A Look from the Inside the Eye of the Hoardnado
The television series “Hoarders” (A & E) has not only provided the public with invaluable insight into compulsive hoarding, it has also offered a rare inside view into how different professional organizers and mental health professionals approach hoarders and their belongings.
In addition, Twitter, message boards and chat threads are bursting with commentary, advice and thoughts about hoarders and their homes.
Most of the discussions (but not all) are supportive and applaud the bravery of the participants who have been willing to “air their dirty laundry” to the viewing public.
Personally, I like seeing the variety of help available and the different approaches being used. The production company allows each “expert” the freedom to be his or her own boss and do what we normally do — with cameras, lights and microphones everywhere, of course.
What it Takes for Lasting Change
When working with a hoarder on this series, I have asked each client to commit to working with a therapist (counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist) and/or a professional organizer after I leave. (The organizing-filming only lasts 2 days and there are a lot of stops and starts for the film crew to change batteries, etc.) While it’s OK with me if the therapist isn’t on site at the same time I’m working with the client, I always stress the importance of the therapist-client-organizer relationship. There will be no lasting change if the hoarder is not willing to also work with a mental health professional for some period of time.
Decluttering and organizing inevitably unearth many emotions. Sometimes we come across things that bring the client to tears and the memories range from unpleasant to horrific. Organizers who have no mental health background or credentials are not qualified to deal with the complex issues, beliefs, thought patterns, and feelings triggered during this process. What we can do is gently note the particular issues and the emotions associated with them and suggest clients discuss them with the mental health practitioner on the team.
Professionals Respect Ground Rules
One of the unique things I’ve done with hoarders on this show is put together a team of qualified professional organizers to work with the client. In my experience on large projects, it’s best to bring in at least 3 or 4 organizers to help with sorting and categorizing belongings. These experienced organizers are respectful of the owner’s possessions and are able to work quietly so they don’t disturb the client who is working with me.
If you’ve been watching the series, you’ve probably noticed that one of the main ground rules for working with hoarders is that you don’t get rid of anything without prior approval from the client.
For example, I might have asked for permission to throw away all the wire hangers we find; or all moldy clothes, plastic stadium cups, disposable food containers and utensils, packets of soy sauce, anything that has expired—food, medications, vitamins. Some clients go along with this approach and some don’t. It depends on the client.
The organizers on my team are totally respectful of the ground rules, and understand that even an old packet of sugar can’t be tossed without the client’s prior permission.
It’s also important to stress to my clients that accidents do happen. Even with the best intentions things can get trashed, misplaced or damaged. We are all human and make mistakes so there has to be an agreement that if this happens, we will do our best to remedy the situation and keep moving forward.
If something like this does happen I suggest the client discuss “trust” with the therapist, if that seems an appropriate topic. In my experience, trust is a recurring theme with hoarders, particularly the lack of trust.
Beyond the Documentary of Hoarding
While the documentaries are filmed quickly, the recovery process is extremely slow and expensive. To experience success, hoarders must bring a strong commitment to and trust in the process and team members working with them.