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28 March 2008 @ 04:06 am
Oprah on Hoarding  
My husband and I just saw a two part episode of Oprah on hoarding, a repeat from 2007. In the episode the three adult children of a hoarder, Jodi, Steve and Rich, reached out to Oprah for help by making a video of their parent's 3000 square foot home. Their mother, Sharyn, was a compulsive shopper and hoarder (the worst combination) and their father, Marvin, while trying to convince her to declutter with him, was hoarding over thirty years of financial papers such as credit card statements and old checks. While Sharyn had the worse problem, Marvin also needed some persuasion to give up his records.


Their children arrived with a video camera and finally coaxed their mom out of hiding. Her things were piled up as high as she was tall, and one could barely move through the home. There was not room for both of them to sleep on their huge bed because stuff was piled on it. There turned out to be a fireplace in the bedroom but it was hidden by the piles and had not been used in years. They often could not see the television from the couch. Each room had just a tiny path through the mounds of clothing and gifts that got buried and never given. The basement was mostly inaccessible and one could not get to the other bedrooms in the home--the hallway was blocked off by stuff and the rooms themselves were full. The dining room hadn't been used in years because the table was buried and surrounded by junk.

Peter Walsh from Clean Sweep was brought in and worked for a few months with a large crew and the family to remove the stuff and divide it into trash, goodwill, yard sale and keep categories. The "yard sale" stuff filled a 10,000 square foot warehouse and brought in $13,000.00, although it was estimated that the stuff itself may have cost many times that. The visual display of the re-organized clutter was stunning--it looked like a thrift shop, with huge piles of stuffed animals, an entire section of televisions, another of shoes (she had Imelda Marcos beat, I thought), miles of dishes and glassware, racks of clothing, and so on.

The worst of the accumulation began ten years earlier after the last of Sharyn's children moved out, and apparently empty nest syndrome was one factor. The hoarding was exacerbated by the death of other family members. Ironically, the hoarding made it impossible for family to visit, including her beloved grandchildren. In holding on to stuff, she pushed away the people she wanted in her life. Like many relatives of hoarders, her children felt helpless for years as they watched their parents being buried by this stuff. Merely removing the stuff, even if the hoarder will allow it, is never enough. Psychological help must be obtained or the home will simply fill up again. Sharyn has committed herself to get ongoing help to keep her home uncluttered in the future.

The trash ended up filling 15 huge dumpsters and totaled 75 tons!

Under the clutter was mold, bacteria, rotting food, insects and rodent nests, and a ruined carpet. The mold was toxic and in fact had been making the couple sick. Mr. Walsh himself got a fungus infection and the workers all developed coughs while they worked in the home. Walls had to be removed and replaced, as well as the flooring throughout the home. When the work was done, decorators were brought in and new furniture and appliances were added. It was amazing to see the transformation.

One of the most touching moments was the discovery of her father's wallet with pictures of Sharyn and her siblings. She broke down in tears. It had been lost under the many piles for years. I've seen Peter make this point before: When everything is special, nothing is. If you value these things you need to display and treasure them properly.

One compulsive hoarding expert defines it:

"Compulsive hoarding is present when a person acquires then fails to discard a volume of possessions that is so great that the persons functioning starts to break down," Dr. Tolin says. "They are not able to use their home in a way that most people would normally use their home."
(Link below under clutter Genetics.)

I'd have to add, isn't it an almost uniquely American illness, this hoarding of stuff? Or at least, Western, since only those in Western countries are so affluent that they can acquire this much stuff as well as the space to store it. There's only so much stuff a poor, Third-World resident can afford to buy and store in their small dwelling. I do have to say, though, that my own compulsive hoarding tendencies were exacerbated by my former poverty as well as my mother's habit of moving us from place to place frequently. It's more difficult to let go of things when, in your poverty mentality, it seems unlikely that you could replace them in the future if you needed to. The specter of poverty looms large, and it always seems like it will pounce and drag you back again once you've escaped.

Links:

Oprah Search results on Hoarding

Peter Walsh's book It's All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff.

Clutter Genetics

Hoarding Severity Self-Assessment Exercise

My other entries on hoarding: http://tapati.livejournal.com/tag/compulsive+hoarding

I've linked to other resources in these previous entries.

Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding by Dr. David Tolin

This Year I Will...: How to Finally Change a Habit, Keep a Resolution, or Make a Dream Come True
by M. J. Ryan
All 14 reviewers at Amazon gave this one five stars--something I don't think I've ever seen before.

On another tangent, once you've organized your home, you might find the following, equally high-rated book, useful. Jennifer Louden has been one of my favorite authors since she wrote "The Woman's Comfort Book" years ago:

The Life Organizer: A Woman's Guide to a Mindful Year by Jennifer Louden Be forewarned that this is not a typical, linear self help book, but rather a resource that can and should be skipped around in as needed.