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     Compulsive Hoarding

Have you ever gone into someone’s home and were unable to sit, walk, clear a path? Was there so much clutter that you could not believe how someone lived like that? Are you yourself so ashamed of your surroundings that you are embarrassed to invite someone over; fearing they will judge you? The clutter is CONTROLLING you and you are so overwhelmed by it you don’t know where to start. Does that sound accurate? There is so much stuff that it is hard to find your starting point in the middle of it all. This is compulsive HOARDING.

Compulsive hoarding is a behavioral DISORDER, which effects many people. Psychologists believe that it is a form of obsessive compulsive disorder. It is a fear of throwing things away and an EMOTIONAL attachment to your things, possessions, stuff -- which in turn become clutter. The compulsive hoarder does not realize when they are collecting or saving things that this behavior will cause their situation to get WORSE -- most often they are aware of it only when someone points out that it is a problem.

While anyone of any age can become a compulsive hoarder, it is very common in the ELDERLY. Stacks and stacks of magazines, books, junk, collected for years and years. Inanimate objects that fill the emotional void left behind when children move away or a spouse dies. And habits that developed years ago -- possibly during a time of LACK (many children of the depression or who grew up without much become hoarders later on, saving for later under the belief they will again experience a time when they don't have what they need). Back in the day it was frowned upon to get help or go to therapy, and people who hoarded did not know that it was a problem. Now, fast forward thirty years later to a time when all that stuff that has been accumulated all these years is now consuming your life.

I can remember my dad COLLECTING things. He would collect jars and jars of keys, as if he would be able to start every car or open every door that came his way. I didn’t know why that was such an important thing for him to collect -- for me the keys had no meaning. But now that I know about compulsive hoarding, I realize that the keys had meaning to him. There was an emotional ATTACHMENT my dad had with the keys and other collectibles. Our backyard was filled with junk -- cars and car parts and all sorts of mechanical items that served no current purpose in his life. It was useless junk as I would see it, but to him that junk that was worth money someday. It carried POSSIBILITY that only he could see.

I learned from my dad that same philosophy of “it may be worth money someday”, until I became a Professional Organizer. I would buy something because it was on sale -- even though I knew there was no place or use for it, I bought it anyway. I would go tag saleing and if something was free I took it because I thought that it may be worth money someday. This was a hard habit to break -- it seemed logical for all those years to stash things away for the FUTURE. But once I became a Professional Organizer, I developed an awareness of how stifling and smothering this "stuff" was -- what a burden it was to have to store and care for and worry about it. I also recognized where this behavior came from and why it was important that I live my own life and not my dad's obsessions. So I have learned to stop hoarding only because I now know why hoarding exists and the CONSEQUENCES it brings.

Like other compulsive hoarders, I had formed an emotional attachment to my possessions and was not able to get rid of anything because of the sense of loss I was feeling from my childhood. Like I tell my kids all the time, if you don't solve the problems that arose in your childhood, you will bring those same problems to your ADULT life -- and you will never being free to live your life according to your rules and values until you deal with this old baggage. So those of you who still, as adults, blame your parents or siblings for making you the way you are, it's time to take responsibility for your life. You may have learned behaviors from your family, but it is up to you to make the CHANGES necessary to break free from those behaviors. You can have peace, serenity and balance -- but only you can take the first steps toward overcoming compulsive hoarding.

I am a Professional Organizer -- and in my business, I see compulsive hoarding everyday. Far to many times I have heard “I don’t know where to start”, “I don’t know when it got this bad”. What I do in my business is focus on the client’s organizational STRENGTHS and eliminate their WEAKNESSES. Sometimes we don’t recognize our own strengths; it often takes another person telling us what they are to make us realize our own capabilities. I use my clients' strengths to create structured organizational solutions that simplify their lives and allow them to let go of their unhealthy emotional attachments.

We know that people who are organized are STRUCTURED, so it stands to reason that people who are disorganized are not stupid or defective or incapable -- they simply are not structured. I have found this to be true in my work -- when you don’t have structure and order in your life, you will never have organization. And that is true not only with your things, but in your MIND as well. Organization begins in the mind (internally) and then seeps out to the action part of actually organizing things (externally). So the first step in overcoming compulsive hoarding is accepting that there is a better way, and allowing yourself to let go of all those negative emotions that cause you to collect -- guilt, fear, anger, jealousy, etc.

Compulsive hoarders find that their internal emotional clutter has manifested itself as EXTERNAL clutter. In order to deal with difficult emotional issues, they surround themselves with "things" that are supposed to fill a void or create a cushion of comfort and security. However, too many things around you continually draw your attention in too many directions -- keeping a compulsive hoarder from being able to focus and making it hard to ever complete a project or get anything done. Clutter and disorganization cause stress not only for the cluttered person, but family, friends, and co-workers as well. In recognizing the impact that hoarding has on you and everyone in your life, you can finally stop making EXCUSES for your clutter -- excuses you made in the past because you were embarrassed by your mess. There is no need to be embarrassed, we understand that is a life long psychological problem and it can not be solved overnight.

There are a special group of Professional Organizers out there who are trained to deal with compulsive hoarding. The National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization offers a certification program for dealing with CHRONIC disorganization issues -- including hoarding. These professionals can help you recognize your strengths and capitalize on those to create a structure that will allow you to break free from your need to collect and accumulate. If you have serious hoarding issues, the best course of action is to work hand in hand with both a Professional Organizer and a therapist. The therapist will work on your internal clutter and the Professional Organizers will work on the external clutter -- and together they will help you SIMPLIFY your life by finding solutions that work best with your organizational habits.


Barbara Savage is a Professional Organizer for Organize your Life. You may visit her website at www.organizeyourlife.us.

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