My answer to Hoarding - Where do I begin?

Monday, August 02, 2010 is a good website, but not if you have a tendency toward hoarding.

Just so you know - none of us are counselors or therapists or counselors(to my knowledge). We just share our experiences, goals, resources, failures, successes, encouragement, suggestions, and our feelings.

I am going to give you the long version of what we have learned from each other, counselors, and other resources. If you want the really short version, skip to the summary at the end.

Hoarding usually consists of two or more parts.
The first part deals with acquisition. It could include compulsive shopping or garage sale hopping or dumpster diving.

#1 Stop purchasing and accumulating.

If you don't need it or it's not on your list, don't get it. Learn how to differentiate between need and want. Generally, need deals with survival and want deals with giving in to impulse.

The second part deals with not being able to let go of stuff for whatever reason. Some of the most common rationales include
"I never know if I might need it sometime."
"It has sentimental value for me."
"It might fit me when I lose (gain) weight."
"I don't want it to go to waste."
"I look at everything and feel overwhelmed."

Not taking care of clutter and cleaning may be due to exhaustion, depression, lack of self-discipline, procrastination, or scheduling (or lack of it).

#2 If it takes less than a minute, take care of it immediately.

Dealing with hoarding is like dealing with being healthy...
Both address choosing a new lifestyle. There is a difference between dieting/exercising and using appropriate foods, portions/choosing to be more active and less sedentary. Does that make sense?

To be successful in managing health or hoarding, you have to choose to manage it every single day. If you miss a day, the next day start right where you left off. Otherwise it is very easy to find excuses why not to get back to managing your life. The result of that can be making it worse than it was before - the dieter gains weight and the hoarder's piles get higher.

#3 Set aside time every day to manage your hoarding.

Make it part of your daily routine like eating, sleeping, taking meds, checking for mail, and so forth. It does get easier as the habit of taking care of yourself and your surroundings becomes a daily habit.

Most people feel anxious when it comes to letting go of things - if they didn't, they might have dealt with their stuff long ago. The trick that seems to work is to acknowledge you feel anxious or uncomfortable. Then work past those feelings. Take care of your surroundings and yourself regardless of how you feel.

Where to start? There are a lot of options that work, but you decide which one sounds good for you.
An area with the least amount of stuff/piles.
The area most overwhelming for you.
An area one would normally use daily - a bathroom, around the stove or kitchen sink.
If you have pathways, you could start with what is closest to the exit door.
Pick a pile - any pile and work your way through it.
The point is not so much what you choose, but that you do choose.

#4 Begin.

#5 Set a measurable, reasonable daily goal.

What is measurable?
You can measure time.
I will spend 30 or more minutes managing my surroundings today.
You can measure by amount.
Today I will go through one pile, dealing with everything in that pile. Or...
Today I will fill one large garbage bag and one box with stuff I can release.

What is reasonable?
Reasonable is doable within the limits of your daily schedule.
My goal could be to clear my desk and make it usable. It's a great long term goal, but not doable in the 30 to 60 minutes I allot myself each day.

Let's say my desk is pile high (say 12 or more inches everywhere on my desk). To go through each item quickly, deciding whether to let go of it or keep it and finding a place for it would take hours... not a reasonable goal for one hour.

What is doable in 30 to 60 minutes? In the case of my desk, I would pick a place to start - probably at one end - set my timer and work on that area until my timer went off.

Then, even if I were on a roll and didn't want to stop, I would still stop. Why? Because the point is to create a habit of taking care of my accomplishable daily goal - not to do the whole desk in one or two sittings.

None of us accumulated all of our stuff quickly. None of us will release our stuff quickly.
This is why you'll repeatedly see the term "baby steps" in our discussions.

#6 We are not perfect. If you make a mistake, don't quit. Simply begin where you left off. Nor should we expect ourselves to manage our surroundings or health perfectly.

If you want to fail, make perfection your goal. Why would you fail? Perfection is not measurable - nor is it a reasonable goal.

In the beginning, we have a lot of learning to do.
What role does hoarding play in your life?
How can you make your surroundings safe?
How does your hoarding affect the people around you?
In what way does hoarding protect you?
What issues contribute to making managing hoarding more challenging?
Examples: depression, not making others take care of their stuff, OCD, letting one bad day be a reason to allow the next day to be a bad day, ADHD or ADD, physical challenges, lack of consistency, lack of support from people around you, low self-esteem, doing too much for others instead of taking care of yourself, setting goals too high, not having a counselor/social worker/therapist/ or other professional to help you with changing behaviors, not willing to deal with overcoming the fears and anxiety that go along with making changes.

#7 Be consistent and follow through, despite any challenges

Here is the short version of what we have learned:
1) Stop purchasing/acquiring anything not on your list of necessities.
2) If you can take care of something in less than a minute, do it right away.
3) Set time aside to manage yourself and your surrounds.
4) Begin. Pick a place and begin.
5) Set measurable, reasonable daily goals.
6) Baby steps. We are not perfect.
7) Despite challenges, be consistent and follow through.

As Yoda, the wise one from Star Wars might say:
Do it, you can!
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    This is a very good overview/summary! I think it will help a lot of people if they see it.

    Good job!

    - Karen
    3364 days ago
    I saw this in a message board post -

    It's worth repeating for all of us -

    A simple guide to healthier behaviors -

    Thanks emoticon
    3366 days ago
  • LHLADY517
    3367 days ago
    3367 days ago
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