Thursday, September 2, 2010

Hoarding stuff

In the course of my professional organizing business, I do not work with extremely chronically disorganized people. I generally work with people who are mildly disorganized and need extra help with their things. People often call me for a specific organizing project that they need help with, or to kick-start their own organizing efforts. There are some professional organizers who exclusively work with people with severely cluttered homes. These types of clients are often called hoarders, and they have come into the public eye of late with television shows like A&E's Hoarders. Below is a billboard for the upcoming season that I saw in New York last week.

The illustrates in very simple terms one aspect of what being a hoarder implies and is like. But the fact that the show is ostensibly for entertaining people surprises me. I'm currently reading a book on the subject of hoarding called Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy Frost and Gail Steketee. The book illustrates the dimensions of hoarding disorders from a scientific basis and through case studies with people who have worked with the authors over the years of their research. Unlike most books I read for my work, I would not recommend this one to the general public, unless you are dealing with a hoarding tendency in yourself or know someone who is a hoarder and want to gain insight into their situation. The book is very clear and well written, but the subject matter is heavy and the lives of the people documented can be depressing, though from a professional standpoint, the common traits that hoarders tend to posses are interesting to learn about.

I don't watch the show Hoarders, but I can understand the fascination people have for seeing how some people with the disorder live. Frost and Steketee site statistics that say 2-5% of the population may be hoarders. That is a lot of people, and shedding further light on this issue will surely help those affected by it.

Lelah Baker-Rabe is a Los Angeles-based professional organizer. To discuss your organizing needs, call her at 818.269.6671 or email


  1. I learned a lot about hoarding during my graduate psychology program and saw it often while working with the severely mentally ill. It's a very sad life, it seems, for those who hoard. There's so many emotional ties to why they do it that it's really hard to get them to stop, if they even can.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Lacey. I'm learning from the book that some hoarders who want to change can change their emotional responses and behavior and clean out the stuff and lead a more normal life. But many cannot. It is surprising to me how high the prevalence of hoarding is in our society, and yet how little is known about it.