"People will call thinking they want it done (cleaning the accumulation)," said Spoor, "but it can be very difficult. We usually end up doing a tiny little bit at a time to give them a chance to adjust to the idea of throwing things away. You have to slow yourself way down and be very gentle with the process."
According to Spoor, these clients often experience extreme attachment to things, and long-term success is rare unless they get help. "But at least they get some part-time normalcy when we are done," said Spoor.
She remembers one client who contacted her but was reluctant to get help. "What we ended up doing was involving the entire family in the process, and it made a huge difference," said Spoor. "At least it made a difference in the main living areas. Sometimes, people get to the point where they are overwhelmed and don't know where to start."
In that particular case, Spoor said they found all sorts of trash stashed under the couch. "I suggested we put two trash cans by the couch so that things could go in there instead — it was just common sense, but it is traumatic for them and totally overwhelming."
Signs of hoarding
Here are signs that might indicate someone you know is a hoarder: • Acquiring or failing to throw out a large number of things that appear to have little or no value. • Cluttering the home to the point that it is unlivable. In extreme cases, the home is unsanitary. • Distress, anxiety and impairment of work or social life. The hoarder will think of things to do outside the home — any distraction that keeps them from cleaning or changing their environment.
Dr. Gerald Nestadt, director of the Johns Hopkins Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Clinic, offers six anti-clutter strategies: • Make immediate decisions about mail and newspapers. In other words, throw away unwanted paper immediately. • Think twice about what comes into your home. When you do buy something new, discard something else to make room for it. • Set 15 minutes aside daily to de-clutter. This takes the task from overwhelming to manageable. • Dispose of anything you have not used for one year. • Follow the OHIO rule: Only Handle It Once. Don't move things from one pile to another. • Ask for help. Seek out a mental health professional if you are overwhelmed and cannot cope.