So what is the reality of working in the home of someone diagnosed with hoarding disorder?
Jasmine Sleigh is a professional organiser working in very full homes in Devon. Here she shares her insight into her hoarding work with one client.
It was such an inspiring sight
We were standing in his kitchen, each of us with a cup of coffee in hand. The washing was finished by the sink and fresh shopping away in the cupboards. Just one month previously, we could not open the front door to his home as his hoarding had reached crisis point.
The focus was not on what was going out but what was being gained
You are about to hear a good news story where he cautiously accepted our assistance to work with him. We created a pathway to his kitchen, and made his home accessible. We secured funding for a skip, and he has now filled two! He certainly has rewards in heaven awaiting him with all the quality donations to charity he has made. Most importantly, he could start to enjoy his home again. The focus was not on what was going out but what was being gained.
Getting an insight into the person beyond the hoard
After a day with plenty of breaks between decision making for biscuits and tea, he could finally sit at his piano and we had a five-minute amazing recital. We love those moments, as we get a real insight to the person beyond the stuff. We can see the concrete gains in reclaiming their identity. Decluttering as a hoarder can be a frightening experience and the sense of overwhelming loss in letting items go is palpable. But underneath some of the ‘easier’ decisions are the belongings that encouraged their interests and core sense of who they are. A few good things in their rightful place rather than a proliferation of many items that scatters a sense of who you are into chaos. "Let us find you in all this," I say," because all of this (cue pointing to piles to the ceiling) isn’t you as you are now."
The facts about hoarding
I spend 2 hours every month speaking to community groups and agencies about the risks associated with hoarding. The statistics I quote are that 1 million people in the UK are not able to access their bedroom and kitchen due to extreme stockpiling of items. They are deeply distressed by the idea of anyone coming in to remove those items. They suffer with hoarding disorder, now known as a medical condition in the UK and a genuine disability. Only 5% of those people are known to support agencies, so it is a hidden issue and often a source of social isolation. 30% of fire deaths in the UK are connected to hoarding and many falls are caused by stockpiling in hallways and stairs.
If you are affected by hoarding, here are three top tips we have found useful since our work as Professional Organisers began back in 2013
Start to look at what you say to yourself about your stuff
There can be a script to the compulsions to bring items into your home and / or not be able to let items go. It is worth writing them down to start to pick at the rationale and whether it is working for you. You can start to look at counter-scripts very carefully, to gently challenge those ideas about yourself and your relationship with the items in your home.
Bring in a respectful co-worker
What I mean here is someone who is on your side, works at your pace and will respect your wishes. This is a special person who you will need to trust. It may be that family members or even your best friend may not fit the bill here. It also needs to be someone who can genuinely give you space to relapse, to avoid making difficult decisions on some days.They need to understand the power of that script (see above) even if it is not a rationale they share. Sometimes it is a good friend, and sometimes a good friend is too close.They may struggle to appropriate space for you to stay genuinely in control of what is happening to each individual item in your home.
Celebrate the wins
I wrote about finding time to have fun and enjoy playing on the piano that was rediscovered under clothes and books. It is so important to reconnect with those important belongings. Hold them, smile at them, use them, as there are belongings that are there to augment your life. In that connection it helps get a real sense of what is important to you, and you can be uplifted by the discovery. For us, we find that by being grateful for the discovery, a little confidence appears. The world can be a trusted place, your home is a sanctuary, not a huge receptacle, and that good things can come your way by giving yourself a little space.