Through the years, some of the most popular articles of the Discussing Dissociation blog has been about compulsive hoarding.
I can’t explain their popularity on this blog, other than the way a rash of television programs have increased the awareness of the complications about hoarding. However, hoarding issues are typically accompanied by extreme anxiety, depression, isolation, family conflict, self-hatred, chaotic thinking, eating disorders and other problems also common with DID / MPD / trauma survivors.
Many emotional struggles are certainly not limited to the Dissociative population. Hoarding is probably one of those disorders that the Dissociative community can potentially share with thousands of people more suited to other mental health communities.
It appears that hoarding is a much bigger issue than once officially recognized.
As a social worker who has done many home visits over a span of 30 years, I can say that I have seen hoarding issues repeatedly and yes, in my experience, hoarding is a consistent theme within various mental health populations, including dissociative trauma survivors.
- How do we address these issues?
- Does the professional “helping” community understand the depths of what is involved?
- Do the mental health professionals really know what is needed?
On the various Hoarders shows that I’ve watched on television (such as “Hoarders” on A&E, and “Hoarding: Buried Alive” on TLC), most of these processes are expected to be completed within a matter of a few short days. The interventions are quick, intense, and highly dramatic. The hoarders have obvious struggles, and the gains made in their homes and living situations are typically significant and impressive, even if only one or two rooms demonstrate the successful changes.
Over the past few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about the groups of people that experience the anxiety, stress, distress, personal gains, relief, and emotional freedom from having professional organizers empty their houses. There are many groups of people, in addition to the hoarder community, that may require assistance in emptying or reducing the amount of items located within a specific property or home. These issues could surface in extremity, for example, after someone dies (especially when there is no one to inherit the stuff), or during a divorce settlement, or after a bankruptcy, or prior to moving to new home, or downsizing from a large home to a small home, or for any other reason people may decide to liquidate their possessions.
To me, just cleaning out a messy closet is a big job! Emptying, or organizing an entire property is an enormous job! It’s an overwhelmingly huge job.
Recently, I hired some professional sales assistants to help me to downsize / sell many of the items from my home / office in order to prepare for a new phase of my life. My children are grown up, and each has moved into their own homes as adults, giving me all kinds of options for what to do with the physical space that lives around me. I don’t particularly like the “empty nest” phrase, and yet for the first time in dozens of years, I have more freedom to do whatever I want to do, wherever I decide to do it. It’s exciting, and yet very weird feeling all at the same time. That’s all a long story, of course, and it has taken several months (years?!!) of hard work to sort through those kinds of things, including what to do with all the leftover “stuff” that everyone has grown out of.
I took weeks of time to pull out the cherished treasures I wanted to keep, and then left the rest for the organizers to pick through, and to present in the way they created a sale for the masses of people they invited to come dig through my things. As much as I thought I had already selected my most important items, it was never that easy, or that clear.
“Wait! Wait! Maybe I want to keep THAT after all!”
Or, “Wait! Where did you find that? I didn’t SEE that before. Give me that back!”
Or another rough part was seeing my things just tossed in the trash. Can you believe that my favorite coffee cup ended up in the trash?!! My FAVORITE one! I thought I was going to have a melt down right then and there!
Breathe, Kathy, breathe!
Count to 10.
Okay, count to 100, lol.
The whole process was not anywhere near as fun as I had thought it might be.
In fact, it wasn’t fun at all.
It was really painful and horrible, to say the least.
And I chose to do it. It wasn’t forced upon me. It was MY IDEA. ( yeesh, lol).
This changing, transitional experience has been much more complicated and emotional than I ever expected it to be, giving me all kinds of fodder for blog articles, and a much deeper understanding of the intensity felt by hoarders as they go through their housing changes. Even though I had lots of time to prepare prior to my professional organizers arriving, and I was not forced into making these decisions in any way at all, I found myself having far more struggles, and feeling intense emotional turmoil, and frequently overwhelmed with memories (both good and bad) while sorting through the rooms of stuff. Wow. Yeeesh. Gee Whillakers! Jiminy Crickets!! It was a much more difficult experience than I would have ever imagined it would be.
One thing is for sure. For any television production company to expect to go through and toss away / give away 80 – 90 % of a hoarders belongings over a period of just a few days is just ridiculously cruel.
Most people — especially those that tend to be collectors in the first place — are not ready to let go with that much finality that quickly, or that easily. There is no wonder the hoarders on the television shows have so many emotional outbursts – the whole process is set up exactly to create that kind of emotional conflict within them. I suppose that makes for interesting television, but it is not very kind to the hoarder.
My experience of working with professional organizers also reminded me of some of the stories I have heard over and over from many of my clients with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID / MPD).
Let me ask you a few questions. Can you relate to any of these experiences?
- As children or teenagers, or even as adults, have you felt violated when your parents or caregivers or family members rifled through your belongings without your permission to do so?
- How invasive did it feel to have people touching your things when they were not invited to do so?
- How powerless did you feel to see this, and to know you couldn’t stop it from happening?
- How did this affect your personal boundaries?
- How did it affect your ability to feel like something – anything – belonged to you, and to only you?
- How did it affect your privacy, or lack of having any privacy?
- When your boundaries were disrespected and exploited, what did you to do cope with the feelings you had?
With whatever trauma and / or neglect you experienced in your life, did you develop a greater attachment and emotional connection to physical items and personal items as a way to bond with something / anything? Or did the repeated violations leave you distanced and unattached to your personal items, able to easily walk off, staying coldly disconnected and apathetic to having anything of your own?
How would you feel if someone took your things from you? Or if someone threw your favorite items in the trash? Or if someone broke an item that you cherished? Would you have an anxiety attack? Would you be angry? Would you withdraw inside, crashing into depression? Would you find yourself switching from insider person to insider person?
Does it feel good and more under your own control to keep the amount of your personal belongings to a minimum? Does that feel safer for you, or does that feel like deprivation? Do you prefer to have bunches of things, feeling safer being surrounded by stuff? Does having layers of stuff feel like layers of protection?
How do victims of floods, fires, tornadoes, and earthquakes, or other natural disasters feel after suddenly losing all of their stuff? Even if they evacuated with a few things, how would it feel to lose so much, so quickly?
It is interesting to explore these questions with yourself. If you aren’t sure what some of the answers would be, try creating the situation, and let yourself experience it first hand. Experience having someone else / something else take your cherished items from you. Chances are, many of you reading this blog have already experienced these situations in your life. But if you haven’t experienced this, don’t judge other people’s reactions and their big feelings about having “house invaders” mess with their things. These experiences are a lot more difficult than you might have ever realized.
It certainly was for me.
I wish you the best in your cleaning, healing journey.
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