May 8
2017

Hoarders – Sorting Through The Pain

For the past two years, I have had the pleasure of working on two separate episodes of A&E’s popular show “Hoarders.”

The filming requires a team effort, with Cory Chalmers working as a lead organizer and my team at Organize By Design working behind the scenes boxing and bagging items the family wants to keep. The team from 1-800-Got-Junk remove most of the garbage and heavy items while waste clean up crews handle the nasty stuff like plugged toilets and tubs.

In 2015, my team and I worked on our first episode where hoarding clothes and holiday decorations had consumed the home of a family of four. It had been more than 14 years since the family had seen the floors in their home. Walking downs to the laundry room was nearly impossible because the mounds of clothes had turned the stairs into a slide with no place to step. The parents ultimately were forced to confront their hoarding when their teenage sons threatened to run away.

In 2016, the Organize by Design team helped Shannon and her three children, who had left their cluttered home and yard and moved into a homeless shelter. Upon leaving the shelter nearly a year later, the family needed to make their home clean and safe or face living on the streets. That was difficult. So many personal tragedies had occurred in the space, Shannon believed it was possessed by demons and harmful entities.

While the reason each of these people turned to hoarding is different — the effect is the same: they feel trapped and unable to let go of items, including many that most people would think meaningless like empty soda cans and old pizza boxes. In many cases, the hoarding escalates and affects more than just themselves. Often, they are faced with losing people they love. While that is terrifying, the anxiety of confronting their space and making it clean and functional is paralyzing.

Usually, some kind of emotional trauma has left them unable to more forward. They lose the ability to trust themselves and are fearful of making choices they might later regret. According to A&E Hoarders,

“Compulsive Hoarding is a mental disorder marked by an obsessive need to acquire and keep things, even if the items are worthless, hazardous, or unsanitary. Up to 19 million Americans have hoarding disorder.”

Hoarding isn’t the same as needing to de-clutter your storage room, garage or spare bedroom. It goes beyond a dining room table covered with papers and bills. Hoarders have years of accumulated items. I’ve seen bags of garbage, broken furniture, mice droppings, mold and ivy growing inside through crumbled brick and windowpanes.

A person needs help when the clutter makes it impossible for them to use their kitchen sink, stove, microwave, shower, bathtub or closets, or they are force to sleep on a pile of clothes rather than their bed. Clutter and disorganization can be extreme due to other factors such as divorce, AD/HD, depression, illness or death of a loved one. But that differs from hoarding when the person becomes unable to let go of what is no longer needed and return their home to a place that is clean and functional.

For professional organizers, hoarders present a unique challenge as they are unable to go through the clutter and discard things item by item, a common practice in the industry. Instead, they need to let go of entire boxes of damaged books, garbage bags filled with clothes, or like Shannon containers filled with vacuum dust. There are times when individuals comes across a meaningful item like a quilt from their grandmother or a box of personal letter that because of their lack of care is damaged beyond repair.

In these situations you are forced to discard the items because they are no longer safe to keep. Sometimes we accidentally create our worst fears. When you are unable to locate what is meaningful to you and safely protect it from heat, water, animal damage, chances are it will need to be thrown away. With all clients there is the obvious physical clutter and then the not so obvious internal issues.

I know for certain that our space affects how we feel. There is a connection — or in many cases a disconnection — in how we interact in our personal and professional space. The goal is to balance your internal voice and your external stuff to create a new environment that will support you daily as you continue to move forward towards your goals. If you are working with a hoarder, remember the first step is to help them learn to trust themselves. They’ve taken the right step in hiring an organizer, now encourage them to get the help of a therapist who can really open them up to change.

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Jun 19
2015

Purging 33 Years of Clothes

Organizing a client’s Clothing/Closets is tricky business! I spent the last two days working with a client organizing two closets filled with clothes that have been accumulating for 33 years. A working professional, she has business clothes, around the house casual clothes, formal clothes, lounger and dressy casual.  All were intertwined among items that no longer fit or if they did could only be worn to a costume party.

It was clear as I stacked pile after pile of wire hung clothes onto the bed and sheet covered floor that we were about to embark on a trip down memory lane! It was like watching the evolution of her life from childhood to adulthood to middle age as told by her clothes.

“I can’t believe my waist was ever this small. I wore that sweater on my first trip to Europe when I was 28. Oh I loved this dress and hat I wore it when I was in California for a wedding with an old boyfriend and it was a beautiful sunny day.  What’s with all these shoulder pads?” Along with the happy memories also came regrets. “I wish I would have worn this more.  I was saving this for a special occasion and never wore it. I bought this because it was on sale. And my favorite “I forgot I had this!”

By focusing on only keeping clothes she loved and that fit her now, she finally gave herself permission to let go of 36 garbage bags of clothes and shoes. That came out to be about a bag a year! I suggested that she maintain her current closets with a similar goal – one bag a year – only buy items you need, and if you buy more, then donate what you are not wearing.

Remember: if you aren’t appreciating it, then allow someone else to benefit! Recycle, recycle, recycle. It feels good to help other people and for most people this is what makes letting go of clutter / excess easy and worthwhile.

A constant reminder that time had gotten the best of my client was having to separate clothes that had been left on dry cleaner hangers, some for 20 years or more!  Most people don’t realize that the material used by dry cleaners is not meant to be used for storage, and will deteriorate over time.  Not to mention, dry cleaning your clothes just to have them sit and gather dust is an expensive habit.

In total: 30 hours (not bad considering how many years of acquired excess we had to sort, toss, contain) 7 bags of wire hangers, garbage and recycle bags, 2 bags of purses, 4 bags of shoes/boots/slippers, over 300 shirts, 91 pairs of pants, 62 blazers, 40 skirts, 50 sweaters, and 37 dresses later we were left with two organized closets.

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Her guest room closet now contain her golf and workout clothes, games, and plenty of empty space that can be used by visiting friends and family.  Most importantly, the master bedroom closet holds only clothing she loves! By organizing her walk-in closet into general categories that reflect what her needs are, I was able to create a space that is not only beautiful to look at but functional and easy to use.

Facing down your clutter and turning your home into a place that supports and reflect who you are, not who you use to be, is a great way to free yourself from the past and embrace and find joy in the now! Life is a journey!  Don’t let your stuff stifle your ability to grow and move forward.

Surround yourself with only those items that enhance your journey and free yourself from the excess that is weighing you down. The journey is easier if you are aware of what you are carrying and whether or not it is serving you or slowing you down!

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Jun 5
2015

A Trip Down Memory Lane

One of the benefits of working with a client long term is that I get to see the outcome of all of our work. Creating systems that support a client such as home finances, children’s school and childhood memories, holiday decorations, closets, jewelry, children’s rooms and even remodeling projects have kept this particular client and me busy for many years.

After these many years and projects we finally found ourselves face to face with cabinets full of family photos that were ready for our attention. Over the last several years we had compiled and collected every last photo, including nine years of School Photos, vacations, birthdays, births, holidays, wedding, anniversaries, christmas cards, friends and family birth announcements, and family parties spanning from 1986 to 2015.

There are many ways to sort photos but this client decided chronological was best for her. The goal was to collect and store all her photos electronically for safe keeping, as well as getting the hard copies organized.

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The majority of her photos from the last several years are already digital, so we sorted all the printed photos into years and tossed duplicates.  Once she had a sorted pile of printed photos, she was able to quickly review each year and set aside the photos that she wants to send for scanning, so she will have access to only those photos that she loves and wants to keep.

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My Digital Organizer, Sarah, felt that this project would best be completed using cafescan.com.  You mail them a stack of photos, they manually scan each one, and they turn your printed photos into digital photos. Having the convenience of accessing all of her photos in one place is a goal she has been talking about for years. What makes this even more fun is she is surprising her husband with a disc highlighting their life together, from their childhoods, to engagement, marriage, births of their children, travel, holidays, and everything in-between.

A giant stack of photos can be overwhelming and trying to locate dates when all you have is your memory is a tricky game. Its amazing how quickly we forget the who, what, where, and when, when faced with hundreds of photos thrown together as life become busier and busier.  I found myself grouping together photos based solely on my client’s clothing, or hairstyles. In the end I had a large pile that only my client could decipher what years they belong in, and along the way as she joyfully took a trip down memory lane.

It was a big job, but it was worth every minute, especially seeing my client get to the end and realize her dream to finally have her photos organized and scanned.  The gift she is giving her husband is just the icing on the cake.  And, if a picture is worth a thousand words, I just finished reading an exciting family novel! Fun! Fun! Fun!

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