Saturday, September 16, 2006

Compulsive Hoarding

When people learn that I have written a book entitled, "Sorting It Out: One Disorganized Woman Solves the Problem of Too Much Stuff," many of them leap to the conclusion that I formerly lived in a catastrophic state of chaos and I now live in something resembling a Zen monastery. Neither description is accurate.

True, the various homes I've shared over the last twenty-five years with The Writer have been burdened by far too much stuff, especially when we both quickly ended up working at home. That meant that he, a writer/computer-and-technology-of-all-kinds-lover, and I, a writer/musician/artist, somehow had to cram together both our work-related stuff and our "regular" living stuff. Needless to say, there were enormous efforts to contain stray items in attractive wicker baskets and subsequent massive overflows into storerooms. My predilection for my formerly simple existence, not to mention my unswerving requirement for a certain level of cleanliness, made daily life a constant, frustrating battle for control over our situation. But, in spite of moments of despair, I doubt that even our worst conditions would have qualified us for one of those reality television clean up and makeover shows.

However, the situation was exhausting and eventually, something had to give. The sometimes amusing, often challenging process is covered in my book, but basically we learned to let go of many things that we would have kept had we lived in someplace the size of, oh, let's say the Hearst castle. We had to admit that those things were just…things. In our minds, they represented the people we inherited them from or the people who had given them to us or the times we remembered fondly, but we finally accepted the idea that we could part with the stuff and still treasure the memories.

Some people simply can't do that. They can't make distinctions between important or useful items and worthless junk. Even though they suffer greatly from living in homes that literally can look like garbage dumps, they are truly powerless to control their impulses to hoard. I wondered what could be done to help those unfortunate people who had not only given up the battle but had lost the war.

I was interested to read about the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation's new Compulsive Hoarding Website. Randy Frost, PhD, a professor at Smith College in Northampton, MA, and Gail Steketee, PhD, Associate Dean/Professor at the Boston University School of Social Work, have put together some very helpful material for people who have a serious problem with hoarding. Information and scientific research about the issues pertaining to compulsive hoarding have been available only for about the past decade, and the problem appears to be more common than we might have expected. Drs. Frost and Steketee estimate that 700,000 to 1.4 million people in the United States may suffer from this syndrome. There are several aspects of the compulsive hoarder's personality that contribute to this condition, including difficulty making decisions and, perhaps surprisingly, perfectionism. The result is an unlivable environment with unhappy, sometimes clinically depressed occupants.

So, if you (or someone you know) have an accumulation of stuff that is completely out of hand and you're truly unable to let go of anything, you may need more help than my book, or any other author's organizing books, can offer. Please take a moment to look at this website – and don’t give up hope!

© 2006 Cynthia Friedlob

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