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Hoarding is not forever

Photo by a Duluth city inspector of a home with a cat hoarding problem.1 / 3
Kim Schlichting2 / 3
Kim Schlichting recommends "Buried in Treasures" by David Tolin, M.D. as a useful book about hoarding.3 / 3

Is there someone you know in a hoarding situation? Don't judge. Many different factors can cause chronic disorganization and hoarding.

In my travels as a professional organizer I have worked with over 20 hoarding situations, approximately 1 in 10 of my cases. Each one is as individual as is each person.

In one intervention case, family members brought me in to help with their mother. She was in jeopardy of losing her home because of her hoarding. She had been in an accident and safety was truly the issue.

She was not a willing participant. She got inches away from my face and swore like a sailor. As I worked with her, I calmly kept asking if she wanted to stay in her home. She had tears in her eyes, appalled that a stranger was going through her belongings.

Her children and I worked as a team. One at a time, they took turns trying to keep her calm while I worked with the other siblings. The cupboards, refrigerator and freezer were full of expired and rotten food. The phrase I have used on several occasions is, "If the food shelves won't take it, you probably shouldn't be eating it, either."

We recycled countless stacks of magazines and papers and stacks of plastic containers. There were also piles of clothes she would never wear again. We were successful in this case and she was able to stay in her home.

The majority of the hoarding clients that I have worked with hire me directly. I have only been involved in a few interventions. I helped family members clean out their loved one's apartment so they would pass an upcoming inspection. In another case, the couple filled their home with stuff as each child left, filling the void.

Surprisingly, the compulsive hoarder shows little distress and/or recognition of the problem. It becomes a part of their identity; they feel safe and secure surrounded by their belongings. Only until someone suggests they get rid of the excess do they become anxious.

Safety becomes a real issue in a severe hoarding situation. There needs to be a safe path to the bathroom, kitchen, bedroom and an exit in case of emergency. All that clutter can also be a fire hazard. Mold can also grow and become an issue in damp, untouched spaces and can make the homeowners ill.

I have had repeat customers. Some I have worked with for several months, making great progress, only to return six months later and find the living space has been filled right back up to where it was when we first started.

It is possible to help the person in the hoarding situation. They need to be ready to let go of items. Often these individuals need medication to help with the anxiety and/or depression issues and must be willing to receive some type of psychotherapy.

It does "take a village" to help a hoarding individual. However, over the last 10 years I have had several happy endings. That's what keeps me going.

Kim Schlichting is a professional organizer and personal coach living in Duluth. She owns Northland Organizing and is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers. Visit her website at

What is hoarding?

  • Acquisition and failure to discard a large number of possessions
  • Clutter that hinders activities
  • Impairment in functioning caused by the hoarding

Source: National Institutes of Health

Are you chronically disorganized?

Has disorganization been a factor in your life for many years?

Does your level of disorganization interfere with the quality of your daily life or negatively affect your relations with others?

Has disorganization persisted despite self-help attempts to get organized?

Are you an "infomaniac," saving many articles, newspapers or books you've read?

Do you suffer from "fear of filing?"

Do you feel every paper must be kept in sight or you'll never find it again?

Do you lose or misplace papers and items despite keeping them out?

Does your filing system cause difficulty in retrieval?

Does it take you more than three minutes to find most papers in your office?

Do you like to collect things?

Are you a shopaholic?

Do you accumulate possessions beyond apparent usefulness or pleasure?

Does your disorganization cause you embarrassment or humiliation?

Are your desk, floor and/or countertops covered in papers?

Did you feel deprived as a child, either emotionally or materially?

Is it difficult for you to part with things even though they have outlived their usefulness?

Do you consider yourself a pack rat?

Do you have a wide range of interests and several uncompleted tasks and projects?

Do you find it difficult to stay focused or are you easily distracted?

Do you tend to lose track of time?

If you answered "yes" to several questions, don't panic. Anyone can be taught to increase his/her level of organization. It is never hopeless. Professional organizers can help you succeed where self-help falls short, while saving you countless hours of effort trying to discover the most effective solutions for yourself.

Source: Institute for Challenging Disorganization,

Some issues that can contribute to hoarding

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Avoidance disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Death of a loved one
  • Divorce
  • Learning differences like dyslexia
  • Lack of mobility
  • Never being taught how to organize
  • Neurologically based conditions:

Attention deficit disorder

Traumatic brain injury


Parkinson's disease

Multiple sclerosis

Source: Institute for Challenging Disorganization

 Related article: Eddy Gilmore's autobiography of liberation