Probably most of us have at least one friend or relative in that category, just as most of us likely have an alcoholic friend or relative. A friend of mine who admits she has several relatives who suffer with this habit affectionately calls them, “hoardies.”

Being a rather new problem, it attracts so-called experts who are quick to jump on the hoarder-disorder bandwagon and profit from it. The truth is there isn’t enough information yet to fully understand how and why it develops in some people and not others. There is obvious a mental problem of some kind involved such as OCD, ADHD, or chronic depression. But everyone is different and the reasons and treatments vary widely, as they should.

I believe one of our responsibilities, as professional organizers, is to treat clients with respect and compassion to help reduce their anxiety and shame about needing help. Listening, not judging, is key.

I’ve been working with a hoarder who had terrible experiences with hoarder “experts” who [she felt] demoralized and humiliated her with critical labels like “Level 4” or “tornado.” The “plan” was to bring in a crew and toss everything out in a few days. No sifting or sorting, just shovel and bag. Charges would be added to an already expensive process for transport of trash to the city dump and fees as well as transportation of goods to the donation center. After a brief conversation, I realized she was not the stereotypical hoarder who was reluctant to part with anything. She was aware of how much needed to be tossed or donated; she just didn’t want bank statements, tax returns, etc., to be tossed willy-nilly.

Yes, it’s painstakingly slow with just the two of us going through piles and years of neglect, but she’s tossing away as much as I am. Her place is in danger of being red-tagged because a neighbor accused her of having fleas that come through the walls. (I’ve yet to see any insects of any kind.) My hope is we can get the place cleared enough in time so she can feel comfortable to have repair people come in and fix some serious floor and ceiling damage so her place can become a home again.

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