by Amanda LeBlanc
“Oh my gosh! I’m such a hoarder!” I hear this all the time, but most of the time it is far from the truth. People use it as a way to express how unorganized they feel or to lower the expectation of what you will see in their home. Most of us, however, are not hoarders. According to WedMD, it is estimated that only 2–5 percent of Americans are actually hoarders. So, what are the criteria for being considered a hoarder? Well, I’m glad you asked.
The International OCD Foundation includes all three of the following when determining whether someone suffers from hoarding disorder:
1. A person collects and keeps a lot of items, even things that appear useless or of little value to most people.
2. These items clutter the living spaces and keep the person from using their rooms as intended.
3. These items cause distress or problems in day-to-day activities.
I remember the first time I was called on by a hoarder to help her get her home in order. I drove up to a very nice home in New Orleans. I remember noticing that all the blinds were drawn and there was no way to see into the home. I rang the doorbell and this very sweet, well-dressed woman came to the door. (I say this because people often think that someone with hoarding disorder must be low-income or unkempt. That is simply not the case. They can be doctors, lawyers, and professionals. I promise, I have seen it.)
She came outside the door and apologized for what we were about to see. She started to cry and tell me that she wanted to die. My heart sank. I encouraged her that I was there to help and not to judge. In all honesty, it’s exactly what I meant. I believe that God gave me this passion for organizing and as a result, He gave me the ability to see past the chaos and the clutter. I often tell my clients, “I am appalled by very little when it comes to organizing.”
When I entered the home, it was dark, and I was forced to follow the path set out for me by newspapers dating back decades. The mattress of the bed in the master bedroom was being held up by stacks of items she just couldn’t let go of. After seeing the entire house, she told me she only wanted the kitchen organized. What?! How could I just do the kitchen? What was this lady thinking?
I left the consultation, and in my head, I had all of these ideas. I was going to save her and change her life forever. I was young and, like I said, this was my first experience with hoarding. I decided to call my friend Tracy, who is a psychologist. I told her all about my meeting and my plans to save this woman. It was then that my friend showed me the light. Tracy asked me, “Did this lady ask you to save her?” “No,” I said. “No, she didn’t,” said Tracy. “She asked you to organize her kitchen, and that’s all you need to do.” She went on to explain the psychology of a disorder like hoarding. We talked about how delicate the situation can be when they ask for help. You cannot push someone with hoarding to move faster than they want to or make them get rid of items they are not ready to part with.
What makes getting rid of clutter so difficult for a hoarder?
•They are usually compulsive shoppers because it gives them a feeling of euphoria.
•They see value or uses for all items, even items that others would consider trash.
•They attach unrealistic emotions and feeling to inanimate objects.
•Fear, shame, and anger overcome them when they consider letting go of an item.
The experience was life-changing for me. I learned so much about this tragic and debilitating disorder. I still get consumed with a desire to save individuals who suffer from hoarding, but I am experienced enough now to know what my role is. I know they have to choose to save themselves and that if they choose to, then I, along with a psychiatrist or psychologist, will be there as a guide through the piles to clear their way to a new future.
To learn more about hoarding disorder, visit www.ocfoundation.org.