I've had the opportunity to work with several clients who exhibited hoarding behavior. When I first met these clients, I was aware that they had great shame and were fearful that I was going to judge them. However, knowing what I know about hoarding behavior, I was able to put them at ease and assure them that I was not judging them and that I was there to help them in any way I could.
One of the questions I get the most from people is if I've ever worked with someone that hoards and then there is the usual, "How can they live like that?"
There are many reasons why some people can't let go of their items, and why they become trapped in this type of environment. Here are 5 reasons that I've discovered from working with clients that have hoarding behavior.
The photos below are posted with permission from an actual client.
History of Poverty - We tend to think of elderly people, those that lived through the Great Depression, as the most likely to be hoarders. However, that is not necessarily true. If someone grew up without having a lot of personal possessions, or was not sure where their next meal was coming from, we often see that as a reason for hoarding behavior as they become adults.
Grief/Loss - In my experience, most of my clients that have had hoarding behavior show up in their life is because of grief or a loss of some kind. It doesn't necessarily have to be a death of a loved one, it could be the loss of a pet, loss of a home, loss of a job, etc. The grief process sometimes gets stuck for them and they begin to feel the need to hold onto things that remind them of the person, pet, home, job or whatever they lost. People will oftentimes try to fill a void that they feel in their life by getting more stuff.
Abuse/Neglect - Often, if people have been abused and or neglected some time in their life, they will want to "save" things in order for them to not be tossed aside or sent away as they may have been. They will usually want to save things that they think they will be able to use "some day".
In an ideal world, the client should be seeing a therapist that can help them process their emotions as we are going through the clean up process. Professional Organizers are not mental health professionals, but if we are aware of some of the reasons for the clients hoarding behavior, we can encourage them to seek help while we work together.
Everyone is an individual, and the process of clearing their home may not work the same for all of them. That is why it is important to have a broad assortment of "tools" in your toolbox to work with all different types of people. I listen to my clients and we will move at whatever pace suits them and gives us all the best chance for success.