We all have that special junk drawer or maybe an entire room that we use for those things that we just don’t know how to let go. But for some people, clutter can become such a problem that it impacts their quality of life.
“Hoarding behavior affects approximately 5% of the United States population,” says Samantha Austin, a behavioral health specialist at Senior and Disability Services in Central Point. “Half of those people suffer from depression. These individuals are quite often very intelligent, caring, successful professionals who suffer from an inability to get rid of clutter. There is more coming in than going out. They sometimes get to the point of being unable to move safely in their homes.”
Hoarding behaviors are more prevalent in older adults, according to Susan Jay Rounds, behavioral health specialist at Senior and Disability Services, Rogue Valley Council of Governments in Central Point. “This can be because of physical disabilities, health issues or finances. There is also a higher rate of depression among older adults,” she says.
Individuals with hoarding behaviors can often feel overwhelmed, have a difficult time making decisions, have unhelpful beliefs (around perfectionism, responsibility, source of identity and control), while others experience a strong sense of avoidance or tend to overthink a situation, Rounds describes.
“In our workshops, we say a person who experiences the behavior of hoarding is one who has difficulty discarding items and feels strong urges to save things/clutter,” Rounds says. “They also may experience distress and impaired functioning. This condition can be experienced on a continuum from mild to severe.”
Rounds and Austin say the Buried in Treasure workshops offer hope to those experiencing the behavior of hoarding. The workshops follow the book Buried in Treasures by David Tolin, Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee, which lays out a scientifically-based program for treating this condition.
“Our workshops take them through activities step-by-step that help them develop the strength and stamina to make decisions about what to keep, and what to let go of,” Austin says.
Participants who attend the Buried in Treasure workshop report lower levels of anxiety and an increased ability to stay focused, according to Rounds. “One participant, who wishes to remain anonymous, wrote the following: ‘Before the class, everything felt overwhelming and frightening. As the class progressed, I began to feel empowered and hopeful. I believed there was an answer that was supportive of change without causing more trauma. It really helped provide the tools for change.’”
Helping with hoarding
For friends or relatives, the absolute worst step is to go in and clear out a person’s home who has the behavior of hoarding, Rounds says. The book “Buried in Treasure” offers the following advice:
- Be on their team. Offer to be there for support and as an assistant when the person wants to declutter. Let the person direct the areas they want to work on and the way they want to work on it.
- Help the person stay focused on the task. Help separate a declutter task into smaller steps.
- Provide emotional support. Be gentle and offer empathy, instead of being a drill sergeant or taskmaster.
- Visit the person’s home without talking about the behavior or outcomes of hoarding.
- Empower. Help the person make decisions but don’t make them for them.
- Be a cheerleader. Telling them you believe they can acquire less and discard more; noticing when they are doing a good job.
- Lend muscle. Help with hauling away.
- Be an empathetic friend. Accompany the person to yard sales or stores with the purpose of not buying anything.
- Don’t argue.
- Don’t take over decisions.
- Don’t touch or move anything without permission.
- Don’t tell the person how he or she should feel.
- Don’t work beyond your own tolerance level.