There are a staggering number of people in the U.S. suffering from hoarding behavior. Individuals engage in excessive accumulating or have difficulty letting go of items, sometimes so severe that it interferes with normal activities of daily life. Rooms are no longer usable for their intended purpose, we see dining rooms cluttered with belongings not meals or tubs holding clothes not bathwater. Statistics estimate that 15 million people are dealing with this issue. In Philadelphia, the estimate is 31,000 -77,000.
A cleanout is the method most municipalities use to deal with hoarding. Reducing the volume of clutter to safer levels is thought to alleviate the problem and support the person. The reality is, without treatment and support for the individual, the rate of recidivism after a cleanout is nearly 100%. With the high cost of cleanouts and low rate of return, cities are beginning to pay attention to research findings.
Thanks to the research of doctors Frost, Steketee, Tompkin and Tolin, we are now understanding that cleanouts are “stuff-centered” and don’t address the issues buried below the surface. Simply removing clutter without addressing the underlying issues illuminates the reasons for high recidivism rates after cleanouts. This research is stimulating new intervention models. Being “people-centered” is the common theme. They each involve the person with hoarding behavior as key to the solution. Given that 92% of individuals diagnosed with Hoarding Disorder also have another co-occurring disorder, there is no one set solution.
The work is personalized and takes keen listening skills, creativity, flexibility, patience, and lots of compassion. Instead of focusing solely on the volume of clutter, a spotlight shines on the safety and well-being of the individual while working to reframe old thoughts and beliefs to reduce the dependence on acquiring and saving. There is no magic pill. Everyone involved understands this disorder has deep roots; the process takes time and relapses are as common as seen with over eating or drinking.
One of the new models is Harm Reduction (HR). Its goal is to reduce the risks associated with hoarding. Instead of talking about the “stuff” to get rid of, it asks the question, “How do we keep you safe in your home and maintain clear access for emergency staff and equipment if the need ever arises?” The (HR) process provides a support person that works with the individual identifying key health and safety concerns in the home. They also serve to document goals to alleviate the issues. From this information, they design and implement a strategy to address these issues over time.
One such organization that has adopted this (HR) model is the Philadelphia Hoarding Task Force (PHTF). The Task Force is a coalition of organizations that seek to improve outcomes for people who hoard while balancing the rights of the individual with the health and safety needs of the community. PHTF is introducing service providers to this model as a way to circumvent the costly and catastrophic consequences often seen with cleanouts and instead, create favorable long lasting results.
Consulting with its members from Licensing and Inspections and the Fire Department, PHTF has come up with 8 Benchmarks to follow to create healthier, safer homes. These benchmarks provide specific measureable goals that support, guide, and unify everyone involved. They address potential hazards regarding fire, tripping, limited access in or out of the home for the individual, emergency personnel and their equipment, avalanches, health issues and infestation. The benchmarks are as follows:
When I help clients decide what items to cull, I often sing a ditty to the tune of ‘Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
Oh, the house is getting cluttered
And it makes me want to shudder
And since it’s on overflow
I’ll let it go, let it go, let it go.
Doesn’t sound professional? Well, it helps clients to have fun when making tough decisions about letting go of items that trigger memories. As professional organizers, we help our clients reframe the way they look at their items so they can become clear on what they want to keep and what they want to let go.
Marie Kondo’s books and Tidying Up Netflix series have inspired people to declutter and organize their homes. One of KonMari’s catch phrases is ‘DOES IT SPARK JOY?’ I like that concept because it implies joy ignites energy. Of course, we need to keep items that don’t necessarily spark joy (can you say ‘income tax returns?) so let’s examine some other questions to ask yourself:
Sometimes even these questions aren’t enough to make clear, confident decisions. We may need to delve deeper to examine the ”keep vs. don’t keep” tug of war going on inside us. Here are some other reframing questions to ask yourself:
If when you’re culling items and feel stuck, feel free to sing my take on ‘Let It Go’ or make up your own words to Frozen’s version. Keep the process fun as you strengthen your decision-making and letting-go muscles!
If you’ve ever wondered, do organizers really practice what they preach?
I am here to say, YES! In my case, I follow 4 basic rules*:
1. Decide where things live
2. Return items to their “home”
3. Follow In One/Out One
4. Build routines around maintaining systems
The third rule, In One/Out One, is the least appreciated and most neglected by our clients, even though it offers the best defense against clutter build-up.
Here’s a personal story of how it recently went down in my house.
First you have to know that I LOVE citrus. Fresh lemon juice goes into every salad dressing. Fresh lime juice refreshes most fruit bowls. Many of my fish recipes require fresh lemon, lime or orange juice. So my juicer has been a staple in my kitchen. I love that it not only does a great job, it also attaches to a measuring cup – which makes it easy to know when I have enough.
Pictured below on the left, it had a primo spot in my most accessible gadget drawer just below my prep counter. Until…
My husband, an aspiring minimalist, bought me a new juicer. He had researched to get me “the perfect gift.” I was skeptical, even though for him to buy something it MUST be great. I could not imagine HOW anything could replace my beloved juicer.
It would have to at least be:
• super easy to use
• simpler to clean
Well, my new citrus press is all that AND bold and bright. In being so colorful — I smile every time I see it.
But it took me some time to let go of my trusted fave…2 weeks, in fact. I call it the testing time. Some “old” items deserve this reflective time.
Honestly, it took me a week to open the package and try the new “citrus press.” I felt like I was cheating on my trusted go-to.
Once, I tried it, I set an alarm on my calendar to remind me to “consider if keeping new juicer” and a few days later “decide if still need old juicer.”
When you replace something, even if you are committed to In One Out One, you don’t HAVE to let go immediately. But you must put a time limit on making your decision. (It’s too easy for items to stagnate, clog your drawers and attract more clutter.)
Since I was using these gadgets daily, it didn’t take long to know I was in love. As for my “old” juicer, it still has life left in it. My son is a decent cook at college — so guess who just inherited a new fave? 🙂 When he graduates, I will gift him his very own citrus press!
* Remember I said these were 4 rules that I think every Professional Organizer follows?
It’s true of any organized person.
• You don’t have to be a professional organizer to be organized.
• Some people are MORE organized than their organizer (GASP!)
Yes…it’s true. Not every organizer is the MOST organized person you’ll ever meet.
• Professional Organizers know how to help YOU solve your organizational overwhelms and clutter-crisis.
My birthday is Ground Hog’s Eve (Feb 1st). That means I get a do-over for whatever New Year’s Resolutions I haven’t followed through with. I get to make new resolutions for what I want to change before my next birthday. But this year I decided not to make resolutions. I decided to set intentions instead.
Resolutions too often include words like “don’t, won’t or never.” Intentions are focused on the future and can be stated in the present tense every day. After my morning meditation, I frequently set an intention to be grounded and focused throughout my day.
Intentions can become habits. A habit is defined as “an addictive behavior that is hard to give up” but an addiction does not need to be viewed negatively. For example, I am addicted to my grandchildren. The more time I spend with them the more time I want to spend with them.
What would happen if I became addicted to new habits? To become addicted, the first thing I need to do is to explore how I will benefit from my new habit. In sales, we are taught that when we convey the benefit first, ask key questions that lead our prospect to reply “yes” or to nod their head affirmatively, the close will take care of itself.
In December I set an intention to allow more time to get places and not squeeze one more thing in before getting out the door. Then I decided I couldn’t wait until January to put this into action because rushing to get out the door was stressing me out and negatively affecting everyone around me.
It isn’t an intention anymore; it’s a new habit. The benefit of allowing myself more time to get places and get out the door on time is that I don’t feel stressed about forgetting something important or anxious about being late. I am more grounded and focused throughout my day.
Habits create different types of energy. Good habits create positive energy that flows. “Bad” habits create problems like clutter and disorganization; a stagnation of energy, productivity and efficiency.
As a Home Organizer I look for the cause of the clutter and chaos in a space and often I see it is because of “bad” habits like not processing junk mail or not breaking down cardboard boxes when they are empty. When I am finished with a client, I make recommendations to help them to create new habits that will keep the clutter from re-accumulating and will maintain the serenity that organization has created.
One of the biggest challenges in life is to walk your walk and talk your talk. I intend to do that starting now and not wait until New Year’s Eve or Ground Hog’s Eve.
As an organizer it is my job to help my clients sort through belongings and ask themselves tough questions, like:
A lot of times the answers are that they have a) never used it, b) used it once, c) it was given to them and they never liked it, or d) I have 3 things that perform the same function. These answers usually mean the object needs to go. For the things my clients are struggling to let go of and think they may need “some day” I tell them to “USE IT OR LOSE IT”!
If you don’t USE IT your gonna LOSE IT (donate it). Once we agree that an item fits into the “USE IT OR LOSE IT” category we need to assess it and give it an expiration date. We physically assign a date by writing it on a post-it and slapping it on the item. Then we put that item somewhere it is easily accessible so that it has every opportunity to be used. For example, if you think you absolutely must keep your 1980s hair crimper we will put it on the bathroom counter so after 30 days if you haven’t used it, when it was right in front of you, then you never will and it goes into the donate pile.
Some things to think about when assigning an expiration date are:
Something that was very expensive gets a longer expiration date than something very cheap. Something you’ve had for 10 years and used once gets a much shorter deadline than something you’ve only had six months. Something large gets a shorter deadline than something small.
Sometimes these lines are blurred because things can fit into multiple categories. A ping-pong table takes up a lot of space but it may be worth a lot of money. This is when you need to reflect on what your individual priorities are. Do you value the space in your home over the money spent or the money you could get to sell it? Each individual has different priorities and that is okay, you need to come up with a timeline that feels right to you.
If you say that you are giving yourself 3 months to play ping pong and that date comes and goes you need to stick to your expiration date and let the item go. Accountability is key!
Everyone knows that our lungs are the major organ in our respiratory system, that our brain is central to our nervous system and that our stomach and intestines are partners in our digestive system.
How does that connect to organizing? Just look at the word: there is an ORGAN inside organizing!
Our bones — amazing organs within our skeletal system — form the structure of our bodies while they protect our internal organs. With the help of ligaments and tendons, our skeletal system allows us to move.
Let’s look at our households like our bodies — and see ORGANizing from an interdependent, systemic perspective:
• providing structure and support
• filtering toxins (clutter)
• creating space for nourishment
• allowing time to digest our days
• minimizing distractions
As the daughter of a D.O., the osteopathic approach always takes the whole person into consideration. Likewise, I consider the whole household when organizing.
On that note, let’s all head into 2019, protecting our:
• organizing time like our brains
• organizing framework as we maintain our posture
• organizing schedule as routinely as brushing our teeth
• and use our ORGANizing muscles to stay healthy!
Happy New Year