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How I took control of my hoarding

Tuesday, 14 May 2019 Hannah

Hannah was so worried about her clutter that she had stopped inviting friends home. Here she explains how Mind helped her.

I arrived at the head office of Mind in Croydon for the first session of the ‘Breakthrough Hoarding’ course in July. I rang the bell and a smiling face greeted me. ‘Hello, I’m here for the…’ - but I couldn’t finish my sentence. I felt ashamed and embarrassed, I couldn’t say it. I couldn’t admit that I was there for the ‘hoarding meeting’. I was mortified. Luckily, I didn’t need to finish my sentence, I was ushered inside and immediately began to feel better. It was ok, I was here to get help. Everyone present either needed help or was here to help us.

I introduced myself to the group. ’My name is Hannah and I have not seen my bedroom floor in the last three years’. There were about eight of us, some very timid and some very open about the challenges they faced.

'How the hell have you got into this mess?’ I asked myself. Literal mess. Everywhere. Suffocating me."

I left the first group meeting full of hope and excitement, but when I returned home, to the unbearable clutter that feeling quickly dissolved. ‘How the hell have you got into this mess?’ I asked myself. Literal mess. Everywhere. Suffocating me.

I had no idea how it had snowballed out of control. It started with boxes and bin bags creeping around the edges of the room. Then the garden slowly filled up, and the front porch, and then the hall. Before long I couldn’t sleep in my bed because it had so much laundry and ‘things to sort out’ on it that I couldn’t even get under the covers. Instead, I slept on top of it all in a sleeping bag. Whole rooms had become unusable due to the sheer amount of things piled up in them.

I’d stopped inviting friends over years before. I’d had to admit to my closest friends that the place was a mess - and that’s why they couldn’t come over. ‘Just tidy up!’ they said cheerfully. Months and months went by and they each said ‘I’ll come and help you tidy up’. Well, the prospect of that was just out of the question, I couldn’t let anyone in and show them this.

I knew I had to do something but I didn’t know where to start. I bought more and more storage boxes, but that did nothing. Then one day the penny dropped. The reason I couldn’t just ‘tidy up’ was due to the sheer amount of stuff.

I shunned the offer of help, determined that I would sort it out myself. But I couldn’t, I could barely manage to part with anything. At some stage I asked Google: Why can’t I throw things away? Google answered: ‘People with a hoarding disorder are unable to throw things away, no matter how useless’.

‘Hoarding’ wasn’t a fresh term for me. I call my mum a hoarder because she is, I just had no idea that I’d become one too. I thought of my childhood and the shame I felt that my house wasn’t like my friends’ houses. I thought about my own children and broke down. Our house was so much worse than my childhood home, so much so that I wouldn’t allow my children to have friends back after school because of the mess. I felt so sad that I’d created this. I decided then and there that it was time for change, that my children deserved the best I could give them. I did not want them to grow up being ashamed of their home.

My Dad’s wife sent me a link to a BBC article about a pilot scheme in Croydon - where a course had been run to help people with hoarding, to great success. I called Mind the next day to register my interest on the next course.

I started to try to declutter, and it really wasn’t easy. I spent days crying, trying to find something, that I could part with to get the ball rolling. Eventually I managed to make a start, and it felt great. The more floor I could see the better I felt.

A few months later I got the call from Mind to ask me to come for an assessment for the hoarding programme.

"With each item that left I felt lighter and happier. Last week my children had their friends over after school."

Fast forward three months and I have completed the Breakthrough Hoarding course. I have managed to part with huge amounts of things, realising that they were not serving me any purpose. With each item that left I felt lighter and happier. Last week my children had their friends over after school. Whilst I know my home isn’t as tidy as most people’s, it’s getting there.

The Breakthrough Hoarding course gave me a safe place to discuss my struggles with others experiencing the same. Tremendous support and a feeling of hope was generated within the group. We learnt to recognise why we hoard, discussed strategies to clear items, and importantly, how to stop acquiring more things. We were given homework challenges - to identify and recognise our feelings that lead to hoarding behaviours.

As part of the course, we were also each given a ‘declutter buddy’. Our declutter buddies were trained counsellors, and I don’t believe there was a single participant who didn’t adore their buddy. Initially, the idea of someone coming into my home filled me with terror and dread, but as soon as my buddy, Ebi, arrived I felt calm and safe. Ebi identified things that I thought I needed, but were actually creating negativity within my life. Ebi helped me on a practical level as well as an emotional level.

If you are reading this and it strikes a chord, I urge you to do something positive for yourself. You deserve a nice home. Realising that there was a problem was my first step, and doing something about it was the next. By talking about my journey to decluttering I hope to raise awareness for others that there is help and hope out there.

Our website has more information about hoarding.

You can also find out more about Mind in Croydon's hoarding project here.

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