“Hoarding is the excessive collection of items, along with the inability to discard them” as defined by the Mayo Clinic. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is now estimated that as much as 5 percent of the population suffers from compulsive hoarding. Thanks in part to a variety of TV shows, “hoarding” has become a term that many use although they may not actually hoard.
Just because someone has a lot of “stuff” doesn’t mean they hoard. “The decision making process of someone that hoards could be such that they cannot decide which is more important; the rotting food in their refrigerator or their children who may end up in foster care because of the conditions of the home. In a hoarding situation, the individual may view these as two equal things,” said Valentina Sgro, President-Elect of ICD (Institute for Challenging Disorganization).
Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD)
The mission of the ICD is “to benefit people affected by chronic disorganization. The ICD explores, develops and communicates information, organizing techniques and solutions to professional organizers, related professional and the public.” The ICD also provides research, education and strategies to benefit people challenged by chronic disorganization. Katherine Trezise, CPO, CPO-CD is the President of ICD and shared a few thoughts with me for this article along with Sgro.
How do You Know if You Hoard?
Trezise stated that hoarding is a “medical diagnosis.” She explained that “when someone hoards, the clutter is so severe that it prevents or seriously limits the use of the living space for which it was intended. For example, you can’t eat at the table, there is no place to sit, you can’t sleep in your bed or the bathtub is full of stuff.”
Sgro stated that “people who hoard usually have an emotional attachment to their possessions that make it difficult for them to place a relative value on things.” She went on to say that “hoarding is only one of the many causes of chronic disorganization; the inability to get and stay organized on one’s own that adversely affects the person’s quality of life on a daily basis.”
Seeking Help for a Loved One or Yourself if You Suspect Hoarding
“If the person doesn’t perceive a problem, helping them is nearly impossible” said Sgro. “Sometimes the hoarder will acknowledge a goal, such as wanting to have people come and visit them in their home and this is the starting point for change.”
“Preserving the relationship should be a higher priority than getting rid of the stuff” said Trezise. “If you focus on getting rid of the stuff, it may damage the relationship. Focus on the person’s good qualities and focus on keeping the person safe,” she said.
Ways to Begin a Project With Someone who Hoards
Sgro commented that “the best way to begin a project is through “harm reduction.” In other words, the individual can see the value in clearing entryways for emergency personnel or removing papers from the gas range to reduce the chance of fire. Family members should be careful not to judge the other family member’s situation, which can be a difficult role to play if you are trying to help a loved one. Sometimes it is easier to have an unbiased, non-judgmental professional work with the individual so they feel comfortable with the process.
The Clutter Hoarding Scale is a free residential observational tool and a quick reference guide developed by the ICD and is available as a free download at www.challengingdisorganization.org. Use these resources to learn about the five levels of hoarding as well as the five categories of hoarding that include:
- Structure and zoning
- Animals and pests
- Household functions
- Health and safety
- Personal protective equipment
You may also want to look for local charities in your area that accept gently used items; some may even pick them up at no charge. Sometimes it is easier for someone who hoards to part with things if they know they will be used by someone else who is in need.
Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding by David F. Tolin, Ph.D., Randy O. Frost, Ph.D., and Gail Steketee, Ph.D. outlines a program for helping compulsive hoarders dig their way out of the clutter and chaos in their homes.
Digging Out: Helping Your Loved One Manage Clutter, Hoarding, and Compulsive Acquiring by Michael A. Tompkins and Tamara L. Hartl. Sgro commented that this book “is written for friends and families who are looking for a way to guide their loves ones who hoard.”
TV Shows – Helped or Hurt?
I had to ask the question: “Have TV shows about hoarding helped or hurt the work professionals perform in this area?” Sgro commented that “TV shows about hoarding are designed primarily for entertainment.” She went on to say that “they have had a positive impact in letting people who hoard know that they are not alone and that help is available.”
Trezise told me: “It’s a double-edged sword. The shows have brought a lot of situations to the light of day. When there was a lot of shame before about hoarding, the silence is now broken as people know they are not alone and many have sought help as a result.” She also commented that “TV shows can provide a false expectation that hoarding can be cured in a short time and that the process on TV is faster than in real life.”
Can Hoarding be Cured?
I would be remiss if I didn’t state that people should not be labeled as “hoarders;” rather they are “someone who hoards,” and most likely they will benefit from professional guidance. Can hoarding be cured? Yes, it is possible with the help of trained therapists and trained professional organizers, but it is a process, not an event.
Laura Leist, CPO
Organizing with Laura