You can tell from Sean Lane’s voice that he has seen a lot of crazy things over the past few decades. It’s calm, clear, friendly, and helpful—with a tinge of surprise. From his years as a police officer to the past eight years he’s been running Clean Up Clear Out to help people in Detroit clean out their homes, he’s seen it all. Despite this (or maybe because of it?), he has a positive attitude and is ready to help people tackle their clutter and clean out their homes.
The idea for Clean Up Clear Out came to Sean one morning when he was shaving. He and his wife were dealing with her parents’ declining health and Sean realized that no business was a one-stop shop for all the services that they needed—transitioning seniors to a new location, storage of items, handling estate sale, taking items for donation, and helping to downsize or clear out hoarders. His team also has a scrub and polish service that prepares a property for resale or to become inhabitable again.
When he arrives at a potential client’s home, many times they ask him if it’s going to be just like the TV show, Hoarders. Sean tells them he is nothing like the television program because he doesn’t provide counseling or any other mental health services, although he has business cards of people he can refer you to. “We’re a clean out company, nothing more and nothing less. We don’t become angry with them, don’t antagonize them, or berate them, like they do on the show.”
One of his clients is still trying to get out of the rehab facility and back into his home. Sean describes an incredible scene of filth, saying that it took nine police officers to get the man out of the home on a tarp. “It was floor to ceiling debris, covered in bile, blood, urine, and feces,” he said. The Clean Up Clear Out scrub and polish team was able to restore most of the house to an inhabitable state, although the client needs to purchase a new bed since the old one was thrown out due to its unspeakable condition.
Having worked with so many people who are in need of decluttering, Sean estimates that hoarders need at least two months to come to terms with the idea that change is coming to their life and that it is a necessary change. He also finds that people using his services fit into one of three categories:
- Life collectors – these are people who have just lived in the same home for many decades and all their possessions have continued to accumulate;
- Hoarders – people with a psychiatric disorder who buy things they don’t need and store them, compulsively;
- “Sloppy” people – these are the folks who just toss their pizza boxes in the corner when they’re done and let the filth accumulate to a point where they need help cleaning it up.
Most of the time it’s only one person in the house who has hoarding tendencies, but their partner continues to live there and figures out a way to survive in a smaller and smaller space as their living quarters get squeezed by the cramming of junk into every available nook and cranny. One couple was rescued from their biohazard house and ended up in separate retirement communities at opposite ends of the town from each other, a deep hatred having built up over years of living in squalid hoarding conditions.
Sean has an arsenal of gritty tales, jumping from one client’s home where he found himself standing in a room on two solid inches of cat poop to a house with no operable water system, so the bathroom functions were a bit grim, to say the least. Another would simply go get Burger King and toss the wrappers to the side, letting them pile up.
The hoarding tendency seems to coincide with people who have more disposable income, which makes sense. If you’re scraping by and putting all your money into keeping food on the table, you can’t start buying things you don’t need on impulse. One wealthy client owned three homes all right beside each other that he filled top to bottom with his possessions, mostly books. The Clean Up Clear Out team found dead rat carcasses as they were cleaning the homes.
“Twelve pairs of Dockers, all the same color and size, thrown into the tub, untouched.”
Sean says that nine times out of ten when he’s dealing with a hoarder, they have a higher education level and income bracket. One gentleman had his bathtub loaded with brand new pairs of pants. “Twelve pairs of Dockers, all the same color and size, thrown into the tub, untouched,” he said.
Another client had so much paper that the floor was bowed under the weight. “We took out 28 legal-sized filing cabinets filled with documents. And that was just the basement!” This client was a collector of books and magazines, and bought a tree farm thinking that this would help replenish all the paper he stored and kept.
For the most part, you won’t be able to tell a hoarder’s house from the curb. “Usually it’s immaculate or a showplace home. They don’t want to draw attention to the house [exterior],” he said.
All jobs require an on-site visit from Sean so he can see what his team is walking into. “You can cram 4500 square feet of stuff into a 1500 square foot home. Very rarely have I walked into a place and it’s the same as they described over the phone.”
Clean Up Clear Out is also mindful of correct disposal procedures, and the estimate takes that into account. Proper disposal of hazardous material is a must, and they take care to wipe any computer systems clean before getting rid of them. “We’re not a Craigslist service. If you’re looking for quality, bonded, background-checked service, that’s me. We deal with biohazards and my guys are in the proper gear. That costs money— for boots, gloves, respirators, spray socks.”
Sean has a solid crew that he relies on to handle the work, and knows which people to call for a particular job. “Certain people will not go into a cat hoarder house. Others don’t want to drive out of a certain zone. Another guy wanted to stay by the dumpster and didn’t want to go into the house.” Whatever their talents, Sean works them into a cohesive team and has their full attention while they’re on the job site. “I tell them their phone has to stay in the car… it’s like I’m pulling their heart out of their chest! But it’s not like we don’t give them breaks where they can check their phone. The guy that’s working the assembly line at Ford or a nurse at the hospital… they can’t use their phones.”
Overall, Sean enjoys the feeling of helping families pull their lives back together. Occasionally the team has found large amounts of money stashed in the home and the family was unaware. “We did one house five years ago where there were things falling on us from the ceiling—money, possessions, dolls, all tucked up into the ceiling. That job we took 28 large U-haul trucks worth of donations, did 2 weekends of estate sales, and filled 17 dumpsters.
To relax, Sean likes to put his phone to voicemail, turn on some music, and drive away. If it were me, I’d need a stiff drink at the end of every day of dealing with these types of scenes! You should give Clean Up Clear Out a try if you’re in the Detroit area and are need of major decluttering and cleanout services.
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