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03 July 2007 @ 01:18 am
I was just writing about hoarding...  
Salon's Since You Asked column published a letter today about a compulsive hoarder. I wrote the following letter:

Fighting my inner hoarder

I grew up in a family of hoarders, and I have fought the tendency all my life. I see my own hoarding propensity as being exacerbated by a childhood of constant moving. Instead of the security of a home, I clung to possessions for that sense of security and continuity, especially favorite books.

However, I observed the degree to which my relatives were controlled by their hoarding tendencies and how their homes ultimately became so crammed with stuff that their standard of living was affected. I realized that even though they had managed to keep all this vital "stuff," it was inaccessible and therefore useless to them. I also saw how people had to go through their many possessions when they died, desperately trying to sort out the valuable from the trash. I realized I would be mortified by that. I could only imagine everyone gathering to sort my own stuff and saying, "Why in the world was she keeping that?"

So I have fought a good fight against the anxiety that wells up whenever I have to sort through and pare down my stuff. I am an information junkie like the LW's mom, though far less obsessive about it. The internet is a boon because I am learning to scan some things and let go of resource and reference books when the information is only a few clicks away. I live in an apartment and periodically we move for one reason or another, and so there are opportunities to decide how important my "stuff" really is.

I have read Don Aslett's books such as Clutter's Last Stand and Not For Packrats Only. I watch Clean Sweep on TLC (a wonderful resource for observing how a coach can talk with someone about their stuff and encourage them gently to part with it). In fact, the show might even inspire some hoarders to get help when they see the end results! It can show them how to separate out the most truly valuable belongings and actually showcase them, in a way enlisting their own worship of stuff to work for them rather than against them.

I am successful in coping with my hoarding tendencies and I wish the LW and all other family members success in helping their relatives gain better control. While it doesn't work to throw out things for them, there are ways to encourage them to get help. In their heart of hearts, they wish they could control their illness--they just don't want someone taking that control out of their hands by throwing their stuff away. Letting them know that you will help them face it and let them make the choices about what to throw away is more likely to work then threatening to just get a dumpster and start heaving it all in. They have to feel like they can trust you not to do that.

Family members of hoarders are running into the same issue that has been written about at Salon previously--in order to force a mentally ill person to get help they have to be declared a danger to themselves or others. It's a sticky legal issue and one that prevents a lot of good people from being helped. Our society has to continue to discuss where the line should be drawn between individual rights and freedoms and getting people the help they don't realize they need. Anyone concerned about this issue should be in contact with their representatives after familiarizing themselves with the laws as they currently stand.

My other entry about this subject is here.

Salon had another article about hoarding with resources mentioned here.
(Anonymous) on July 7th, 2007 11:29 pm (UTC)
Permission to show your article around a bit?
Hi there - I'm a professional organizer who specializes in working with folks who have serious hoarding issues. Serious enough that most of my clients are referred by the Dept of Mental Health and typically we're staying one tiny step ahead of health dept citations and/or evictions. In a nutshell, my approach is to make it feel safe, entirely do-able, and *fun*! Favorite sayings? "Takes one to know one!" and "Hey, 90% gets an 'A' even when you've still screwed up 9 or 10%!" Your article is delightful -- some of the clearest writing around, and from a relatively rare perspective. So I'd like your kind permission to print and hand it out to various clients and associates I work with. (Yeah I know it's sort of public already, but I'm also one of those over-achieving over-meticulous sorts, ok?) If a broad permission doesn't quite please you, please let me know and I'll honorably just offer the URL and excerpts, but that's a sorry second best choice, you know. (smiles) Hopeful thanks in advance, Gayle -- extrawife [spamlimitattempt] com

Tapatitapati on July 8th, 2007 12:52 am (UTC)
Re: Permission to show your article around a bit?
Sure, just credit my name--Tapati McDaniels--and I'll be happy if it helps someone. I am hoping to write a longer piece with more information about how those who want to declutter can approach it, and how those working with hoarders might best approach them. I think the people who work with Clean Sweep have a good approach, though they are working with those who WANT to do something. To work with those who are in serious denial that it is a problem is much more difficult. I'll have to think about how I would approach people in this position.