I recently contracted my first ‘hoarder’ client through Snohomish DSHS. The story of these sisters and what I was able to do for them really touched me. In order to share my amazing experience and out of respect for these women, I changed identifying information to protect their privacy. I received permission to post these photos and to share. This is also up on my
My task was to organize and clean everything in the room, making space for the special bed Suzie needed for her poor circulation. The state of the room when I got there was simply chaos – the room was maybe 300 square feet, if that, and had huge piles of bags everywhere – wrapping their items in plastic bags, upon bags was their attempt at organization. In fact, when we got done unwrapping things, there was more than 8 large Hefty bags of plastic bags ready to recycle! Initially the room was almost impossible to walk through except for little paths that Jane had cleared. Everything was quite precariously stacked and very unsafe.
After a 2 hour assessment, I created a game plan for what needed to happen and in what order. A 5 x 10 storage unit had already been obtained in order to safely store things that could be “phase two” of sorting and to make room for the progression (when I went to the storage unit later, it was packed to the ceiling, and I can’t believe how all that had fit in the room as well!!)
I lined one wall with shelving units, we purchased under-the-bed storage containers and a rolling closet for extra clothes. Also, Rubbermaid storage totes for the seasonal things and toy nets for the multitude of stuffed animals that Suzie had collected throughout the years. We started filling the underbed storage with probably 60 lbs. of undeveloped film, and two full storage bins full of developed pictures – probably 120 lbs. total. There were boxes and boxes of cassette tapes which were Suzie’s recorded journals. Stuffed animals galore. Never, ever have I seen that many stuffed animals- hundreds for sure.
During the three 8-hour visits, Jane and I went through everything in the room, sorting and sifting. Jane telling me about their lives and all the things in the room as we went was a major area of importance and necessary. Witnessing the love and honor for her sister and her need to protect her things was incredible. Jane’s stress level was extremely high when I was first brought in, but I developed a good repoire with her almost immediately, assuring her that my job wasn’t to throw things away, just organize. It was important to establish that I was not there to make those judgement calls.
There’s so much more than the phsyical part of it when working with a hoarder. It is 95% emotional and mental and I have learned it is here where you can make the progress, achieving mental “space”. In the short term, the only thing I was able to talk Jane into throwing away for her sister was stacks of newspapers that Suzie had been saving’ for decoupage projects, or because she liked a particular article she wanted to save for later. In the longer term however, my goal is to have created a system that the client can use to “unbury ” herself. If she can find the “mental space” out of this process to continue this sytem, than I think I have succeeded.
After just 26 hours, I was the final piece necessary to attain the goal. I got Suzie out of a nursing home and back with her sister Jane.