Tuesday, September 01, 2009

A&E Hoarders Episode III

The third installment in the A&E series Hoarders was a doozey. But oh, so real.

One story featured Betty, a woman whose elderly mentally ill husband cannot return to the home (social services has intervened) until she cleans up the house and yard. Her mentally ill adult daughter also lives with them. They are staying in a motel and money is running out. Professional organizer Dorothy Breininger is there to help.

The other story is about Tara, a 50ish woman who lives alone in a rental and is about to be evicted because of the clutter. The professional organizer helping her is Brendan McDaniel.

This was a study in contrasts, for sure. Each woman came to the "cleaning weekend" with a different attitude.

Betty was defiant. Not at all ready to "let go" of anything, and very upset that this was being "forced" on her. She still enjoyed shopping and collecting, and said it was her only joy and she wasn't going to stop.

Tara, on the other hand, was speaking hopefully about clearing up her situation and having a nice home again.

Both women had well-trained, experienced (with hoarding) professional organizers there to help them. Both Dorothy and Brendan are members of the NSGCD (National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization) which provides organizers with classes and certification programs for dealing with special issues like hoarding. This is where I attained my "CPO-CD®" (Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization) in a mentored and peer-reviewed 18-month program.

As I watched this episode, I could see where this was going. I could be pretty sure that Betty wasn't going to make much progress, and anything that might be accomplished would not be "lasting." She just wasn't ready or willing. Tara, on the other hand, was "ready" in her heart and mind, but I know from experience that that often is not enough for the actual purging to happen.

In fact, Betty fought her organizer and her family the whole way. Dorothy did a wonderful job of letting her know that decisions were "in her hands" and that she wasn't there to fight with her. But poor Betty dug her heels in. Betty's case is a prime example of someone who needs not just an expert-with-hoarding organizer, but an expert therapist to be helping her along the way. Betty's problems run deep, and frankly, if I were her, I could see putting up a wall of junk to keep from having to deal with my reality–a schizophrenic aged husband that had been drunk for most of the marriage, a schizophrenic adult daughter who still lives me and sets fire to the house from her cigarettes (that's how social services got involved), one daughter fighting leukemia, and another daughter about to wash her hands of the whole situation. At present, her only "joy" is acquiring. I can see that only time with a skilled therapist could turn her life around a little to figure out how else to find "joy" and to possibly get relief from living in the same household with two schizophrenic adults. And that's just the surface.

Tara jumped into the process with great hope and a great attitude. The reality, however, seemed to set in quite quickly. She got a migraine. She couldn't focus. She had forgotten to take her medicine and hadn't eaten. She was getting dizzy. She started doing what is called "churning." Looking through one pile of stuff and just setting all the things in a different pile or piles. Very little was "let go." Much was presents for other people. (I find this a common theme.) Often those who hoard have these wonderful big hearts and are always thinking of other people and buying or saving things to give to them. But rarely does the stuff get into the hands of the intended. It is usually piled up and lost, uncovered years later, too ruined to be given or no longer appropriate for the person.

Even Tara had melt-downs when she believed her friend and the organizer had thrown out some comics that she wanted to save. This one action caused her to temporarily lose faith and trust in the organizer. This is why you never throw out anything unless the client has told you to do so! (In this case, I think the organizer and friend thought they DID have permission to throw these out.) Once a client is suspicious of your actions, it's very difficult to regain trust.

Brendan did regain her trust and they did manage to clear an area in her living room.

Betty, under duress the entire time, did get one room cleaned and the yard mostly cleared. I believe a lot of it was thrown out without her specific permission, since her daughter was shown throwing things out in a fit. This won't be a lasting victory.

I hold out hope for Tara. She had genuine hope for herself to change, and wanted to change. The actual change will be harder. She, too will need therapeutic help in order to understand her behaviors and be able to change them, not just in clearing clutter, but in stopping the acquiring.

Betty is in a much worse "place." She has a more difficult family situation and absolutely no desire to change.

Hoarding is a sad and debilitating illness. There can be hopeful outcomes, and with shows like these, even if flawed, more people will have more knowledge about and possibly some people will be helped.

In my next posts, I will explore my thoughts around how A&E has set up these scenarios and what helps and what doesn't.

If you need help with a hoarding situation, or would just like to learn more about the topic, please visit the NSGCD website. www.nsgcd.org

Margaret Pearson Pinkham, CPO-CD®
Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization
Organize in Harmony
(707) 823-3479

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