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Monday, January 25, 2010

Time for some color

Oh my, January can be a tough month... So now is when I put flowers in every vase and pull out all my books on flowers and gardens and spread them across every surface. Anything to remind me that these dark, grey, drizzly days of winter will soon pass...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Am I a hoarder?

Since the show on Hoarders (A&E) started airing last year, I've been getting calls from people all over the country asking me if I think they are, or their parents are, or their friends are - a hoarder.

Not everyone who is disorganized or who has a collection of items is a hoarder. Some of my clients have amassed thousands of items - which they use for their hobbies or crafts - while they may be addicted to their collecting - they are not hoarders. Their addiction to their collections may even do them harm - financially or emotionally (usually by causing discord with spouses), but still they are not necessarily hoarders.

I follow the OCD Foundation's definition as stated below:

Compulsive Hoarding Syndrome - An Introduction
Karron Maidment RN, M.A.

Program Coordinator/Behavior Therapist
UCLA OCD Intensive Treatment Program

Hoarding is defined as the acquisition of, and inability to discard worthless items even though they appear (to others) to have no value. Hoarding behaviors can occur in a variety of psychiatric disorders and in the normal population, but are most commonly found in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Those people who report compulsive hoarding as their primary type of OCD, experience significant distress or functional impairment from their hoarding. They have symptoms of indecisiveness, procrastination, and avoidance, are classified as having compulsive hoarding syndrome. An estimated 700,000 to 1.4 million people in the United States are believed to have compulsive hoarding syndrome.

Compulsive hoarding is not just an enthusiast's passion for collecting stamps, dolls, or baseball cards. Neither is it someone who likes to "tinker," and fix up old cars or broken furniture. People with compulsive hoarding syndrome may have immense difficulty throwing anything away, from the oldest paper clip, to a used food container, to an out-of-date newspaper, for fear that they might need those items in the future. Their homes are often full of stuff that the rest of us would call "junk." The most commonly saved items include newspapers, magazines, old clothing, bags, books, mail, notes, and lists.

Along with difficulties in throwing things away, compulsive hoarders have severe difficulties making decisions, perfectionism, and avoiding tasks. People with compulsive hoarding syndrome do not like to make mistakes. To prevent making a mistake, they will avoid or postpone making decisions. Even the smallest task, such as washing dishes or checking mail may take a long time because it has to be done "right." The net result of these high standards and the fear of making a mistake is that compulsive hoarders avoid doing many tasks, because everything becomes tedious and overwhelming.

To differentiate "normal" collecting from compulsive hoarding, Dr. Randy Frost and his colleagues define the compulsive hoarding syndrome according to three criteria:

The acquisition of, and failure to discard, possessions that appear to be useless or of limited value. Compulsive hoarders have an obsessive need to acquire and save many objects, and tremendous anxiety about discarding them, because of a perceived need for the objects for their apparent value. Sometimes an excessive emotional attachment to them develops. A compulsive hoarder will think, "This is too good to throw away," "This is important information," "I will need this later on," "This should not be wasted." These thoughts are generally normal, but their frequency and the importance attached to them are clearly excessive in compulsive hoarders. If they have any doubt at all as to the value of an object -- no matter how trivial, compulsive hoarders will keep it -- just in case.

Living spaces sufficiently cluttered so as to preclude activities for which those spaces were originally designed. Obviously, with many items coming into the home and very few going out, the clutter will accumulate. It does not take long for the clutter to spread onto the floors, counter tops, hallways, stairwells, garage, and cars. Beds become so cluttered that there is no room to sleep. Chairs become buried under clutter, so there is nowhere to sit. Kitchen counters become so cluttered that food cannot be prepared. For many hoarders, it gets to a point where there might be only a narrow pathway that connects each room, and the rest of the house is piled several feet high with clutter. It becomes impossible to use many areas of the house for their original purpose.

Significant distress or impairment in functioning is caused by the hoarding. Because of their desire for perfection, compulsive hoarders frequently take a long time to do even small chores. An inordinate amount of time may be spent "churning" -- moving items from one pile to another but never actually discarding any item nor establishing any consistent organizational system. Many compulsive hoarders have limited social interactions. The nature of their problem makes them socially isolated. They are frequently too embarrassed by their clutter to have people come to their home, sometimes for many years. Some compulsive hoarders are able to work, but they will often comment that they are not working in a job that fully utilizes their skills or potential. They always come in early and leave late because they take much longer than other people to finish tasks. A survey of elderly hoarders found that hoarding constituted a physical health threat in 81% of identified cases. These included threat of fire hazard, falling, unsanitary conditions, and inability to prepare food.

Given this profile, it appears that people with compulsive hoarding syndrome have unique deficits in problem solving and information processing. Compulsive hoarders have a distinct behavioral profile and a characteristic pattern of symptoms and functional disability. This requires a different treatment approach from that used for other types of OCD. Compulsive hoarding syndrome may represent a subgroup or variant of OCD that is caused by different genetic and familial factors than non-hoarding OCD.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Are you ready to get organized?

Last year I got a call from a woman who told me she was frustrated with the condition of her home. A stay at home mom, married to busy guy, a couple of young children in school and a large suburban home. I made an appointment to do an evaluation and formulate a plan.

I found the house in dire need of a complete makeover. Every room was filled with clutter of every kind. Not hoarding clutter, just day to day stuff that had piled up - clothes and toys strewn about, garbage overflowing, papers and books everywhere... Nothing in the house seemed to have a specific place. I called this "the no one knows where to put anything" house. We had a real heart of heart session because one thing was plainly clear to me by the condition of the master bedroom - this marriage was in trouble.

I came home and spent a considerable amount of time writing up a plan and emailed it to her. And I never heard from her again.

It's not the first time that someone has disappeared after an organizing evaluation and I know it won't be the last, because going into someone's home can reveal things that are so deeply sensitive and so very scary to face, that they simply can't "go there" - perhaps they will sometime later, perhaps never. I like to think that she took the plan and implemented it herself, I'll probably never know.

I have an organizing client right now who keeps telling me at every session "wow, I didn't know it would be like this, I didn't know I would feel this way about my stuff, I didn't know this would be so hard, I didn't know this would be so emotional..."

Yes, organizing can be an amazing tool for self discovery. Most of us go through life in a state of "unconsciousness". Just going from one life event to another and dragging our stuff along with us. We bring things into the house one thing at time and some years later we look over our shoulders to ask "where did all this stuff come from?"

So, here's my question - what is your relationship to your stuff? Most people don't have the faintest idea what I mean when we start the process...but they sure do when we finish!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Undeck the Halls: 7 Tips to Undecorate from the "Holidaze"

This article is so good, I have to share it.... visit Lori at clutterdiet for more of her great tips.

Are you kidding me? Did the holidays just flash by? I can't believe it's all over.

It's time to "undecorate." Here are some guidelines:

Set a deadline. My husband is from Puerto Rico, where they celebrate Three Kings Day on January 6th-- it's kind of a big deal. Each year we use this date as a guideline for our undecorating, typically the weekend after that day. Another good guideline is the weekend after the New Year celebrations. Choose something that works for you and stick with it year after year. Having decisions already made means it's simpler... and you avoid the risk of procrastinating and being the person with the dead tree on the curb at Valentine's Day.

Take a photo before you take it all down. If you are really happy with how your decor looked this year, take some photos of your rooms so you can remember how you did it. If you want to be super-organized, you can even try putting all of the decor for one room in bins together with the pictures stored inside for reference.

Choose a space-- a dining room is really effective-- where you quickly grab everything holiday-related from around the house and put it all together in one spot. Dining room tables provide a large flat surface that makes it easy to sort and pack. It feels more manageable this way, and the rest of the house gets back to normal quickly.

Look for deals on bins and other containers right now. We all know about those wonderful post-holiday sales... if you need containers for your decorations, it's a great time to get some. Don't forget Goodwill and other thrift stores for even better deals. There are dozens of great specialty products out there for storing ornaments and lights-- but good ol' bins are just fine too. I do really like getting a special bag to hold artificial trees. You can find those at

Don't keep anything that is broken beyond repair or that you have not used in two years or more. It's easy to fall into the trap of just packing everything quickly without thinking, but pay attention to what you are keeping. It might make some of those boxes easier to haul down from the attic next year! Remember also to store candles and other temperature-sensitive items in a climate-controlled area.

Remember this process next year. When you are feeling all festive and decking the halls, remember that you will have to undecorate later when you feel less festive. Don't get carried away. Sometimes less is more!

Reward yourself for your good work with some fresh flowers-- maybe more than one bouquet, just from the grocery store if you like. Sometimes the house looks really sparse after having been decorated (possibly since Halloween).

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Back to basics

Last year, I worked with more organizing clients than I have ever worked with before. While cleaning out my files, to start this new year, I thought about each of those jobs and the people who were brave enough to take on the task of organizing. Yes, you have to have the courage to make the call for help, trust someone you don't know to come to your home, and be led through the process. You also have to be determined to see the job through...some jobs don't finish, and some jobs morph into something else. But one way or another, each client comes face to face with themselves, often in ways they had not anticipated. And that's why I say "it's not about the stuff..."

Stuff...somewhere, somehow we got it that life was about stuff. The more successful we are, the more money we have, the more stuff we get and the bigger the space to keep our stuff is. Now that I've watched Mad Men, I understand it better, those guys really changed our world, along with the TV. We got the message that life isn't worth living without all the stuff.

While we have each formed our own personal attachment to stuff, the fact is that stuff is stuff, in whatever form it takes:

Stuff for convenience - most of us have collected things to make our lives more convenient - why use a knife and cutting board when you can buy a metal or plastic thing that cores an apple or takes the avocado out of its skin. Convenience and time saving devices take up a lot space in our homes and garages...

Stuff for specific uses - this thingy goes with that thing and it has to be over there so that I remember that I have it...

Stuff for hobbies, crafts and sports - there is an endless parade of stuff devoted to each of these areas. And the really tough thing about this kind of stuff is that you need other stuff to keep or use the stuff for the hobby or sport!

Stuff for kids - oh my gosh, I don't know how I ever survived my childhood with a couple of dolls and a few books. I never cease to be amazed at the unbelievable amount of stuff for kids and how much of it we fill their lives with and we are training them to be great stuff collectors...

Stuff with emotional attachments - stuffed animals, cute coffee mugs, anything with Santa, itsey bitsey things, stuff that we've decided means as much to us as life itself...

Stuff just to have stuff - rich or poor, can't live without being surrounded by stuff...

Stuff in the form of paper and books - many of us feel the more paper we have the smarter we are, the more important we are...can't possibly live without the latest book or let go of papers and reports...

Stuff in the form of entertainment - books, cd's, albums, video this and that...electronic games and all of the stuff that comes with it...

Stuff in the form of electronics - gadgets and gizmos of every shape and size, computers and monitors and floppy disks that still might contain something that will be needed...

Stuff that came from someone else - family heirlooms, most of which you don't really like, but you just can't let go of...

Stuff you're saving for your children - whether they want it or not!

What stuff do you have? Why do you have it? What are you going to do with it? What are WE going to do with all this STUFF?
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