Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Who wants to be called a "hoarder?"


It's just not a nice word. Even one of the clients in the new A&E Hoarders series mentioned how she didn't like the word.

It sounds awful. And it sounds a lot like another word that is spelled differently but sounds the same. I have learned to enunciate clearly and make sure the person I'm speaking to is paying attention otherwise they think I've just called someone a very bad name.

In fact, I try not to use the word "hoarder" anymore at all. Instead of "I work with hoarders" I'll say "I work with clients who have compulsive hoarding issues." Instead of "She's becoming a hoarder" I'll say, "She has some compulsive hoarding tendencies." You get the idea.

It's like in the health profession or mental health profession. Calling someone by the name of their illness degrades a person, make them the illness, no longer a person with an illness. "She's a person with bipolar disorder" rather than "She's a bipolar." I don't work in hospitals (but I've watched hospital shows), and we've heard doctors refer to "the brain cancer in Room 5" when they should have said "the patient in Room 5 with brain cancer."

Hoarding is an illness. A compulsion. A sad and uncomfortable place to be.

It's unfortunate that A&E names their series "Hoarders," but I suppose that's a whole lot catchier than "People with Compulsive Hoarding Issues."

My clients are people. Most often, they are fun, creative, interesting, intelligent, talkative, warm and caring people.

And some of them have compulsive hoarding issues.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A&E Hoarders Episode II

I have a few thoughts about the second episode of A&E's new series called "Hoarders."

This episode featured two stories–Linda who needed to sell her house after her divorce, but needed to clear it and repair it before it could be put up for sale. She worked with a therapist who stood with her during the purging.

The second story featured Steven, who had filled his very small studio apartment with garbage. He worked with (the infamous in organizing circles) professional organizer, Dorothy Breininger.

Linda was shown shopping at a thrift store before her clearing began. I heard her delight in finding interesting things (a purse in the shape of an armadillo, for example), the pride in finding something that was a "bargain" and when at the grocery store, the excitement in finding a new type of energy bar. They said she shops at the thrift store several times a week and can spend $100-$200 at a time there. Now, since I am quite familiar with thrift stores, I know that that much money buys quite a lot. And that much stuff will take up a lot of space in the home!

I don't know the therapist who worked with Linda, and I don't know how much work they did together in the office before they got to the house. It seems like that for the sake of the filming, a crew was provided, but there wasn't much the crew could do since the therapist didn't set up the day in a way that a crew could really do anything. She did put Linda "in charge" of decisions about what was to be let go of (the only way to do it), but had she used an organizer too, they might have been able to get more done by doing some agreed upon pre-organizing into piles for her to look at. Instead, they worked as I do when I am one-on-one with a client--slowly, one box or pile at a time. They worked 10 hours on one day (usually far too much for one person to handle) and then again probably several hours the next day. It seemed to end with Linda overwhelmed and her son very frustrated with the lack of "progress." The end-titles told us that Linda gave up on cleaning the house, wasn't able to secure a loan for repairs and moved out. It wasn't clear what work she and the therapist had done or were continuing to do in reducing the acquiring Linda does.

In Steven's case, Dorothy Breininger (an NSGCD member, I might add) made good use of the crew by setting up numerous categories, and had the crew stack things in those areas for Steven to look through. Now, this was a very small apartment, but they were able to clear it out in the two days and set it up very simply for Steven to live in again. Dorothy talked about how they had already had some conversations around what his goals were, and asking himself "Does keeping this get me closer to this goal or farther?" I liked Dorothy's attitude toward Steven, reminding him often (and reinforcing the idea numerous times) that he was in charge of what stayed and what left, and reminding him of his end goals of writing a book and having a more spiritual life.

If anything in these shows seems too familiar to you, and you are currently experiencing distress about your the condition of your home, please give me a call or send me an e-mail. I'm happy to talk to you about the issue of compulsive hoarding and where you might find some help.

You are worth it. You deserve it. And you can do it. The first step is asking for help.

Margaret Pearson Pinkham, CPO-CD®
(707) 823-3479

If you are not in my area (Sonoma County in Northern CA), please visit the NSGCD (National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization) website to find a professional organizer trained in these special issues.

A great little book to read is Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving and Hoarding by David Tolin, Randy Frost and Gail Skeketee. It speaks to both the person with the hoarding issues and has sidebars written to family members or loved ones who are trying to help or understand. Great primer for "do's and don'ts" when helping a person to clean their home.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

When will I take on a client with Compulsive Hoarding issues?

I work with clients who have compulsive hoarding issues.

The clients with the highest probability of changing their situation will be doing these things...

1. It will be their idea to ask for help.
When they are ready, they will call me. It doesn't work well if they are forced to call me by a well-meaning family member. "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't him drink."

2. They are in some sort of therapy or counseling.
It's best if they are in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) at the same time I am working with them. With their permission, I can work in a collaborative arrangement with the therapist to help move things along in the home while the client and therapist work on issues in the office. I am not a therapist, and I am well-aware of my boundaries when it comes to this issue.

3. The client has family or friends in the area who are supportive and encourage their efforts to clean up.
This isn't an "absolute" of mine, but again, the chances for change are much, much better if the client has a support team. A therapist or other professional can also be a part of that supportive group.

If you are looking for an organizer in your area, please contact the NSGCD (National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization) and look at their website for a qualified professional with training around compulsive hoarding.

Watch this blog for more posts about compulsive hoarding and what to expect from a trained professional organizer if you are a person with compulsive hoarding issues.

There's help...there really is. It's not easy and it's not cheap. But it's life changing and it's worth it.

Are you ready for a different life?

Monday, August 17, 2009

A&E Compulsive Hoarding Series

A&E is running a new series about compulsive hoarding, which premiered Monday, August 17.

You can read more about it and find the schedule here. It will be shown on Monday nights, and according to my Comcast schedule, each episode will be shown a number of times each week.

I just watched the first show and am left with mixed impressions of their portrayal of the topic and their subjects.

I know a couple of the Professional Organizers who worked with the people, and have heard Dr. David Tolin (the psychologist featured in one segment) speak at an NSGCD (National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization) conference.

The reactions of the people that were being helped were typical of those with compulsive hoarding issues. Aware of their situation, yet seemingly blind to the piles around them. Intelligent, creative and caring people. People concerned with not wasting things, yet in that very concern gone haywire, they have wasted and ruined almost everything they have "saved" for use in the future. It all seems logical to them.

Even the threat of eviction or losing a spouse or custody of their children often does not prompt them to change their ways. They seem to be at the mercy of this cruel condition.

So very complicated.

And heartbreaking for their families.

For the most part, the organizers and Dr. Tolin treated these clients with respect and patience. There might have been a few times where I might have said something differently or tried a different tactic. But I know these people to be trained and educated around the issue of compulsive hoarding. Dr. Tolin is one of three researchers conducting research into this condition, and has co-written a book intended for those with the problem of hoarding and their families--Buried in Treasures. (See this book on my Amazon carousel at the bottom of this page.)

Keep in mind that this was a one-hour television show that condensed many, many hours of actual work. We don't know what went on at other times, or what was cut here and there.

I did read some comments on the A&E website about how so much was just "thrown out." Please keep in mind that when most professional organizers work with clients (myself included) we try to donate, recycle or repurpose whatever we can. We don't want to waste anything, either.

But the big issue with things that come from a house filled with hoarded items....they are probably toxic with mold or are impregnated with the smell from the home--again, mold, mildew and dust. Most items really cannot be saved, and should not be dumped on some unsuspecting thrift store and possibly contaminate someone else's home.

In the next few days, I'll write more posts about compulsive hoarding.

In the meantime, check out my links listed on this blog and check out my credentials for working with people who have severe clutter or compulsive hoarding issues.

Please contact me by phone or e-mail if you have any questions or concerns about your own issues or a loved-ones.

Margaret Pearson Pinkham

Sunday, August 09, 2009

A walk in the woods can help you focus

Never underestimate the power of nature!

That can be true for hurricanes as well as a simple walk in the woods.

My advice today is simple--take a walk. Even if you can't get out to a park and go on a hike, just take a walk down your street--hopefully it has some green trees and fresh air.

Walking in the natural world uses a different part of our brain than the part we use at work or in school. It lets those parts rest, and when you need to get back to work or school or simply to that cluttered closet, you will truly be "of a different mind" when when you get back.

Have a nice walk!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

2009 NSGCD Annual Conference

I'll be attending this wonderful conference put on by the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization for Professional Organizers and related professionals (therapists, coaches, etc.).

Learn more about the conference at the NSGCD website.