A little while ago I came across a TV show about Hoarders- people who cant throw anything away. I couldn't watch much of the program because it was A. badly done and B. incredibly insensitive. The people from the show would go into the hoarder's house, clear everything out and throw it in a big rubbish skip, in what seemed like a couple of hours.
I couldn't watch the whole episode, but I could tell from that short viewing that what they were doing would most probably be very ineffective and more than likely only make the situation worse. Not that I am an expert on hoarding- far from it. But I have worked with hoarders in my line of work, and I believe this situation requires sensitivity and time, and possibly therapy in many severe cases.
One personal job that springs to mind was with a beautiful elderly lady called Daphne. She was in her late 80's, a widow, no family members living close by and had terrible health problems.
Daphne's house was crowded from ceiling to floor with 'stuff'. Stuff in the hallways, stuff piled on furniture, stuff in the unused bathtub, stuff on most of her bed. When I arrived I spent the first hour or so sitting having a cup of tea with her, and chatting. I got to know her a little. She spoke of her kids who lived far away; her regret in not knowing her grandchildren; her charity work; her friends at Church; her late husband who was her first and only love and who she dearly missed; and a little about her childhood. She grew up very poor, as I'm sure a lot of people from her era did. She told me back in her day, every little house-hold item was used carefully, salvaged, recycled, fixed, kept in perfect working condition; valued.
Every little scrap of food was kept and very little clothing was ever bought; their family home was sparse. It was hard for me to relate to her up-bringing, as I'm sure a lot of you can understand. As she spoke to me about the poverty she grew up in, I looked at the contents of her living room and slowly began to understand why she had become this way. How could she throw away something like a chipped coffee mug, when once her mother couldn't afford to buy a coffee mug? We didn't actually speak of the condition of her home; I could see the embarrassment in her eyes and I just wanted to make her feel comfortable and trust me.
I gently asked her why she had called me, what she wanted me to help her with. She replied that she needed help to clear her kitchen table, so that she could just have a place to sit and eat her meals. We went into the kitchen and I could see that the table was piled high with paperwork, bric-a-brac, medicines, little notes, pieces of plastic, and many, many other things. I got to work straight away and spent the next several days with Daphne, and together we slowly went through item by item, deciding if she really needed it (phone bill- yes; apple core- no). I don't want to be disrespectful here in any way- I could clearly see after her living this way for years how difficult it had become for her to fully differentiate between certain items. I didn't bill her my usual hourly rate because I knew this job was going to take a lot of slow work and patience. I mentally worked out how long it would take me to do it if I was on my own (probably about 2 hours), and billed her for that time, instead of the actual 3 days it took us to do it together.
A couple of days later and we had successfully cleared her kitchen table and I had filed the paperwork, tided other little areas in the kitchen to make room for the objects that were once on the table and disposed of the food rubbish. She was absolutely thrilled with the result- and I could tell that she was going to try hard to keep up the easy systems I had set up for her (medicines here in this pile; paperwork there in that pile). I knew there was no point to just throw everything that you or I would consider rubbish in the bin- this would only have created pain for her and after a few weeks the table would be back to how it was originally.
From my personal experiences with hoarding I do believe that just going in to the house and throwing everything away like they were doing on that TV show, would only make the matter worse. The cause of hoarding seems to go much deeper than just being disorganised or too busy; severe hoarding must be a psychological issue that can stem from deep down and probably doesn't actually have anything at all to do with the 'stuff' or how much organising time the person has.
I know this is a sensitive issue, and a lot of us can relate to not being able to throw something away, myself included. I am a firm believer in saving things 'in case I need it one day', especially when you don't have a lot of money and you are trying to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle. My husband and I try to live by the rule "reduce, reuse, recycle", and we try to buy as little plastic as possible. But I also know that my home has a limit in space- and I know that for me to be happy I need to get rid of things now and then, whether it be recycled or put in the bin- I hate contributing to land-fill but I don't know what else I can do with what I regard as rubbish.
I'm sorry, I don't really have an answer to hoarding; as I said I'm definitely no expert and I sympathise with people who for one reason or another live in that way. I just hope that they are brave enough to seek help if their health or their happiness is jeopardised in any way- and I hope that whoever is called upon to help them does so in a gentle, understanding and sensitive way.
I am now going to call Daphne to say hi :)