Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Clutter Road -Hoarder or Not?

Photo by Frank O'Hare
     Tell someone you are a Professional Organizer and they will tell you they need you or someone they know does. They will tell you they have seen the shows-Hoarders, Hoarders-Buried Alive, and the Oprah episodes featuring people with mountains of clutter, and living conditions that are not safe or sanitary. They will ask if I heard the story of hoarder who died and were not found for days because of the clutter.  What is good about all this awareness is that people who need and want help can more easily find resources to get it.

I get emails and calls from people who are worried that they have clutter and might be a hoarder.  They have watched an episode and worry that they might be going down that road. Hoarding is one of those things that runs a spectrum from mild to very severe. In mild cases, the clutter has grown because organizing systems have not been put into place or those in place have not been maintained. They may have been organized, but now the clutter has grown, things have not been put away, and they are simply too overwhelmed to know where to begin. Perhaps they have been ill or taking care of someone who was, or been too busy to take on a project. They know something is wrong and are emotionally ready for change. The prognosis for these people is often good.

More serious situations may result from an accumulation of possessions way beyond what is normal- where rooms cease to function for their intended purpose, other people may be prevented from entering and repairs can't be done. The person may lack the ability to discern categories or even what is trash and what is not, they may have a profound sense responsibility to not be wasteful, or compulsive urges to acquire things. Some other reasons we see for hoarding are OCD,  depression, ADHD, perfectionism, grief, compulsive shopping,  mental illness, or a cognitive disorders.  Researchers believe that there may also be a genetic component. Often the choice to declutter is not the hoarder's idea. They may have run out of options. Collaborative therapy- using professional organizers, community resources, cleaning specialists and mental health professionals working in accord can be helpful in improving the safety and quality of life for these people.  The NSGCD  has established the Clutter Hoarding Scale to help professionals have a common language with which to describe what is being seen. The primary focus in helping hoarders is to improve the safety of the home.

I am happy to have worked on a team helping a Central Ohio gentleman for an episode of A&E's Hoarders.  I saw the whole story unfold.  Not all the little successes during the 16 plus hours filming nor the hours of aftercare that the show provides can make it to the one hour finished result.  Thanks to those who film and produce the episodes and all the brave people who have put themselves out there.  You have helped countless others--hoarders and not.