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®
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.