Tag Archive for: hoarding

Working with Hoarding Clients




Hoarders have become a national fascination!  Not only we do all know families struggling with this challenge, we know how tragic these situations are with respect to finances, emotions, safety and sometimes legal aspects.

Work with a hoarding situation begins with the client.

Who is the client? It is the hoarder, even though  the family, friends or other community members want the home decluttered.  An assessment of client readiness for change makes the difference.  Is the client ready to begin the process of letting go, creating a new way of life, and working toward maintenance and balance of acquisition ?  As a professional organizer, the first phone conversation with the hoarder tells me so much about our work together.

A successful approach for hoarding includes a team.

The team members are the client, the therapist and related professionals, the professional organizer, assistants to the organizer, skilled labor or other trade professionals as needed, and possibly haulers.  Collaborative therapy, where the client works with both a therapist for inner change and a professional organizer for outer change, makes for the best possible work arrangement.  As a professional organizer, I also find my hoarding clients work best with additional team members.  The energy that more people bring, the additional hauling off capability, and the resources that all the other team members bring to the project, neutralizes the shame and perfectionism the client is feeling.  In our work we usually find several home repair projects as we progress.  The project moves forward more quickly by having a handy man, electrician, and other trade people to call in as needed.


Work with hoarders proceeds at their pace.

With my own clients and their cases, we work on a regular basis, working in most difficult areas together.  Together we establish guidelines for donating through coaching.  Clients are encouraged and affirmed in good decision making.  Trust is the most important aspect of our relationship.  Clients see me as a motivator to change.    Every situation with hoarders is different in terms of how quickly progress occurs.



Hoarding resources

John Hart, PhD                       anxiety.depression.treatment@gmail.com


Tolin, Frost and Sketetee      Buried in Treasures


Tomkins and Hartl               Digging Out: Helping your loved one manage clutter, hoarding and compulsive acquiring

A&E Hoarders: Houston Hoarder Show airs on February 1



I had the privilege of working as an organizing assistant on the A&E show Hoarders. If you have not seen it, here is the scoop.   Each 60-minute episode of Hoarders is a fascinating look inside the lives of two different people whose inability to part with their belongings is so out of control that they are on the verge of a personal crisis. 


This week an upcoming episode that was filmed in Houston is being shown.  The air date is February 1.  Working as an assistant to Certified Professional Organizer – Chronic Disorganization Geralin Thomas www.metroplitanorganizing.com and Clinical Psychologist Suzanne Chabaud, Ph.D., the episode was filmed for 2 days on location at the home.    My kudos to both professionals on their approach to a very real life challenge! 

Honoring the client’s needs and respecting the client are underlying aspects of Hoarders.  The client was facing tough decision making.  Dealing with too much stuff can be a shameful experience. From the outset the tone of respect was set.  Recognizing the client’s vulnerability, the focus was to help him make decisions and move forward. Others on the set were aware of this and it was clear that the client was anxious about having his things thrown out.  Everyone on the set learned about the mental health challenges facing the client in parting with his stuff.   And everyone was patient! It took time to make decisions and move forward. 

Hoarders portrays the work of a certified professional organizer in a real setting and in a realistic manner.  It is really about sorting and decision making!  Some of the most difficult parts of working with a client is to understand the depth of the decision making challenge and the need to keep items.  Seeing the process of grouping “like” items together at the beginning, moving on to decision making, then finding a “home” for stuff, people are seeing how the process evolves.   Truly, a client moves forward at their own pace, not the pace set by the organizer or the therapist.  In viewing the challenges of those on the show, people are recognizing their own challenges too! This is an incredible way to make a difference in people’s lives. 

Thank you to both of these professionals for sharing their time with all of us, personally and nationally.  What an incredible experience to learn as they worked with the client.  What was it like behind the scenes? Really no different than what you see on tv!  Everyone was there to help the client live their best life!

Great Resources


Hoarding and Collecting

We are baffled and amazed at hoarding.  Where does collecting cross the line? 

 My colleagues Arianne Benefit and D Allison Lee have so much to share on this topic!  Here is the post to learn more on this topic.


To quote from the blog:  

Your collections ARE likely to be a hoarding or collecting disorder if any of the following are true.

·                      You aren’t able to use some of the spaces or furniture in your home for their intended purposes.  For example: if your floors have become storage, and you can’t easily walk on them or you can’t use your kitchen to cook because all the “collections” are in the way.

·                      You aren’t able to keep your collections clean and in good condition.

·                      You aren’t able to store and/or display your collections in such a way that no harm comes to them.

·                      The “collections” are often in your way and keep you from doing things you really want to do.

·                      You can’t stop collecting, and feel like you “have” to – even if the collecting is putting you in debt, or keeping you from having other things in life that you want – like being able to have friends visit your home.

Your collections are likely NOT a problem if:

·     Your life is functioning well and you are paying your bills and taxes on time.

·     You could get an appraiser to verify that your collections are worth something.

·     You keep your collections well organized and in good condition.

·     You know what you have and how much of it you have

·     Your collections give you real “joy” and don’t distress you.

About the Author

Ariane Benefit, M.S.Ed., is a sought-after life coach, ADHD coach, and chronic disorganization expert who has helped hundreds of clients get unstuck, embrace their imperfections, and harness their creative strengths to conquer their clutter and organizing challenges. She is the author of several highly acclaimed organizing books, as well as the popular Neat & Simple Living blog. Visit Ariane online at: www.lotusbridge.comClick here to contact Ariane via email. 


About D. Allison Lee

Deb shares so much about organizing and more on her blog!  She is a Certified Professional Organizer located in the greater Washington D.C.  Visit her blog at  http://dallisonlee.com/blog/


Want to learn more about this topic?  Visit Geralin Thomas’ blog at Metropolitan Organizing at www.metropolitanorganizing.com . Geralin is seen frequently on A&E’s Hoarders.  http://metropolitanorganizing.com/blogs/geralin/2009/09/knowing-difference-hoarding-vs-chronic-disorganization



Over Acquiring

My clients remind me about over acquiring or purchasing “large” quantities.  It can be that the items are “on sale” and an over purchase is justified because they are saving money. Perhaps it is because they will be gifting an item and it is a gift for many different people. Or simply the purchase hits an emotional appeal due to depression, grief or other need. 

The first step in any process is realizing the scenario. This is difficult.  How do you assess if you are an over acquirer?  Think about the quantities you are purchasing.  Even if you are purchasing groceries on sale, are you seeing yourself as buying too much? Do those around you ask you about the quantities you are buying?  Knowing if this is a common problem for you is the first step. 

There are strategies to prepare yourself for the over acquiring mode.  Even if you are not an over aquirer, and just purchasing in general, these questions can apply to your purchases.   Be prepared to take a minute to reflect before the purchase. Here are some thoughts to think through.

Do I need it? Can I borrow it from a friend or family member?

Where will I place it once I purchase it?  Will it be consolidated with the existing amount to fit in the designated “home’?

Is it durable, well made, and affordable for the need I have?

How many do I need? This is most important.  Assess a number you can use regularly and keep that number uppermost as you shop. Regardless of the item, use this number as the guideline for number purchased.

Be mindful of your purchases.  It is easy to over do and under use!  What keeps your purchasing in line?


Most people know of a home in their neighborhood where the home is obviously overflowing with clutter.  Some homes begin to not function and contents spills out into the yard.  Most people have no idea where to turn to for help.


Hoarders (television show on Monday nights) has created an amazing buzz in my world of professional organizing.  Each 60-minute episode of Hoarders is a fascinating look inside the lives of two different people whose inability to part with their belongings is so out of control that they are on the verge of a personal crisis.  Certified Professional Organizers are featured on the show, especially Geralin Thomas of Metropolitan Organizing http://metropolitanorganizing.com/.  As the clients and CPOs work together, public viewers watching are touched in a unique and powerful way.   Viewers identify with many of the challenges faced on the show.  The attachment and emotional issues make an impact in a way no family member can!  It is a powerful agent for change to have a new outside perspective on people and their stuff.   


Over 10 million people in the US have clinically significant hoarding.  This equates to 2 – 5 % of the population.  The average age at treatment is 50.  They tend to be single and have a high rate of divorce.  They tend to live alone and there is usually a family history of hoarding.  Onset usually occurs in childhood but does not become severe until adulthood.  Hoarding affects people regardless of socio-economic level.  As recently as last year in Houston, a River Oaks couple was unable to be rescued from their home due to hoarding.  http://www.texas-fire.com/2009/01/17/houston-fire-kills-houston-neurosurgeon-wife/.  What defines hoarding?  http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/531200/ Hoarders have a brain disorder resulting in an all-consuming compulsion to collect that often cuts them off from society and damages their relationships. In severe cases, clutter can get so out of control it can cause complicated medical issues, endanger lives and create safety hazards.   


The best help for those with hoarding issues begins with collaborative therapy with a counselor and a certified professional organizer or (CPO or CPO-CD). There is a workbook available to begin the process, Buried In Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving and Hoarding by By David F. Tolin, Ph.D., Randy O. Frost, Ph.D., and Gail Steketee, Ph.D.  How to help a family member with this illness? Seek professional guidance to begin the process.  There is hope and help for you and your family.  


Some resources



Clutter Hoarding Scale


 Obsessive Compulsive Information Center


 Understanding Obsessive Compulsive Hoarding Disorder