From Clutter to Crisis to Cleanup How to Help a Hoarder

Reporter's Diary Day One:
The Assignment
2:30 PM: Read e-mail assignment letter from editor at The Cooperator. Topic is compulsive hoarding: who does it, how it mushrooms into problems for shareholders and their neighbors, what can be done to remediate it. 2:40 PM: Start looking for notebook under piles on the desk. Discover old bills, pizzeria menus, Backstreet Boys CD without a case, a screwdriver, several hair scrunchies, and a phone number with no name on a scrap of paper.3:00 PM: Find notebook - start hunting for pen. 3:10 PM: Stoop to clean up piles of paper that have been dislodged by pen search. Pile them on foot of bed, next to yesterday's socks, a Beanie Baby, and a pile of clean laundry.3:30 PM: Use pager on cordless phone base to locate handset. 3:35 PM: Remove phone from under comforter and remake bed, restack papers, socks, laundry, and Beanie Baby.3:40 PM: Call story contacts - feel oddly connected to topic.

Does any of this ring a bell for you? Do you have a cabinet full of mismatched Tupperware? A room so filled with papers that you can't find the floor? Closets brimming with stuff, and more stuff? A dining room table that no one ever eats on? After talking to several experts and poring over several Web sites, I'm relieved to have found that I am one of the millions of people who clutter and/or hoard. I'm worse than some and better than many. But no matter where you are on the spectrum, there's help available to cut the clutter and enable you - or your hoarding shareholder - to see the floor again.

"The smarter they are, the more stuff they hold onto," says Ron Alford, president of Disaster Masters Inc., a professional disaster management firm based in Queens, speaking of people with hoarding tendencies. "College professors, nurses, lawyers - they're all information junkies. They hold onto articles, magazines, notes, because they feel like they never know when they are going to need them again." The answer to that question is, of course"¦probably never. The truth is, most paper that goes into a pile is never seen again. One PTA flier left on the kitchen counter because it is "urgent" breeds countless other pieces of paper. Usually it is completely buried by new mail, supermarket circulars, and last week's spelling tests until long after the expiration date of whatever it originally advertised.

Hanging Onto the Old

There's a difference, however, between little piles of clutter and a serious hoarding situation, and the root of it may lie in the "whys" of the packrat's behavior. There are many different reasons why people hang onto seemingly random, worthless bits and pieces - and these reasons dictate what they keep. Some people suffer from what Alford has dubbed "disposophobia" - the fear of throwing things away. Other people are afflicted with "affluenza" - an addiction to spending money on things because of the rush shopping gives, without any thought to whether it is needed, or where it will go once purchased. is a Web site designed for the person who has decided to do something about their clutter. According to site publisher Cynthia Towley-Ewer, there are other categories of clutterers too. The Sentimentalist keeps - you guessed it - mementos.

My mother is a mild Sentimentalist, keeping all my baby teeth, corks from special bottles of champagne, sugar cubes from fancy restaurants, and every playbill and ticket stub ever. The only reason she isn't overwhelmed is that she is so organized. All her pictures go in albums and the albums into closets - unlike the type of hoarder known as The Deferrer. This is the person who says, "I'll think about that tomorrow." He puts everything down right in front of him, and puts off finding a regular place to keep it - forever.


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  • Well my sister had this problem for years but each we (the family) clean out her junk after months convincing she eventually agrees. The last time we use a New york based company, The Junkpros, it is a member of NAPO, their crews were fantastic. Their called her case Extreme clutter. So far it has been ok for a year now, (the longest by far). We keep our finger crossed.
  • It is true that education seems to correlate with some horder behavior, but there are plenty of times that education is not in the hoarder's past, relatively speaking.
  • This is me please help!!!
  • Ex-spouse certainly has this problem, but I've thought deeply about it and it's more than just clutter and hoarding. Clutter and hoarding seem only to be symptoms. What seems to be a deeper issue still is "neglect". Across- the-board neglect. And to go with that, poor self-discipline, poor self-control and an inability to say no. While we were married he neglected our finances, our home, our yard, everything. He neglected his health--he had weight problems, dental problems, neglected hygiene, neglected to follow through on promises. His habitual neglect, along with hoarding is what led to the clutter. In the end I divorced him. I wanted to divorce him as soon as we were married; anytime I tried addressing the problem I got defensiveness and denials from him, and he'd turn it around into me that had the problem. I could finally say, "Yes I do have a problem. My problem is me staying in this relationship." All we did was go around and around on it. It all weighted me down so badly emotionally that it took me 8 years to separate from him; I then spent another 4 years trying to recover from the emotional toll all of this took on me, and so that I finally had the strength to go through with a divorce. It hasn't changed since we divorced either. Unfortunately it still affects me indirectly as we share custody of our two children, and it affects them. All of this behavior of his has had the impact on them of being severly disorganized as well, which they then bring to my house and resent me for trying to get them organized. They'd rather take the easy route and not clean up. It has even affected one of my kids school work/performance. I'm about to do some kind of intervention although I'm not sure what yet.
  • This is me! Thank you for the many aspects and explanations of the different types and the root causes. Its so nice to know the someone out there "gets it". Are there any a c ciliated companies to you in other states? Do any of these types of companies work with cost and payment arrangements. Thank you.
  • Since the arrival of the hoarding shows on the "Oh My God TV networks", there have been thousands of new companies who profess on their Google ads to be experts on hoarding. Really? How so? Take a look at the Hoarding Facts site and also the blog at hoardinghelp.wordpress This may help to level the playing field and it just may be where the rubber hits the road for people who need a Life Transition Management expert to move them from past decades into the next.