One of my favourite Professional Organising colleagues, Debbie Stanley, has given me permission to share an interview she did recently. I think you’ll find it useful, informative and educational.
Debbie is highly respected, highly knowledgeable, and a frequent face at the NAPO conference I attend most years in the USA. Even though she’s super friendly, I’m a little in awe of her expertise! Debbie runs the business Thoughs In Order (based in Austin, Texas) and offer consulting worldwide. Her specialty is mental health issues (her website has some impressive resources). You will also find her on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for sharing this brilliant info with my readers, Debbie!
• What are the potential harms of hoarding?
There are several types of harm that can come from hoarding behavior. Most urgent is safety risks, when they are present (and not all people who hoard have imminent safety risks). These can include the risk of fire from combustibles stored near sources of flame; structural damage such as floors or walls collapsing; and what I consider most significant, the risk of entrapment: Becoming entangled in your things and unable to get out in the event of an emergency. Hoarding can also make it difficult or impossible for rescue personnel to get in. Another category of risk is danger to the person’s health, such as respiratory ailments from long-term exposure to dust and risk of injury from lifting or stepping over things or from sleeping on a couch or floor instead of in a bed. A final category I’ll mention is the risk of damage to one’s relationships: Conflicts with people living in the home, isolation from others who can’t or won’t visit, and fear of rejection from others who don’t know about the hoarding. [Your final point is often ignored, but so important, Debbie]
• Is hoarding connected to self-worth?
Interesting; I don’t think I’ve ever had this exact question. I’d say feelings of low self-worth are often a consequence of hoarding, but there are other factors that would be a better explanation for why the hoarding behavior started.
• What does it take for someone to want to make a change?
Often people who hoard do want to change. Motivation isn’t the problem. Hoarding is a coping mechanism, so in order for the person to be able to change, that coping mechanism has to be replaced with something else. This is the core objective when I work with hoarding clients: Figuring out what the hoarding behavior has given them (e.g. perhaps a sense of security) and finding something less disruptive that can give them that same benefit. [I love this question! I feel like it brings the person back into the picture, rather than the stuff being the issue.]
• What are common causes of hoarding?
My clients often trace it back to traumatic experiences. [I figured as much with my early dealings with those who hoard]. It is a fear-based behavior. The traumatic experiences might be directly connected to belongings, such as coming home from school and finding that your mother threw away some of your toys, or they might be experiences that threatened the person’s sense of safety in a way unrelated to objects.
• What is the biggest myth about hoarders?
I don’t use the word “hoarders”; I say “people who hoard” or “people with hoarding behavior.” The biggest myth about people who hoard is that they can be helped by a fast, intervention-style cleanout. Forced or coerced cleanouts very often cause significant harm. The only time a fast project is appropriate is when the client has requested it and has worked with a mental health professional over a period of time to confirm that he or she is truly ready to let go of so much so quickly.
• You mentioned in EverydayHealth.com that hoarding is a distinct diagnosis, do you think others should acknowledge it as a more important issue?
It looks like it will become a distinct diagnosis in the next edition of the DSM, and that will bring it more attention from researchers and clinicians, and from there we can develop more treatment options and educational resources for clients and their families and friends. I do wish that popular culture would respect people with hoarding behavior rather than treating them like a circus sideshow.