The media can be unkind to hoarders. Reality TV shows often shock and misinform, defining hoarders as dirty, lazy people whose bad habit is way beyond control. We need to deal compassionately with this serious, complex disorder, linked with deep-seated emotional issues; frequently misunderstood.
Around 1.2 million UK people have hoarding disorder which messes up their heads and homes. Hiding in piles of clutter, it causes ‘CHOAS’ ‘Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome’, bringing isolation. It sabotages the work of family, friends and hoarding professionals. Rearing its ugly head, it leaves a sticky slime of stigma in its wake.
The following stories show how a kinder, more gradual approach will help Hoarders clear out their clutter for good.
The Hoarder: K’s story
This is K’s story. His story was recounted by Heather Mattuozo, an amazing lady who runs Clouds End, a UK Hoarding Support service.
At an early age, K began collecting and hiding behind a wall of belongings. Turning to alcohol, then hoarding, no-one could get near him. Desperate to sort out his life, he asked friends to help him declutter. As the house filled up again, he was too ashamed to ask for help. He took to living in the hallway, sleeping on a yoga mat thrown on top of his possessions. Heartbroken to hear his plight, a friend invited him to a hoarding support group. This was the making of K. He not only overcame Hoarding Disorder. He now uses his own powerful story to help other Hoarders rewrite theirs.
Step 1) Tackle the clutter, slowly, starting with half an hour a day. Make yourself accountable to others.
Step 2) Clear everything layer by layer, facing the pain. For K this was a cathartic experience, prompting him to seek treatment for depression
Step 3) Understand the triggers for a hoarding habit. When a close relative died, K asked a friend to keep a watchful eye.
Now K has a new problem; which room to decorate first!
Paul: the Support Worker’s Perspective
Paul shares his experience as a support worker with Hoarding Disorders UK.
Be compassionate. Support the person not the disorder, winning trust by building rapport
Build knowledge from videos, books and professionals. Paul shadowed Jo from Hoarding Disorders UK during his probationary period.
Draw on past experience. Paul’s previous work in the inclusion centre of a mainstream secondary school helped him deal with behavioural, emotional and social family issues.
Toughen up. Not everything works out, mainly due to a weak link or family dynamic. However hard, accept reality. Move on to others needing help.
Far from being a very bad habit, compulsive hoarding is a complex condition causing mayhem to the health, well-being and lifestyle of those affected. It’s possible to beat the stigma, but only if we take a compassionate, cohesive approach. Find out more at https://hoardingdisordersuk.org/, read Understanding Hoarding written by Jo Cooke, 2017, detailed at https://hoardingdisordersuk.org/understanding-hoarding/ or contact Jo at email@example.com and 07950 364 798.
Jo Cooke is an accredited member of the Association of Professional Declutterers and Organizers and runs her own decluttering business, Tapioca Tidy. She is a Director of Hoarding Disorders UK and hosts two hoarding support groups, in Berkshire. Her book ‘Understanding Hoarding’ offers guidance on how to help people affected by hoarding, clutter or chronic disorganisation