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Sunday 31 December 2017

Challenges of clearing a hoarder's home

If you've ever had to clear out the home of a loved one after they've died, you'll understand how time consuming and emotionally draining it can be sorting out the legal red-tape stuff (probate), making decisions about what to keep, what should go where/to whom, etc.

So imagine having to do that for the home of a hoarder.

I've just done exactly that – it’s taken my family and I over two years to clear the property of my late father (who was a hoarder), visiting virtually every weekend; it’s just as well that I’m self-employed and was able to have the flexibility to fit other visits around work, and have a supportive family and professional organising and hoarding practitioner colleagues who were able to help.

Between us we've probably collectively spent over 1000 hours working on this exhausting project.

What I find incredible is that my dad’s hoarding behaviour was mild compared to what I’ve seen professionally in the homes of other hoarders.  Goodness knows how long it might take to excavate and dissect some of those homes in the event of the person passing away.

My heart goes out to family members who – like me – have to take on this challenge, and the burden of responsibility and commitment of time and energy that goes with it.

Children of hoarders worldwide who have had to do the same will no doubt relate to the following story.
There's been:
·      on average at least one trip to a charity shop or tip per week
·      umpteen bags of shredding (paperwork like car insurance documents dating back to 1952)
·      three removal vans full of unwanted furniture
·      several bonfires of furniture the charity folks won’t take
·      a stack of stuff that's been sold online (including three 1950's wooden TV sets that went to an opera school in London, a box of 1970's/80's Smurf figures that surprised us as they turned out to be quite collectable), and assorted computers from yesteryear)
·      53 original Oxo tins
·      a wash tub that turned out to be so old that it’s been donated to a museum
·      several hundred books and newspaper/magazine clippings
·      five decades of part-dismantled lawn mowers, washing machines, car parts in the garage, barn and four sheds, plus cans of oil that had been drained from cars about 30 years ago, together with assorted mechanic and DIY tools in varying degrees of rust or disintegration
·      a loft containing loads of radio transmitter equipment, vintage valves and transistors dating back to the 1950’s
·      Enough wood to build another shed!
·      LOTS of rubbish and dust!

And that’s not including:
·      the vast number of boxes containing photos, my Mum's paintings, assorted family memorabilia and yet more paperwork now stored in the loft/garage/spare rooms of various family members waiting for us to sort through over the coming months (hopefully not years….)  
·      the massive piles of assorted paraphernalia that’s been piled up in the house and garden waiting for the clearance people to deal with prior to the house being demolished because of years of neglect and disrepair

So my wonderfully supportive family’s journey (and time needed to reach a point of closure in order to finally grieve) continues....

Along the way the exercise has been likened to an archaeological dig, which is about right because of the layers of decades of paperwork, newspapers and technology we’ve found.

Occasionally people have told us “just put it all in a skip”; what they don’t realise is that the contents of every book, drawer, cupboard, box and disintegrating confetti-like carrier bag needed to be checked in case there were things like money or personal memorabilia inside. 

We would have missed all sorts of treasures, such as drawers containing money, jewellery, or family memorabilia and medals belonging to ancestors who fought at Gallipoli - which we hadn’t known about.
I count myself fortunate to a professional understanding and patience about hoarding behaviours and why I believe my father was a hoarder – because many other families aren’t able to accept and forgive when coming to terms with this debilitating disorder that can – and does - tear families apart. 

Thank goodness for specialist Professional Hoarding Practitioners like Heather Matuozzo of Clouds End CIC and Jo Cooke of Hoarding Disorders UK (author of the excellent book “Understanding Hoarding”, that I contributed to with a story about my experiences as the daughter of a hoarder) who are skilled at working with people who exhibit hoarding behaviours, and help them reduce the amount of possessions that they own before it becomes the job/chore of family members and friends to clear a property once someone has passed away.  

They're also busy training personnel from local authorities, housing associations, charities and the next generation of Professional Organisers and Hoarding Practitioners - thank goodness, as Rainbow Red has had so many enquiries this year from people asking for help that we can't cope with the demand for our services.

So, as I'm publishing this blog on New Year's Eve, you may be wondering about my New Year’s Resolution?

It's to plough through my parent’s possessions as soon as possible, reduce the amount of my own clutter and theirs, get my own home in order and ensure that whoever ends up sorting out my belongings and affairs when I die has a quick and easy job to do. 

Hopefully this blog will be thought-provoking enough to help you think about doing the same….

Wishing you a happy, health and as clutter-free New Year as possible!

Saturday 20 May 2017

"Understanding Hoarding" - by Jo Cooke

"Understanding Hoarding" by Jo Cooke is the first book of its kind in the UK that''s been written by a British author (most of the other books about hoarding have originated in the US).

If, like me, your life has been touched or changed by hoarding behaviours and you'd like to understand more about it, then I encourage you to invest in this book - it's been compared to the international works of Steketee, Frost et al, all of whom are experts and published authors on the subject.

Jos' book is easy to read, sensitively written, empathetic and practical, and includes contributions and case studies from hoarders themselves, families of hoarders, professional practitioners, the Fire & Rescue Service and others.

Jo Cooke of
Hoarding Disorders UK CIC
Jo's insight into the world of hoarding comes as a result of being the daughter of a hoarder - as am I.  

It lead her to eventually set up a specialist social enterprise called Hoarding Disorders UK CIC (Community Interest Company) based in Newbury, Berkshire, as well as two (currently) hoarding support groups.

I hadn't read the book prior to it being launched, and have been absolutely delighted by it - it really does live up to one of the reviews on Amazon, written within only two days of the book being published:

"The definitive book on understanding hoarding.   It is both an easy read and beautifully written. It will become the bible for people affected by hoarding. Hoarders themselves, families of hoarders, and people that come into contact with hoarders such as social workers, housing officers, the fire services and many others.

As well as addressing what is hoarding and why people hoard it gives good advice on decluttering and sustainability.

Jo writes in an easy style with a great deal of commonsense, knowledge and passion.Everything you need to know is in this book, the complete guide."  

Very sadly many children of hoarders fall out with their parents; the stuff can tear resentful families apart.

I wish it had been available as I was growing up, so that I could have learned what might be behind my controlling father's habits.  It would have given me the knowledge to look beyond the stuff and work towards developing a stronger and more emotionally rewarding relationship with him. 

In later life he developed Alzheimer's, which made caring for him (and then clearing out his house once he'd died) a time consuming, financially draining and emotional roller coaster of a journey.

Jo very kindly invited me to contribute to "Understanding Hoarding", and has even credited me in the acknowledgement at the beginning, for which I'm truly grateful!  

So I must thank some very special people, without whom my contributions to the book would not have been possible.

Firstly, my client Peter - for allowing me to tell his story.  Next, Sheena Crankson and Felix Pring of FAST Minds ADHD Support Group in Kingston-upon-Thames - for their support in helping me create the diagram (below) for the book.  

It's designed to give people an insight into the thought processes of the ADHD Brain in the context of organising, clutter, disorganisation and hoarding, and has been well received by people with ADHD.

The day after "Understanding Hoarding" was published, a lady who has the condition (as do members of her family) asked if it would be OK to take it to school to show the teachers, to help them understand how difficult and debilitating it can be to have ADHD/ADD.

Members of my local ADHD support group were very excited to see the difficulties they have with clutter and disorganisation shown in picture form (because pictures paint a thousand words).

Heather Matuozzo of Clouds End CIC (founder of the first social enterprise in England specialising in hoarding behaviours) has been a great mentor and friend on my personal and professional development journey, and has also made an invaluable contribution to Jo's book.

And finally, I must thank my late parents - without whom I would not be writing this blog now.

I will always be grateful to Jo Cooke for allowing me to contribute to her wonderful book, and for empowering readers to look at their possessions, other people's possessions and other people's lives differently.  

Because hoarding isn't about the stuff, it's about the people.