Bio-One of Chicago decontamination and biohazard cleaning services

The 5 Levels of Hoarding: How Does Your House Rank?

Clutter is an everyday occurrence and there comes a point when we all need to clean up our messes. Leave things long enough, and we all start to fall into one of the 5 levels of hoarding.

But what are the 5 levels of hoarding? 

What moves a messy room from Level 2 to Level 3? 

Understanding the hoarding level of your space can help you prioritize which messes are one-person tasks and which may need some help from a back-up team.

Let’s walk through each level of the Institute for Challenging Disorganization’s Clutter-Hoarding Scale to better understand just how normal hoarding is.

Level 1: Safe Clutter

There’s no doubt that many of us would like our homes to look as pristine as a real estate listing ad. But life’s hectic! With busy work and family schedules, numerous responsibilities and obligations, and competing priorities it’s easy to put off a small mess for later. However those moments of procrastination stack up to put our home at a Level 1. 

Signs of this level of hoarding include clutter and messes that do not threaten your safety:

  • Dishes from dinner waiting to be washed
  • Piles of shoes by the door
  • Stakes of unopened mail and bills waiting to be paid on the counter
  • Your kid’s clothes and toys all over the floor


Ok, that last one MIGHT be dangerous if you’re barefoot.

None of these messes block exits in your home, and they do not cause an immediate bad odor. If we’re honest, we can admit that all of us—at one point or another—have had our home come in on this level of the hoarding scale. 

Leaving your house in this state does not necessarily affect your health. 

However, it may exacerbate avoidance habits that lead to snacking and more procrastination—which might lead to more clutter, shifting you up the scale.

Level 2: Blocked Exits and Declining Hygiene

This is another common level of hoarding. Most of us frequently bounce between Level 1’s clutter and Level 2’s disarray.

At this level, things literally begin to stack up: 

  • An exit in your home may be blocked.
  • There may be electrical or plumbing issues. 
  • Dishes and other messes are probably starting to smell.

At Level 2, the clutter can begin to impact a variety of areas of our lives. Some studies claim intense clutter increases our stress, makes allergies worse, and overall causes us to feel less satisfied with life.

These negative impacts are sometimes the trigger that leads to the situation getting worse.

Level 3: Degradation and Pests

Level 3 is where things begin to get concerning. 

At this point, the mess itself may seem too daunting to tackle, and the increase in clutter results in a decline of cleanliness. There may be piles of objects obstructing multiple exits—or even a whole room used for storage instead of living.

It’s at this stage that pest infestations may become an issue. With the clutter, there are lots of places for unwelcome pests to hide and find food, and infestations of ants, lice, and cockroaches may warrant an exterminator. However, all that clutter makes it difficult for the exterminator to do a good job. Unfortunately, failing to clean up the source may set the stage for another infestation within a few weeks.

Another area of concern may be repairs needed around the home. Work may need to be done, but technicians or repair personnel may not be able to physically get to whatever needs to be fixed. This means small problems may become large ones as minor repairs are left to turn into bigger problems. 

This state of things deeply impacts your ability to socialize. Messy and infested living spaces make it difficult to relax with your partner or family. Friends may prefer to outright avoid hangouts at your home. Your loved ones may be concerned about your living situation at this point.

The longer your home sits at Level 3, the higher the chance that leftover messes become long-term damage.

Level 4: Waste and Structural Damage

Hygiene and safety take a backseat in a house at Level 4. Long-term spills and messes create bad smells, and much of the house cannot be adequately used for each room’s purpose.

Those whose homes fit this category face daily irritation and inconvenience, all of it eventually leading to high repair bills, tripping hazards, and health hazards.

You may not think tripping hazards are a big deal, but falling over them certainly can be. Depending on how high the stacks are, they could even fall on you and do some damage that way. 

There have been well documented cases where people have become trapped in their own home due to tripping hazards. Don’t let that be you!

Health hazards stack up in level 4 almost as quick as the clutter does. Issues like water damage that can no longer be reached lead to structural decay. Larger pests like bats or rodents may make their nests in the attic or basement and contribute to higher possibilities of disease.

A person or family living in this state may find it difficult to be comfortable doing anything. 

Tackling the job to get the home back to a healthy and safe state may seem impossible on their own.

Level 5: The Disconnect

This is often what people think of when discussing hoarding behaviors. The situation may be the result of a psychological hoarding disorder or difficulty due to disability. It may have been compounded by depression or generational trauma or habits. The contributing factors are nuanced, varied, and often highly personal.

But whatever the reason, a Level 5 household is in need of serious, professional help.

Those in a Level 5 house live in outright unsafe conditions. On the daily they are coming in contact with:

  • Zero ventilation
  • Mold and mildew
  • Pet waste
  • Infestations
  • Rot and decay

Not only is it difficult to socialize with others in your home, you may find it difficult to even leave because of the sheer volume of things in the home and the blocked entryways. 

Many who are at this stage find themselves disconnected from reality in a number of ways:

  • Denying there’s a problem
  • Not seeing their family
  • Perhaps even dealing with utility services that have literally been disconnected

At this stage, the structural damage to the home is often irreparable and fire hazards begin to enter the picture. 

Houses at level 5 are prone to fires because of the flammable piles of clutter. If a flame were to spark anywhere, it could easily catch something and spread from there. 

Not only that, but it’s very difficult for firefighters to enter. If a fire were to start  there’d be little to no way of stopping it. With so many flammable objects and no way to enter the home, all it can do is burn.

Hoarding is Normal—and Anyone Can Clean Up

So how did your home do? Do you have an idea of where your home fits on the hoarding scale? The vast majority of us are on there somewhere, and the good news is that no matter the level your home scores, there is always help available.

After walking through all 5 levels of hoarding, it’s clear we all struggle with cleaning up the house sometimes. There’s nothing wrong with a messy house. It’s a part of normal, everyday life. 

However, your health and safety are important, particularly when things advance to those higher levels. When facing a daunting clean-up, here’s quick tip for each level of hoarding:

  • Level 1: Pick one chore and set a timer for 20 minutes. Setting a lofty goal like “I will clean the whole house” will often stop you from succeeding. Keep it small and manageable.
  • Level 2: Organize an afternoon with family members and friends. It might seem silly to invite people over for a cleanup day, but more hands can get more done in less time for bigger wins. It also gives you an excuse for after-party pizza (though be sure to clean that up too!)
  • Level 3: Get a professional organizer to help. It’s natural to struggle to let things go. A helpful professional can help you go through the clutter to throw things away and give you a system to follow after they’re gone. If an infestation has taken place, an organizer may not be willing to help. At that point, a hoarding consultant will need to be brought in.
  • Level 4: Hire a hoarding consultant. At this point, it’s difficult to determine what is a mess and what needs repairs. A professional can identify easy spots you can tackle and harder tasks that need a team.
  • Level 5: Hire an experienced team to help. The household has nearly lost all function and may pose a risk to those who don’t know what to look for to ensure their safety. You need professional assistance to clear out and clean up.

Your home falls into one of these levels—just like everyone else’s! The next step is determining what you need to get back to a manageable Level 1.

Our team at Bio-One understands messy homes, and we’re here to offer discreet, compassionate help when you or a loved one is trying to dig out from a higher level mess. We offer affordable, professional services that include cleanup, disinfection, and decontamination. 

Every job has a unique remediation plan tailored to the specific needs and goals of the client. Rest assured, wherever you may fall on the levels of hoarding, we have the experience and equipment necessary to help you.

Consult with our team today to discuss your situation and determine how much time you can save with professional help.

Rebecca Wallace, Bio-One owner, recently visited with Arizona Midday to share how the Bio-One team makes a difference on and off the job in Arizona and throughout the United States. 

Arizona Midday - "Well we've got some help for your home right now. If you're feeling overwhelmed by a clean-up project, we've got help for you today. Rebecca Wallace is with Bio-One. Hi Rebecca. What is Bio-One?"

Rebecca - "So Bio-One is known for crime and trauma scene clean-up. However, we do a lot more than just that. We help people when there is a hoarding situation, so that they can regain their home and their lives again. We help with infectious disease decontaminationrodent droppingsodor abatement, basically if you think you might need a respirator to do the job we're the people you want to call."

Arizona Midday - "Wow, that's incredible. It's stuff we don't want to do. What made you decide to get into this line of work?" 

Rebecca - "So, me and my husband live in Flagstaff most of the time and we were talking with some first responders and heard how when people pass away or they're hoarders there is no one that can help them. There's just no one who does this kind of work. So we decided we want to be able to help our community, help those around us during a time of need so they can actually move forward in their lives and not have to deal with the mess of maybe things that have happened that they don't want to have to think about."

Arizona Midday - "I love that idea. So in order to help your clients as much as possible, do you work with other companies? Tell me about that if you do."

Rebecca - "Yes, we do. We work with quite a few other companies, because what we do is just a piece of a whole puzzle. So we work with a lot of restoration companies, Best Option Restoration, they are state-wide like us so they can help us anywhere as well. We work with animal rescues, so if there is a hoarding situation that animals are involved in we can get the animals out safely and get them rehabilitated. We work with quite a few non-profits that help first responders if they're in a time of need or crisis. It's across the board. We work with all kinds of different people. Contractors. Mental health professionals. Anyone that can be a piece of that puzzle with us, we want to work with them. 

Arizona Midday - "Oh, I love that. So what areas of Arizona does Bio-One cover?"

Rebecca - "We have offices all the way down from Tucson up to Flagstaff, and everything in-between. Our goal is to be able to help our clients within 90 minutes or less if there is an emergency. So we have offices everywhere. Any we're national. We have 120 offices throughout the US as well. 

Arizona Midday - "Wow. That's incredible. So you work with businesses. You work with non-profits, but you're also really involved in the community too, right? Tell me about that."

Rebecca - "Yeah we are. It's important for us to give back. Our community is important. We live here. We're part of it. So in 2020 alone, we gave out over 25,000 bottles of chemicals that are approved by the EPA for COVID-19 decontamination. We have blood drives all throughout Arizona to help with the blood shortage. We donate PPE to first responders and victim advocates. And we have BBQ's throughout the state as well for all of our first responders just to tell them thank you for what they've been doing. They work hard and we want to make sure that they know we care. 

Arizona Midday - "Rebecca Wallace, incredible work that you're doing with Bio-One.  And thank you so much for spending time with us today. 

Rebecca - "Thank you for having me."