Monday, May 2, 2016

Why I don't watch shows about hoarders

When I describe what I do, people sometimes enthusiastically say "Oh, I watched that show Hoarders on TV" and then they launch into gory details about so-and-so's house. I kindly but firmly interrupt and say "I don't ever watch those shows." Well, honestly, I hardly ever watch TV, but even if I did, I wouldn't. For me, rarely do I ever meet someone who doesn't actively seek me out to help with a mess. I don't look for the work, it finds me. I don't ever want to work for someone who doesn't personally want to change. I also find train wreck media in general low and well worth avoiding; it lowers my tolerance for others and lowers my ability to be compassionate. I don't need (or want) to say 'at least that's not me.' I have too many dear friends (not to mention myself) who struggle every day with stuff issues, no way am I going to point and stare. Here is what I say next.

Firstly, I don't even like the term "hoarder," especially when it's overused and little understood. Hoarders don't want to give any of their things up. Clutterers and creatives are overwhelmed and lack organization, and would start somewhere if they could figure out where, or find the energy or time. Sometimes I think it's my job to come in and plant a flag
and say "Here! Here is where we begin your brave new home!" and we throw a party right then and there to celebrate the fact that You Have a Home. It may not be ideal, but you love it and you want to make it nicer for you and everyone that comes into it. YAY!!!

Secondly , I'm not a psychologist, I'm a friend in the downsizing business. I'm not here to tell you why your clutter got away from you, I'm not here to judge you, I probably can't help you avoid minor messes in the future, although we can find routines that will minimize them if they occur. I do enjoy (very much!) the stories people tell while we're sorting, about all the various items and how they came to live at their house. I am pretty sure it's classic talk therapy for both of us.

Thirdly, I can't stand the way they bully and berate the people. I know the theory that sometimes tough love is the answer, but it's not MY answer and it's not my way. When I'm yelled at to downsize (this happened once when I was young) I viciously throw things away at random and hate the person, and as soon as they are out of the picture I'm a hundred times worse than I was. Gradual change, metered progress, checks and balances, rewards, hugs, before -during - and after pictures, those help me. So that's what I do. I can tell right off if a person is going to respond to my kind of help.

And lastly, there's the dumpster and black garbage bag thing. I really try to avoid that unless it's absolutely necessary - I mean, take out the trash, of course! I know about hazmat sites. I know about emergency situations. I've done one of those places and holy frijoles, that was scary, and a dumpster was totally necessary - the lady had one set up before I ever got there. I know what actual trash is, I assure you. But an awful lot of houses need 1) the bathroom 2) the kitchen and 3) the laundry room cleared out, and then we clean what ought to be cleaned for resale or for the thrift. Not empty juice bottles. Not holey towels. Just decent things that can move on, but not in the state they're in. I have two reasons for this: one, we need to help others while we help ourselves or we risk feeling freaking pathetic and low. Two, I think cleaning objects is a good way to say goodbye to them - to say "you were a good thing, and now you'll be someone else's good thing."

 sidenote: [I do have a caveat; even if you know how to fix those broken electronics or electrical gadgets, unless it is TRULY UNCOMMON, don't. Just don't. You don't have the time, you don't have the energy, and as cheap as consumer goods are these days, no one wants your refurbished alarm clock unless it's over twenty years old and has an iconic design factor. Really. If you don't believe me, ask the sorters at the thrift, who throw stuff like that out all day long. I know it's wasteful. That's why there are particular drop-off sites for that kind of thing in some cities. But by and large, it should go in the trash. I would not steer you wrong on this.]

At any rate, I don't watch the shows. I do read a lot on the subject, some books I find interesting and valuable, others seem condescending or focus a lot on individual worst-case cases and their families - kind of like the TV shows. I guess they're good if you need a reality check about where you are in your process, but the folks I've met who were in blatant denial of the filth (not the clutter, the filth) happening in their house were either too fragile mentally for me to point it out or were obviously going to tune me out and say it'd never happen again, so I didn't bother with anything more than suggesting a regular housekeeper as a permanent solution.

 I read quite a lot about cleaning, sorting, and organization, and I'm amused by the hyper-organized lifestyles some people need to function (in a good way - what would drive me nuts keeps many people in a zen bliss and good on them, I say). Not very carved in stone routines keep me and my possessions in bounds, and they seem to work well for the people who've hired me, after we get through the excess clutter. I've been taking notes for a while now, putting various books and sites into categories, with the idea that someday I'd be able to publish a list of what I've read that made sense to me or the people I've worked with. I have a fun idea in mind...

We all need to feel safe and happy at home, to have space to grow and learn, a special place to bring friends and family that reflects who we are. Period. That's a lifelong process, an act of service and love. Me, I've spent many long years learning how to help, and I'm not done learning. Every home is a new beginning.

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