Wednesday, October 20, 2010


The media and TV shows seem to fixate on the issue of hoarding much more frequently than years past. Does this mean that people are hoarding more than ever or is this simply an issue of the media inflating hoarding as it appears people are fascinated with the subject? TLC has a show on hoarding as does A&E. What is our fascination with hoarding? I think it is because we realize that compared to these people, our clutter looks pretty good. What I appreciate from the show is that it is getting people to speak about the issue of disorganization and asking for help. When people learn what I do for a living, they usually follow up with the question, "have you seen the show Hoarders?". I have to admit, I watched one episode, and it made me sick and I have not watched it since. There is also that infamous hoarding show on Oprah from 2007. It took a team of 100 people 8 weeks to complete that project for a total of 2,500 man hours, or if the client was charged about $100,000. They sold many of the possession and about $13,000 but 75% of the furniture had to be destroyed because of black mold.

Hoarding was also in the news as recently as August 2010 when a woman was found dead in her home in Las Vegas because her trash had fallen on her. They had been looking for her for four months. In case you think this is an isolated case in today's society, think not. There is the infamous hoarding case from the 1940's of the Collyer brothers in New York. Police found one brother dead from a heart attack brought on by starvation and then began the painstaking task of looking for the other brother. The second brother was found dead only 10 feet away, ironically crushed by one of the many booby traps he had in the house. It took the authorities 3 weeks to find his body as they had to clear the clutter out one room at a time working from the top of the house to the bottom.

So do you think you know someone who is a hoarder? Chances are you do. Recent studies show that between 2 and 5 percent of our population are hoarders. In the book "Stuff" authors Dr. Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee try to give us some insight into why people have a hard time letting go of things. The authors found three themes that hoarders tend to have in common; 1. Fear of waste, 2. The allure of opportunity (something is on sale or free) and 3. The comfort and safety provided by objects. If you were to think that people who hoard are lacking in intelligence, that could not be further from the truth. Most hoarders are very intelligent and for each object that they are attached to it is complete with rich details.

Dr. Frost has written hundreds of articles on the topic of hoarding. He has found that hoarders and non-hoarders save things for the same reasons, "People save things for three basic reasons. Some objects have sentimental value, usually through a connection to important life events. Other objects have instrumental value; that is we need them to fulfill some tangible purpose or to complete an activity. Still other things may have little sentimental or instrumental value, but we simply like them intrinsically. People who hoard use these same reasons for saving; they simply apply them to more things.

While compulsive hoarding is not officially recognized as a diagnosis in the mental health field, it is often treated as a mental illness by the mental health community. As a professional organizer, the guru of hoarding and chronic disorganization is Judith Kolberg. She defines compulsive hoarding as "the acquisition (buying, picking up free things) of a large number of possessions that appear to be of limited value; failure to discard possessions (e.g., difficulty making critical decisions about whether to keep or discard); and clutter that precludes activities for which living spaces were designed (e.g., inability to cook in the kitchen, eat in the dining room, sleep in the bedroom, move through the home, etc.)".

So what do you do if you are a hoarder or you know and love someone that is one? Start with a good referral to a mental health provider who specializes in chronic disorganization or hoarding. Only then should you contact a professional organizer for help. When you look for one for help, make sure you know if they specialize in this area. It takes a special organizer to work with hoarding clients and not everyone will be a good fit. Ask them for their education on the topic or any classes taken or certification that they have earned.

Today, more and more people are aging in the homes that they raised their children in. They are choosing to stay in those homes as long as they are physically able to. The home becomes a collection of memories. Start boxing up those memories and give them to your children to store in their homes. Let your children decide what is worth holding onto and what they want to get rid of. The catch here is you cannot ask them what they kept. Because, chances are they will only keep a very small percentage of what you have been holding onto for 30 years.

Not quite a hoarder but concerned that you may be getting close here are a few steps that you can take today. Try to stop the problem from escalating by no longer buying things. If you do buy something, make sure something leaves your house. For example, you buy a new pair of shoes, get rid of an old pair. Take one small area at a time. Start with the areas that will have the most impact on your life, for example your kitchen, family room or bedroom. If you are paralyzed by the fact that someone may stop over unannounced, think about what it would take to welcome people into your home without having a panic attack. If you never have people over, schedule a party and don't cancel it. This gives you a deadline to get things done. If you have a deadline, chances are you will reach your goals.

To Joyful, Simplified Living,

MS. Simplicity

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