With the proliferation of television shows about hoarding, many people see hoarders around them. Or think they do. It’s a pet peeve of mine that every person who has “too much stuff” is now deemed a hoarder. Never mind that “too much stuff” is extremely subjective, hoarding is quite a bit more complex than to be simply about too much stuff. Therefore, let’s explore different aspects about stuff and see if we can clear up these misconceptions about hoarding. (If you want the more technical information about hoarding, see my post, “Defining Hoarding.”)
As I already stated, it’s about more than stuff. I’ll admit it; I have a lot of stuff. Even “too much stuff.” As my husband and I have gone through various rooms, I’m amazed by the amount of excess we find hidden away, forgotten about. And the large piles that I set out to be donated have shocked me and we have more to go. The people I work with have varying amount of stuff; some quite a bit and some hidden away in closets and drawers where it doesn’t “look” cluttered. Yet, we each want something different from our spaces – from the desire to be surrounded to the desire to have the open space (see my entry, “Envisioning Your Space”). Believe it or not, there’s no one right way for a space to look and that means someone somewhere will think that there’s “too much stuff” there.
What is your relationship to your stuff? This is one of the features that help to distinguish what is happening with the stuff around you. I laughing cringe at the idea of getting rid of my media – those books, CDs, and movies and yet, that is exactly what I have been slowly doing. My movie collection has been cut by more than half and it feels good. Removing all outside obstacles, what happens to you when you decide to get rid of things? Those obstacles can be:
- minimizing the sense of being overwhelmed
- the absence of someone judging or trying to tell you what to do
- the freedom to take your time and think through your choices
Finding the space where these pieces come together can be challenging, yet what happens then?
It breaks my heart to hear about people being told they are “hoarders” and I know from my knowledge and experience that they aren’t even close to being hoarders. From what I can tell, it’s more about someone in their life thinking that they know better than the client. They believe that they “should” get rid of this or that; that they “should” not struggle with making decisions; that they “should” be able to easily change long time habits after a “clean sweep”; etcetera. This is probably a large reason that having your family help you with your stuff often backfires.
There’s a different term than hoarder, for people who have struggled with stuff for a long time, that may or may not have clutter around them and that’s chronically disorganized. Since this has a rather clinical sound to it, the Institute of Challenging Disorganization prefers to refer to it as challenging disorganization that can also be applied to the situational disorganization some people can struggle with after major life events. They define chronic disorganization as:
Chronic disorganization is having a past history of disorganization in which self-help efforts to change have failed, an undermining of current quality of life due to disorganization, and the expectation of future disorganization.
Hoarding is about much more than the stuff – however subjective – and relates to how we deal with that stuff. The chance is that your grandmother/uncle/brother-in-law is not a true hoarder. That doesn’t mean that organization isn’t a tremendous challenge for them. When there’s lots of stuff around, however hidden it may or may not be, it requires a lot of work and effort. Simply modifying the behaviors is an extreme challenge and takes time. Try to keep in mind your own biases – your own view of what makes up “too much stuff.”