I made a trip to Japan a few years back and it forever changed my view of my personal space. I didn’t consider my home and office surroundings as cluttered until I returned with a new minimalist view of space. My home now looked cluttered and I began to see some elements that resembled hoarding.
I have worked with several clients who suffered from hoarding. Yes it is a diagnosed ailment. Compulsive Hoarding is typically part of the anxiety spectrum of mental disorders. It is usually identified by the degree of mental disturbance just the thought of getting rid of items produces. The actual act of getting rid of items can increase the anxiety to such a great extent that the person may experience panic and or be immobilized and unable to achieve the mental organizational ability needed to achieve the task. It is hard for non hoarders to understand how someone can be so attached to items that these items make their life and home, areas of great dysfunction. As I returned from Japan, with its predominantly minimalist structuring of home décor I had a changed perspective on what I now saw as my cluttered setting. My home and office space now seemed too filled for my peace of mind.
I faced the question of what to get rid of, for the first time. I would traditionally, like other people who didn’t suffer from OCD, or any anxiety disorder that manifested itself in hoarding, get rid of things that were broken beyond usefulness. However I was now looking at items in my surroundings that were all useful and had worth in my estimation. I saw a raison d'être for all the items placed in my surroundings. Some were there because of personal relationships (gifts from kids), other items were practical and functional (coffeemaker, linens). I was able to find some things that were no brainers and got rid of them with ease. I didn’t realize that I had held on to my children’s reading books. Given the fact that the youngest was now reading on a high school level it was doubtful that the Judy Blume books would need to be used by them again. As they had no emotional attachment to these books it was agreed that they could be passed on to the school library (the Harry Potter series did however stay much to my dismay). After loading three diaper boxes of books off to other homes there was an immediate lightness in my home. I was now faced with a harder choice, how to discard items that were more precious to me. This is the dilemma that hoarders face; the items we ask them to discard are precious to them.
The steps I used and found the most successful are outlined below. I have since employed this model with clients who are diagnosed with anxiety disorders and who engage in hoarding behaviors as a result. These steps are basically a variation of systematic desensitization, a model used to address deep fears. The greatest fear of the hoarder is loss of access to their cherished items. To address this fear, the cherished item is removed by degrees. There are rules however about not adding to the clutter while engaged in this process. One rule I had for myself and my clients is that you couldn’t buy or accumulate another item without getting rid of a current one. My Achilles heel was home improvement stuff. I always had a plan to work on some area of my home. Therefore it made sense to buy a specific wall ornament, or paint that was on sale, or some tiles that were just the right style when I saw them. The plan to improve my bathroom or repaint a bedroom remained plans as the purchased items stayed tucked away for that faithful day. I now knew that unless the planned remodeling was going to happen today, or this weekend, then I was forbidden to buy any items in anticipation, regardless of how great the sale was. Also all the magazines that I had collected with ideas that I wanted to implement would also have to go. Because was I really going to reference a magazine article that was 5 years old at this point? Thanks to the internet I no longer had to save every magazine article or picture that appealed to me. I could now have decorating ideas at the touch of my fingers through online do it yourself shows and online magazines
Armed with the rule of no new purchase or acquisitions without removing a similar item, I began to tackle my environment, one room at a time.
With each step you take, remember to take the time to self congratulate. Self validation and praise is important in this process. You can do so using some practical means. Assign yourself a treat. Not necessarily food, but perhaps you can go to the movies with a friend. Why? Because you have just done something to improve your situations, and even if no one knows about it, you do and it is worthy of some recognition. We certainly take time to recognize our screw ups. Let’s take time to recognize when we take steps in the direction of health and mental wellness.