Lifestyle Hoarding habit takes a man's life as clutter prevents his escape from...

Hoarding habit takes a man’s life as clutter prevents his escape from a fire

With items piled sky-high at the entrance of his Tampines flat, Sim Buay Piak struggled to escape costing him his life




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Decluttering may seem like just one of the latest trends in the minimalist movement, but getting into the habit of not keeping too much stuff may also save your life. Sim Buay Piak unfortunately did not survive the fire that broke out in his Tampines flat last year as all the items he had been hoarding trapped him inside, where he succumbed to smoke inhalation.

On Thursday, July 11, State Coroner Kamala Ponnampalam, who had been looking into Sim’s case from last year, ruled it as one of unfortunate misadventure, with no signs of foul play.

Investigations by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) revealed the details of the incident.

On May 27, 2018, at about 9.30pm in Sim’s home at Block 157 Tampines Street 12, a fire had broken out.

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When SCDF officers, firefighters and paramedics arrived on the scene, they had to fight through ceiling-high piles of hoarded items which blocked the entryway.

The emergency team cut the door open just to be able to enter the flat, after which they had to climb and crawl to get in, maneuvering with difficulty around the hoarded things.

Sim had hoarded refrigerators, toilet bi-fold doors and other miscellaneous hardware, including metal items like pots and pans, which conducted heat and had to be cooled so the team could search for Sim.

The firefighters eventually found the unconscious 58-year-old in the toilet next to the kitchen. SCDF reported that he was wearing only a pair of Bermuda shorts, his arms were folded in front of his chest and he was holding a rubber hose close to his face.

“He must have retreated towards the back of the unit and into the toilet next to the kitchen to avoid the intense heat. Unfortunately, he was overcome by the smoke and was subsequently found unresponsive in the toilet by the firefighters,” State Coroner Kamala noted.

Firefighters found that there was no water coming out of the tap as Sim had not been paying his utility bills.

They carried Sim out of the flat, where paramedics pronounced him dead from smoke inhalation, two hours after the fire broke out.

The SCDF reported that the cause of the fire was either the candles Sim used to light his home, or embers from cigarettes he smoked. Sim had most likely found himself trapped by the items he had hoarded, which blocked his escape route to the door. Lack of ventilation, because of the number of items he had in his flat, also served to trap the heat inside.

Firefighters were able to extinguish the fire in about 30 minutes.

Sim’s brother said that while Sim used to work as an air-conditioning technician and also offered his services doing odd jobs, he became unemployed and began to hoard items for reselling.

Sim’s home was so full of the items he had hoarded, he began storing some of them, such as washing machines and travelling bags, in the common corridor outside his unit.

Case worker Tan Kah Chun, who was assigned to Sim in April 2018, said that Sim had been collecting scrap items to sell for a few years. Although Tan and also Sim’s older brother had both advised Sim to get rid of the hoarded items, he was not willing to part with them, insisting that he would sell them for money.

Sim’s older brother had specifically admonished Sim that his hoarding could lead to fire, but Sim did not take heed of his warnings.


1. Decluttering can save your life – Hoarding can lead to fire and can keep heat in your home. It can also trap you and your family inside your home, blocking your path to doors and windows in case you need to make a quick escape.

2. Decluttering can contribute to better health – Keeping too many items in your home can encourage allergies, especially if the items are dusty and not cleaned often. Insects like cockroaches and mosquitoes also like to hide in nooks, crannies and little spaces, so decluttering can eliminate the possibility of dengue, insect bites, and the like.

3. Decluttering can help you save money – Gather all the items that you are not using — clothing, kitchen items, home decorations, toys, books, shoes and other things — and put together a yard or garage sale. You might make more than a buck or two, and you’ll probably realise that you have way more things in your life than you really need.

4. Decluttering can help others – Another thing you can do with items that you do not need is donate them to charities and shelters, so that others who are less fortunate can benefit from using them. It will free up space in your home and will benefit others at the same time.

5. Decluttering can give you peace of mind – I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “Tidy house, tidy mind.” Well, it’s true. Research has shown that tidying, organising and having a clean home environment can contribute to mental peace. On the converse, having too much clutter around you can cause mental stress and promote anxiety.

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