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.

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:

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

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.

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

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.




For many of us, putting up wallpaper or repainting our walls might mean an afternoon of pulling furniture away from the wall and adding some quick colour to our room.  Minimal disruption.  Or if you’re not handy, you might be smarter to hire an expert tradesperson to help with a significant project.  What if your house is so crowded, the tradespeople have trouble doing their job?  What if piles of stuff put these people in jeopardy for falling and injury?

Working in a Hoarder’s House

This is the first in a series of posts told from the perspective of people who have been affected by compulsive hoarder, but who are not relatives.  These are the emergency response workers, police, fire fighters, trades people, service people, and case workers who must enter hoarded homes and put themselves at risk.  To start us off, I present the insights offered by a skilled house painter.  This person (who has requested anonymity in respect for past clients) has an amazing perspective of compulsive hoarding you might never have considered.  I was fascinated when this person emailed me and started to share this story.  With permission, I present it as a guest post…an inside look into what it’s like to work inside the home of a crowded mind.

A View From the Trades

by Paint N. Brush

While it’s true that many hoarders avoid allowing trade and service people into their homes, quite as many actually do.  I’ve worked in the trades for twenty years, primarily doing interior painting and wallpapering.  I would estimate that thirty percent of my clients have been hoarders.  An additional fifteen percent were clearly on their way.  I think that is a huge statistic.  My perspective is, I believe, somewhat counter to the usual notions of hoarders.  My clients have all been well-to-do, have not yet isolated themselves completely, and are for the most part quite high-functioning individuals.  They have not quite arrived at what one can foresee as their inevitable endpoint of total, quiet, desperate chaos.  I seem to catch them at the disastrous turning points of their lives.

They share very interesting commonalities:  All have been highly intelligent, driven, gifted in one or several of the arts, and began as “collectors” of things.  Many of these collections do have actual market value, as opposed to collections of paper cups or plastic margarine tubs.  But all have in fact have begun that insidious overlap from collections of dozens of vases never used, to cupboards packed with junk.  All are in variant stages of goat trails throughout their homes.  All say that if they can just get the house straightened out, if they just had a week to themselves, everything would be fine.  If I, the tradesman, could just get that wall cleaned and painted right away, the trajectory of their lives will miraculously self-correct because they then will be able to move all those boxes over there from here and they’ll have something resembling a room.  All are in various stages of serious, really severe unhappiness, which they do express via either action or word, more often through actions – compulsive spontaneous shopping,  sudden brief spurts of rage, frequent expressions of frustration usually directed at the wrong people.  They have an utter inability to experience the feeling of happiness.  I’m not talking about “being happy”.  (Nebulous phrase.)  I’m talking about an actual inability to FEEL happy, to feel even a brief moment of true delight in the course of their day.  They will say they’re happy, they’ll use the words, but there’s nothing real behind it.  All are causing deep tensions within their families, all have first-degree relatives with addictions in other forms – alcohol, food, drugs – all are successful in their careers, all are constantly frantic.  All claim to have had “perfect” childhoods.  That is the word they use.  (I don’t believe that for a minute.)

My contracts in their homes have all been either long-term or intermittent over long periods of time.  Consequently, an interesting result takes place – the tradesman becomes part of the furniture.  The household gets so used to your presence that they come, go, and play out their lives without a thought to your presence.  I’ve come to believe that it’s a comfort to them to have us there, once they know we are trustworthy.  But for us it becomes a window into hoarder worlds which can be distressing, saddening, and hopeless, no matter how much financial comfort or family presence they might enjoy.

Imagine if you’d like to rejuvenate and paint your livingroom.  To do it properly, you would like to clean, sand, and paint all your woodwork trim in that room.  That’s windows, doors, door casings, baseboard trim, sometimes ceiling trimwork too.  You would like a crisp cleanly painted ceiling.  You want to clean your walls, patch any defects, and give them new life with a new color of paint, which you will have to hand-cut in with a brush around every window and ceiling edge and doorway, then roll the walls with a roller.  TWICE.  Walls always, always have to be done twice to be done right.  Oftentimes all the trimwork must also be painted twice.  You would prefer this room to be empty of objects when you undertake this.  You would prefer dropcloths on the floor to take roller spatter.  (There is ALWAYS roller spatter, no matter how good you are at this.)  This work takes an organized mind.  You can’t cut the top walls in while the ceiling paint is wet.  You can’t do baseboard tops while the bottom wall is wet.  And so on.

Now imagine this same room, same project goals, crammed end to end and top to bottom with valuable antiques, boxes and boxes and boxes of junk, dozens of houseplants, a huge flat-screen T.V., heavy-framed paintings on the walls, enormous dust-laden cobwebs on the ceiling, pet fur, pet paraphernalia, and dirt, dirt, dirt.  Normal household dirt, but never addressed because one can’t move within the room to clean, so the dirt is really, really bad.  Paint won’t adhere to dirt.  Never has, never will.  You must clean first.  There is no place to move the stuff, nowhere to put it, because the rest of the house is packed too.  There is no floor space.  You can’t see the floor at all.

My highest injury rate has been in hoarder homes, bar none.  There is no room to move or maneuver yourself, your ladders, your paint cans, your wallpaper safely.  In twenty years I have had only one breakage of a homeowner item, which seems like a miracle to me, but I myself have experienced significant bruise, breakage and falls for the sake of those blasted items.

I’ve learned that with hoarders the job will never be done.  They always want more, and I’m retiring from the trades because of it.  I feel for them, it’s very painful stuff to see.  My hoarder clients are the personalities I’ve been most fond of in many, many ways.  They touch my heart.  But they drive me crazy,  and I must finally opt out.  In some subconscious way they look to me and other tradespeople to be the repairmen of their emotional lives – which they confuse with their physical possessions – and that is not a possible thing to do.  Sadly we can’t repair that for them, much as we might wish to.


Bell Let’s Talk Day Recap

Thanks to everyone who might have participated in Bell Let’s Talk Day yesterday.  For those of you who follow me on Twitter, I was using #BellLetsTalk as often as I could.

Why?  Because a Canadian company (Bell Canada) is donating .5 cents to mental health research for every tweet and text using that hash tag.  My Twitter feed was alive with people sharing their support and stories!!  I loved it!  Yesterday was a big day, but we should all be committed to keeping the conversation going every day to stop the stigma of mental health.  This goes not just for compulsive hoarding, but for ANY mental disorder.

Bell Canada Let's Talk Logo

Final tallies aren’t in just yet…but the last time I checked, Bell was reporting 85, 536, 167 texts, tweets, and long distance calls that all qualified under #BellLetsTalk.  Multiple that by .5 cents each, and that’s well over 4 million dollars raised!  In ONE day!!  In ONE country!!!

I bet that will put some minds at ease, huh?  😉

Guest Post: Squalor Holler

Today I have a guest post up at Squalor Holler.  Yep, that’s right…there are a whole bunch of fellow bloggers sharing their experience as children of compulsive hoarders.  And Sarah at Squalor Holler has a great series going on her blog sharing the stories of fellow COHs.  And today is MY day!

So scoot on over to read more about my interview, and be sure to give Sarah some love in the comments.  She’s doing her part to keep the conversation going.

I feel so honoured to have been given to opportunity to write a guest post for Psychology Today.  Recently, the same doctor conducting the studies about compulsive hoarders and their relationships touched base with me and we’ve been having some great conversation about the lack of resources on this topic.  Truly, people like me, the hoarders son, and other children of hoarders have limited help in sorting out our feelings and relationships with our hoarding loved ones.

Raising Awareness

Dr. Amy Przeworski, from Case Western Reserve University, wants to raise awareness…and I’m hopeful when I hear mental health experts like Amy getting involved.  I wrote a guest post about what it’s like to be on one side of the wall of stuff while my Mother exists on the other.  I hope you’ll hop over to read my post on Dr. Przeworski’s blog…and stick around to read more of her own posts.  She speaks of anxiety and other family mental health issues worth reading.

Find me on psychology today


I recently got a great comment from a reader named Sue.  She responded to my post The Case of the Silent Phone part 5, and tells us her experience as the daughter of a hoarder.  Her advice about how to clear out a hoarders home was so valuable, I asked Sue if I could feature her words as a post instead of as a comment.  She also shared photos of her father’s home during her clean up process.  I also appreciate her ideas for helping my daughter learn to sort out her beloved stuffed animals.  If you are facing the overwhelming task of sorting through a compulsive hoarders house, I urge you to learn from Sue’s experience.
Thank you, Sue, for sharing with Not Just Clutter.  I look forward to updates from you.

Guest post: How to Clear out a Hoarders Home

My primary approach dealing with Dad’s house was to put like things together. It was all about categorizing things rather than dealing with them as individual items.
I disagree with some of the standard organizational advice that says to work your way through a pile picking up each item and not putting it down until you make a decision about whether to keep, donate/sell, or toss.  I understand the purpose of that advice, which is to encourage the hoarder to actually think about each item rather than just blindly put it back on the pile where it becomes invisible again.  But I think that there is a better way to approach it, which is to start by focusing on the things that you can decide immediately about.  So I would start (or encourage the hoarder to start) by looking just for things that can be thrown out (or just for things that can be donated, or just for things that have a known place where they belong and can be put away).  I think it’s too overwhelming to try to think about each individual item against the background of a pile or room filled up with hundreds or thousands of equally “individual” items.  I think it works best to 1) first remove as much of the stuff in the pile or room as possible whose fate is EASY to decide: obvious trash, obvious donate things, obvious “put away elsewhere” things.  Then 2) look at the remaining items in the pile or room, and look for the patterns, the categories. 
Hoard in living room

Living Room: notice the partially cleared coffee table, which took a great deal of work just to get that far.

Find Categories

In my Dad’s house the common categories were: books, clothes, keep/sell/give to friends, thrift store, bridge (dad was a bridge teacher and most of the papers in the house were related to that), music (cds and tapes were all over the house), empty boxes, magazines, personal/photos/financial records etc.  I designated a place/pile/room for each category and just plowed through the piles sorting into the new piles.  Thus, all clothing went in one room (after I cleared a bed to have some room to pile clothes), office type supplies went piled on or near the desk, and anything I thought I might want to keep (even to sell later online, etc — anything I wasn’t going to dispose of directly from the house) went into a third room (again, after clearing to have initial room to work). Empty boxes went into the garage.  Just like you would do with an already-organized house, everything needed a place, even just a temporary place.  Sometimes the “place” for lightweight furniture was out on the lawn with a “FREE” sign — I got rid of a lot that way.

Remove Volume Quickly

A secondary rule was to focus on the easiest ways to remove volume from the piles. In dad’s case this meant first pulling CLOTHING and BOXES (mostly empty) from piles that were otherwise mostly paper. Like many hoarders, my dad accumulated boxes, thinking that they would magically solve his organization problem, but instead, they became more OF the problem…  Going through the papers was much more tedious and fiddly — he would have old family photos mixed in with junk mail, so I couldn’t just toss big stacks of junk mail, unless I was willing to risk losing some good stuff with it (and by the end, I did some of that too!). But at first, you want the encouragement of seeing the piles shrink dramatically, by taking out the things that have the most volume to them.  Things that were clearly garbage or recycle or thrift store, I tried to remove as soon as possible, just to open up a little working room!
Compulsive Hoarders Office

The Office: A Nice Roll Top Desk to hide the clutter

Sometimes I would sit down and focus on a certain room or a large pile, one piece at a time. Other times I would bounce around from room to room, each time finding something that “belonged” somewhere else. It seemed to work well to take whichever approach I was in the mood for that day.
I worked my way through the piles this way, sorting into these new piles, until — after many days of this — a semblance of order began to appear.

look for Subset Categories

Then I began to focus on subsets — from among the office supplies I could then see, for example, that there were at least twelve staplers.  A whole moving carton full of pens and pencils.  From among the clothing I stacked pants here, shirts there, and filled a laundry basket to overflowing, just with belts (!!).  Once I could see things organized by categories and how much there was of various things, it was easier for me to decide how to proceed with keep/donate decisions.  I think this would be even more important if the hoarder is participating in the cleanup and some appropriate amounts and types of things are going to be kept for their use.

Set a number limit

I also think it’s important, when helping a hoarder, to establish an agreed-upon appropriate number of each type of item to be kept, just as you mentioned with the stuffed animals for your daughter. When your mom sees, for example, a nice lamp that works, it might be hard for her to decide, as a standalone decision, whether she’s willing to let that particular lamp go.  But if she has already agreed that given the layout of her house, she needs, say, ten lamps, then once she sees, visually all together in one place, that she has thirty lamps, I think it would be easier to pick her ten favorite and be more agreeable (hopefully) to letting the others go.
Piles of Paper

Piles of Paper

I admit that I never tried the above approach with my dad.  His piles were mostly paper and clothing, and I wasn’t able to assemble things in a way to see how many he had of different kinds of clothing because they were too well hidden in the piles or inaccessible due to other piles.  I was only able to get to that point after his death when I had complete freedom to plow through the house and move things around.  But I do think it would be a good approach to take, if a hoarder is able to think rationally about their things (which some can and some can’t, from what I’ve seen).

Focus on the person, not the stuff

I know these things that make sense to us, don’t always work for the person with the hoarding mindset. But there is only so much you can do, if the person is otherwise competent and able to legally make their own decisions. There does come a point where it truly does become easier to wait until the person is gone, rather than argue over every little thing. Sometime you just want to not upset the relationship by always having it focus on the stuff. It all depends on where the person is at mentally and emotionally, and how much help they truly want.