Hoarding: I can help!

Hoarding made this kitchen unusable
Professional organizer Susan Romanic helped this homeowner recover the use of her kitchen

Working with people who hoard is difficult, dirty, and inspirational. It is amazing to watch someone follow through on changing the way they live their life.

When a potential client tells me that he/she thinks he/she is hoarding, I offer to meet with that client and his/her friend/family member if he/she wants to bring one. This meeting is free-of-charge and should be in a quiet diner, restaurant, or coffee shop where we can all sit down and talk without having to shout over loud music or other patrons. I offer this free meeting because people who hoard are usually very afraid of opening their door and revealing the mess they have created. I want my clients to meet me and to feel as safe as possible with me before they decide if they are ready to go ahead with their initial consultation appointment. If during or after this meeting the client decides that he/she wants to go ahead with the initial consult, then we schedule that appointment.

When I work with all clients, I obtain permission prior to removing any item from their home. Nothing goes without the client’s knowledge and consent. I try to make sure that items are recycled, donated, or sold if possible. However, when clients are hoarding, they have had to desensitize themselves to the conditions in which they are living: Clients who hoard may no longer smell the odors in their homes, even though there may be spoiled food, mold, or more. Clients who hoard may have asthma, but do not seem to associate the condition of their health with the accumulation of dust, mold, pet hair, and mixture of spilled household fluids.

Organized! by Romanic® wears protective gear (gloves, masks, shoe protectors, respirators, hazmat suit, insect repellent, etc.) when working in the home of a client who hoards. Clients who hoard often say something to the effect of “I live here, it can’t be that bad.” What happens, however, is that we disturb the dust, dirt, mold, and even the client usually ends up wearing protective gear while we are working and sometimes for a few hours afterward until the “dust settles” again.

Organized! by Romanic® knows that often when a client has been hoarding for a long time that he/she no longer has running water in his/her home. If that is the case, Organized! by Romanic® will leave the home if it is necessary to use the bathroom. Organized! by Romanic® works straight through the 6-hour day and generally only eats the lunch she brings with her after the work is done for the day. Clients should be prepared to eat-while-we-work, and they should expect to eat alone. Organized! by Romanic® does not eat in client homes but will sometimes bring in a bottle of water or a diet soda.

During the initial consult, if there are a lot of roaches and/or rodents in the home, Organized! by Romanic® will put the client in touch with a pest-control service, and the client must wait until the roaches have finished dropping and the deceased rodents have been removed before Organized! by Romanic® is going to come in and help them clean up all the rest of the stuff.

Organized! by Romanic® does NOT work with people who hoard animals.

Clients who hoard should have their pets, children, and family members out of the house while we are working together if it is at all possible. We disturb a lot of dust, dirt, and mold, and in the process, clients often bump into emotions they didn’t realize they were going to experience. Nearly every person who hoards cries at some point in the process. Changing one’s way of life is not easy. Clients who hoard encounter the magnitude of the “waste” on many levels as we go through the piles of stuff. The emotion is part of the process, and clients need to give themselves time after their organizing session to just rest without interacting with friends/family who want to know how it went. This is very, very difficult, and it is a process. Some clients find it easier to do the job if they have their anxiety medicine available or if they take it prior to our visit. Usually clients get used to the process and the result of having more functional space in their home at the end of each visit makes them actually look forward to their organizing sessions.

Please know that with the in-home help from Organized! by Romanic® along with cognitive—behavioral therapy from a licensed, clinical psychologist, a client who hoards can improve his/her life significantly. A client who hoards may never have a “magazine-photo-shoot-ready” home, but if he/she invests the effort, time, and money that it takes to clean up his/her home and life, then he/she will also not go back to living in a home without working plumbing that is filled with bugs, rodents, trash, and rotting food.

Organized! by Romanic® never gives “homework” other than, “maintain the gain,” which is really difficult for a person who hoards to do. People who hoard tend to fill up every available space, so making sure that their home looks the way it did when I left the week before is all the homework they can handle. Organized! by Romanic® knows that no one sets out to be a hoarder, and honestly believes that if he/she could have, he/she would have taken better care of his/her home. Getting better is possible, a process, and priceless! Client’s who hoard can and do get better! They really can live lives filled with joy instead of stuff!