“Even as a child I struggled with throwing things away: clothing I had outgrown, preschool storybooks, school papers from previous grades. I felt like I might need things later on, that I’d feel huge regret if I didn’t keep everything I could.
Now, as an adult, my need to keep everything is ruining my life. I never invite friends over to the house, and neither do the other members of my family. I know they are ashamed of our messy house.
Most of the fights in my marriage are over ‘all this junk,’ but it’s hard for me to figure out how to get started letting things go, even though I know I need to.
I want to have a clean kitchen so we can sit down at the table as a family and eat a meal we’ve cooked at home. I want a clean house so we can have people over. How do I overcome all of my stuff so I can have the life I want?”
The above outlines a common situation someone faces when they are battling a hoarding disorder, which is a mental illness that can occur on its own or as one symptom of another disorder like OCD, ADHD, or depression.
In order to overcome hoarding, it’s essential that the hoarder address the issues that are being bandaged over by hanging on to material items. Cognitive behavioral therapy is the best known treatment for hoarding, so establishing care with a qualified mental health professional is essential.
If you’re a hoarder in treatment who is ready to start tackling your stuff, keep your mind focused on the lifestyle you can attain by pushing through this very uncomfortable process. The negative feelings are temporary, but the opportunities to experience positivity as a result of these changes will be carried forward into the rest of your life!
It’s likewise important to take it slow. Plowing through a house full of your things in a weekend or two isn’t practical, and will just increase your anxiety.
Instead, plan to focus on one area of one room per day, working consistently for an hour or two per day. Move on to the next section once the first section has been cleared. While this approach may mean that the overall process takes a long time, the changes you make slowly and diligently are much more likely to be sustainable.
Resist the urge to rely on plans to “get all this stuff organized.” If you’re recovering from hoarding, you have too many possessions to store. This means organizing everything won’t help with your situation. Go into the process with the awareness that you will be getting rid of a bulk of the items in your home.
In order to avoid getting stuck in patterns that involve moving items from one zone to another (hoarders will understand!), it’s important that you plan to touch an item only once. Rather than standing around trying to think about the whole room, pick up just one item.
Then, once an object is in your hand, don’t postpone deciding what to do with it! You won’t have any surge of clarity in the next hour, week, or month that’s going to make this work any easier. As you know, accumulated clutter is the result of delayed decision-making. Once you’ve picked an item up, the time to decide is right then.
You may need help deciding whether to donate, sell, or toss things you pick up. That’s okay! Especially in the beginning stages of cleaning up, plan to work with a non-judgmental professional who can help you analyze your possessions and give you advice.
While your hoarding disorder means you will most likely experience difficulty allowing other people to handle your possessions and evaluate them, working with a professional whose advice you can trust may remove the conflict you would experience if you tried to work with a friend or family member.
It’s important that everyone who is helping you in your work understands how vital it is that no one make decisions about your things without input from you.
While biohazards must be dealt with immediately by a qualified team of cleaners, everything that doesn’t fall under this category will be your responsibility. Having the final say about what happens in your home should help ease your inevitable anxiety enough to allow trusted helpers in to help you get started.
Unfortunately, the neurological aspects of hoarding often mean that recovery isn’t linear. It may be difficult for you to stay motivated and engaged in recovery on your own, even though you really want to.
That’s why support groups are so important! Just like people who struggle with addiction, people who want to move past compulsive behaviors can benefit greatly from participation in group therapy sessions and independent support groups.
Discuss group therapy options with your mental health care professional; that’s the best way to make sure the group you’re attending is based on the best information currently available for the treatment of compulsive disorders.