Tag Archives: declutter

serial hoarder

ImageI’ve started to seriously enjoy the Australian series Selling Houses Australia, so when I found out there was an episode about a hoarding house, I had to tune in. What I watched was as much a cultural lesson in dealing with uncomfortable situations as it was a show on cleaning up a hoard.

The host Andrew Winter was visibly distressed upon entering the hoarded house, but there was none of the American, “Oh my god! I can’t believe it!” sort of panic or shock. He seemed rather to be sucking in his breath and trying to think of any way to demonstrate his surprise without being rude. There were references to “untidiness,” “mess,” and “the worst clutter I have ever seen,” but after the show’s overview, it wasn’t until about 1/3 of the way in that the term “serial hoarder” was used. The difference between hoarder and serial hoarder is anyone’s guess.

The crew was sensitive to the situation, but no hoarding or dehoarding experts were called to the scene. Professional movers and cleaners helped empty the house and the process was similar to every other hoarding show we’ve seen: the man kept rummaging through the trash insisting on keeping what others would deem useless stuff. In the end, the cleaned up house received offers, but there was no mention of whether the inhabitant hoarder accepted one.

This show, which usually has a good sense of humor and cheery tone, was unsettlingly sad to me. Perhaps it’s my own experience watching the stuff accumulate that makes me feel so glum, or perhaps it’s the nature of the hoard itself that sucks the joy out of a space that is meant to be a safe zone.



D. left yesterday for a month-long trip to the U.S. to finish up his citizenship requirements. I have this nagging spring fall cleaning goal of decluttering in his absence. But who am I kidding really? I’m a clutteraholic (see desktop update below, and that’s only the half of it). I forget what I cannot see. I stress when my desk is clean. Really, it induces slight panic and a dizzying sense of being lost.

ImageMaybe I’m exaggerating a little. But my clutter makes me feel at home. It isn’t everywhere in the house. It is contained to my desk and a corner of our kitchen table which is cluttered with S’s amazing artwork and crafts and recent sales fliers. 

The clutter I can’t see, however, is perhaps less necessary for my mental well-being. I hope to sort through some drawers and donate or repurpose some old clothes. I’m not entirely optimistic, but a good purge might do me some good while my heart wants to clasp onto everything in the absence of D.


permission to accumulate

Yesterday we finalized an application on a new place to live: this time it is unfurnished and unequipped. We’ve already struck a deal with the owner to purchase his refrigerator, washing machine, microwave oven and kettle. In our current rental everything has been provided except for linens. That means in the last six months I have only purchased some bedding, kiddy plates, measuring cups, spatulas, a meat thermometer and a cupcake tin. We are moving in three weeks and D. has given me the green light to shop.

After spending the last 16 months in declutter mode, this responsibility is daunting. We want to keep things minimal in case we move again in six months, but at the same time we finally get to make things the way we like them. Do we buy only cheap things, throw our mattresses on the floor, forego a kitchen table and wait to see if we will ship some furniture over from the States? Or do we have an opportunity to make things the way we like them?

As I shop online (we do not have a vehicle here), I had to study the latest Ikea catalogue for options. I’m highly impressionable, and my normal response to Ikea’s marketing is, “My life would be better if my house looked like that.” Only this time, I realized these houses look unusually cluttered, cramped, and dangerously close to something not so beautiful. If one tiny little element (say that gorgeous set of cheapy vases on the make-shift mantle) is out of place, the whole room looks off-kilter. Yet, Ikea has the magic to make me believe it’s possible to have all that stuff in one small space. Look at those rows of books up so high no one can reach them. If they’re that high, though, even I won’t read them. And if I won’t read them – I don’t need them in my home. *sigh*

Maybe this little hoarder is reforming after all, but I still feel like my heart could jump out of my chest as I think about all that empty space.


part of my problem with stuff

I’m reading the Q&A on Randy Frost and Gail Steketee’s recent book, Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things (see amazon.com), and the following explains perfectly my own struggle with stuff.

Q: What factors contribute to the development of hoarding?

A: People who hoard often have deficits in the way they process information. For example, they are often highly distractible and show symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. These symptoms make is [sic] difficult for them to concentrate on a task without being diverted by other things.

Most of us live our lives categorically. We put our possessions into categories and use those organizing systems to store and retrieve them easily. But categorization is difficult for people who hoard. Their lives seem to be organized visually and spatially. The electricity bill might go on the five-foot-high pile of papers in the living room, to keep it in sight as a reminder to pay the bill. Hoarders try to keep life organized by remembering where that bill is located. When they need to find it, they search their memory for the place it was last seen. Instead of relying on a system of categories, where one only has to remember where the entire group of objects is located, each object seems to have its own category. This makes finding things very difficult once a critical mass of possessions has been accumulated.

How many times have I started to sort only to get distracted by the first object I found? And then I spatially move around to the next object, and the next, rearranging without really decluttering. Fortunately for me and my loved ones, I’ve been able to learn a more efficient system over the years. Above all, I value efficiency. But I also wonder if part of the help has come in the form of electronic storage. All of those papers are now somewhere stored and shuffled about on my hard drive.

children of hoarders

Last week it was all the rage to talk about hoarding, and today it’s being a child of a hoarder. People have been speaking out at Hoarder’s Son, Children of Hoarders (which I just joined this week) and now in a (not terribly well-written but interesting) article in the New York Times, “Children of Hoarders on Leaving the Cluttered Nest” (Steven Kurutz, 11 May 2011).

The most resonating point of that piece explains how I feel today:

“WHATEVER balance children of hoarders manage to find in their own homes, there is still the ancestral homestead to contend with — and the knowledge that it is filling up with more junk by the day — so long as the parent with the hoarding problem is alive. After years of pleading and arguing, children of hoarders often abandon all hope that the parent will reform.”

My parents are just at the beginning of talking about their need to declutter, but until there is a real reason to change, I hold no hope that they ever will stop “collecting” stuff. I never have tried to plead or argue with them. I just don’t go there because, for this but for many other reasons, it makes me so sad to see what they’re doing to themselves and their home.