A photograph is a woman wearing a scarf around her neck - Jasmine Sleigh

The reality of hoarding – a guest blog by Jasmine Sleigh

Jasmine Sleigh from Change Your Space shares her thoughts on the reality of hoarding in this guest blog.

In my book, Being Owned: A Decade in Professional Decluttering, I wanted to sensitively reflect the world of tackling belongings when people are at crisis level. It is a set of stories to challenge the stigma and misunderstandings around people who are overwhelmed by their possessions. The crisis work we do is when there is no room in the home to sleep in beds or access the kitchen. I suspect this is what we know as hoarding. But I wanted to distinguish what we do as professional declutterers in these environments compared to that presented on our television screens.

Hidden away

3 million people are estimated to have hoarding disorder in the UK, extrapolated from American research, but only 5% of those are known to support agencies. Even less will be able to accept anyone to come in the home to assist them to tackle the issue, many too embarrassed or afraid to let someone cross the threshold of their home. So only a tiny fraction of people who are in crisis in their homes due to stockpiling items end up with any professional decluttering support. Most of my clients will just about allow me to enter their home, they would not entertain the idea of cameras.

Hoarding as a label

I deliberately steer away from the formal labels as often people are not formally diagnosed as having hoarding disorder, which has only become a recognised mental health condition in recent years. The person themselves may not want that title as it is laden with negative stereotyping associated with squalor and derision. Crucially, my clients often have a considered rationale for keeping all their items that can have a broader logic, so they may not see it as irrational stockpiling. We also work with people who may have other mental health issues or cognitive processing conditions that then make it tremendously hard to sort and make decisions on their belongings, which means they may not be hoarding as such, but the home is full and compromising their safety.

This is not eccentric behaviour

The reason I wanted to tell the real stories of the people we have worked with, is that we focus on what they have achieved and the breakthrough moments they have had with us that show them claiming back power over their belongings. Where they can let go and balance their future wellbeing is more important to us that what they cannot let go of. Each person has their own background that has shaped them. They are sometimes able to open up and link the behaviour with an early trauma, and sometimes the reasons are lost even to themselves. But they are people in complex situations trying to make sense of their lives and the hoarding is often a safety blanket for some underlying reason.

The work

The quick turn around format on television decluttering cannot match the reality of addressing hoarding which is a slow and careful process with ups and downs, revelations, and retreats. The funded support that people are offered by support agencies is often very short-term projects that are about simply clearing a throughway in the home and access to key facilities. But the real sustainable change takes time, patience, and endless perseverance. We have clients who find the work tremendously hard, and small gains are to be celebrated, even if they do not make great before and after pictures at this stage.

If you are affected by hoarding issues, or have a family member or friend struggling in this way, then there is support out there to help take steps to being more safe and well in their home. Contact the Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers UK and search for those with hoarding specialism in your area.

Jasmine Sleigh is the owner of Change Your Space, a professional decluttering service based serving Devon and Somerset. www.changeyourspace.co.uk.

You can check out her book, Being Owned: A Decade in Professional Decluttering here.

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