The Nature of Hoarding by Marla Stone, Expert on Hoarding Disorder & Organizer to the Stars
Discovering the true meaning of "hoarding", which I term "over-collecting, saving" behaviors has been a treasure hunt for me the last seven years as a professional organizer. My biggest revelation, recently, though has been the understanding that people who have extreme over-collecting, saving and churning behaviors (over-piling, disorganized mess that is moved frequently) may be due to an overactive primitive part of the limbic brain system. According to Stephen J. Gislason MD in his neuroscience notes, he states "Old programs nested in the limbic system include the most essential routines of animals: establishment and fighting in defense of territory, foraging, hunting, homing, hoarding, formation of social groups, greeting, grooming, courtship, mating, flocking, and establishment of social hierarchy by ritualistic display. Nested in these old modules are programs inherited from reptiles that continue to dominate the human experience". Stephen J Gislason MD also recognizes that " insightful people will describe a split in their personalities as though automatic behaviors take over and consciousness simply monitors the events which follow. The idea of "will-power" is difficult to substantiate since there does not seem to be a brain procedure with which we reach from higher-level cognition down to machine level programming where automatic behaviors are produced." Therefore people who collect due to the strong drive of an ancient limbic brain system are not always able to have the will to become organized and neat. The lack of "insight" coupled with a hard wired primitive trait, that is stronger than the will, prohibits an organized lifestyle. The only success with people who are actively messy and disorganized comes when they start to have insight that they are unhappy with the behaviors and mess. They have an opening in their mind and heart to let someone come in to help them.
There are great educational programs, techniques and long-term assistance provided by professional organizers, but the one that is working the best is the I-Deal-Lifestyle method. This method has a "No get rid" of policy. Any person with years of clutter can become mess free. Understanding the beauty of categorizing, the aesthetic value of the home and or business, and creative storage of the items help keep more clutter from coming in, and an appreciation of what treasures have been collected. The I-Deal-Lifestyle method involves categorizing and identifying what is sentimental, what is loved, what is useful, and what serves a purpose. Also understanding what is used the most and what is used the least helps set up the system for a long-term organized lifestyle. For people with Hoarding Disorder going through their stuff to decide what to keep or throw, or purging can cause harm. Eliminating that process has proven greatly successful in categorizing clearing, containing people's belongings. Seeing all items that are treasured and owned has greatly diminished more collecting. One gentleman that had collected so much that he could not sleep on his bed or walk through his home, without stumbling claims "success with this method, since I can keep all my stuff and I know where it all is".
The person that goes through the I-Deal-Lifestyle method also starts to recognize their primitive limbic system sometimes is just that, a primitive response for survival. Realizing that objects they own will NOT help them survive in any way is key. The over-collector, and saver starts to grasp that the objects they own are are not needs for survival but simply objects that they want to keep..
At first, when I started to work with people who clutter I could not figure out why the over-collecting, saving and churning behaviors were so strong and guarded. It was confusing why people who do this self defeating and isolating behavior are so tied to their stuff, until I realized it is because their brain system may activate so differently than people who do not do the behaviors. The people I have worked with who have these obsessive, time consuming behaviors generally are most annoying to family, friends and neighbors. But I want to remind you about having unconditional regard and respect for every human. I also realized that the over-collectors, that lack insight, generally seem unaffected and proud of their large lots of stuff but are sensitive to the wrath and push they take from others.
I have talked to hundreds of people in the last seven years that are very protective of their collected property. They love, revel over, and fiercely protect what they have collected. They talk about what they own with pride and accomplishment. They actively move it around and around into large piles of mess and muster, leading the rest of the organized folks to think they obviously have a greater and darker force against ceasing and calming the fervent activity. But for the collector, it is an achievement to have so much, no matter how it is stored. Much like people collecting things, animal hoarding of food, and shelter materials result in the animal feeling happy about their collection in relationship to an accomplishment for survival. Yet what they collect is about true survival. People collect items that will never really help them survive, but they believe there is a connection between objects and survival. People who over-collect, save and churn have such an intense relationship to their belongings because they truly believe it is connected to survivorship. One woman recently stated "if I don't keep all of my things here I may end up in the streets or dead". She equated the brood of belongings with survival.
To understand if you, a loved one or friend actually meets criteria for a "Hoarding Disorder" the information below may help.
There now is an actual diagnosis of "Hoarding Disorder" and the criteria is listed in the DSM-5 (American Psychiatric Association, in press) as:
A. Persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of the value others may attribute to these possessions.
B. This difficulty is because of strong urges to save items and/or distress associated with discarding.
C. The symptoms result in the accumulation of a large number of possessions that fill up and clutter active living areas of the home or workplace to the extent that their intended use is no longer possible. If all living areas are uncluttered, it is only because of the interventions of third parties (e.g., family members, cleaners, authorities).
D. The symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (including maintaining a safe environment for self and others).
E. The hoarding symptoms are not due to a general medical condition (e.g., brain injury, cerebrovascular disease).
F. The hoarding symptoms are not restricted to the symptoms of another mental disorder (e.g., hoarding due to obsessions in obsessive–compulsive disorder, decreased energy in major depressive disorder, delusions in schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder, cognitive deficits in dementia, restricted interests in autism spectrum disorder, food storing in Prader–Willis Syndrome).
Specify if with excessive acquisition: If symptoms are accompanied by excessive collecting or buying or stealing of items that are not needed or for which there is no available space.
Specify whether hoarding beliefs and behaviors are currently characterized by
good or fair insight
Recognizes that hoarding-related beliefs and behaviors (pertaining to difficulty discarding items, clutter, or excessive acquisition) are problematic.
Poor insight: Mostly convinced that hoarding-related beliefs and behaviors (pertaining to difficulty discarding items, clutter, or excessive acquisition) are not problematic despite evidence to the contrary.
Absent insight: Completely convinced that hoarding-related beliefs and behaviors (pertaining to difficulty discarding items, clutter, or excess.
The above list of symptoms for most of us sound exhausting and fruitless. The fact is it takes a lot of energy, sweat and worry to create huge messes, stacking, piling, and stuffing of items, dragged in from all over, with some paranoid ideation that someone wants the stuff, and an inability to stop the behaviors until threatened, dragged out and or fined by local government. It must be somewhat disturbing for a person who has a love of stuff to have others reminding them that it is a "disorder". It must create deep unhappiness to know that many other's despise their clutter. It is a constant war against the clutterers and non-clutterers. But who is correct? There is no correct in mental illness, so let's turn it around to create mental wellness. Mental wellness, doesn't take away the disorder, but it can remove the symptoms.
Professional Organizers are the hands on people that want to help if someone does start to care about their environment. If someone is unsafe or intensely uncomfortable most of us want to help in some way. Organizers have an insight into human nature, coupled with an intense desire to help people, and an ability to stay focused and organized better than most. They can see that any room no matter what mess there is can be wonderful and functional, just as there is always sun above the clouds. Professional organizing services are a great fit for the immensely disorganized crowd of folks out there, as long as they let them in. Also the best organizers have the ability to see the big picture and the small details to bring a real mess into long-term clarity.
But again why is it important to invade a clutter bugs world and insist they become organized? The number one reason is safety. There are safety codes developed by cities, the fire department and neighborhoods that realize that hoards of stuff can be deadly. We all have heard the stories of people burning up in their own demise. The homes I have been in where crazy amounts of random stuff, piled as high as the ceiling and wide as the house, without even a path to walk through is not only sad, but an intense fire hazard. Homes known to the fire departments across the world, that have immense clutter, are avoided during fire emergencies. The fire department keeps track of such homes and they know that it is a death trap. Fire personnel will not go in when there is a fire, if it is that dangerous. Adult protective services will remove elderly people who create mausoleums in their houses due to hazardous falls and dangers. Some of the safety hazards of clutter are: infectious disease, fire, rodents, falls, cuts, bruises, breathing in unhealthy dust, not being able to access life sustaining medications and or food or water. The criteria for a well kept home are according to the L.A. County DMH Hoarding Task Force L.A. Fire Code Safety & Evacuation Standards
I would add no random piles of items in corners, under the bed, in the oven or stove, in rafters or shelves of the garage, no boxes of random items, and papers where unknown items are. No stacking of unknown material in paper boxes. no stored glass objects and unknown fluids in glass or plastic, no dusty areas combined with hair and materials on or in lighting fixtures, no old hair. and or makeup products, or old paint or cleaners products, old medications and anything else that can be a potential for danger.
So to conclude getting organized is not for everyone, but anyone can be organized when they are ready, or when boundaries are set for those that are unsafe.
Marla Stone, MSW, Professional Organizer, Lifestyle Coach, Decor and Feng Shui Specialist, Author and Public Speaker owns and operates www.I-Deal-Lifestyle.com
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Feng Shui in Southern California, Orange County, Los Angeles and San Diego is most magical and mystical when practiced by Marla Stone, MSW, Lifestyle Coach, Feng Shui and Decor Specialist. Marla's background as a Psychotherapist and Social Worker, plus her years of experience as a Professional Organizer, and 25 years of practicing Feng Shui, allow her to go through your home effectively giving advice and suggestions so your home and office space will have better energy and flow. Marla claims "using Feng Shui as a template for organizing makes it interesting and puts some structure and zing into the effect of the end result."
Marla Stone, I-Deal-Lifestyle, Professional Organizer, will help you learn how to Feng Shui your home, bookcases, built-ins and your desk. She explains that "Feng Shui is an ancient artistic practice of placing objects in your home in a special way to create balance and harmony, wellness, prosperity, romance, friendships, family harmony, health, creativity and wisdom". If you don't think it is real, Marla will tell you "it is". She sees how people naturally, actually, Feng Shui without even ever knowing it existed. Her expertise in moving furniture around and placing your decor in special places immediately has an effect on the occupants of the home or office.
A Feng Shui Template divides your home into 9 separate but equal areas. These areas are called Baguas. Imagine this bagua map as a template you could place over your floor plan. If you have two or more stories to your home, the template is used for each floor individually. If your home is a perfect square or rectangular shape it will be very easy to locate the different baguas. If your home is not a perfect rectangular shape then you may have "missing" parts to your home that would have to be “built up” with Feng Shui ideas in order to maintain balance and harmony.
Feng Shui can be a fun and an interesting motivator for purging and organizing a large collection and or a hoarding situation that has become life threatening. Feng Shui or as many think Fung Shway will also serve as a great tool just to have fun. It may just increase your wealth, fame, love and relationships, children‘s well being, family togetherness, health, skills and knowledge, career, wisdom and travel. Think of moving your items around and appointing meaning to the movement as part of the "law of attraction".
Below is a list of Feng Shui tips that you can start to use now.
FENG SHUI TIPS
1. Clean Windows. Like your eyes are the windows of the soul, windows are the eyes of your home. When you have dirty windows it is a symbol that your vision is blinded and cloudy. Clean windows help you see all your potential and opportunities clearly. You will have a clear horizon ahead.
2. Replace Burned Out Light Bulbs Or Broken Lamps Or Lights. You cannot see your future prospects if your lamps and lights and bulbs are burnt out. It also means you are burnt out. Get your lighting straight and see your bright and favorable life ahead of you.
3. Tighten Knobs, Door Handles, and Bathroom Faucets. When you have loose handles you lose your grip. Everything just slips away and you can’t hold onto money, friends, family or anything you’re working on wrapping your arms around or your brain for that matter.
4. Make Sure You Have Healthy and Live Plants, Not Dead Ones. Dead plants are dead energy. Always have lively and happy plants that are well watered and fed. Fame, recognition, expansion, financial prosperity and health depend on healthy living things in your home and office.
5. Keep Toilet Lids Down And Drains Covered. Leave toilet seats down in order to protect your chi (energy) from going down the drain. You don’t want to flush away or drain your wealth, knowledge, health or other valuables down the toilet. Keep a lid on all toilets, and close the drains while not using, and close the door to all bathrooms when you leave.
6. Nothing Under The Bed. Storing items of any kind under your bed will not make for a restful and peaceful slumber. You will be restless. All that stuff, stuffed under the bed, is hindering your dream state and your waking life. It symbolizes underlying issues which you cannot sort through.
7. Clean Mirrors. When your mirrors are dirty you cannot see yourself clearly. It is impossible for anyone else to see you if you cannot see yourself. Plus, like my mother always said when we would see someone who looked disheveled, “Did they look in the mirror this morning?” When your mirrors are sprayed with toothpaste and dirt you cannot attract what you desire in life. You will miss out on clear opportunities, people and self understanding.
8. Clean Front Door. This is the first thing people see when they come to your home and it represents the beginning with you. Energy comes in and out of our doors and windows. Your front door area when clean brings positive energy and when dirty and unattractive repels abundance. Put some purple flowers near the front door and bring abundance.
9. Nothing Behind Doors. Having items and mirrors or pictures or anything behind a door means you have a hidden agenda. It also blocks free passage for new blocked doors represent blocked opportunities; remove anything that keeps doors from opening completely and you will expand your options.
10. Fix Drips and Leaks. Leaking water represents leaking wealth; fix your leaks and you will keep money from draining out of your life.
History of Feng Shui
"I don't have to believe in Feng Shui, but I use it because it makes me money."
- Donald Trump
Feng Shui History-Marla Stone
Feng Shui is as old as old, as it is documented from nearly 4000 years ago. The beginning of Feng Shui starts with the “Wu Chi” which means “primal energy”. The ancient Chinese understood that ALL things in the universe have energy or “spirit”. They looked at the material aspects of life with a dualistic viewpoint; nothing and everything, full and empty, rapid motion and stillness, and finally the symbol Yin/Yang was created. The understanding of the patterns of change and how time affects ALL things, the philosophy and wisdom cyclical forces of the planet into what is now known as Feng Shui. It is said that a tortoise shell was seen by the River Lo, and markings on the “dragon horse” displayed a relationship to numerology; an understanding that there are patterns, sequences, cycles and energies or elements which we can observe and fluctuate to determine our course of life over time. As time went on many different teachings of Feng Shui developed and then it was discovered by the British. The British whispered and spread the word of Feng Shui to the West as they sailed back from Hong Kong to their native land. Easterners and Westerners have been applying Feng Shui to their love of constructing buildings and homes ever since. The phrase Feng Shui means Wind and Water, the most basic forms of energy. In China and in Britain, having a view of the ocean, a river, stream lake or pond can bring prosperity as long as it is in front of the dwelling. The Feng Shui Consultant concentrates on the land surrounding and beneath your construction, how the building or home is constructed, the birth time of your dwelling, the direction it faces, and how all the items in the space are placed. If everything is done in accordance with “the wind and the water”, and the harmony and energy of the site, and the building and items in the building are in balance, then and only then can you bring and keep “good chi” or “good energy” to and in the dwelling. The elements placed in the building or home, identified carefully by the Feng Shui Consultant, are symbols of water, wood, fire, metal or water. The back of a turtle, with the divided squares on its shell, symbolizes the separate areas or squares of the dwelling. The building or home’s floor plan is divided into separate areas or squares and each square or “bagua” symbolizes either career, skills &knowledge, helping people, family, health, children & creativity, prosperity, fame &recognition or love &relationships. The way the constructed site lies, whether it is on flat, hilly or mountainous terrain, near water, facing north, south, east or west, where the trees are on the property, and or any wires, buildings, roads, traffic or train tracks, noise or disturbance all determines how the elements will be placed in the squares of the garden and dwelling.
Here are a dozen things you can do, in 10 minutes at a time, to reduce clutter.
1. Test all of your pens and markers and get rid of the “dead” ones, then sharpen all of your pencils.
2. Arrange the hangers in your closet so they all face the same way. If possible, replace all the wire hangers with more substantial ones.
3. Wipe the dust from the leaves of your plants, both natural plants and silk, and get rid of dried flowers since they represent dead energy.
4. Download the pictures from your digital camera and store them on your computer or on a disk.
5. Remove the outdated photos and notes from the refrigerator door and kitchen bulletin board.
6. Get rid of three things from your refrigerator that are old, expired, crystallized, or “fuzzy.”
7. Remove the ATM slips, receipts, candy wrappers, expired coupons, and other junk from your purse or briefcase.
8. Arrange the bills in your wallet so they all face the same way, in order of value, because disregard for your money represents disregard for your wealth.
9. Go through your bathroom medicine cabinet and throw away all expired prescriptions, sunscreen, vitamins, and supplements.
10. Place that bag of clothes to be donated right near the door so you will take it with you the next time you leave the house.
11. Open the filing cabinet or file drawer in your home office and pull out five files you no longer need, then shred the contents.
12. Go through your stack of magazines, rip out the articles you really want to read, and then recycle what’s left of the magazine.
Get started now and if you want a free 30 minute phone consult with Marla Stone please call 949-709-7000
Here you will find an array of blog articles about decluttering your home, life and how to improve your business strategy
Marla is known as the Declutter Your Strategy™ expert. Marla earned her BA in Psychology and a Master's in Social Work and is the founder of