Case Study 5 – Hoarder

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Case Study 5 – Hoarder

The client: When Deanna opened her door, tears came to my eyes.  There was not one place to sit, to eat, to read, to do anything.  The walls were lined with boxes, and she had to walk through paths to get from one room to another.
Deanna saved everything.  Plastic cartons, grocery store bags, books, advertising circulars, magazines, broken toys and electronic equipment, jars… you name it. She was a compulsive saver.  She said to me, “I see beauty in everything.”
The issue:  Deanna’s issue was that she was a compulsive collector, otherwise known as a hoarder.  Hoarding, now considered a mental issue by the Departments of psychiatry (made that up) and listed as a condition in the DSMV, hoarding has received national attention of late.  There are TV shows that show us what hoarding looks like.  Hoarders are generally ashamed of their situation, but seem to be unable to affect it.
In Deanna’s case, she had some issues with her air conditioner, and she needed to have a repairman come in, so she was willing to allow us into her “domain of shame.”
Deanna was afraid that we were going to force her to throw her things away.  I assured her that we don’t throw ANYTHING in the trash; that would be her job, and that nothing will happen without her knowledge and consent.
The process: I talked with Deanna at length, and I told her that I believe that organizing is a function of three things…habits, tools, and systems.  If she can find a consistent time every day, if she is willing to invest in a few inexpensive “tools” (such as filing trays and bankers boxes), and if she is willing to adopt a few simple systems, I believe we can make marked improvement in her living condition.
Armed with a willingness to “not have my children have to clean this up after I die,” Deanna said she was willing to give it a try.
  1. The first thing we did was to create a schematic of Deanna’s home, listing a function for each room.  She answered the question, “what activities would you like to do in this room when it is cleaned out?”  She only had to answer rudimentary questions – ex: sleep and get dressed in the bedroom, watch TV and listen to music in the Family Room, Eat in the dining room, cook in the kitchen, etc.  “The reason,” I explained, “is so that when we find things that we don’t know what to do with, we will have the schematic to fall back on.”  Also, we wanted to start the process of keeping like things together (ex: all books belong on a bookshelf, all music CD’s and DVD’s belong together in the room where they will be used, all toiletries belong in a bathroom or linen closet, etc.)
  2. After we laid out the parameters, and the reasons why, we began the process of sorting Deanna’s house out.  We put books near the bookcases, clothing in the bedrooms, kitchen items in the kitchen, CD’s and DVD’s in the family room, etc.  The items we couldn’t place, or the items that she didn’t know if she wanted or not, were placed in boxes to be decided later.  At this stage, Deanna didn’t have to throw anything away, and that part of the process surprised her, and calmed her at the same time, and she offered to start throwing things away on her own.  She would say, “”Why did I save this?  I can let it go!”  This process is explained in my book, 5 Days To A Clutter-Free House, co-authored with Sandra Felton.
  3. Once her house was sorted, and the right things were in each room (and of course she had discovered things she could let go of – like the broken radio that batteries had rusten in, and the broken 45 records, and the old calendars that nothing was written on), we were able to start placing things and making decisions.
Living room – The living room was easy, because almost nothing belonged in there.  We removed all of the clothes, shoes, books and papers from the sofas and chairs and floors, and boxed them accordingly, and put the clothes and shoes in the bedroom.
Kitchen – As we were putting the dishes away, we discovered that she had three entire sets of dishes.  “No wonder they won’t all fit in the cabinet!”  We made the decision to give one set to her daughter, and give the other set to a family at church who had a fire.  We put dishware and glasses and bowls in the upper cabinets, and pots and pans in the lower cabinet.  If something wouldn’t fit, we made a decision as to which ones to keep.
Bedrooms – By putting things in the bedrooms that belong in the bedrooms, we were able to see if there was enough storage for the things  that need to be kept there.  Clothes go in the closet, if there’s room.  Shoes go in the closet.  Belts and accessories may go in a closet or in a drawer.  Papers do not belong in a bedroom; they belong in the office or the room where papers will be handled.  All dishes were taken from the bedroom to the kitchen.
Etc… we went through every room of her house in exactly this way, until all of the important things were put away.  Things she couldn’t decide about were put in boxes labeled “maybe” and stored in the room where they ultimately belong.
4) The “maybe” boxes were tough; but I assured Deanna that was because she hadn’t been using her “organizing muscles,” and that this would help her give those muscles some exercise!  We went through mountains and mountains of “maybe” items, like the eight sets of Christmas lights and decorations, and angels, and wrapping paper. When we started we had 70 boxes of “maybe items.”  By the time we finished there were only 4.
5) The last thing we did was to move everything up to the level of beauty.  Deanna vacuumed the floor, wiped the dusty windowsills, replaced light bulbs, and in general cleaned up.  “Now that the clutter is basically gone, it makes me want to clean it.” Deanna sighed, “ Now my grandchildren will come and mess it all up… I’m so excited that they are coming!” 
The Outcome: Dania could not believe it!  Her house was clutter-free; her house had actually “melted,” and she felt uneasy. Uncomfortable.  What was wrong with her?  She had wanted this ever since her house became so cluttered after Jim left, but she could never get it that way.  Now that it was this way, she felt uncomfortable.
We recommended that Deanna talk to a life coach, who recommended a psychologist in her network.  Deanna went and started getting stronger in her belief that she could finally do this!
Last week she called me.  “Thank you, thank you, thank you!  I appreciate all the work you did for me!” My granddaughters are coming over on the weekend and I’m not ashamed to let them in this time!”

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