Ready to Escape the Pain

There’s a reason I don’t sell gift certificates generally.  Never mind that some people would be mortally offended to be given a gift of a professional organizer, it would be a waste of money unless the person was ready.  They need to decide there’s a better way and to make the effort to change.  If I only had a magic wand, this could be different, maybe.  When we pause to consider that someone has to be ready to make changes otherwise nothing else will make a long-term difference, we can see how true it is.  The first step is that when the pain becomes too great, we’re inspired to figure out alternatives.

My husband and I have had long interesting conversations about pain.  Generally you hear how having a high pain tolerance is a good thing, “it makes you stronger.”  I know I associate the idea of a high pain tolerance with resiliency; the strength to make it through whatever comes my way.  And we’ve come the conclusion that for many things we have a low tolerance for pain.

Consider the person who is constantly losing their keys, phone, purse, wallet, etc.  I have a friend who struggles with this and they race around in some degree of panic searching – eventually finding whatever it was and moving along with their day.  And it happens again and again; and yet it seems normal to them, it’s just how it is.

Then there’s other people who’ve lost their keys or whatever, get frustrated, and decide to do things differently – they get determined.  They make a decision for how to avoid it happening and begin to implement that change.  It doesn’t get fixed overnight and it doesn’t mean that it never happens again.  Yet, it does mean that it’s more of a rare occurrence rather than a common one.

The second example is someone with a low pain tolerance.  The “pain” of losing that item is too great to simply continue in the same way – it instigates the desire for change.  The frustration or annoyance is greater than the challenge of finding a new way of doing something and making that new system work.  This includes failing and faltering along the way to the new system, yet determined to avoid the pain of lost keys with any frequency.

The frustration of a spouse, parent, or sibling is fairly irrelevant – the pain has to be yours if true lasting changes are going to be made.  And that’s not to say that the frustration of a loved one isn’t motivating, but it can spur movement that is short-lived.  Consider the example of alcoholics – the person needs to make the decision on their own to change otherwise they’ll return to drinking.  The impetus for change wasn’t coming from within.  The context is irrelevant, the person needs to reach the point where they want things to be different, better.

Let me be perfectly clear – we all live our lives the best we can.  If you are someone who loses your keys regularly and haven’t done anything about it, that’s fine – there is no one right way.  People can lead great lives while constantly losing their keys, although they might be frustrating their spouse. 🙂  That’s not the point.  If YOU don’t mind losing your keys, what would motivate you to change that?

As I’ve touched on before, facing changes can be challenging, even when they’re wanted (or positive).  Therefore, when the risk of doing something different is less painful than staying the same – we embark on the process of finding better ways.  It might well even be a process of 2 steps forward, 1 step back – it’s a journey into unfamiliar territory.  It’s also a way to learn about yourself and discover that having a low pain tolerance makes you strong.

The Experience – That’s What Matters

I’ve talked before the idea of gifting experiences instead of stuff.  As well as talked about how the containers and tools we use for organizing need to fit our needs – their purpose is to make our life easier.  Earlier this year I talked about Technology Tools and how these too need to be evaluated on how they could help us.  Therefore, let’s move into media – my beloved books and music!

You might be getting sick of hearing how I hold onto books and CD’s, yet these too are about the experience.  When I read, I’m learning or exploring – it’s information that I delve into and appreciate greatly.  When I listen to music, whether it’s on in the background or I’m soaking it in – it’s part of my experience.  These mediums are essentially about the experience of them.  If they’re not used, they become either décor or clutter.

Since their purpose is to be used – are you using them as effectively as you can and want?  For me, I knew I was missing much of our music.  I simply forgot what we had, even with as organized as the CD’s are, and so they would stay in their drawers.  And I was resisting the idea of digitizing our music.  Yet as I thought about all the lovely music we have – about 800 albums of a wide variety of genres, and the ensuing guilt over owning yet not appreciating them – I agreed to move them into digital form.

We used an external hard drive to store the digitized music, purchased the Sonos system to have access to our music wirelessly, and presto we have digital access to our entire music library.  Now we can listen and appreciate the music we love, which is what matters most.  In addition, we used the process of digitizing our music to purge – was there any reason to keep those albums we ended up not loving?

I’ve not jumped into an e-reader yet – and am not sure if I will.  I read daily and our books are organized so I can find what I want or need.  Yet, as I’ve talked about with all these other things – what are your personal needs?  This isn’t about following the crowd, but rather about whether an e-reader would facilitate your needs and values.

Remember, this is about the experience – and whether you hold a book in your hands or an e-reader, you can jump into the words, knowledge, and world either way.  If I was traveling more I don’t think I could resist getting an e-reader – having any number of books available in one convenient place (without any additional weight).  I’m impressed with the ease it can offer for people to read – in the waiting rooms, lunch breaks, wherever there’s some available time.

As with virtually everything I talk about – I am not advocating one thing or another.  It’s about your life and what can help you in living it they way you want – to make the most of the experiences you want.  And, I’m not saying that you need to get rid of the physical items even if they’re digital.  We kept most of our CD’s, only parting with about 70 of them.  Similarly, I couldn’t imagine parting with many of our books.

It’s all about experiencing the content.  If you’re not accessing them, is there a better way?  What’s getting in the way of using them?  The digital possibilities offer us options in order for us to have the experience of them regardless of the medium.  If you consider yourself a book or music lover, does your life reflect those values?  If not, it might be time to consider alternatives that can help you in living your values.

Productive Spending

Just by my title you might be cringing, or rolling your eyes, or something.  And if you’ve been following me a while, you hopefully will realize that I’m not here to tell you what to do – I do aim to challenge the way you think about things.  It’s your life after all and no one but you is living it.  Similarly with organizing principles, it’s about finding what works for you – taking the pieces and creating your own version.

Therefore, here’s one of the things I’ve learned for myself – there are times and places to spend more money.  We hopefully all know that it’s wise to watch what and how we spend our money (though some statistics show few of us keep a budget).  Yet, as with so much of what I talk about – I encourage you to be mindful.

Coming from parents who have tendencies toward being frugal, I can struggle to spend a couple of dollars for a treat.  Once a year, chocolate oranges are available – around Christmas and I patiently wait for opening the stocking since my husband knows how much I love them.  This year he wasn’t home and I walked into a store and happened to see them.  I almost walked away, yet this is a treat I enjoy once a year, so why not?  I bought myself two and savored every bite – those few dollars were well spent.

From an organizing perspective, I probably make my strongest suggestion during the whole process for their waiting to purchase supplies – those desirable containers and tools for helping with organization.  This doesn’t come from a frugal point of view; it’s purely practical though it most often saves time and money in the long run too.  If you buy a neat organizing tool before you’re ready to use it, let alone know if it’s going to meet your specific needs – it often becomes clutter.  If you wait until you know what you need and can use it – you can bring it home and put it to use immediately.

When my husband and I moved into our new home, our first house, we bought a stud finder.  We knew nothing about our walls or what kind of stud finder would be best for us and we went with a fairly inexpensive one.  It turned out to be useless.  Yet, this doesn’t mean the highest end product is the answer either.  It does mean that it’s worth considering what your needs are – both for yourself and future.

It’s not always easy to know what is the worth spending the money on – when I first got my iPad, I picked up a stylus to use with a handwriting program.  It worked, though too often it was frustrating and inconsistent.  After talking with my husband, I purchased a different model that works really well.  I appreciate its quality and have begun eliminating paper clutter from phone messages by using my stylus and iPad.

As you can see, this isn’t about a suggestion that will fit all of you – it’s about your life and stuff.  Yet, it is about thinking about the things that have value and use in your life – and not scrimping on spending the money that will help support you.  Living on either extreme rarely serves anyone.  Therefore, when and where does it make sense to spend some more money for your needs?

Review: Tickler File


Tickler File

Here’s the Tickler File I made for myself

  • easy to create
  • never expires – you can use it over and over again
  • easy to use – little decision making involved
  • no categories


  • challenging to find one set – up for you to jump into using
  • requires regular routines – probably new ones which can be challenging
  • with the full system, might be quite cumbersome
  • no categories
  • files could get overfilled


First, let’s get it out of the way – the name is just funny – Tickler File, or maybe it’s the idea of tickle that makes people giggle.  That seems to be part of the idea – these files are meant to tickle your memory so you won’t forget all the various things you are supposed to be doing.  And you can’t argue with that as a goal – to help you track what’s important and stay on top of things.  If only it was that simple.

Since many people I’ve mentioned this idea to have no idea what it is, let me begin with explaining what it is.  Ideally it seems to be a set of files that sits out on your desktop or some other surface for easy access.  You need hanging folders for each month of the year and some empty ones for the all the file folders.  Then you need file folders numbered 1-31, one for each day of the month generally.  Therefore, since this is February 20th, the front folder is February and the first file would be the one with the number 20 on it.  Behind the file with 20 is 21-28.  Then you’d see the March folder with 1-19 and then 29-31.  Next would be the folders for April, May etc.  At the end of today, you would move 20 to its spot in March.

The idea is that you put your various papers into the date that you need to deal with that specific paper.  Therefore, if you have to RSVP by the 28th, you might put the invitation into the 21st file, and make the decision and mail it on that day.  Or a bill that you need to pay on the March 5th goes into the 5 file.  Or you need to call that person on the 23rd.  When something comes up that you don’t need to deal with it in the next month, you drop it just into the correlating month folder and just as that month becomes relevant, you move the papers into their appropriate day.

You can probably see that for this system to be useful for anyone, they would need to check that day’s file daily.  As with any and every system, you have to use it.  And remember to use it.  Consistently and regularly use it.  This is often easier said than done.  It can be challenging anytime you try to implement a new way to handle your tasks – creating new routines – and with this system it isn’t necessarily obvious.  I think this system also requires that you have enough paper coming in that can get delegated to various days.

It’s easy to create and set up, including labeling – you need 31 file folders, a minimum of 16 hanging folders (one for each month and as many extra to hold all the file folders), and a container to hold all of them.  It will always work – since you simply move the old to the back.  The only decision that you need to make is when you will handle that thing you are putting into the system.  Of course, then when that day arrives, you do need to make decisions.  This system works for any papers – regardless of what action you might need to eventually take.

I got a lot of amusement out of the expressions I encountered when I would ask clerks if they happened to carry a tickler file system.  So, it’s not something that is readily available in local stores, even the national chains.  There appears to be a number that you can purchase online though I would be wary of any accordion styles (though I’m not a personal fan of accordion files in general).

For me, I simply don’t have enough paper to warrant files for each day of the month.  Though it occurred to me that it could be simplified by eliminating the daily and instead doing a weekly file folder – either 1-7, 8-14, 15-21, etc. or week 1, week 2, etc.

One of the most common struggles people face is trying to do too much on a given day (or even week).  It would be easy to drop papers into this system and not realize until the day of that there’s too much to realistically accomplish.

It also doesn’t break things down in any other way which means that I might end up working more that day when I had actually thought I would be home to make phone calls and check things on the computer.  It’s not often, although sometimes I want to get through all of one type of task – non-time sensitive phone calls is my prime example – and with this system they’d likely be divided up among various days since I limit the number of tasks for a given day.

Obviously this system has some great features and can be a good solution for some people.  Yet, it also would fail miserably for other people.  This might be an ideal example of how we each need to find what works for our situation and personality.  As well as an example of how you might need to tweak it to make it work better for you.  Nothing else really matters if it works for you!

Tasks – Big Picture View

I suspect that Stephen Covey is right when he commented that the “urgent” things in our life rather than the “important” things drive many of us.  The distinction between these two things comes down to whether those “things” further our goals, the long-term ones that give our life meaning.  If we’re repeatedly running from one urgent task to another urgent task then we’re not focusing or working on the big picture view of our lives.

Of course, Stephen Covey isn’t the only one telling us how important it is to plan, to be mindful of our goals – both short and long term ones – since most (if not all) time management experts address this concept.  When we avoid planning, it’s that much easier to focus our time and energy on working on those urgent tasks.  The urgent tasks tend to be in our face – virtually demanding our attention or something bad will happen, often the crises.

Yet if we only think about the immediate things that need our attention, when do work on the things that actually have value for our lives?  And don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t mean that it’s easy to shift our focus.

One of the most helpful ways to tackle this, for me anyway, was to think about the roles in my life.  Each role that I fill has meaning – whether it’s required or voluntary – and deserves my time and energy.  Not necessarily equal time and energy mind you.  So I made a list (and yes I do like lists) of what different areas of my life I wanted to spend time and energy on.

We’re not all going to have identical lists – though many of us have jobs and families – both of which need our attention.  The idea is to keep it relatively short since ideally you’ll set aside at least a little time each week for these areas of your life.  This could relate to Your Needs and Values – as some people might put Spirituality on their list – for me, that’s contained in my Personal category.  My list has evolved over time but I’m currently working with 5 areas that I want to attend to each week: Business, Household, Volunteering, Relationship, and Personal.

This means when I look at both my calendar and to-do list, I am actively thinking about when I will focus on the various areas.  It doesn’t mean that it always works as I planned; yet it’s not supposed to.  “Urgent” tasks do come up and it’s not about ignoring or avoiding those.  It’s about making sure your life isn’t driven by those urgent tasks.

It means that we’ll have less regret at the end of the week, month, and year.  We’ll know that we’ve directed our energy toward things that matter to us – personally.  It doesn’t matter if you make a list of your categories; it doesn’t matter if you create a mission statement for yourself; it doesn’t matter how you go about it.   What does matter is finding a way that works for you to make the most out of your life in the big picture view.  How else does your life have a greater meaning?

Technology Tools – To Get or Not to Get

With the proliferation of technology tools, we need to think about both how we work and what could benefit us.  Just because the tools exist doesn’t mean that it’s something that will help us.  If you think about how many different ways there are for organizing papers, you can make a comparison – you can’t use all the different tools for dealing with paper; you need to figure out what you need as well as what will help you.  Then that is what you use and appreciate.  Tools of technology are no different. As with all tools, the most important consideration is your own needs.

Some people feel that they need to get the tech tools; they need to be up with the trends or not get lost with all the technology changes bombarding us.  I can relate to that – I was debating about getting a smart phone.  I wasn’t sure that it mattered to me – I have my iPad which serves me so well, yet I couldn’t help but consider adding that skill set to my knowledge base.  I’ve known more than one person who felt that they “should” use the technology.

Let’s eliminate all “shoulds” for getting and using technology.  Many people continue to function perfectly well without using any smart devices – I’m working with someone who doesn’t even own a computer, let alone a basic cell phone or anything else.  If on the other hand, you have a need for one (or more) of these tech tools, that’s not a “should.”  There’s a foundation for getting it – to fill a need you have.  This isn’t about comparing yourself to your kids or your parents, or neighbors or coworkers, etc. nor is about following the trends of the latest thing (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc). It’s about examining your personal needs and identifying a gap that these tools could meet.

I absolutely adore my iPad and I don’t think there will be a time that I will not find it extremely useful.  I use it for quite a number of things, having adapted to using it, and now both appreciate its benefits for me and how things have been simplified.  Yet, just because it’s a fabulous tool for me, doesn’t mean that it is a good tool for anyone else.  It seems that some people think that if the technology exists, everyone should use it.  That’s silly and potential wasteful – of your money, time, and energy.

One of the potential challenges with all this technology is that there is a learning curve – the time it takes to both learn and adapt to how it works – and it continues to change.  That isn’t even addressing the huge number of apps available to help meet your needs – which also require learning and adapting to.  And it might mean that you could use additional tools – I decided to add a stylus to my tool bag for a handwriting app.  I’d encourage you to make the most of the tools you choose to incorporate into your life – remember they are there to benefit your life.

When technology is used to fulfill a need, it can make our lives easier and help us become more effective in life.  I was recently talking to someone about options for using technology and the potential for eliminating the amount of papers.  There is a way that she could only use technology; it would require learning a number of new programs and adding steps to her process.  I commented that it sounded both too complicated for her and went against her inclinations.  From there we moved into talking about some simple ways to use technology that could be relatively easy to implement and would additionally simplify parts of her process.

I’ve found that thinking about these technology options specifically as “tools” it encourages me to think about their usefulness for me – just as I wouldn’t buy a compound miter saw since I couldn’t and wouldn’t use it.  Despite that this technology surrounds us, it doesn’t change the fact that they are tools – something that’s supposed to make our lives simpler.  Yet only for those people who have a need for that tool.

Is there a need that one of the technology tools would fulfill?  This is the most important consideration before you jump in and get anything.  Identifying your specific needs can then lead you to which particular tool will be most beneficial for you – since there are so many.


With the never-ending to-do lists many of us face, it can be challenging to balance productivity with reality.  None of us can go, go, go and never stop – we have to stop at the very least for sleep.  Yet, we need to stop for more than sleep.  The challenge in this busy world is to find the pace that makes sense for you.

First, let’s talk about productivity – the definition that fits this context best is “yielding results, benefits, or profits.”  If you view this definition narrowly, you might only apply it to those tasks that give you hard, clear results – things that you can see and measure immediately.

I’d imagine that many of you view time with family valuable.  Would you consider it “productive”?  I would, as there are many benefits and even results.  It’s hard to measure.  You can’t really know what would be if you didn’t spend your time with family – for you or for them.

One of the ways I think about the idea of productivity is whether I’m making the most of my time.  This shifts the idea from trying to accomplish tons of things to being effective and working on those things that are important.  In this case, the word important refers to the big picture view – those values and needs that provide meaning and purpose to our life.

The amount of time – “free” time – we all have varies – from person to person and depending on various circumstances – activities, obligations, support and assistance, health, family, etc.  If your “free” time is minimal, it’s all that more important to maximize that time.  The idea of “free” time seems an oxymoron to me – as who has free time or at least feels like they have free time?

Something that you need to consider is what is reasonable for you personally.  The amount of what we can each accomplish in a given day – the degree of productivity – will vary from person to person.  What factors are you dealing with that could limit your productivity?  How can you maximize your effectiveness?

Inc. Magazine had a blurb about the 3 secrets of most productive people a while back – these illustrate that productivity is about more than accomplishing things.

  1. they take breaks
  2. they are great collaborators
  3. they have lives outside work

All three of these focus on the benefits of stepping away from being in the midst of “working” or being productive in the strict definition.  There’s an additional comment about having lives outside of work also reveals these highly productive people have interests that don’t relate to their work.

True productivity can be as much about following your passions that give your life meaning as it is about completing your to-do list and earning money.  What your success at being productive will look like is something you need to figure out.  I can tell you that it will not mean working on your to-do list every waking moment.  And it might mean reevaluating what being productive means to you – considering those activities you engage in that don’t provide those measurable results.  I encourage you to discover your own version of what productivity means for you personally.

Hoarder? More Likely Challenging Disorganization.

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.”

Review: Arc Notebook System from Staples

4 out of 5 stars

Arc notebook and accessories

Arc notebook and accessories


  • versatile, customizable system
  • easy to use
  • good quality
  • inexpensive


  • hole punch is expensive
  • some wearing on pages where it attaches
  • only sold at Staples


I was excited to receive a complimentary Arc notebook with some accessories as part of my attendance at the 2012 NAPO conference.  I’d heard some discussions about it from other organizers although I had never seen it in person.  From the moment I looked at it, I suddenly understood why people talked about this style notebook.  Nevertheless, I wanted to use it for a while before I shared more about it with you, my readers.

Arc leather notebooks

Arc leather notebooks

Let’s begin with the notebook itself.  There’s 2 different notebook sizes – a 6 3/8” x 8 3/4″ and a 9 3/8” x 11 1/4″ and 2 different ring sizes – 1” and 1 1/2″.   You are able to purchase just the notebook with rings.  When considering the notebook, you have choices between leather ($14.99-$19.99) and poly ($7.99-$9.99).  The leather notebook is thicker than the poly style.  As you would expect, the thicker rings allow more paper to be stored within the notebook.

Arc poly notebooks

Arc poly notebooks

The rings are a special design and provide the system with much of its uniqueness.  Its appearance is quite different and I discovered that I had to rethink how I thought about the available space.  Since the rings stick out, I needed to limit how much paper to store in the notebook.  What makes this so unique is the style of the punch, which you can see in the picture – it looks a bit like a mushroom.  This means that the paper can be pulled in and out.

Close-up of punch and ring

Close-up of punch and ring

I’ve had some concerns about the paper since the little side parts are being bent each time you pull out or put paper into the notebook.  Would it really hold up?  It certainly looks like they get tired, yet the papers continue to work well.  I expect there’s still a limit to how many times a paper can go in and out of the notebook.  Yet, this style is exactly what drew me to this notebook.  You might know that I’m not a big fan of 3-ring style binders – they can be a hassle for the paper to go and out of with having to pop the rings open and closed.  It takes a little time to adjust to getting the papers in completely – it’s something different to wrap your head around using.

There are many different accessories for the notebook – from the standard lined paper, to-do lists, project planning pages, graph paper, calendar pages to poly tab dividers, poly zip pockets, poly pocket dividers.  There are also smaller inserts available: a task pad and page flags.  This means that you can get only the accessories that make sense for you.  Most people I’ve talked about this notebook have opted for no calendar pages, yet one person chooses to include the calendar pages.  Although I don’t use them much, I do appreciate the task pad, with only a handful of pages kept inside the notebook though other people find them borderline useful.  I am disappointed in the page flags since pen ink doesn’t set on them – so the writing can be hard to read and smudges easily, though their stickiness is good so if you simply use them as page flags without labeling them, they’re good.

They sell a hole punch so you can make any piece of paper can be inserted into the notebook.  I find the price, at $39.99, to be more than I want to spend.  One person I showed the notebook system to did purchase the punch and shared that she finds it indispensable for her usage of the notebook.

As I get more digital, there were some things that I needed paper for.  This fits my needs extremely well.  I have the tabbed sections to divide categories into and even places to collect those papers that don’t fit into another area.  There has been some evidence that our brains process better with the process of handwriting and there seems to be some truth to that for me – I want a place to write some things and this notebook has become my place.  Since there are some papers I want to keep longer though not in the active notebook, I set up an archival type notebook.  Due to the relative inexpensiveness of a notebook, it’s easy to do this.

There are so many things I could say about this notebook, but there’s only so much space!  Levenger sells a similar notebook system at a higher price.  I found one review online that actually commented the paper from Staples is thicker and better quality.  And as with everything else, this can be a fabulous tool for people though you need to consider your own needs.

Defining Hoarding

You might have heard that hoarding is being added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM) and hoarding has been approved as a separate listing in it (due to be released May 2013). I will refrain from a commentary on the issues with the DSM in general and simply point out that from a scientific perspective, they designate a series of criteria in order to prevent the definition from being applied too broadly. The very thing many people seem tempted to do with all the media attention hoarding has been getting in recent years.

In the case of a hoarding disorder, these are the proposed criteria:

A. Persistent difficulty discarding or parting with personal possessions, even those of apparently useless or limited value, due to strong urges to save items, distress, and/or indecision associated with discarding.

B. The symptoms result in the accumulation of a large number of possessions that fill up and clutter the active living areas of the home, workplace, or other personal surroundings (e.g., office, vehicle, yard) and prevent normal use of the space. If all living areas are uncluttered, it is only because of others’ efforts (e.g., family members, authorities) to keep these areas free of possessions.

C. The symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (including maintaining a safe environment for self and others).

D. The hoarding symptoms are not due to a general medical condition (e.g., brain injury, cerebrovascular disease).

E. The hoarding symptoms are not restricted to the symptoms of another mental disorder (e.g., hoarding due to obsessions in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, lack of motivation in Major Depressive Disorder, delusions in Schizophrenia or another Psychotic Disorder, cognitive deficits in Dementia, restricted interests in Autistic Disorder, food storing in Prader-Willi Syndrome).

Specify if:
With Excessive Acquisition: If symptoms are accompanied by excessive collecting or buying or stealing of items that are not needed or for which there is no available space.

Specify whether hoarding beliefs and behaviors are currently characterized by:
Good or fair insight: Recognizes that hoarding-related beliefs and behaviors (pertaining to difficulty discarding items, clutter, or excessive acquisition) are problematic.

Poor insight: Mostly convinced that hoarding-related beliefs and behaviors (pertaining to difficulty discarding items, clutter, or excessive acquisition) are not problematic despite evidence to the contrary.

Delusional: Completely convinced that hoarding-related beliefs and behaviors (pertaining to difficulty discarding items, clutter, or excessive acquisition) are not problematic despite evidence to the contrary.

Since these are simply the proposed criteria, it remains to be seen what the specific wording will be. This also doesn’t clarify how many of the lettered criteria need to be met for someone to qualify as having a hoarding disorder. With all DSM diagnoses, a person has to meet specific criteria. The purpose is to limit the subjective diagnoses – the possibility of someone to judge someone else based on their own viewpoints.

This is critical in my opinion as I see too much of someone (often a family member) deciding that this person is a “hoarder.” It’s not simply about having a lot of stuff around – even having severely cluttered living spaces – is not enough to qualify a person for having a hoarding disorder, that’s only one piece of several that need to be met.

One of the shocking and disturbing aspects of the hoarding television shows is the amount of trash that surrounds them and than how excruciating the thought, let alone the action, of throwing those things away is for them. This is one of the defining characteristics as defined by a number of presentations I have attended in the past years from psychologists. It’s more than struggling with making the decisions, there’s a terror about having those things removed. Although we might focus on the “obvious” trash that cannot be removed, someone who struggles with hoarding saves virtually everything, and it’s painful to consider getting rid of any of it.

I’ve briefly touched on the idea that hoarding is more complex than the media conveys. In a future post I plan on getting into more details as it applies to the general public. In the meantime, I hope this helps to clarify that hoarding is a true disorder that is often simplified by television.