The Mayo Clinic describes hoarding as the excessive collection of items, along with the inability to discard them. Hoarding often creates such cramped living conditions that homes may be filled to capacity, with only narrow pathways winding through stacks of clutter. “Two to five percent of Americans may meet the criteria for being hoarders,” says Psychologist David Tolin, Ph.D., a hoarding specialist and author of Buried in Treasures. The houses where hoarding has occurred present risks not only to the residents but to the surrounding community. They may be structurally unsound or attract insects and vermin of all sorts. Uninhabitable and abandoned hoarder’s homes are common, and vulnerable to break-ins and squatting.
Two Vancouver-based companies; Good Riddance Professional Organizing Solutions and 1st Hoarding Clean Up (a Division of 1st Trauma Scene Clean Up) have combined their respective skills to work jointly with clients living in extreme hoarding conditions. This line of work has taught their staff to expect the unexpected. Last week provided an astonishing hoarding clean-up experience for the two companies – one with a silver lining.
Good Riddance and 1st Hoarding Clean Up partnered to clear a two-story Vancouver home in preparation for its sale. The owner moved several years prior, but the house remained jam-packed with hidden family possessions. The team was told to be on the lookout for valuable collections in need of rescuing, amongst the overwhelming domestic disorder. The team put in 2 full days, filling 5 dumpster bins with the lion’s share of the house’s contents, 1 room full of donations, and 1 trailer full of chemicals and other recyclable substances, all the while meticulously cataloging and cleaning items worth preserving for storage.
What made this fundamentally different from other hoarding clean-ups was the lure of having to excavate concealed treasure! There was allegedly a designated location in the basement where the owner’s father buried a fortune in gold and silver over 50 years ago. Several discoveries in the basement on the first day turned out to be a forerunner of bigger things to come. Not long after a large metal box full of silver dollars was found tucked in the back of a cold room, bags of silver dollars were recovered behind a dresser and under a mountain of old clothes. The few wallets found filled with old one and two-dollar bills no longer seemed an interesting find.
The second day of the clean-up project focused on the main floor where the only treasures came in the form of vintage toys and art glass, not precious metals. Digging into the basement floor began in earnest in the late afternoon. By 4:00 pm the clean-up crew emerged from depths under the house with armfuls of dirt and money. A considerable fortune had originally been placed into a wooden box. Some are stuffed into canning jars. After fifty years in the ground, the box disintegrated, and glass jars shattered, leaving gold bars and silver dollars literally lying on the earth. The team made multiple forays, bringing an inestimable number of coins and bars to the surface. The crew spread out the bounty on the front lawn so that the gold bars and silver coins could be sifted by hand, then securely stored for safekeeping. A half-century later, the owner was able to recover his family’s legacy totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars.
It is not unusual for Hoarding Clean-Up techs to find hidden cash and valuables. “Often our clients are next of kin, extended family, or administrators of the estate. They will have heard stories over the years, and when we find their treasures, it brings to life what was once only suspect. We always look forward to hearing or seeing their responses after we make a discovery,” according to Chantelle, Operations Manager for 1st Trauma Scene and Hoarding Clean Up.
Apparently, hoarding gold and silver is not that uncommon even today, with people going to great lengths to disguise their wealth like painting silver bars red to look like bricks. “Even if you don’t trust financial institutions or feel you need instant access to your assets, storing large amounts of cash and valuables at home is not recommended,” says Good Riddance’s Susan Borax. “We work with a lot of older clients who are unable to remember where they have stashed important documents and valuables. Metal detectors make it easier for thieves to find their quarry,” cautions the professional organizer and author.
Neither Good Riddance nor 1st Hoarding Clean Up team members expect to encounter another discovery of this magnitude. “I still remember my first find of $47,500.00 in one hundred dollar bills. I thought that was a lot of money. This was by far the largest monetary unearthing for our staff. We haven’t stopped talking about it.”
1st Trauma Scene Clean Up was founded in 1998 by professional firefighter and ex-military medic Brian Woronuik and has since earned a reputation as BC’s premier bio-hazardous clean-up company. 1st Hoarding Clean Up is a division of 1st Trauma Scene Clean Up, and has been providing hoarding help since 2001; compassionate help for hoarders, along with their families, when their living environment becomes too difficult to manage on their own. Over the years, they have had the fortune of helping many individuals restore their lives and homes.
“It is important that we do not simply enter the premises and begin to throw everything out. We will develop a plan with all parties involved to organize and declutter the dwelling. There will be no surprises along the way,” says Brian Woronuik. Whether it is a studio apartment or a three-story mansion, 1st Hoarding Clean Up will come up with logical and practical solutions for all your clutter-cleaning needs to reclaim the space.
They employ an interdisciplinary team of 28 Certified Bio-Recovery Technicians, the most certified technicians of any bio-hazard remediation company in Canada. Among these technicians include a BC Certified Teacher, emergency service professionals collectively (off-duty dispatch, firefighters, and police officers), experts in a variety of trades, as well as hazardous material technicians.
Their staff of qualified professionals, in partnership with Good Riddance, provides expertise in the following: Animal Hoarding, Food Hoarding, Recyclable Hoarding (ex. Plastic Bags, Appliances, Electronics, Hazardous Materials & Vehicles), other variations of Hoarding, Compulsive Shoppers, De-Cluttering, Content Sorting & Organizing, Storage Container Delivery, Photo & Video Documentation, Extreme Cleaning & Odour Neutralization, and Document Shredding.
Brian states that families are often overwhelmed, confused, and wondering where to turn for help. “We will help educate them, step by step, through the clean-up process, establish insurance claims on their behalf, remediate the physical state of the home, provide resources, refer therapists and counselors, and provide answers to questions clients would otherwise not know to ask. We are always ready to assist during difficult times. Our goal is to minimize the emotional, physical, and financial impact of a crisis situation,” says Brian. Through partnerships with North America’s most trusted associations, companies, and trained professionals, 1st Hoarding Clean Up and Good Riddance make sure their clients receive the help they need at a time when it matters most.