4 Things You Won’t Hear About on the Hoarding TV Shows

Are you a concerned family member of someone who hoards?

The TV shows about hoarding are a blessing and a curse. Without a doubt, they shine the light on a real problem that affects an estimated 2-5% of the U.S. population. That’s two to five million people who might recognize themselves in the TV shows and seek professional help because of them. But television, even so-called reality television is entertainment, not complete reality. Yes, the people who hoard and their situations are very real. The notion that a person who hoards can be “cured” in a brief period of time via a cleanout is not realistic. I worry that the appearance of a quick fix on a TV show will backfire when well-meaning family members attempt similar methods with their loved ones.

Here are some facts about hoarding you won’t learn about on TV:

Hoarding is not about the stuff being hoarded. Having excessive quantities of stuff and being unable to part with it, regardless of its value, is the manifestation of the person’s problem and not the problem itself. Eliminating the stuff without addressing the person’s underlying reasons for hoarding is ineffective over the long run and may be quite harmful.

Hoarding happens because of unhelpful beliefs about possessions. A person who hoards might have great emotional attachment to certain items. He might have unrealistic ideas about the intrinsic or utilitarian value of his possessions. Imagine the distress he would feel at letting go of those items before he was able to develop more helpful, realistic beliefs.

Not every house filled with stuff is the home of a person who hoards. The difference between a cluttered house and a hoarded house has to do with the effects the clutter has on the residents’ ability to function normally. People who live in hoarded homes suffer negative social, emotional and physical effects that disrupt their lives, and possibly the lives of the people who live near them.

Sometimes, the best we can hope for is a safer environment.When you address safety issues with the person who hoards first, you demonstrate your care for the person instead of your annoyance at her living conditions. People become used to living with their clutter. They don’t notice the safety concerns. Gently point them out. Help unblock the exits, clear pathways and stairs, remove the papers on the stove and the paint thinner that’s stored near the furnace. That might open the door to communication about the other stuff. Or it might not. Either way, the person is a little bit safer. And as Martha Stewart would say, that’s a good thing.

Katherine Trezise, CPO, CPO-CD is the president of Absolutely Organized, LLC

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