Thursday, May 31, 2012

5 Hours Later

Today, the boyfriend and I went to the shop and worked for several hours. During the process, there were times when we really worried about how people could work in an environment like this. You'll notice, that between the first and last photos (two weeks), some areas we were able to clean up today, and others are more cluttered than they were during the first photograph. It was a pleasure to work together on this, we only cleaned for five hours, and it was just the right amount of time. We didn't get fatigued, but we also made some real progress. The problems were where we couldn't make decisions for my parents, in regards to keeping and donating things. Without my parents there, we had to simply consolidate into totes, tubs, and boxes, and shove the questionable stuff into the back rooms. 

Hopefully, we made a big enough difference to win them over, or at least open their eyes. They're expected back sometime tonight, but I'm not sure if they'll go to the shop before going home. On the ride home we were suddenly very nervous that we might get a phone call, in fact, before we were even a block away from the shop we thought we saw one of their vehicles, and it became very real that we had probably popped their bubble. With some distance between us and the shop now, we are again feeling good about our progress. We're hopeful and even curious about what their reactions will be. But my boyfriend confided that he's glad I'm going back with him tomorrow when they will be in town for sure...just in case. I will collect updates to post for tomorrow night, including any reactions from my parents, or any further progress or regression.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


I'm feeling hypocritical today.

Today my boyfriend came home home, spitting fire about my parents and the condition of their business. He had anxiety attacks about not being able to walk a straight line from the front door to his desk. My father is also asking him for networking help, but is so unorganized and overwhelmed, that he won't actually accept his suggestions. When he wonders where something is, he has to search the whole building, then the vehicles, then the house, and finally, a storage unit. I had no idea he had a storage unit. What could he possibly need with a storage unit?

When my boyfriend, whom I care very much for, comes home upset, I am upset. But I know the people he is talking about are my parents. The mess and both mental and physical upset are theirs. But I've seen enough from a wider perspective to know that he shouldn't have to work in that environment. My parents don't deserve this, but they're doing it to themselves.

I am going to my hometown this Thursday, Friday, and next Monday and Tuesday. My parents will be gone all but Friday. This means there is a great risk at what I do in my parents' home and shop. I have said before, that I bounce back and forth between wanting to help, being embarrassed, feeling bad for them, and being upset to the point of wishing I could light a match. I know this is risky, and I've even re-posted great information on why rapid, uninvolved clean-outs don't work, and yet I plan on doing it. After realizing that I spent 3 hours on one room in the shop last week, and made no dent in the room, building, or multi-property hoard, I can't imagine what it's going to take.

I feel helpless, but maybe when I am actively doing something, I'll feel something different. That sounds selfish, and it is selfish, because I don't want to feel guilty once I leave. If it's appropriate, I'll treat the amount of work I get done as a gift to them. Their anniversary is in June, and I want nothing more for them, than to be together, be healthy, be clean, and be happy.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Why People Hoard - UOCHD resource

Here is a great, succinct resource I found today: Why People Hoard

The following reasons of why people Hoard are all closely linked, but although similar they still have distinct differences.

  • Now you would expect for these things that are kept to have a purpose, to be meaningful or valuable.
    But for the person that Hoards, the usefulness and/or value may lay in the most unexpected things.
    Sentimental value is only 1 of the criteria to keep just about anything.
    This value is also about feeling the item is part of "you", not just an independent object.
    MISCONCEPTION: The moment I discard of this item I discard a part of myself.

  • The "What If's" that are so typical of OCD are found here too. Those with Hoarding Behavior find it extremely difficult to make decisions, and end up avoiding having to make any by keeping everything.
    "What if I may need this 1 day? Where is the harm in keeping just this 1 extra thing?"
    Not having to make the decision of discarding something literally means that they can't make any mistakes while doing so.
    Sounds simple enough, but how better to avoid making mistakes than to yes, avoid doing things, making decisions.
    You can't do anything wrong if you don't do anything. Those who don't try can't fail.
    MISCONCEPTION: The moment I decide to throw something away I may be making the wrong choice.

  • There is also the difficulty with knowing how to organize objects, not being able to see how you would possibly store them in a logical fashion (Which is ironic considering the visual chaos that is created by the Hoarder). But while this chaos may be painfully apparent for outsiders, the hoarder himself often finds some logic in this. To him a pile of junk may very well be the only way he can sense some control and order. If only because the pile will literally be created by stacking what is most important on top.
    MISCONCEPTION: The moment I am unable to know how to categorize an item, I will place it in sight so I will know where it is.

  • As you may see in OCD, you also have a tendency for people to feel Hyper- Responsible for what is happening around them and the people they care for.
    With Hoarding this can result in the accumulation of "Just- In- Case" Objects being carried around with them at all times.
    For me this meant hauling a huge purse around that could easily knock anybody out.
  • But you also have the obligation of HAVING to use a certain item. Discarding seems to be wasting something and this is why so many items will later on be categorized under "Recycling", "Giving Away" and so on.
    MISCONCEPTION: The moment my object has a use, I have to keep/use it so it doesn't get wasted.

  • Then you have the issue of Control/Perfectionism, again so present when looking at OCD. The fact that when you throw something away, it's gone and once the trash will be picked up you will never be able to find this item again.
    MISCONCEPTION: The moment you decide to throw something away, you no longer are the person in control and what happens to this item will be in the hands of others.

  • Because of the fear of forgetting and the inability to accept that we can't be in total control, items will be kept so that with written/printed material for instance, it can be re- read at all times.
    Some will find themselves looking through the garbage, checking if they haven't thrown out something they shouldn't have or resort in writing information down what they see in every- day life, such as license- plate #'s, to make sure the information won't be forgotten. The inability to remember all, becomes the behavior of keeping all within "arm- reach".
    Hoarders have been noted to have a greater sense of Perfection than non- Hoarders and will even expect this Perfection whereas others may strive for Perfection.
    MISCONCEPTION: The moment you throw something away, you may forget it's content or the way it looked and it will be gone forever.

  • 1 other point that for me was a motivation to Hoard was the fear of letting go, of moving on.
    I used to hoard when I was younger, I would keep candy wrappers, elastic bands and small pieces of about..... anything. The idea of loosing things that had even a remotely sentimental value to me, scared me. Because there would be no turning back, no control.
    But to me it also had something to do with things being ephemeral, keeping things or parts of them, meant that I would literally prevent them from ceasing to exist, scared that parts of my life may be forever forgotten. So I picked up small stones, leaves and kept notes and bills. I didn't want to let go of my life and forgot there was still much more to come.
    All part of being afraid of death.
    Letting go of things in life is so needed if we want to experience some sense of freedom, but for someone with OCD this means letting go of the control we want so badly.
    My items became part of who I was, thus letting go would be letting go of myself.
    Today I am still unable to discard or to give away certain items because they are "me", and giving them away would mean part of me would be somewhere else, belong to someone else.
    MISCONCEPTION: The moment you throw something away, you let go of that specific part of your life, however insignificant it may be.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The In-Between

I find that as I begin to really allow myself to acknowledge the hoarding issue and related family strains, that I'm uncomfortable with all the right people, and comfortable with all the wrong people. I realized today, that when people see me working on my clean up plans and they ask about it, I'm so much more willing to share with them. I brush it off from people closer to me (excluding the boyfriend). I haven't even talked about it with my older sister. I'm so much more ashamed, especially if I know they've been in my parents' house before. Plus, they might be in contact with them, and upset them with what I might share.

I feel like I should try to keep their anonymity as much as possible, but at the same time, we need help! When I did talk to my mom two years ago about the hoarding issue, she told me point blank that having a 1-800-got-junk trunk outside her house would kill her. I respect that, but I know she's rented dumpsters before, just never been able to part with enough to fill them.

I'm back to just hoping for the best this Friday. We're working for them, and then making dinner since we haven't visited much before last week (for relevant reasons). That means I'll have to clean the kitchen in a big way, before I can be productive in cooking.

I feel torn between the two worlds, the clean and the unclean. I feel obligated to defend my parents, but I know they need help, for physical and mental clutter. I'm trying to land somewhere in-between.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Clip on Emotions

 My mother's mother died two years ago last November. It was very hard on my mom, and it didn't help that she was raised in the home of people who were afraid to throw things out. So when my mom was visiting her dad, she mentioned that I had asked her to french braid my hair for graduation, he dug out a peanut butter jar of hair clips that he insisted she take. I was happy to have a bonding moment, but when my mom began braiding my hair, I quickly realized she didn't remember things the way she though she did. My parents are in their 50s, but my mom had a bad accident when she was thrown from a horse. Instead of french braiding my hair, she began braiding my hair into cornrows. Not what I wanted. The next morning, instead of waking up with subtle waves, I had crimped hair. After I cried, and straightened my hair, and rushed to my ceremony, I realized, it wasn't about my hair. It was about giving something of my grandmother's a purpose again. The thing is, my grandmother probably hadn't used these clips in the last decade. So my mom used them, most likely to use them, but I can't really blame her.

The first picture is of these same clips in my drawer. That says something. I felt bad throwing them away, what if my mom came over and asked for them back? I'd feel horrible, but the likelihood of that happening, or her even remembering is very slim. This was all the weekend of the 12th. Tonight, it's the 26th, exactly two weeks later. Tonight is the night, my grandmother is not in these old (some rusted) hair clips, and neither is my responsibility to my mother.
In the trash they go. They didn't take up much space, but they were a reminder of my awkward and stressed relationship with my mother, and her own stress and stuff. Hopefully, when I go home for my two-day-crusade, I'll be able to carry this over and get some of my old things out of their house. Feels good.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Professional Boxers

Don't you love those hidden-object games online? I'm going to play a bit of that with pictures from home, because with my boyfriend's help, I've noticed one of the most prevalent items my family keeps, are product boxes. In my apartment last year, I had a hall closet full. Here we go.

Empty (holding more junk) boxes in the house:
~12 pill boxes (the kind that pill bottles come in)
1 strobe light bar box
~10 shoe boxes
1 VCR box
1 headphone (just gifted to dad for birthday last month) box
1 computer box
1 monitor box
~12 large unmarked shipping boxes
1 garbage bag box
~25 bottles/gallon jugs (soda/milk etc)
~4 bags of cans (soup/soda etc)
~30 reused takeout containers
1 reused Styrofoam mushroom container
~12 wine bottles
~15 jars (mason/baby food/pickle etc)
1 deep fryer box
1 triple banquet food warmer/server
4 new stereo piece boxes

~180 empty, unnecessary boxes/containers
~1300sqft house

~7% of the house is made up of boxes that are empty or holding more junk
 (i.e. our skin makes up 7% of our body weight)

On a more positive note, I found this inspiring story that sounds a lot like many of us COH: 
The impact of hoarding on one Staten Islander

MassHousing - A housing professional's perspective

This website is based in Massachusetts, but it's content is relevant to people across the world dealing with hoarding and hoarders.
**Disclaimer: This website is primarily formatted for professionals in the housing and code inspection professions, and I am suggesting these as ideas, not cut and dry calls to action.

MassHousing - Hoarding Resouces

How to Talk to Someone with Hoarding: Do’s and Don’ts

Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency TEL: 617.854.1000 FAX: 617.854.1091
One Beacon Street, Boston, MA 02108 TDD: 617.854.1025
By Cristina M. Sorrentino, PhD, LCSW | Boston University School of Social Work


• Use judgmental language. Like anyone else, individuals with hoarding will not be receptive to negative comments about the state of their home or their character (e.g., “What a mess!” “What kind of person lives like this?”). Imagine your own response if someone came into your home and spoke in this manner, especially if you already felt ashamed.

• Use words that devalue or negatively judge possessions. People who hoard are often aware that others do not view their possessions and homes as they do. They often react strongly to words that reference their possessions negatively, like “trash,” “garbage,” and “junk.”

• Let your non-verbal expression say what you’re thinking. Individuals with compulsive hoarding are likely to notice non-verbal messages that convey judgment, like frowns or grimaces.

• Make suggestions about the person’s belongings. Even well-intentioned suggestions about discarding items are usually not well-received by those with hoarding.

• Try to persuade or argue with the person. Efforts to persuade individuals to make a change in their home or behavior often have the opposite effect—the person actually talks themselves into keeping the items.

• Touch the person’s belongings without explicit permission. Those who hoard often have strong feelings and beliefs about their possessions and often find it upsetting when another person touches their things. Anyone visiting the home of someone with hoarding should only touch the person’s belongings if they have the person’s explicit permission.


• Imagine yourself in the hoarding client’s shoes. How would you want others to talk to you to help you manage your anger, frustration, resentment, and embarrassment?

• Match the person’s language. Listen for the individual’s manner of referring to his/her possessions (e.g., “my things”, “my collections”) and use the same language (i.e., “your things”, “your collections”).

• Use encouraging language. In communicating with people who hoard about the consequences of hoarding, use language that reduces defensiveness and increases motivation to solve the problem (e.g., “I see that you have a pathway from your front door to your living room. That’s great that you’ve kept things out of the way so that you don’t slip or fall. I can see that you can walk through here pretty well by turning sideways. The thing is that somebody else that might need to come into your home, like a fire fighter or an emergency responder, would have a pretty difficult time getting through here. They have equipment they’re usually carrying and fire fighters have protective clothes that are bulky. It’s important to have a pathway that is wide enough so that they could get through to help you or anyone else who needed it. In fact, the safety law states
that [insert wording about egresses], so this is one important change that has to be made in your home.”)

• Highlight strengths. All people have strengths, positive aspects of themselves, their behavior, or even their homes. A visitor’s ability to notice these strengths helps forge a good relationship and paves the way for resolving the hoarding problem (e.g., “I see that you can easily access your bathroom sink and shower,” “What a beautiful painting!”, “I can see how much you care about your cat.”)

• Focus the intervention initially on safety and organization of possessions and later work on discarding. Discussion of the fate of the person’s possessions will be necessary at some point, but it is preferable for this discussion to follow work on safety and organization.


Readiness to Change Questionnaire
(fill in the blank with the behavior)

                                                            Strongly      Disagree    Unsure    Agree   Strongly
                                                            Disagree                                                     Agree 

1. My home is ok as it is                                                                               

2. I am trying to collect less                                                                       
than I used to

3. I enjoy saving things but sometimes                                                      
I collect too much

4. I should cut down on my                                                                        
collecting items

5. It’s a waste of time thinking about                                                         
my collecting items

6. I have just recently changed my                                                             
collecting habits

7. Anyone can talk about wanting to                                                          
Do something about collecting, but
I am actually doing something about

8. I am at the stage where I should                                                               
think about collecting less

9. My collecting is a problem                                                                       

10. It’s alright for me to keep collecting                                                         
as I do now

11. I am actually changing my collecting                                                      
habits right now

12. My life would be the same, even                                                              
if I collected less

How to score the Stage of Change questionnaire

  • The pre-contemplation items are numbers 1, 5, 10 and 12
  • The contemplation items are numbers 3, 4, 8, and 9
  • The action 2, 6, 7, 11
  • The highest score represents the Stage of Change Designation

Scoring legend:
# of points                   Response                                                                                
    -2                             Strongly disagree
    -1                             Disagree
      0                            Unsure
    +1                            Agree
    +2                            Strongly Agree

Scale Scores:

Pre-contemplation _______

Contemplation      _______

Action                   _______

**The Highest Score represents the person’s level of change**

Appropriate response from helper depending on the person’s stage of change

Stage                                         Response from Helper

Pre-contemplation                     Leave brochure, information sheets, phone numbers, ask “How would you better off if you “collected” less

Contemplation                           Write down pro’s and cons of behavior, ask “How would you be better off if you “collected” less

Action                                        Develop an action plan with the consumer immediately, follow up with the person

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Best I Could Hope For

I went to the studio to see what I could do for my mother today. I was extremely encouraged by my mother's reception and appreciation for the work I got done in her shop. I didn't get after pictures taken, mostly because I only got 1/4 of the room done in three hours, so I hope to go back in the near future. When she came in after I had been working for a while, she mentioned she could use this kind of help in "about 12 places in my life." No kidding. I can't wait to go back though, I'm hopeful. My biggest worry is less their acceptance now, but the time.

attached garage remodeled into a family room about 10 years ago

front foyer, living room, and hallway view from the door

living room (dining table has been there for a few years now)

the dining room (dining table #2) and back door

dining room again, deep freezer, and closet

view of the newly remodeled (5 years ago) kitchen from the dining room

living room again, this is the couch I have to clean off to sleep on if I stay over

my old bedroom, this is much better than it was, my mom had an office in here, but it looks like she moved it out and my father moved his bed in  (he uses a CPAP machine that keeps my mom awake)

Add caption

full bathroom, it's been in a constant state of redecoration for the past 10 years, never completely done (see half wallpapered wall)

the back bedroom, currently my dad's office

office again, and "walk-in closet"

master bedroom, my mom is the only one living in this room now

master bedroom still, plus the office stuff moved in from the other room

still master bedroom

closet in the master bedroom

attached half bathroom

hallway closet

backyard deck, fireplace and greenhouse

family room exit to back yard, on the far left is a rusted out safe from my parents' first house together

inside the greenhouse

sidewalk between the family room (to the right), and the garage (to the left)

garage, through the back door

Add caption

tools and bikes

furniture and boxes of items that were leftover after a garage sale 15 years ago

less than reliable lebaron that was an anniversary present from my dad to my mom 10 years ago, then I drove it for a year or two

front desk area at the studio

cabinet and tub area in shop

storage and table area


Cleaning List in Action

My cleaning list! In a 12x12 album frame on top of scrap-booking paper - I can use a dry erase marker on the glass to keep myself accountable

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

So Much for Sleep

Last night was rough. I'm not sure what went wrong. As we were settling down in bed, my boyfriend and I were discussing the set up of my parents' desks, and I mentioned I thought I could help my mother clean off all three of her desks when I go with him Wednesday. He pointed out that the desks are actually "L" shaped, and there are only two, not three straight desks like I thought. I defended myself saying that obviously I wouldn't know that, because I had never seen them clean. He continued discussing the desk set up and suddenly I was beside myself. Not only did I feel like I had left my body, but I was filled with a sudden sense of rage. I started shaking and I felt like I was screaming but I just heard myself telling my boyfriend to stop talking to me like I was three. I was wholly overwhelmed and out of control. Then, just as fast as it began, the rage was gone, and I started sobbing.

My sister and I have wondered for the past 8 years or so, if my mother is bipolar, or if she is really just capable of shifting her mood that fast. She will snap in and out of being happy and being furious.

All I remember is falling asleep crying as he held me. I then, proceeded to have several nightmares throughout the night.What the (insert any number of four letter words here) was that? I wonder if I didn't just get a glimpse into what my mother goes through when she is pressured or overwhelmed.

Oh, and I just remembered waking up with a UTI at some point.

Bloody hell.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Organizing My Week

After thinking about what can be done to continue an organized and structured day, especially as I anticipate working different hours than I'm used to (retail shifts at random hours, restaurant late hours), I've decided that I need a schedule. The following is hopefully something that will keep me on top of the house, and provide something to look forward to each day to ensure that I'm productive. Splitting the chores up by days will also keep each day's activities limited to a reasonable amount so I don't feel so overwhelmed before leaving for work, or coming home afterwards. Today being Monday, I'm going to give it a go. I've been at one job since 9, and I'm at my second until 8 or so.

Cleaning Schedule



Meal Plan + Coupons + Groceries
 clean fridge
 counter tops
 sweep/mop floor




 wash/dry all loads
 put away linens
 put away clothes
return baskets
 office x2
 take trash/cardboard to curb
 clean off and make bed
 dresser top/tables
 clean off and make bed



House-wide dusting
House-wide vacuuming

 organize objects
 clean off surfaces
 clean car out
 clean car off
 check fluids/tires
 sweep garage floor
 vacuum steps
 organize objects
 clean off appliances
 empty lint basket