I’m hoping by your random visit to Not Just Clutter that you’re someone seeking a deeper understanding of the mental disorder known as compulsive hoarding.  If you’re new here, I recommend reading some backstory.  For a quick snapshot, though, take a peek at the infographic below for some stats I bet you didn’t know about hoarders.  Seriously, it’s really Not Just Clutter!

Inside the Reality of Hoarding


The clutter on the passenger seat in a compulsive hoarders van

Passenger Seat, Photo taken 3 years before Mom accepted help to clean out her van.

It’s a brand new year.  Lots of opportunity to set new resolutions and goals.  And also opportunity for reflection.  I haven’t posted much in the last year.  I’ve started a number of posts, and then just couldn’t publish them.  It all felt rather, I don’t know, pointless.  After all, the recent holidays were also a grand opportunity to accumulate and hoard more stuff.

Not much has changed with my Mom.  Her health has SO many complications, and I’m positive most of them are linked to her living conditions.  Every year, I pray this is the last winter she’ll ever spend in her house with the holes in the roof, raccoon infestations, and $8000 oil bills.  And every year I can’t believe she’s still there.

She came to visit me a few times this year at my home.  Over the summer, I thought we made a break through when she asked me to help her clean out her van.  FINALLY!  She asked for help!  This is a HUGE step!  Like, mammoth!!!  Previously, she’d insist she didn’t see any problem with having her minivan filled to the roof with her hoard.  But this year, she acknowledged something needed to be done.

I took her to a private parking lot and we emptied about 80% of the stuff in her van.  Just pulled it all out onto the pavement and sorted it along the way.  I brought big garbage bags and we filled them for various reasons…laundry, donation, and even garbage.  I was so proud of Mom for being able to let go of some stuff that had been in her van for years…like a container of desiccated cupcakes she’d made for an event long in the past.  We tossed the whole thing, Tupperware and all.

Some stuff she wanted to give me.  Some of it was gifts she’d meant to give me for my birthday but had lost.  I think it was easier for her to give me some of stuff instead of dealing with the emotions associated with just throwing it away or donating to the unknown.  I accepted a small amount, but it still filled my own car.  A fraction made it into my actual house.  I admit I very quickly re-donated most of it.  We filled 5 bags of garbage, 4 bags for donation, and were able to recycle reams of old newspapers, envelopes, flyers, and such.  We spent 7 hours at it.

Seven hours.

And I happily helped.  I didn’t judge, and gave her positive support and feedback every time she made a hard decision.  I focused on the progress, and joked with her to help make it a fun day.  Then it got dark outside, and dinnertime passed, while we continued to sort.  Time came to put the remainder back in the van so she could take it all home and actually DO SOMETHING with it all at her own house.  Stuff she couldn’t bear to part with, like a plush life-sized golden retriever; a canister vacuum; patterns and recipe books; clothing; quilting fabric; yarn; sets of china and glassware which had broken; and decorative boxes for the “new” house she’d have someday.  A large amount of Christmas decorations was in that mix, which cracked me up, considering she doesn’t decorate for Christmas anymore and hasn’t for probably 15 years.

It all had to go back into the van.  And even after 7 hours, we hadn’t even put a dent in the pile on the front passenger seat, or even the middle row.  She barely has any place to sit as a landslide of papers and lace threaten to bury the drivers seat.

I thought for sure she’d have more space, but I guess everything had compressed so much before, putting it back in fresh seemed to take even more space!!!  She was astounded that after all that work, she STILL couldn’t see out any of the back windows!  That we had to play Tetris to get in every last bit.  That we had to hold the avalanche back with a hand and quickly snatch it out as we slammed the door shut.  She was mad at herself for letting it get this bad.

She vowed to do something about it when she got home.  But of course, she was tired after the long drive.  And it rained the next day.  And her shoulder hurt the day after that.  And when she came to visit us for Christmas a few months later, nothing had been removed from the van, and amazingly, more had been added to it.

I felt so defeated.  I just don’t know what to do.  What to think.  Or even what to say anymore.

Seeing her van even worse than before makes me worry about her driving the 3 hours back and forth to visit with me.  It’s a long stretch of highway.  What if there was an accident?  What if she had to brake suddenly and all that mass sitting behind her rushed forwards towards the back of her head?  What if the van rolled, and she got caught in a tornado of Christmas decorations, canister vacuums, and broken glassware??

And so here we are.  I wish I had better news to share with you.  I wish I could share my foolproof tips for finally getting your hoarding loved one on the road to recovery.  But I’m still wildly baffled by the whole situation.  I’ll admit it’s deeply embarrassing for me to have her van in my driveway…she doesn’t have tinted windows, so the hoard is plain to see by anyone walking by.  My children find the whole thing very curious and I have no good answers for them.

I guess I’m frustrated that the momentum was so short lived.  That over the span of months, Mom just couldn’t find the energy or emotional power to take out even a few things to make a dent.  And knowing this means it’s just going to get worse because her health (physical strength) isn’t getting any better.  I can only imagine what her house is like.

You might be wondering how things are going with my Mom. Her hoarding has not gotten much better, but nothing has really happened to change it. The winter was very stressful. Knowing there are gaping holes in her roof and walls of her house, heating has been a serious concern. There were a number of days where the temperature was down to 45 degrees…we had a pretty brutal winter. It was actually warmer for her to go out to her car and run the heater for a while. Of course, that has it’s own concerns. Last Fall, the fire department told her they didn’t want her to spend another winter in the house, but really, where would she go?

I worried all winter long, but she found endless excuses to not come for a visit. It’s really hard to stay enthusiastic when she doesn’t seem to want to spend time with me.

To fill the radio silence, I present another guest post from Heather Roberts. She’s also written other organizational type posts for me like 5 Ways Clutter Increases Pest Infestations.

When Your Tenant is a Compulsive Hoarder

There never really is a dull moment when you deal with tenants. There are some days however when we find that our tenants may have different ideas about living standards than what we originally intended, hoarding personal belongings and more. The typical landlord has to worry about late payments, noise disputes and their busy schedule, but it gets much more complicated when a hoarder is involved.

If you manage a high volume property, or even just rent out a room in your house, you may eventually be forced to address someone with compulsive hoarding disorder.

 Lease drafting

In most cases, lease agreements will have clauses that state the need for keeping apartments and houses in good condition by the tenants. Hoarding may easily lead to obstruction of passageways and may even create unsanitary conditions. Excessive hoarding becomes a safety risk, and may lead to issues with pest control and worse. If you have this type of hoarding around your property, you could include a hoarding clause in the lease so you can set things straight from the get-go. Mentioning it in your lease will let the tenants know your expectations.

It may seem excessive, but it could save you trouble in the long run. Do keep in mind that excessive cases of hoarding are pretty rare, so you may not need to worry about it too much, but a hoarding clause will give a solid position you can fall back on when confronting an awkward situation.

(*Editor’s Note:  Lease agreements are different in every city, state or province.  You’ll need to check with bylaws and legal terms which are appropriate for your area.)

 Dealing with a hoarder

If you DO find yourself having to confront a hoarding tenant, approach this person with sensitivity. Before you knock on their door, however, you would do well to tour the property. An alleged situation of hoarding may simply be the tenant organizing or reorganizing or even packing for a trip.  If the collection of belongings lingers, grows, and begins to impede clear movement, well, then you may have a real problem on your hands. A compulsive hoarder will likely be defensive or emotional about their belongings.  If you have a proper lease agreement, this is a good time to revisit it with your tenant.  It might be difficult to determine if this is a case of true hoarding or simple neglect, but either way, you should still know that 30 days is usually the minimum of time you need to give your tenants to clean up before asking them to vacate the premises. This should happen only if they insist on maintaining this type of environment and they ignore your warnings and the lease agreement.

(*Editor’s Note: each case is different.  This is a mental disorder, which needs to be treated appropriately.  If there are safety concerns, you may also receive guidance from your local housing authority, the Fire Department, or Public Health office.)

For more house cleaning ideas and end of tenancy cleaning tips you can contact: Chelsea professional end of lease cleaners.

Guest Post:  When Pests Move In

It’s easy to make a serious mess around your attic, garage or basement around the house, losing those spaces to excessive clutter. There is a point, though, at which things become not just frustrating and dangerous for you, but also quite welcoming for a number of pests. Adding more clutter around your home increases your chance for pest infestation risk and hides their nests.  Once they’re inside your home things will get even worse, so you will need to work on eliminating those hiding spots to keep that from happening in the first place. What really makes clutter and hoarding great for pests to enjoy? Well, first of all, pests need a base of three elements to survive and thrive, as demonstrated by the following tips:

1. Hide & Seek

Pests can hide in boxes, clothing, piles of paper, inside your walls, inside furniture, sometimes even inside a vacuum cleaner if you haven’t really put it to good use lately. If you deny them shelter, they will have a much harder time surviving in your home and making a mess out of things.  Disturb the boxes and move things around and out of your home.  Most pests don’t want to be near the action.

2. Food sources

Row of garbage and recycle binsPests will be attracted to a number of things that present a food source for them, such as food scraps and debris, as well as dust in case of a lot of insects. Ensure they get no chance to enjoy a viable food source, as they must not be allowed to thrive around your home.  Eliminate dirty food containers, empty the recycle bin weekly (or more often), keep garbage bags with food scraps properly stored, and mostly importantly, do it all immediately.  Once dirty plates or containers get hidden behind other clutter, it’ll become out of sight out of mind…for you.  Not for pests.

3. Water sources

Dripping or leaky pipes, condensation, and more will attract pests to an area, not to mention the fact that mold may form.  Mold, aside from being a directly air quality concern for you, it may also serve as food for some species such as the foreign grain beetle.  The beetles might find their way into your pantry, or congregate around the damp areas near plumbing in your walls.  Rats, mice, raccoons, bed bugs, cockroaches and other insects are all nightmares you really don’t want to have to deal with.

4. Health hazards Spread by pests

Taking out the garbage and remove food sources for pests.Rats and mice are capable of spreading pathogens through their feces and urine, as they tend to mark their territories and communicate through their urine. They can also contaminate food sources and surfaces, especially when you’re not around and you’re not looking. Roaches can also cause asthma and allergies in young children. Bed bugs may migrate around your entire home if you’re not careful, and they tend to leave some pretty painful and annoying bites. Rodents may also chew on wires, which could instigate fires, which brings us to our last point.

5. Unpleasant environments

Removing garbage and recycling from your home.If you have ever had the unfortunate fate of seeing what a place looks like after rats have gone through it, then you probably know what it feels like. The heavy, terrible smell of rat urine and droppings, the constant gnawing on boxes, furniture and more, the stress of letting the pest pass you into another room if you’re not careful. There’s also risk for your family pet. Are you comfortable letting your dog or cat wander the house freely if you have a flea infestation, or nesting squirrels?  All of this can be avoided if you focus on decluttering, junk removal, waste removal, furniture clearance and so on where you can keep things under control so pest infestations will never happen in the first place.

Article provided by London House Clearance Ltd. – a team of professionals that can help you with the garden waste removal and the garage clearance.

Today I present a guest post by Molly Nox.  Molly is an aspiring grad student in Clinical Psychology, with a keen interest in Compulsive Hoarding.

The Connection Between OCD & Hoarding

Individuals who have a hard time throwing anything away may end up with a big mess on their

hands. Even though their quality of life is impacted, their spouses object, and their children are

embarrassed to have friends over, hoarders are still unable to part with their accumulations.

Hoarders often suffer from other mood and anxiety disorders, and their clutter often reaches a

point where psychiatric intervention and professional hoarding cleanup services need to be

called in order to begin recovery from Hoarding Disorder.

What Is the Link Between Hoarding and OCD?

Obsessive compulsive disorder is a mental challenge in which the sufferer exhibits some sort of

irrational, repeated behavior and cannot seem to stop him or herself. Historically, psychologists

classified hoarding solely as a symptom of OCD; recently, after the publication of the DSM-5,

Hoarding Disorder has been recognized as a separate disorder completely.

It is true that many people who have Hoarding Disorder also suffer from OCD, but the link is not

as concrete as once believed. Approximately 18% of people who have Hoarding Disorder also

have been diagnosed with OCD. While this is a significant number, it is worth noting that a

staggering 92% of people with Hoarding Disorder also suffer from other psychiatric conditions,

with over 50% having clinical depression. It appears that Hoarding Disorder is not as closely

linked to OCD as it is with other disorders such as depression and General Anxiety Disorder.

Another aspect in which Hoarding Disorder and OCD differ is their treatment. In the past, people

who exhibited hoarding symptoms were diagnosed with OCD and treated accordingly. We now

know that people with hoarding symptoms are very unlikely to respond to traditional OCD

treatment. Hoarding Disorder is notoriously difficult to treat, but interventions targeted

specifically toward hoarding symptoms show the most promising success rates.

Why Does a Person Become a Hoarder?

While there is no clear consensus on the cause of Hoarding Disorder, there are a handful of

contributing factors to consider:

  • Genetics – Hoarding Disorder tends to run in families. Researchers have found patterns

in chromosome 14 that are unique to families with multiple hoarders.

  • Trauma – Trauma often plays a significant part in the onset or expression of hoarding

behavior. This does not necessarily mean that trauma is a cause of Hoarding Disorder; it

is, however, considered a factor that can cause a “break” in a person who is already

genetically predisposed.

  • Biology – A recent study found that individuals with Hoarding Disorder experienced

frontal brain hypoactivity. This is a condition that leads to decreased dopamine levels in

the brain and is commonly associated with addiction. Frontal brain hypoactivity is not as

common in people diagnosed with PTSD though, which is further evidence that OCD and

Hoarding Disorder are very different indeed.

Why Call a Mental Health Professional?

Hoarding Disorder is a condition that goes untreated in a worrisome 80% of cases. Many

hoarders either do not think they need treatment or think treatment will not help them.

Treatments for Hoarding Disorder have improved drastically in recent years, but public

perception has not improved with it.

If the accumulation of excessive things is negatively affecting the hoarder’s quality of life and

relationships, then psychiatric evaluation is highly recommended. Therapy can begin the process

of helping a hoarder understand their compulsions and eventually live a clutter-free life. It can

be helpful to seek a therapist who specializes in helping patients who suffer from compulsive

hoarding and its related disorders. Additionally, enlisting in professional cleaning services to

clean up the entire site can help make their home inhabitable again.

Molly Nox is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. She’s a California dreamer with a penchant for handwritten letters, the New York Times, and dark roast coffee. Follow her on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/mollynox

I was recently contacted by a producer for the TV show Divorce Court with Judge Lynn Toler.  The show is shot and produced in Los Angeles, CA.  Personally, I’ve never seen the show, but if you live in the LA area, this might interest you.

From the Producer, Sybil Curry:

We are currently looking for local couples who need an in home marital/relationship intervention as well as assistance with their compulsive hoarding. These potential couples say this problem is causing stress on their relationship. There is a substantial appearance fee as well as location fee; this will be taped in their home.  If you have any leads in California I would appreciate it.

You can reach Sybil Curry via this email address or directly at 323-762-7725.

It’s been a while.  A long while.  There’s SO much to tell you about, but we’re still in the thick of some mental messiness and I don’t even know where to begin.  Who knew compulsive hoarding could cause such havoc.

Deep Dark Depression

Back in July, my Mother called me in tears.  She had been hiding it from me, but she finally revealed she’d been sliding down a dark tunnel with her depression.  By the time she called, she was feeling suicidal.

There’s nothing to prepare you for hearing your mother express her wish to be dead.

Her sobs.  Her confusion.  Her complete and utter lack of hope.  She was overwhelmed by blackness and to her, ending it all seemed highly appealing.  I was at a loss of what to do.

With Mom’s permission, I called her doctor and was able to talk about how to support Mom at this time while living hours away.  The doctor said to just stay supportive and let her know I care.

The next few weeks were a roller coaster.  I checked in with Mom every day to see how she was doing.  There were times when she didn’t answer her phone for what felt like forever.  She would call me back sobbing, incoherent even.  She told me she was imagining all sorts of ways to kill herself.  How she didn’t have the energy to try to get better.  That the pain and loneliness was just too much to bear.

The scariest was the night she called me from a parking lot and confessed she couldn’t remember how she got there.  Her mind was erratic, and she was convinced all sorts of plots were being hatched to hurt her.  She was having black outs, she wasn’t sleepy or eating, not taking her medicine, and was spending way too much time sitting in her van roasting on hot, hot summer days.

In the meantime, I was researching a course of action.  Could I take her to the hospital?  Was there a mental health walk in clinic option?  Should I call the police to check up on her?  I talked to my employer about taking time off so I could come down and get someone to evaluate my mother before she did something serious.


Then, the day before I planned to head home, something happened.  Mom’s doctor tried calling my Mom, and became alarmed when she couldn’t get a hold of her.  Knowing her fragile mental state, the doctor called 911.

Mom awoke to the sound of voices in the hallway outside her bedroom door.  She had finally gotten to sleep and didn’t hear the phone ringing or people banging on the front door.  A police officer, paramedics, and a social worker were all there to make sure she was ok.  The social worker later told me it took about 20 minutes for the police to actually find my mother in her home.  Moving through the piles of stuff in her house would be difficult, indeed.

The 911 response team wanted to take Mom to the hospital for a psychiatric assessment.  She refused, and there wasn’t anything they could do to change her mind.  Apparently the paramedic used the term “hoarder” and that made her really mad.  At least the social worker was able to get Mom to agree to come chat with her the next day.

When I learned of all this, I was relieved to know I wasn’t going to have to deal with this all alone.  A team of trained professionals was now on the scene and I thought we’d finally get Mom some help.  Turns out, it’s harder than it seems, and the story continues.

I’m pretty drained at this point, so the story will come in bits and pieces as I feel up to it.  There are plenty of ups and downs to this story, and it’s not even close to over.

I said to my Mother “When you’re ready to accept my help, let me know.  Until then….”  I trailed off.  She replied, “Until then, I’m dead to you, is that it?  Well, so be it.”

Those were the last words we shared before she hung up on me.  And I can’t help but wonder if those are the last words I’ll ever hear from her.

It started off innocently enough.  The regular Sunday night phone call to catch up on the week had grown increasingly shallow over the past few years.  Mom, on her cell phone, would undoubtedly be browsing in a store somewhere, and I’d get to hear commentary about other shoppers she observed, or comparisons on various household products.  Tonight was about coloured toilet paper.  I asked for updates on doctors appointments, but specialist appointments are always “some time next month” and “no, I haven’t heard back on test results.”

Eventually, conversation turned to her house.  “Wouldn’t you know it, ANOTHER bird got into the house!  It woke me up this morning fluttering around my room.  And there were 2 raccoons in the wall behind my headboard fighting.  You wouldn’t believe the racket!”  If you’re new to reading Not Just Clutter, let me assure you my Mom is not an animated princess who can command woodland animals.  Nope.  She simply lives in a rapidly deteriorating house where raccoons and other wildlife find refuge.  This is where things start to go south.

Since Dad died 8 years ago, she hasn’t been able to keep up maintenance.  She needs to move out and sell the property (and really, it’s the property that has value, not the house).  It’s not safe or healthy.  The whole place is falling apart and is packed to the rafters with her hoard.  Clearly, somewhere has crumbled enough that all sorts of critters are finding their way in.  She’s had trouble with raccoons for years.  And that bird?  That’s the third on in as many weeks.

I’ve been trying to encourage her to make more actionable plans to move out of this house.  She really resents this though, and any time I gently mention it, she finds a way to turn things around.  Like, mentioning the doctor thinks she has a heart problem.  Or she suspects her cancer is back.

Or she’ll try to deflect and say she’s working on things slowly in her own way.  “I’m not going to worry about it, and it’ll all work out in the end” is a common refrain.  But I worry.  Knowing all her ailments, including a frozen shoulder, shortness of breath, and limited mobility, I’ve offered to go help her.  I told her “Let me be your muscle.”  I know she can’t carry much, if anything, up and down stairs, so I’d be happy to be the pack mule if she points out what to move.  But she refuses any help and has her priorities all skewed.

If I lived in a house overrun by wildlife, I’d fill a suitcase and get out.  Instead, she insists she has to organize her craft supplies first.  I can’t possibly help her with that either because I “don’t know the difference between worsted weight, cotton, polyester, or wool” yarns.  I reminded her the birds are probably pooping on it, and the ‘coons are nesting in it.  She was pretty indignant after that.

I’ve tried my hardest to be patient.  I’m the one who always tries to be diplomatic.  I just couldn’t hold it in any more tonight.  I kept calm and rational, but I laid it out honestly with her.  I called her out for making excuses and procrastinating.  I told her I can’t understand why she won’t accept my help, when all I want is for her to be in a safe, comfortable home.  She insists she wants to do it independently because if she accepts help then she’s a failure.

I said imagine if you came across a person fallen to the ground, and you put your hand out to help.  If that person reaches up to accept your help off the ground, are they a failure?  Do you judge them?  I’m just reaching out my hand.

She accused me of making her more depressed.  Then she accused me of conspiring with my sister to make her miserable.  And THEN she said maybe it was best if we just cut ties all together.

That’s when I told her to think about my offer and get back to me when she’s ready to accept the help.  I don’t know what the next step is.  I’m so torn.  She’s so stubborn she might let her pride lead her, and she won’t call me again.  If I call, then what?  Go back to the same vacuous relationship where we talk about coloured toilet paper?  Do I pretend everything is ok?  Do I ignore my nightmares of her dying in her house because she couldn’t find her way through her hoard in a fire?  Do I keep pressing her?  If I don’t call, she’s alone.  No family left.  That’s not the kind of daughter I want to be, but at some point, I have my own mental health to think of.

Either way, hearing my own mother say “I’m dead to you” is a harsh way to end a phone call.

There are some days when I contemplate exactly what it’ll be like to clean up my Mother’s house some day.  The monumental piles of stuff is a given, but what will the walls, carpet, counter tops, and the actual structure of the house be like?  My best guess?  Covered in mold.

Natural Mold Cleaning Tips2And the last thing I want is to compound the toxicity with more chemicals, but luckily there are some natural options.  Things have been pretty busy for me lately, so I invited Heather Roberts to guest post.  Mold might run rampant in a hoarder’s home, but really, it can be found in any house where dampness is left unattended.

Guest Post: Cleaning Mold Naturally

One of the greatest problems in any home, given the right circumstances is the uncontrolled proliferation of mold due to neglect.  Mold and mildew can be a real pain in hot and humid conditions, and that makes them a doubly serious issue when you have large quantities of personal belongings in a home that have not been moved for years.  Such is usually the case with hoarders, so this makes mold something that needs to be dealt with as soon as possible.  Even though you can usually keep it at bay through the use of dehumidifiers, you can still experience it.  There are a good deal of natural materials you can use to spray or remove mildew and mold.  They can be a wonderful substitute for the hazardous fumes bleach produces.  In this article we will cover most of them as possible solutions to your problem:

  • You can use tea tree oil, which is often found in health food stores as a great cleaning material that acts as a natural mold killer.  It may be the most expensive option on this list and it may have a strong scent that disappears within a few days, however it also has one of the most effective qualities in our list, completely eliminating mold from ceilings, rugs, showers and so forth.  You can combine two teaspoons of it with two cups of water, then using that as a spray you can eliminate mold on any given spot.  You don’t need to rinse it and it can be used even months down the line if you need to.
  • Another possible option is using grapefruit seed extract, though it’s also expensive.  Unlike tea tree oil however, it has no scent that lingers. Combine about 20 drops of it into about two cups of water and use it in much the same way as you would with tea tree oil.
  • Next on our list is a natural mold killer so widespread and right under our noses, that we often overlook it without even knowing its qualities.  Distilled white vinegar is said to kill up to 82% of all mold species, acting fairly quickly but leaving its scent behind for a few short hours as a result.  If you have light stains, then you can dilute the vinegar with water in a 50:50 ratio for good results as well. If you’re experiencing mildew forming on the bottom sides of your rugs or carpeting, then you can stop it by spraying it with distilled white vinegar and letting it dry that way.  It should kill most spores with ease, leaving your carpet safe.

Natural Mold Cleaning Tips

  • If you have a plastic shower curtain and it has suffered mildew and mold, then you don’t need to worry about it at all.  You can simply toss it in the washing machine alongside two bath towels on the gentlest setting.  Then you need to pour about half a cup of baking soda inside as well as a half cup of vinegar.  The baking soda should go in during the washing cycle, while the vinegar needs to go in during the rinse cycle.  Let it dry out and you’re almost good as new!
  • You can also use a 3% hydrogen peroxide for mildew and mold as well.  If you use it on its own, you can wipe most mold right off the affected area.
  • When you have mildew-stained garments, you can make a paste of lemon juice and salt.  Rub it against the area affected by the mold or mildew.  Repeat that until you remove the stain completely and let it dry in the sun.

For more cleaning tips you can contact: Deep Cleaning Islington

Recently, a Not Just Clutter reader emailed me with her personal story.  She has realized she is a compulsive hoarder, and wants to make a change.  We’ve been communicating back and forth the past few weeks.  I am humbled this person has trusted me with the details of her life as a compulsive hoarder, and I am inspired as she shares her progress moving forward.

She’s taking great strides to turn her life around, as difficult and overwhelming as it must seem.  And as she takes 2 steps forward, there’s a tiny step back as she revealed she still feels shame.  I want her, and anyone else who hoards to know this:

Dear Compulsive Hoarder,

do not be ashamed.  Please let go of that feeling; it has no place in your heart.  You’ve had the unfortunate twist of fate which left you with a largely misunderstood mental disorder (and NO, that doesn’t make you crazy)!  It means for some reason, you have this extra challenge even though you didn’t ask for it.  Totally unfair.  But you didn’t rationally choose to end up in this state.  You’re intelligent.  You’re accomplished.  And you have nothing to be ashamed of.

I don’t think you’re lazy.  I think you’re probably overwhelmed.  You might be in denial, to varying degrees.  I think you’re probably creative, and can see great potential every where you look.  You might even be a perfectionist, with super high standards.  You take comfort in your collections, and you love the thrill of the hunt.  I bet you’re a skilled bargain seeker, too.

You have some challenges ahead when you’re ready to face them…actually, whether you’re ready or not.  Problems that just don’t go away when you close the door or turn the radio up louder.  You probably already know that; but do you know this?

You are not alone.

You are not the only one with too much stuff.  You’re not the only one who doesn’t know where to start.  You’re not alone in feeling overwhelmed, misunderstood, defensive, or in wondering where the money will come to help you.  I think you probably have people in your life willing to help you, even if you don’t think you do.  And it’s good you’re not alone, because you can’t turn your life around alone.

It starts by clearing a spot in your heart to let others back in.  Place your trust in them so they may help you in anyway they know best.  They’re not out to get your stuff.  They may be confused, baffled, or as overwhelmed as you.  But they’re there for you if you let them.  People to help sort, make repairs, lift heavy things, tell you jokes when you’re feeling low.  People who see you as a good person, a neighbor, a relative, a co-worker, a valued member of society.

Clear space for these people, and you may find you have more treasures than ever before.

Good luck to you.  It’s a new year to move forward.  And it has great potential.

My Mom seems to find very odd things funny.  I assume it’s related to the denial that comes from compulsive hoarding.

She recently shared a gem which leaves her laughing and me terrified.  Her house is crumbling around her, and now, it’s:

A House with No Escape

Backstory: Mom’s house is an unusual design.  It’s essentially a bungalow but on the second floor.  The first floor of the house has a small apartment, and a large double garage.  Dad used to run his business from the garage, and it has huge & heavy rolling doors.  The front door is in the middle of the apartment and garage, and to get upstairs there are 36 steps.

I know this hallway by the front door is filled with stuff.  It was 50% filled 11 years ago.  The last time Lynn saw my Mom open the door, she said it couldn’t open all the way.  So, it was already a serious situation.

The Door Won’t Budge

Mom tells me the door has been sticking.  I get that.  With changes in weather and humidity, doors tend to do that.  But Mom’s front door is sticking so much, she sometimes can’t open it.  I know she’s tried sanding it down, oiling it, and a few other tricks, and yet, there would be days she’d come home and not be able to get in the door.  She’d push, and nudge, and probably curse, but it wouldn’t push open.

That’s when my senior citizen mother would have to try to raise the heavy-duty garage doors.  And then climb over all the stuff left in the garage from Dad’s business which was never cleared away after his death.  7 years ago.

Last Straw

So, finally, Mom got tired of doing this difficult task.  After struggling with the door again, she lost her temper and kicked it.

Wouldn’t you know…it opened right up!  My Mom is SO amused by this!

And while the idea of my elderly Mother turned ninja is amusing to most, I’m cringing.

I’m cringing because not only is the door sticking when she wants IN to the house, but also when she wants OUT of the house.

That’s right.  Should there ever be a fire, and by pure Act of God my frail Mother makes it past burning walls of stuff, down 36 smoldering wooden steps, and down a smoke-filled hallway, she still won’t be able to open the damn door to get out.

How’s that for a haunting image?

Jumping out a window is not an option, as all her living space is on the second flood.  There’s a back porch, but those wooden stairs have been withering in the elements for years.  I wouldn’t trust them to hold my purse.  There’s the garage, but again, the path is cluttered, and the doors are heavy.

Ninja Mom

I expressed as much to her.  She still chuckled, and revealed she did indeed have trouble getting the door to open from the inside.  So she tried kicking it again, and yes, it opened.  But think about that.  The door swung open toward her after being kicked.  This whole set up is compromised and needs repair, but since she was able to Hi-YA it open, she considers it problem solved.

She refuses to take this seriously.  And my fear of her being caught in a fire just got deeper.


Moving is considered one of the most stressful things people do in their lifetime.  I believe it.  There are so many details and loose ends.  My husband has moved 13 times in his lifetime…he says it really became so much easier when his family wasn’t attached to their belongings so they could pick up and travel across the country with only the essentials.  My Mom, however, has lived in the same house for 35 years.  That’s a lot of accumulation; never mind that she’s a compulsive hoarder!

Mom is comfortable in her nest of things, but the house is crumbling around her.  There will reach a point where she won’t be able to climb the stairs any more, or the roof will collapse, or the cost of heating the big space will become too much to bear.  Then, maybe, finally, she’ll consent to moving.

My sister, Lynn, no longer has a relationship with Mom.  So when it comes to selling the property and moving Mom somewhere else, the monumental task will fall to me.  Not only is it a tremendous volume of stuff to sort through, but I wonder if I can manage it while remaining sympathetic and understanding towards my mother.  It’s not just about tossing stuff in boxes.  It’s about acknowledging the hoarder has a completely different perception of the value of their belongings…and believe me, it can test your patience.

I was approached by a reader recently who offered the following suggestions and guidelines for how to face a move when a hoarder is involved.  I hope if you are in a similar situation, you’ll find these useful for maintaining your sanity, as well as your family relationships.

Guest Post: How to Face A Move When A Hoarder is Involved

There is much to deal with when you have to move a home, so the situation becomes a bit more complicated when you have to deal with a hoarding family member, roommate and so forth. Despite the negative connotation brought by the spotlight of media attention, hoarding has really been studied only in the past two decades at best. There is much misunderstanding, stereotypes and stigma associated with the condition and what it entails. One thing you should keep in mind is that hoarders can be very different from each other, both in social standing, marital status or age. There is hardly anything that connects the different hoarders than the fact that hoarding is a psychological condition that affects a good percentage of the world.

There is a difference between the hoarding of objects and the hoarding of animals (most often cats), however the basic principles are the same. This is a obsessive-compulsive disorder affecting the behavior of an individual in ways that often clash with those of their loved ones or friends. One of the first things you must keep in mind is that hoarders are very sensitive about their lifestyle and there are many factors that play a role in this. Whether its shame, denial or resistance to changes, they will often be determined to keep their lifestyle and will rebel against any changes brought by external factors. The following tips will give you some preparation and understanding on how you should approach the subject of hoarding in the least damaging way possible before a move: How to face a move when a hoarder is involved

  • Attitude is extremely important

You should begin by adopting an attitude that avoids judging at all costs, as well as a lot of patience. In most cases hoarders fear and dislike the judgment of others and for a good reason. For them this line of behavior is something normal so you should try to understand that when you approach the subject matter. The patience you need to exhibit is a very important aspect of your first steps toward moving. In most cases they will never see their situation the way you do, so you should stick to small, careful steps.

  • Remember hoarding is a disorder

Make sure you read up and educate yourself on the behavior and its background reasons. Psychologists are researching it and if you are interested you should look up books on OCD disorders that focus on hoarding if you want to go into further detail. The underlying reasons for hoarding go beyond what people consider messiness as they have a psychological trigger that modifies what we consider a normal line of behavior. The learned patterns of behavior hoarders develop are nearly impossible to break and their reasons are both biological and psychological in nature. In many cases items represent mementos of the past or more practical items they feel they need to save for a number of reasons. In some cases hoarding can be a result of some painful event in the past that forced them to replace their social connections of old with belongings and mementos. The reasons for hoarding may vary greatly, so remember that before you act.

How to face a move when a hoarder is involved

  • Solutions to moving

Remember to ask questions about the things they want to keep and to offer compromises that cater to their disorder but at the same time allow them to move forward. This can be done by working out a system that catalogs and makes an inventory of their possessions. It may seem like a small step, but it will be a good first one. Always remember that whenever something seems like trash to you it may actually hold significance for your loved one. Remember to be respectful to their wishes and if you can, maybe try to suggest they store their collections at a storage unit as a solution to completely going through them and overhauling them. That way they can have access to the things they care about and you won’t have to deal with things in a more severe way that would damage the trust built between the two of you. You should stick to an inventory system with descriptions and even a floor plan if some of the items are large enough. Remember that self-storage units are a great alternate to having your home buried in belongings and it offers a softer solution to the hoarding impulse by offering an alternate space.

*Editor's Note: Self-Storage units should not be considered a long term solution.  I would consider this an option just to move some things out of the house to give you room to work in while packing, sorting, repairing, etc.

How to face a move when a hoarder is involved
  • Getting Help

You can get help from a therapist if you and your loved one agree on that, and they can help toward slowly finding a solution to the hoarding compulsion. When all is said and done remember to take small steps toward improvement. The therapist could eventually give them small tasks such as slowly going through a small part of their collection and choosing things to let go of, but that is not something you should handle on your own in most cases. You could end up hurting them and yourself in the process by being too direct about it.

This guest post is thanks to Removals Man & Van Woodside Park.  This is not a sponsored post, but rather a glimpse of the experience from those accustomed to moving many, many families of all kinds.

The thought of moving when the house is filled to the rafters is pretty daunting.  Actually, that’s a huge understatement.  Should my Mom ever decide to move, I know I’ll be paralyzed with the enormity of the task.  I DO know that not everything should get thrown away, and lots of what Mom has collected is worth at least some money.  Hopefully, I can talk her into having a sale before moving…I’ll cross my fingers on that one.  Hoarders are loath to give up their stuff, even in exchange for cash.

How to Plan a Moving Sale in Small, Easy Steps

I’ve got some suggestions for managing a moving sale: there’s a LOT to think about!!  And remember, you shouldn’t have to do this alone.  These steps work for anyone planning a move, not just compulsive hoarders.  Stay tuned in the next week or so, and I’ll have even more ideas for how to handle a move when dealing with compulsive hoarding.

Thanks to Northstar Moving for this fantastic infographic.

Managing a Moving Sale Infographic

Guest Post: Attic Storage Tips & Advice

Today I present a guest post from Jeremy, from Packing Boxes in the UK.  While I encourage regular purging of clutter and being ruthless with what you keep, I know there are times when you just can’t give something up.  If you’re lucky enough to have some open attic space, we have some tips for you to use the space well.  Keep it organized and tidy, and it’ll help keep the rest of your house tidy, too.

attic storage via notjustclutter.com

The old saying ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’, is excellent, common sense advice. By sticking to this motto,  in theory we would always put all of our ‘things’ away in their rightful place and always know exactly where they were when we need to put our hands on them. How wonderful would that be!?

The attic is an ideal space for storing belongings that you do not need to use on a regular basis, but only providing you keep it tidy and organized so that when you need to retrieve something you can find it easily! It is essential not to use this space as a dumping ground for junk that you don’t really need, so anything you do not really need to keep hold of should be re-homed, recycled or sold rather than stashed out of sight in the attic and never used.

My current home has no garage, so my attic provides me with essential storage space to keep items that I use infrequently, enabling me to keep my home mostly free of any unnecessary clutter. This storage space makes a huge difference, particularly because so many of the items I store up there are so bulky.

Recommended Items To Store In The Attic Include:

  • Camping Gear
  • Holiday Decorations
  • Christmas Tree
  • Boxes of Documents/Files
  • Seasonal Clothing
  • Suitcases
  • Sleds & Toboggans
  • Bike Rack
  • Roof Rack 

 All of these items are used infrequently, some I typically only need from time to time.  Some I only use annually, like my holiday decorations, whilst others I only need once in a blue moon so it makes good sense to store them out of the way in the attic, freeing up my living and storage space below.


Ideally you would have a fixed attic ladder that folds neatly away when not in use, alternatively you will need to use a stepladder to access your belongings. The only problem with this is that you need to store it away somewhere in between uses.


It is vital to be careful when using the ladder and to take care when moving around up there. An open hatch can be particularly dangerous, so it is vital to pay attention to what you are doing and not take unnecessary risks.

A boarded floor makes the attic area far safer to use and will also make storage more practical reducing the risk of accidents or damage to the floor which is of course the ceiling of the room below.  I’d consider address the floor before storing anything in your attic.


You may be lucky enough to have natural light or a light fixture in your attic; if not you will need a flashlight to help you retrieve items when you need them. A head lamp gives you full use of both hands which is safer and much more convenient all round.


Group items into categories so that they can be stored together logically and arrange them in boxes or bags with clear, visible labels for easy identification later on.


Arrange your boxes around the outer edge of the attic, leaving a clear walkway with no tripping hazards. Keep the space organized by putting things away after use and avoid ever surrounding things with a ton of other stuff.  An untidy attic will drive you nuts!

If you are storing heavy belongings, avoid grouping them in one area and instead, spread them out to distribute the weight evenly across the space.

Be sure to keep a clear area around the hatch area and if you are using a fitted loft ladder, keep that space completely free of any clutter too.


Check your attic regularly for signs of rodents or birds and take precautions to protect your belongings. If possible store items in rodent proof storage containers. Traps may be worth considering, particularly if your attic is prone to unwelcome visitors!  You’d probably want to have your soffits and eaves addressed anyway if critters are getting in.


Attics are an excellent, cost effective storage solution for anyone wanting to free up space in their home and remove clutter. So if you need an affordable storage solution, perhaps you should just look up…but not for cramming full of junk. Just practical storage.


The UK based company Packing Boxes offer a vast range of packing solutions for house and office moves as well as everything you need for storage at home or in the office.

That’s the question that plagues all of us right?  When you’re full of the urge to clean up and are standing there beside the trash can with something with “potential” in your hand…what do you do?  Put it back and keep it indefinitely?  Chuck it before you change your mind?  Put it aside to either sell or give away?  Sometimes, the options are overwhelming.  I get it.  I’ve been there, too.

Today I’m presenting a guest post from Natalie, a storage expert from London, England, while I work on decluttering my own basement.  Again.  She offers some direction for decision making as you sort through your own stuff this fall.  I especially like the 2 Month Test.  If you have any additional suggestions for making decluttering easier, please leave a comment!

Guest Post: To Keep or Not to Keep

Spacing woes plague every household. No matter how meticulously you plan your storage, you end up with stuff littered around. Add to this an obsessive-compulsive prone person, life can become a living nightmare. Stuff scattered all over the place becomes an eyesore and hampers the free movement (physical or of the eye) around the house. A messy house attracts negative energies and may make the inhabitants irritable.

A perfectly organized home is highly desirable, but an unachievable target. Especially, owing to the hoarding mentality today, the problem is even graver. We don’t want to throw away stuff and we don’t have an appropriate place for storing it. Packing up boxes and shoving them over the loft is no solution. You finally have to let go of things that are no longer required. Here are a few tips and tricks that can help you get rid of the clutter:

Bring it on

The first step to the solution of the problem is to accept the problem. Let go of procrastination and delve into the task head on. However, keep your targets realistic. Aim for a cupboard or a drawer per day. Set aside a specific time that you would solely dedicate to the de-cluttering.

Dealing with the devil

If you are a woman, you might secretly agree to the fact that it is your stuff that occupies the maximum place in the house. The infinite clothes, bags, shoes, and accessories always pose a storage problem. You cannot cramp up your bags and shoes, hence they occupy even more space. Here, you have an old formula, only until now you’ve not been sticking to it- every time you buy something new, throw away something old. This may be highly painful at times, but the key is to be strict. You weren’t going to wear that old fashioned skirt again anyway!

Sports stuff

Every home has some sort of old sports gear that keeps on eating up space, without being used, year after year. Whether it’s a board game or old baseball bats or a fishing set, it’s best to get done with them. If you have some functional sports gear you no longer use, you can donate it to a kids’ orphanage (add to your karma account). At the same time, there might be things that are no longer of use or do not function anymore. For these, call up the local recycling agency and they’d be happy to take care of it. If you have some heavy gym equipment that is no longer of much use, it is best to call a removals service to get rid of it. We don’t you to sprain your back while following our advice!

Homeless Oddities

You would find a number of things like old books, CDs, magazines, stationary, electronics etc., which have no apparent use to you, yet they stay in your house forever. Of course, some of these have an emotional value to you- some may be gifts, some may be too rare to be thrown away, but the majority of them can go to junk. Anything broken can be chucked away immediately.


Apart from that tea set that belonged to your grandmother’s grandmother, you can do away with a lot of idle crockery in your house. Nevertheless, you never have the heart to throw away some precious glassware. Spark up your kinder side and gift them to a friend or sibling. In fact, you can get into a deal with them to share crockery. This way, you’ll have more variety without being bothered about the storage issues.

The two-month test

Even when you are done with dealing most of the above mentioned stuff, there would still be items you neither have the heart to throw away nor have the space to put them. For these, you have to be strict with yourself and let them undergo the 2-month test. Box up all such stuff, mark the date on the box, and put it away. If in two months, you don’t open the box for anything in it, you can safely chuck it away. It would be best to give away the closed box as it is. If you open it, chances are you’d come across something that will tempt you and you’ll succumb to keeping it again, re-launching the clutter cycle.

Storage Rentals

My home city, London, England is dotted with self-storage companies, but it is a better option to first manage the clutter and go to a storage facility as a last resort. It may come in helpful in a situation where you have your heart set on new type of furniture, but are not being able to sell your old one at the desired price. You can temporarily store the furniture in a storage facility.