By Stefani Soliman
We watch them for entertainment and can’t seem to look away – but what is the reality of life for the actual hoarder and their family?
Lynda Hykin started her company, The House Purger, in April 2016 to help other families manage the home of a family member that had been hoarding. It involves more than just cleaning and emptying a house or apartment of all its contents – Lynda explains that she spends her time meeting the family, understanding what items are of importance, and discusses why she doesn’t simply go in and “bulldoze” her way through.
Often people find themselves in situations when a loved one has become sick and moved to long term care or even passed away, and the family must take care of all the items left behind. The easiest (and quickest) solution is to call a junk removal company to clear the home, but in the process the family risks losing valuable items. In contrast, Lynda enters a home and carefully sorts through all the property, discarding the junk but uncovering treasured items. “Hoarders have a false sense of thinking everything is valuable,” says Lynda, “it’s not a need to collect things, it’s a fear of letting go.” Her job is to separate what is actually of value from what can be discarded. She’s often found cash, gift cards, as well as heirlooms, in which case she is able to call in an appraiser to determine their worth.
The House Purger began after the experience Lynda had following her mother’s heart attack. After her mother’s move to a senior home, Lynda was tasked with cleaning the house that was vacated. In it she found over 60 year’s worth of saved, collected, and “just in case” items that had piled up over the years to create more than a few messes. Three months later, Lynda knew she didn’t want anyone to go through a similar experience and started her company to help others with this overwhelming project. Along with her team, Lynda works on one house at a time, with a focus on hoarders’ homes and estate homes that need purging.
An important part of Lynda’s work is being an advocate for the hoarder. She tries to help the family understand why their loved one has lived in that state for so long. Sometimes, it is the scenario we see on TV, in which the hoarder has let both items of value, as well as trash, turn into a staggering mess. There are also methodical hoarders, who are devout organizers with bins, cabinets, and piles stacked taller than they are. Sometimes it is a learned behaviour (often from an older family member), while in other cases it could be related to a mental illness, such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Lynda also aims to raise awareness for those with hoarding tendencies. She has noticed in working with seniors it is often generational and began during The Great Depression. People who lived through this time spent years holding onto possessions and saving as much as possible. While essential then, it is no longer necessary and often a difficult habit to break. When working with a family, Lynda finds it helpful to provide next steps to coming to an understanding by sharing a copy of her book, In My Mother’s Footsteps, which elaborates more on the emotional toll of clearing out her own mother’s home, and allows families an inside look from start to finish. Lynda explains, “There’s nothing wrong in the hoarder’s world,” which is why understanding is so important.
The House Purger operates under the values of compassion, honesty, and integrity. Following working in a home, Lynda takes items the family no longer wants but are still in working condition and donates them to women in transition in local shelters. In times of high stress handling a hoarder’s home, the services that The House Purger offers are a respectful means of closure for the home, and the hoarder themselves.