Hoarding Behaviour and the
Professional Organizer

Hoarding Behaviour and the Professional Organizer Ultimate Academy® Organizing Blog

For many children, collecting becomes a habit encouraged by parents and relatives alike. Birthdays and celebrations provide opportunities for exhilarating additions to your coveted collection. Excited chatter ensues in regards to the future windfall this assortment can provide. From a young age, you are inspired to view this collection as worthy of your time and attention. 

Although you may out-grow this specific collection, this type of hobby often follows you as you age. As an adult, your possessions then become part of your style choice. The word “maximalization” is bandied about in interior design without any real negative connotation; it is simply viewed as a decorating style utilizing your many possessions. So how does a positively-viewed collection cross over to the dark side? When does a multitude of possessions become a hoarding situation? 

An individual who demonstrates hoarding behaviour, is one “who excessively collects items and/or animals so much that it interferes with their ability to conduct a normal, successful life”. Moreover, individuals who exhibit hoarding behaviour have difficulty discarding or parting with these possessions, regardless of their perceived value. 

This clutter often affects the living areas of the home, to the extent that their intended use is no longer possible. In other words, the collections become unmanageable and affect the livability of the home. What was once viewed as a fun hobby, becomes an unhealthy lifestyle. But with the help of a Professional Organizer, individuals can regain control of their lives and their homes. 

Hoarding Behaviour

Up to 6 percent of the Canadian population has a hoarding problem. In fact, hoarding behaviour is a growing issue in Toronto, especially among senior women. Isolation or a decrease in mobility may be attributing factors to this trend. There is even a non-profit organization, Toronto Hoarding Support Services Network (THSSN), created to provide counselling, clutter coaching, nursing, occupational therapy, mental health support and cleaning assistance. 

The main goal of this organization is to prevent eviction as hoarding can contribute to homelessness. They focus on providing information and materials to support individuals who display hoarding behaviours, as well as to their families and those who work in the sector. What this means for professional organizers, is help is but a mouse-click away for more extreme hoarding situations. 

Why Individuals Hoard

Every situation is unique, and therefore, so are the reasons for the hoarding behaviour. Contrary to many myths portrayed in the media, it is not always predicated by trauma, the loss of a loved one, or living through some type of deprivation. However, many individuals who exhibit hoarding behaviour experience difficulty making decisions, especially in regards to what to keep and what to get rid of. 

Frequently, these individuals also struggle with getting things done; they lack motivation and become distracted easily. Many have more than one interest or hobby, and find it hard to set boundaries in regards to how much to buy, what to keep, and where to put things. Hoarding behaviour can also be related to the grieving process; items may be inherited or act as reminders of a loved one. The emotional attachment then becomes too strong for the individual to part with the possession. 

Professional Organizing Strategies for Hoarding Behaviour 

In order for significant change to occur, individuals who demonstrate hoarding behaviour must be motivated to make the change themselves. They may have been subject to months or years of criticism for their behaviour, and a direct push from anyone may trigger an automatic defense mechanism. 

In other words, they may push back and refuse to part with any of their possessions. A Professional Organizer must always approach this type of project with empathy and patience. You are there, not only to help organize and create organizational routines and solutions, but to be supportive, encouraging, and to provide an objective perspective.

There are specific strategies that can be implemented in order to assist individuals who demonstrate hoarding behaviour:

• Start slowly. Not only are the first steps usually the hardest, but too much too soon can produce anxiety and a certain level of mistrust. Once the individual experiences the euphoria of success, the process will become easier.

• Differentiate between projects and tasks. Breaking larger projects down into smaller tasks can help prevent distraction.

• Create an organizing plan. List the projects and specific tasks in order to prioritize them.

• Create an action plan. Scheduling the organizing demonstrates to the individual both the importance of the tasks, and that you together, are working towards realistic goals.

• Adopt the “only handle it once” strategy. As stated previously, individuals who exhibit hoarding behaviour often experience difficulty making decisions in regards to their possessions. Encouraging them to make an immediate decision to keep or toss, bypasses this decision-making inertia.

• Over-personalize the elimination process. This strategy also aids in preventing decision-making difficulty. Rather than asking “are you going to use this item?”, encourage the individual to view the article as a friend, stranger, or acquaintance; you keep friends, toss strangers, and enjoy acquaintances and then let them go. 

• Minimize the sense of loss. Sometimes individuals who exhibit hoarding behaviours have an emotional attachment to their possessions, and this can exacerbate the difficulty in letting the article go. If the item is in good shape, encourage the individual to take a picture of it, and donate it to a friend or family member who could use it.

• Set boundaries. For individuals who own many collections, encourage them to set aside a specific shelf or area for each one. Once the space has been filled, the rest of the collection must be donated or tossed. Remind them that if an item isn’t loved enough to be a priority on the shelf, then it isn’t important enough to keep. 

Certified Ultimate Professional Organizers™ can help individuals who exhibit hoarding behaviour in many ways. They can work together to declutter, prioritize and organize the individual’s possessions, and provide support and encouragement. 

The Ultimate Professional Organizer™ can also set the individual on a brighter path, by creating storage and organizational solutions and routines; helping individuals regain control of their collections, homes and lives, one item at a time.