Hoarding makes life and homes unlivable


POSTED: Monday, April 13, 2009

When does a pack rat cross the line and become a hoarder?

In “;My Mother's Garden,”; a recently aired documentary on MSNBC, filmmaker Cynthia Lester documents her family's attempts to help their mother, a chronic hoarder.

Sixty-one-year-old Eugenia Lester had accumulated so much stuff in the house that she was sleeping in the garden.

Her house was packed with piles of newspapers, garbage, clothing, toys and even a couple of dead rats.

This might sound extreme, but there are more than a million chronic hoarders in the United States.

I ran into an acquaintance recently, and she told me that she had collected so much stuff that she was facing eviction from her rental apartment.

I asked what all she had accumulated, and she replied, “;boxes and boxes of clothes which I collect to give to the homeless.”;

Her collection of clothes appears to have value, unlike most compulsive hoarders who keep things that most would consider useless or of limited value.

But for many hoarders, their identity is tied up in possessions.

According to “;Buried in Treasures”; authors David Tolin, Randy Frost and Gail Stekette, chronic hoarding is considered serious when it prevents one from using living spaces properly, causes significant distress or affects ability to function.

They state that it's important to redefine your identity without clutter. What is the identity you really want? Who do you want to be? What do you want your life to be about?

Most people have a pattern of acquiring, using and disposing. Hoarders have great difficulty disposing.

If that's you, and you're ready to clear out the clutter, here are some of the many steps offered in the book:

» Start with a location that has impact on your daily life.

» Begin by categorizing items simply as things to keep or to let go of.

» Get rid of the easiest items first.

» Wherever you start, stick with it until the area is clear.

» Decide on a location for each saved item.

» Be sure to put away all items sorted by the end of the session.

» Each daily sort and discard session should last at least 30 minutes.

» Track your acquiring for a week or two, recording everything that comes into the house.

Here in Hawaii homes are small, and in order to have a livable home, controlling acquisition and disposing of things in a timely manner is critical.

If clutter is causing parts of your home to be unlivable or your office unworkable, I encourage you to redefine yourself without clutter and begin to transform your surroundings to match your desired identity.

In a follow-up clip of “;My Mother's Garden,”; the mother laments how fast life passes by. Agreeing that life is short, do we really want to spend it consumed with stuff?

See you in two weeks!


Ruth Wong owns Organization Plus. Her column runs the second and fourth Mondays of each month. Contact her care of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, Honolulu 96813; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).