own home and he remained emotionally stable. We were glad we did not need to admit him to the hospital on the day of decluttering. Although we did not know the reason for his hoarding, he did not hoard again after the decluttering. There are stories of hoarders who gradually stop hoarding after redirecting their attention and energy on hobbies, spending time with people/pets or volunteering. This might be why Mr Neo never hoards again.

We were lucky that HDB had the foresight to contact us to provide emotional support to Mr Neo, or he might end up very distressed and suicidal like Mdm Tan. Hence it is very important for any decluttering to be preceded by ample preparation for the elderly to avoid dire consequences.

(All names are not real, and details have been changed to protect the identity of these individuals)

Written by Chew Yat Peng, principal counsellor at O'Joy

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