Hoarding – Preparing Emotionally to Get Organized



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Getting Organized When You Struggle With Hoarding

Jill – Thank you so much for your blog! I have already learned some helpful hints. I am such a messy housekeeper, always procrastinating because it seems so overwhelming. I tell myself, “Oh, it’s too much to start today. I’ll do it when I have more time.” My parents are big hoarders who never part with anything so I never really learned how to keep a clean home. :( I do keep the dishes and clothes washed and I make sure things are sanitary.

I just have too much stuff. I’m a pack rat. :) There is stuff everywhere in plastic containers and in drawers. I have enough clothing to dress all of the neighbor women for a couple of weeks each. This stuff is mine and I see a use for all of it. I just can’t bring myself to throw away any of it. I like it all! I really wish every space in my house wasn’t a collect-all. We don’t even get to sit at the table as a family. My husband complains, we hate to have unexpected family, we eat out because there is no space on the counter to cook, important papers get lost and we buy more stuff because so many things get misplaced. Everyone passes the blame on someone else. To top it all off, we live in a small ranch home with little closets. How will I ever overcome all of this hoard? I want to live like the normal tidy person– Stuff is ruining MY LIFE. :( Can you give me any suggestions about where and how to start?



It’s hard to give a good answer to a question like this when I only have a few sentences of information, but I will try to point you in the right direction. Because I’ll be addressing the whole group, some of the things I say may not apply to you specifically but I’m including it in case it might help someone else.

How to Recover From Hoarding:

  1. If you struggle with hoarding tendencies, getting organized must be a group effort. Have a family meeting and see if everyone is willing to pitch in and change your lives in a big way.

  2. Deal with the emotions. When people do anything extreme, there are often emotions involved that they aren’t dealing with. Many people try to use “stuff” to make themselves feel better, more secure or more loved. Sometimes there is a serious emotional trauma involved. When people struggle with negative emotions, they often try to fix emotional things with physical things. This won’t work at all. It simply makes the problem worse because it adds another whole set of problems. In your case, you have to go out to eat, can’t have people over, can’t find your bills and so on.

    If you came across a man dying of thirst in the desert you wouldn’t hurry over to him, give him a great big hug, tell him he is loved and expect that to fix his problem. His problem is a physical one and he needs water. People often have an empty emotional gap in their hearts and they think “stuff” will help fill that emotional gap. It just won’t work. You need to solve emotional problems with emotional solutions, physical with physical and spiritual with spiritual. We often mix these up so get honest and identify what is the real problem in your life.

    Sometimes people are angry or rebelling because their parents were too strict about keeping the house clean. (I know this wasn’t your case.) Recognize it.
    Then again, being overwhelmed with clutter may simply be a case of being overwhelmed and not knowing where to start.

  3. Our site has many articles that go into step by step detail about how to get organized and clean and also how to get rid of that overwhelming feeling and get motivated to start. I will include 2 articles at the end of this post to help you get started. Spend an hour or so and read them and some of the others recommended articles on our site. Don’t spend hours reading about it, though. Spending hours learning about something can give you a false sense that you are doing something to address the problem but it quickly becomes just another excuse to put it off. Be careful not to get caught in that trap.

  4. Try to get a friend or family member who is organized to help you with it. Don’t be afraid to ask. If you are serious about getting organized, set aside your emotions (fear and embarrassment) and get the job done. You might be surprised to discover that most organized people love helping others get organized. I don’t know why but, if I walk into a messy room, my fingers just itch to get started picking things up. I really don’t judge. I just want to help.

  5. Put on some comfortable clothes and some pleasant music and get started. After you have finished reading this article and the others you will hopefully be mentally and physically prepared to just get up and do it. You may want to spend a day getting yourself and the “troops” ready or you might clean off just one section today, like your kitchen table. The important thing is to get up and move.

Getting Motivated

There is more detail about this next point in the articles linked below but I will briefly mention it here. One thing that helps me get rid of things is to know that there are people out there who really really need the things I am just storing.

I have been on the other side. When I had my second baby I only had one dress to wear and it wasn’t even a maternity dress. I had to wear a dress four or five times a week and it was embarrassing to have to wear the same thing over and over. I had a neighbor who decided to get rid of some of her stuff and she gave me a whole wardrobe full of clothes. It meant so much to me that I wanted to sit down and cry. This has happened to me many times over the years. Now I look at my closet full of clothes and, even though I do wear most of them, I ask myself, “Do I really really need that many clothes? Maybe someone else could use them more.” Even though we do wear that pair of black pants once every six months, do we really need to keep it when we have five other pairs of the same type?

You say that as a result of your hoarding you go out to eat, lose important papers and struggle with many other things that probably cost you money. If you were organized, you could use that extra money that you currently waste as a result of keeping the extra stuff to help someone else, too. I don’t want to sound harsh because I think you are really trying but consider this: If you had a child with a mound of toys clutched to her chest and another poorer child was in the same room with nothing, what would you do? What would you think about that child if she said, “I want all of my stuff and I don’t care that the other child has nothing. I’m not going to share or give up my toys because they make me happy and feel good.” We often practice a grown up version of this without thinking about it.

Sometimes, the little girl clinging to her toys will give away one toy but the sad thing is she doesn’t realize that clinging to that many toys is not giving her the true happiness she thinks it is. While she is holding tightly to the armful, she can’t really play with any of them or enjoy them properly. She hasn’t learned that by sharing, giving and sacrificing she will step into a whole new world of joy and happiness that giving and sacrificing brings, not to mention the relief she will feel when she gets rid of the heavy burden that comes from carrying around and managing all of those things. How much easier is the little girl’s burden if she only has one toy to hold instead of juggling an armful.

One of the comments we most often hear from people who have gotten rid of excess stuff is that they didn’t realize how much of a burden their possessions had become. They feel like a heavy weight has been lifted off of their shoulders. You said it yourself– The stuff is overwhelming you. Not a good feeling. Now it’s time to get up and, with a little discipline and work, get it done. Do it in stages if that helps but get it done. If discipline and work sound too hard, ask yourself if they are really any more difficult than what you’re dealing with now.

You can do this! You sound like you are now at the point where you really want to get it decluttered, organized and cleaned up and that is half the battle! Read these articles and then, before today is over, get up and at least clean off your kitchen table.

A Most Wonderful Treasure – This is more of a motivational article you might want to read first.

The Basics of Organizing

How To Start Organizing

 

For lots of helpful tips to make organizing, cleaning and laundry easier, take a look at our Keeping It Clean e-books.

 

photo by: valeriebb

Comments

  1. JD says

    I think having “too much” can be many different ways. Our home on the inside and outside looked very organized and neat…ha ha. I would rather die than let anyone look inside a cupboard, drawer, closet or under the bed. I was a master of disguise.

    Finally I got serious but the task was overwhelming. For quite a while I sat…just sat. Then I got some boxes and promised myself that everyday I would toss three things. I know those aren’t big steps. For me they were, I soon graduated to 5 things a day. Boxes filled up and boxes left our house, one way or the other. Trash, charity or to someone I knew that could use the items.

    Slowly, the cluttered closets, drawers and all the hiding places began to take shape. For me this worked.

    • says

      JD you are the perfect example of how when I say you just need to get up and start moving even if it is just one small thing. What happens is you get so motivated and excited at how that first little bit looks you want to keep going and often it is more and faster. Way to go. We all need to be like the tortoise in the story of the tortoise and the hare. Slowly but surely you get there.

      You brought up a good point too about sometimes our hoarding and clutter can’t always be seen by others but that still doesn’t make it easy on us or our families.

  2. Pat says

    I found a lot of excellent ideas and help at flylady.net She is very good at helping me stay on track. You can do anything for 15 minutes at a time.

  3. marilyn says

    I am so slow. I have been trying to get our home ready to put on the market for 2 years now. Each week, my goal is to fill the garbage cart completely up, and to pack up at least 2 boxes to store for moving or get rid of. Getting rid of it is better, but some things you just have to keep. I think we are almost ready to list the house, although it would be easier if all the kids would move out with their stuff. We have had free use of a garage to store our packed boxes, or couldn’t have taken this long.

  4. Sandy Harris says

    If you itemize your taxes you can claim some donations. Just call a tax rep about how to do it. also, donating to a women’s shelter can be helpful to them and boost your sense of “helping others’.

  5. JD says

    I really do identify with the person that asked the question. It was so hard in the beginning. I finally asked myself how many dishes, glasses, outfits did I truly need in or use in a month.

    It also helped me to find a charitable organization to donate some of my most valued belongings to. I happen to be fond of supporting homeless animals and we had a small shop that took in donations, sold them and all the profits went to provide medical care, feed and find homes for all the small creatures. There are so many worthwhile groups doing great things it just takes a moment to find something that you can wish to donate to.

  6. Bea says

    I really like that sentence that you wrote that says “You need to solve emotional problems with emotional solutions, physical with physical and spiritual with spiritual.” There is a lot of depth to that statement that can be reflected upon. SO TRUE. If people would think like that they would know better how to help people.

  7. says

    I never realized how much “stuff” meant to me until I became homeless and really learned what necessaties really meant. Even now, if I am cleaning and organizing my pantry and see that I have things that need to be used up more quickly than I can get to them – I make sure to ask neighbors, friends or even strangers on the street if they could use them. I always say a little prayer and ask to be led to someone who may need or want my extra items – it works every time. :)

    • says

      That is the whole secret Laurie. Until you have been to the point of not having anything you aren’t near as careful with what you have and not to waste anything.

  8. Gayla T says

    I’m faced with a similar problem. I have a friend who has never allowed me into her home and now I know why. I was dropping off some things to her and the door was partially open and I thought she had left it so I could put the box inside which I tried to do. I was horrified and the smell was awful. She does volunteer work in animal rescue and has 7 dogs. She now has admitted that they potty where ever. She had the hard wood floors refinished 7 years ago and she says, now that she knows I know, that the floors are ruined. I’ve been telling her very strongly, that it is a health hazzard to her and the dogs so she just told me that she has hired a woman to come in w/a putty knife to scrape the poop off the floors. I called the city to see what laws apply to a situation like this and they told me as long as the outside is not a mess she can do what she wants with the inside. The outside is fine so that door is closed to getting her help. I’m going to wait a week or so and see if she really does get that lady to clean for her but if not I don’t know exactly what I can do. She always has a cough and sinus problems. Duh! I took one breath of that smell and backed right out as fast as I could. She is only in her 50′s and has never married. Her parents are gone on and she won’t let her brother or sister in either. She has a renter in an apartment above her and I can’t imagine the woman doesn’t smell it, too. If anyone has dealt with a situation like this I’d love to know what you did about it. I do care about her but I have to admit that knowing the full extent of this has made me feel very different about her and I am not proud of that. I keep telling myself that it’s a sickness but it really has made me want to back away from her and that’s not good, is it?

    • says

      Gayla don’t brow beat yourself too much. Your reaction is very normal. To be honest I don’t really have any answers to a situation like this and I don’t know if any one has a good one either. It is like many other things – until the person sees they have a problem and asks for help there isn’t too much we can do to change things.

      As far as this making you want to back away well like I said it a perfectly normal and in one sense a good reaction. I will probably get flack for this especially because it is hard to explain what I mean but reacting to things like this is good for us in the fact that – how do I say this – God in the Bible gives us certain guidelines for cleanliness not for the purpose to judge others but to protect us, our bodies and our health. I think He too has built in a natural reaction to things like this so we have to desire to take care of ourselves and our bodies in a way that is good for them.Does that make sense at all?

      Now I’m not saying we should shun anyone because of this and I feel that we should even do our very best to help (the Bible also says in Rom. 15:1 that we who are strong should help the weak) but at the same time you do what you can but you can’t force anyone to do something against their will. Even God gives us free will and doesn’t force us. If that person still refuses to change with the help given, the person giving the help then must decide if they want to keep giving help with no returns. They must decide if their time, energy would be put to better use helping someone else who might be willing to change. Can they keep giving it without becoming angry or frustrated or discouraged? Which may not be wrong to feel that because God may be wanting you for some reason to back off, maybe you aren’t the right person He wants to use in this persons life, maybe you are to pull away because sometimes we enable people too much with too much help. Now a day we are to be tolerant which I completely agree with but sometimes even a good thing like being tolerant can be misused and done in the wrong way. Sometimes being tolerant turns into enabling which only compounds the original problem.

      I usually work very hard helping someone and help for quite awhile but then there comes a point when I can tell not only is my “help” doing nothing to really help the root problem but they don’t want my help or it is starting to hurt me (not make me uncomfortable but to really hurt) and my family. I then know it is time to back away. All these things you have to weight and decide for yourself and your situation.

    • Mary S says

      I am like this woman but I know what has caused my hoarding,being molested as a child and lack of acceptance by others.I now have a friend who accepts me as I am and it has worked miracles in my life.She has been my friend for a year now and I’ve finally let her in my home and together we are starting to clean out the hoard.Turning this woman into the authorities is not the act of a friend in my opinion but the ultimate betrayal.Let her know you love and care about her,buy yourself a facemask(tell her its because of allergies) and go visit with her.Maybe God put you in her life for a reason and your acceptance of her may be just what she needs to start to move forward.

  9. Bea says

    Gayla T, It sounds like your friend may have emotional problems and could be lonely too. She must be lonely if nobody is ever able to visit with her because of her refusal to let anyone in her home. She must at least have some sense to know what she is doing is wrong with all those animals and the uncleanliness, because she seems ashamed and embarrassed. It would be worse if she was clueless. Maybe you can pray that she gets the Graces necessary to conquer the problems. Maybe someone from her Church can help. If she goes. If it was a friend of mine I probably would talk to some ladies from Church, or the Pastor. If there is feces all over the house and she has a tenant she may get into some kind of trouble eventually. Especially if a utility serviceman ever has to come into her home and fix something. They may report her. Good luck in trying to help her. Maybe God can open a door if you pray.

  10. Melody says

    I love the way that you addressed this question! You gave wonderful advice…I have one other idea I have used as I have helped people clear up and clean out clutter…Those items that are not useful and take much space etc…But that a person feels some type of emotional attachment too nonetheless…I take a digital picture of it or them with it etc…And then you can load these pics on their computer and they still get to see their beloved item but it is not causing them “issues” any longer…It has been my experience that many family members are more than willing to pitch in to see their loved one get better…Also, maybe if she visited a woman’s shelter personally or a place like it she would be more willing to part with things to those in need! Good Luck!

    • says

      This is good advice Melody. I think part of the reason I don’t have a urge to cling to things I really don’t need is years ago I took a car load of things to the women’s shelter and the gals were so excited and grateful for what I brought to them that it almost put me to shame that I hadn’t done even more. Every time I debate on whether I need to keep something or not I remember the looks on their faces and their words of thanks.

  11. Lea Stormhammer says

    If you really are looking at things and thinking ‘I can still use that’ then ask yourself if how long it’s been since you did. To make a very, very long story short we have a 1950′s 900sq ft foot-print ranch. When we bought it the basement was “finished” but not livable. We had it completely filled with stuff (there was a path to get from the stairs to the utility room). We now have 1200sq ft of livable space – the total amount of finished square footage in our home.

    Slowly over time I learned to say “I’ve had this for 4 years and have never used it” or “It’s nice to save x for y, but am I really ever going to do y?” and donate things to other people or organizations. I don’t actually throw out usable objects – I always donate them. It makes me feel good that someone else might actually get a use out of them and my items still get to be useful – to someone else. I donated 4 large bins of craft items (from things I’d dabbled in over the years) to a church fundraiser auction and there was a FEARCE bidding war – someone actually paid $150 for my “junk”!

    Anyway, if you can still see it as useful, work on having it be useful for someone else now rather than you later. That worked wonders for me!.

    I loved the idea above about one or two items per day. And the FlyLady. That’s how I started too (with those two things) and it really and truly does work!

    Blessings,
    Lea

  12. rose says

    jill/tawra .. if it wasnt for the many many words of encouragement, i dont htink i would have ever gotten done de-cluttering in my old house (the one we just moved from) .. and the best advice given.. is to take baby steps .. and also .. get someone to help u .. bc it is very overwhelming ..
    when we moved we got rid of over 90%+ of our stuff .. and when we moved into the apt .. we got rid of about 30% more that we took here .. can we get rid of more? u bet we can .. in fact, i think a good 10% is about it .. hubby and i both agree .. about 10% more can be given away ..
    this summer, we (hubby and i) will be doing some canning .. and we even got a freezer .. and yes.. now its time to really save some money .. he has gotten a new lease on life (a big burst of energy) and is even cooking, doing dishes and even helping me mop the floors ..
    our one friend, she is actually a family friend but she is about my son’s and daughter’s age, has offered to help us out, too .. which is very sweet of her .. adn i must say, if it wasnt for her helping me do alot of the packing and cleaning and de-cluttering, i dont think i would have had the energy to do it all .. it just seemed so much easier with help ..
    thank u jill and tawra for the many words of encouragement .. it was and still is greatly appreciated .. ;D

    • says

      I am so glad you have some help. When you were talking about moving I was worried how you would get it all done because I know how full your plate is with everything so am so glad you have someone to help. Just relax and enjoy it. We all need someone to help us once in awhile. I was even thinking about writing an article on not being afraid to ask for help once in awhile.

  13. Mrs. S says

    thank you! I have been slowly weeding out things from my house. “things” that grandma, auntie, second-cousin, nice-lady-we-used-to-live-by had given us. Things I felt obligated to keep, even though I did not use or love them… this makes me feel better about my decision to start removing these items from my home. It doesn’t mean I love the giver any less, rather I value the person, not the possession :)

  14. Sandi says

    I can remember when we had our huge house (5 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, 3 car garage) it was packed in the later years we lived there. I cringe as I remember several rooms were packed with mail, clothes, shopping bags of items I never even unpacked, much less used. I tried to get rid of things, but there was still a lot there when they finally padlocked the house (we had already moved to an apartment). We had 8 hours after that when they opened the padlocks to get our stuff out, and we had to leave so much there, and I suspect they just threw it all away. That was so traumatic that I am much more restrained when I go shopping. Except for when we evacuated our flooded business and files and equipment were stacked all over the house, I haven’t had nearly as much accumilation of stuff. I realize now that I am a closet(!?!) hoarder, and I try to be mindful of that when I’m looking to aquire something else.

  15. Tracy says

    I had issues with collecting stuff and found durring a depressing time with my young tolder . Had some intervention and learned with some counseling and having
    some one come weekly to assist me . That we can have time where very little gets done or accomplished .
    There is a web site called http://www.flylady.net
    it is based in SC. It very good place to keep you on track and offers allot of tips with cleaning and organizing and with meal planning and grocery shopping.

  16. says

    I appreciated the way you responded to the reader. Usually there is more at the root of the problem than just liking things – and that takes a lot of courage and honesty to be able to deal with. Also, things often hold memories – I like the idea of taking a picture of the item or to really ask yourself if you are honoring the item by not taking care of it. If something is really special you will take care of it by framing it or whatever. Also, I have an organization that takes bagged up clothes and they sell them. I get to help and get rid of my clothing!
    Remember, relationships are more important than things. We need to love people, not things. I don’t want what I own to control my relationships with friends or family.

  17. Janet says

    Jill, I really needed the encouragement and motivation from this article to help me get started on what has seemed an impossible task — decluttering this house! It is so bad that I truly have been overwhelmed and not sure where to start. I really have a hard time parting with anything — programs from performances I’ve been in or attended, greeting cards, notes/pictures given to me by my students over the years –I attach so much sentimental value to everything that it’s ridiculous! I know getting things organized would be so freeing. It feels good just to get a drawer or a shelf organized — but the whole house seems impossible. I am currently caring for my bedridden mom in this little home in which she and my dad raised six of us children. She has lived here for sixty-five years, and there is accumulated stuff from eight people — well, it will be quite a job. But, I’m going to read the articles on your site that relate to organization, and I’ll try to get started today one small step at a time. Thanks for all you and Tawra share with us. You both have a wonderful ministry through this website. By the way, I love your Dining on a Dime cookbook so much that I also bought a copy for one of my sisters and for her newlywed daughter. Thanks again, and God bless!

    • says

      I am so excited for you to get started. Do check out more of our articles under Housekeeping on the home page. If you are like me I love reading these things not so much that I don’t know how to do something but more for the motivation. One thing though is just to find one corner, spot or counter that is driving you crazy and focus on it and clean it. What happens is that when you get just a little bit done you get so excited you want to keep going. Something that might help is to picture what you want the spot or area to look like. For example picture your dining room table all shiny with some pretty place mats, candles and maybe a bowl of fruit or fresh flowers in the center. Then go for it clean it off, shine it up and make it look like the picture in your mind.

      I know what you mean about all those cards and tickets and programs. I saved them too but when I got ready to move I started going through them. I couldn’t even remember what half of them were for and the very few I did remember I had them packed away so they didn’t help me to remember while being packed in a box and I really didn’t need the ticket to remember that evening or event. I had to face the fact too on things like my dried wedding flowers. Why was I keeping them. They wouldn’t mean anything to my kids and did they really mean anything to me now? I have my wedding pictures, wedding dress and Bible. I learned to be so much more selective in what I really needed to keep.

      I finally decided why am I letting these piles of boxes of the past that really weren’t that important (I mean really do I need the program from my 2nd grade school play? I don’t remember it, the teach or even the school) literally mess up my life now. What pleasure can we get out of those memories if they are making our lives miserable and not allow us to function properly in the here and now. I know this sounds gross but I can’t think of another example but it is kind of like having leaches on me sucking the life out of me but can’t bring myself to pull them off of me because I am afraid it might hurt.

      When things are making my life and my family’s life miserable then they are no longer “good memories”, of any use and I need to get rid of them. I know it is hard but just making up your mind you need to do it is half the battle. You sound really excited and I think you will do great. If you get hung up or have any questions don’t hesitate to ask.

  18. grizzly bear mom says

    regarding the person with dogs eliminating on the floor, I would ignore it. If you tell the county they will take away her dogs and she will be very sad which would make her even more unhappy. Also the county should be caring for abused children and dogs, not poopy floors. Many people overeat, over drink, smoke, etc. She is a slob.

  19. Mary Jane says

    Good sound advice, Jill, for dealing with what appears to be a hoarder. We always have to use a large measure of discretion, coupled with love, to be who we ought to be when dealing with others, and as always, we need God’s wisdom and help. I appreciate your word of encouragement to those who find themselves initially repulsed or troubled by what they find. I have had the shared friendship of two women in my life, that I believe were hoarders. You are right. The hoarder must see their problem, and want help, even if they don’t have ability to do it all themselves. If the first criteria isn’t met, then the helper inadvertently becomes an enabler. Cleaned up houses will just fill up again with ferocious speed. What surprises me most about hoarders who think everything they have is a treasure, is that the so called treasure is so carelessly taken care of. “Precious” items are mixed in with true, sometimes biodegradable trash, and family heirlooms are lost in heaps of paper and old bags and boxes. To me, that would be the dead giveaway…if it is so valuable, why do I not take care of it? True hoarding is indeed an illness of sorts, and does usually involve an emotional response to a trauma, tragedy, loss, or feeling of anxiety. For those who want to venture into cleaning up too much clutter, or deal with their hoarding, I give this word of encouragement. Do one area, and then see if you don’t feel a sense of relief for having that one area clean when you go to it. A bank of kitchen drawers, the one closet you dress from or your bathroom cabinet, will do. Doesn’t it feel good to go there and be able to find what you need? If it does feel good, use that as motivation to carry on, a little area every day, and feel that same relief.

    • says

      Yes Mary Jane and this advice is good for an average person who doesn’t know where to begin at times when things have gotten out of control for a season. Start with one small section of counter, table or area and like you said see how good it feels to get that much done. There is a saying an object in motion stays in motion and you will fine once you get up and get started you will want to keep going at it.

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