You love your partner, child, mom, your dad, grandparent, your sister, brother, cousins, best friend and neighbor. You love who you love, but you don't always love their behaviors, their lifestyle and or their space.
People with hoarding and cluttering (h & c) behaviors or extensive collecting (ec) behaviors have difficulty connecting their behavior to safety and well being. And you will most likely not help them connect the dots either. Studies have been done that indicate family members, and close friends, even loving ones, can be a trigger to increase the h & c behaviors.
Not all people with h & c behaviors come from homes where hoarding took place. There may be a link to Father / Child Disruption, damage or broken relationships and feeding schedules upon birth.
OCD Obsessive Compulsive and OCD Hoarding Behaviors are not illnesses like Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Major Depression, PTSD, Panic Disorder where symptoms seem to be somewhat similar within different people all over the world. I am certainly not down playing the seriousness of any other mental health challenge but h & c behaviors are so varied, and with so many different collecting patterns and objects collected, that in some cases the symptoms are simply mind boggling. I knew a person who suffered so badly she could not leave her bathroom without putting up and down the toilet seat for hours at a time. Often she reported that she was in her bathroom without food or water for up to 3-4 hours at a time, convinced she had to do this act or all hell would break loose. The compulsion to focus on the toilet seat was link to avoidance of walking through the clutter and out the door. It can be a very mysterious set of circumstances which trigger hoarding and collecting behaviors.
There are different types of hoarding behaviors, some are fear based, others guilt based and then sentimental based. People can hoard just from their own mail, grocery items, free newspaper stands, dumpsters or by shopping and collecting. Every case is a unique eye opener. I heard about a man who hoards milk cartons. There must be 1000's of milk cartons in his home. He created a maze of milk cartons. It is complicated but there are solutions.
Freud believed it had to do with object relations, a personalized view of the object and attachment to the objects, and of course Jung's ideas are that the objects hoarded are symbols of self, life and perceptions.
The behaviors can be annoying, scary, tedious, sad and exhausting for family members who attempt to intervene. You are not alone. They are alone much of the time though. Most people with h & c behaviors feel isolated, ashamed, angry, frustrated, lost and ineffective about their space and their motivation to do anything about the mess around themselves. There behaviors are not a way to sabotage you, or an act of being passive aggressive, it is a serious mental health challenge.
It is an old mental health challenge that has a long history, but not a long history of research or solutions. Mental health practitioners, educators and researchers are now becoming more and more interested in the subject and the people who have h & c behaviors.
Hoarding is an International epidemic, but there is a help out there for you and your loved one.
In each community there are task forces going out to help people with h & c behaviors. They are not there day and night or in an emergency, but with planning and contact they will intervene with your loved one.
Don't take a family member's hoarding and cluttering lightly. It is a very serious challenge and can be life threatening. There is always a way to see the light and create a path for people with h &c behaviors.
Help people get the help they deserve. People with mental health challenges, even when they do not want intervention it is a necessity when behaviors become life threatening, harmful to self, harmful to others, persistently and acutely disabled and or gravely disabled. When someone is living in a pile of trash and stuff so high that they cannot safely move around, without falling, or when a fire department refuses to enter a space with too much stuff it is time to intervene. Don't wait until a tragedy occurs. You may feel responsible and unhappy for years to come if you don't call on people that can come and give your loved one support and services. The task force is not there to harass the property owner, or the family or take over property.
The task forces are there to help people with h & c behaviors connect to intervention, services and programs.
Most of the time the task force in your area will consist of a fireman, adult protective worker city worker, social worker, a professional organizer and volunteers. These groups of people, that make house calls, do this to help people break down the barricades that hold them back from enjoying their ideal lifestyle. I call the barricade of stuff a self made prison system with a forever pass to go free.
Mental Health Consultant/Speaker
Professional Organizer, Lifestyle Coach, Feng Shui and Decor Specialist
Speaking for the Mental Health Association of San Francisco's Hoarding and Cluttering Convention is always exciting. "How To Organize Your Space with a Feng Shui Template" was welcomed by the audience. They seemed to enjoy it, as much as I did, since it focused off the clutter and more on a fun and easy solution to clearing the path.
There were so many helpers at this convention working on all kinds of solutions to help people with over-collecting and accumulating. The researchers attending indicate it is biopsychosocial (genetic, emotional and environmental).
Hoarding disorder and OCD may factor in to the more serious cases. Once the objects, stuff and items build up into a barricade, and the people living in the space can barely move, creating psychosis, depression, anxiety, fire hazards, and possibly even death it becomes dangerous. You can read more about these challenges in a previous article at
Professional Organizers are the "Friendly Visitors". We are there to help you get back on your feet with creativity, clarity and vision.
Social workers, marriage and family therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists and educators don't go to people's home or lift a finger to do much of the work to help someone with hoarding mental health challenges. My friends, family, colleagues, who are mental health practitioners do help people tremendously, but the kindness and compassion and physical aspect of going into someone's home to transform it is helping from the inside out.
The boundary issues prohibit so much of what mental health practitioners provide and offer. Anyone who wants to help a hoarding situation will want to roll up their sleeves and pitch in. When that is not comfortable for a practitioner / family member / or friend then the helping is better left to a professional organizer with some mental health background.
I realized once a "friendly visitor" always a "friendly visitor". You either have the knack to help others get organized to have resolve in their lives or you don't. There is no in-between in being a Professional Organizer.
Getting organized is hard work, taking tenacity, thoughtfulness and strategy for both the Organizer and the person with hoarding and cluttering challenges.
Most educators at the convention concurred that many people with clutter/hoarding disorders do not go to therapy. Probably something to do with attachment issues, which means the stuff they collect is friendly and fuzzier then people may be. The client may not want to discuss anything to do with moving, getting rid of, or organizing their stuff. The stuff issue is just to personal and painful.
For people with clutter and hoarding challenges other people, who get close to them, may pose unsafe possibilities (people wanting to get rid of their charged items, judgment, abuse, removal from their home). The objects start to take life, meaning and then a relationship is formed. Also things that are collected may hold memories, ideas, thoughts and images of a time, person, place.
The mind has now made a simple ice cream wrapper a time spent on the beach with a person's absent son, brother, husband or friend.
It is a seriously isolating. It is seriously challenging. It is seriously difficult to stop.
I have four very close friends and family members who suffer with their barricades and the one common link I found is a broken and damaged relationship with their fathers. I started to talk to clients I work with and it may be a greater possibility that the paternal modeling is essential in future organizing skills.
Marla Stone is a retired Social Worker and Therapist who is now a Professional Organizer helping people from the inside out.
Mental Health Consulting at www.southocwellness.com
Feng Shui and Decor Specialist
Marla is known as the organizing clutter therapist®. Marla earned her BA in Psychology and a Master's in Social Work and is the founder of I-Deal-Lifestyle, a Self and Space Organization Service.