Interview Series: Hoarding Expert; DorothyTheOrganizer

Over the next few months, we will be interviewing professionals who work with the hoarding population. We are asking them to share their insights on people who hoard and people who think they have the hoarding disorder.

We recently interviewed Dorothy Breininger. Dorothy, also known as DorothyTheOrganizer has worked years on A&E’s hit show, Hoarders. She has served on the board of directors for the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals, is a member of the Institute for Chronic Disorganization and sponsor for the Los Angeles Hoarding Conference. She has appeared on the Today Show, Dr. Phil Show, and featured in the LA Times, Forbes Magazine, Women’s Day and Entrepreneur Magazine. She has authored Stuff Your Face or Face Your Stuff, When I Roll Out of Bed Tomorrow Morning, I Just Want to Be Happy, and co-authored Time Efficiency Makeover: Own Your Time and Your Life by Conquering Procrastination.

Dorothy is a sought-after national speaker, a United States Small Business Association Award Winner, and a multi-year recipient of NAPO’s “Most Innovative Organizer Award”.

Questions & Responses:

What training have you taken?

I started in 1995 and almost all is self-taught. The first cases I worked with, I did not even know was hoarding. I got in on the ground floor around the time when Randy Frost and Gail Steketee were doing their research. David Tolin was writing his book and doing research also. I called on some different local government agencies like HUD, Adult Protective Services (APS), the Housing Authority, Code Enforcement Agency to name a few to see if they were willing to help with some of the cases. In 2003, with other local government officials, I started a hoarding task force. In 2004 the CDC started calling hoarding an epidemic. I learned from working with all these people and groups.

As you start working, are there times when you discover this is something other than hoarding?

Sometimes the person who is calling about a family member (who they believe has a hoarding problem) actually is so overwhelmed with clutter in their head that they perceive the other person’s clutter or collection as hoarding. Their mind is over-full of thoughts. You can call it mental clutter or mental hoarding. Some famous people in LA have so many fans that are always receiving gifts. They also get tons of swag and freebies from vendors and awards shows. The celebrities don’t know what to do with all of this stuff, so they keep it. They generally have very big houses with lots of room, but these items accumulate. Is it a hoard? To some perhaps. To the celebrity, it’s a mass validation of the successful career.

As an aside, I want to say that I work for a show called Hoarders. We realize that this label “Hoarders” is not a nice label to use when talking about an individual with a challenge.

What tool do you use to determine the amount of clutter?

I use the ICD® Clutter-Hoarding Scale®. Therapists use it and when I teach, I pass it on. But I also use the five senses. Hearing: both what people say and noises in the house, Smell, Sight, Touch, and Taste. I also look for visual density. If you look at a shelving unit and you see it is not only full of books but also stuffed full. In all the nooks and crannies between and on top of the books. Then they add a hook and may add a string that they connect to another hook and put items on the string. That is visual density.

How do you determine if the working area is safe for you and your client?

Two ways. First, I just go on an assumption that it is always dangerous. Even if I don’t see anything at first, I assume something might be under the hoard. Second, if there is any obvious abusive behavior going on. (for example, substance abuse or verbal abuse), we may walk away from a job. We also ask them how they would like to be referred to – not as a hoarder but perhaps as a collector or a packrat.

How do you put your team together when working on a project?

We want physically strong people usually for the TV show – emotional strength or physical strength. Everyone must know that there should not be any laughter in front of or too near the client. If the client hears laughter, they assume people are laughing at them. The team must be super respectful and must be able to touch and show affection. When doing interviews, we ask each applicant to “share about a tough time in your life.” It is important to have a personality fit.

Do you have different lead organizers depending on the level of the hoard?

Yes, on a just-completed hoard we had 40 people working. It was a huge job. Some of the people were friends and family. We also had bio teams and community teams. We place the teams in different areas around the home. Most of the people on the teams have no training. I train them as we go. Each team has a leader. For this hoarding job I had 6 teams. Every morning we had a team meeting. The worker bees are on one side of the room and the team leaders are on the other side. I give general instructions to the whole group and more specific instructions to the team leaders.

Do you come up with a set of rules when working with a client?

It depends. If a client gets bogged down and can’t think of any rules for things to keep then, we work on some criteria like “We can get rid of it if it’s soiled or if it’s broken.”

Would you be willing to share something you learned – maybe the hard way – from a client?

In my 30s when I started working, I was absolutely sure that my way would be the best way to complete a job and I was would do marathon work – overtime, into the night, very late. (laughter). I pushed too hard. I learned that when a client pushes back, that means something – like they are tired, can’t work as fast as I was expecting. I was always willing to compromise my health, or sleep or healthy eating to keep working. I’ve changed big time here.

We are fascinated by the fact that before you started on the show, you once spent a year and $40,000 of your own money helping a 76-year-old avoid jail. Could you tell us more about that event?

I bring this back to NAPO. I became program coordinator and then chapter president of my local chapter. LA county called NAPO and asked if anyone could work with a person who hoards. Because of my volunteering, I was known in the NAPO Chapter the call was referred to me. They had a “hoarder” that was going to be put into jail if he could not meet code compliance. I agreed to take on the job. Then they told me, “But, we can’t pay you.” This individual (Lloyd) lived in a tough neighborhood in LA. He had 5,000 bikes and bike parts. He had all these wheels hanging from the ceiling. It was a beautiful hoard. He was an engineer in the past and was now sleeping on a recliner on the front porch in an area where there were murders regularly.

I had to pay people to help me.

We formed a task force for Lloyd. Building and safety, vector control, HUD, Senior Services, professional organizers, volunteers, City Council women, prosecutors, a judge – we all formed this task force. We saw a lot of crossovers on what the groups did. I did not get paid for this work and I did pay many other individuals for their help on this case. Once the clean up was done, Lloyd met a woman from church and he proposed to her. Of course, we organized the wedding and we ended up on the Today Show with Ann Curry and Katie Couric! Shortly after this the Hoarders TV Show contacted me. 

What do you think about the expression “passive decline”?

Judith Kolberg and I were in Japan at a conference in December and I heard her use the term, ‘passive decline.’ It’s not a term I’ve used so far. I do feel it effectively describes the state of a home in which there is very little human activity anymore – either because a person has run out of space, energy, and motivation to either deal with the hoard or add to the hoard.

What advice would you give someone considering going into the field?

#1. Self-care. Get yourself in the right frame of mind. If you intend to stop work at 5:00 – then stop. If you need extra sleep, get it. If you must take a moment to return an urgent family phone call while with a client, excuse yourself and do so (off the clock).

Do you have any articles or books that you’ve written that you’d like to share?

Stuff your Face or Face your Stuff (Hoarding food on my body vs. hoarding stuff in my home)

Saving our Parents DVD (scams, hoarding, etc. with our aging parents)

DorothyTheOrganizer Master Organizer Class releasing in October

 

Thank you very much for this fabulous time spent together learning more about the work you do.

If you are or if you know a professional who works with people with hoarding tendencies, please feel free to get in touch with us. We’d love the opportunity to talk with you, too!

Diane N. Quintana is a Certified Professional Organizer, Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization, ICD Master Trainer and owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC based in Atlanta, Georgia. Diane teaches busy people how to become organized and provides them with strategies and solutions for maintaining order in their lives. She specializes in residential and home-office organizing and in working with people challenged by ADD, Hoarding, and Chronic Disorganization.

Jonda S. Beattie is a Professional Organizer and owner of Time Space Organization based in the Metro-Atlanta area. As presenter, author of three books as well as a retired special education teacher, she uses her listening skills, problem solving skills, knowledge of different learning techniques, ADHD specialty, and paper management skills to help clients tackle the toughest organizational issues. Jonda does hands on organizing, virtual organizing, and moderates a Zone Plan Teleclass for those who prefer to work on their own with organizational coaching.

 

Interview Series: Hoarding Expert: Sherry Pruitt

Over the next few months, we will be interviewing professionals who work with the hoarding population. We are asking them to share their insight on people who hoard and people who think they have the hoarding disorder.

Recently, we interviewed Sheryl K. Pruitt, M.Ed., ET/P. Ms. Pruitt is the Clinical Director of Parkaire Consultants in Atlanta, Georgia. She founded this clinic to serve neurologically impaired individuals. Ms. Pruitt is an author and speaker who educates children, adolescents and adults about neurological disorders and the coping skills needed to remediate deficit areas caused by these disorders. She speaks locally, nationally, and internationally on neurological disorders.

In the interest of full disclosure, Diane is a consultant at Parkaire Consultants as the professional organizer to whom the other consultants refer.

Questions & Responses:

If you are working with someone with the hoarding tendencies, do you or a designated professional go to the home?

I do not go to the home but we refer to Diane who does go to the home.

If not, how do you verify the level of the hoard?

I use Randy Frost’s Clutter Image Rating Scale. I find that to be very reliable and helps us know when to refer.

What percentage of the people you see at Parkaire Consultants do you suspect of having hoarding tendencies?

About half of the people we see with OCD and Executive Dysfunction here at Parkaire probably have some hoarding tendencies.

What are common co-occurring disorders that you find with the Hoarding Disorder? OCD, ADHD, SAD, GAD, MDD?

Hoarding used to be considered a sub-set of OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. That is often accompanied with ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and problems with Executive Functioning skills. All of these are genetic, neurological disorders.

People who hoard often have a type of OCD which I refer to as the ‘Moral Policeman’ or “Just Right” OCD. Something is either right or it’s wrong. There is no in-between. They can get stuck not knowing the right thing to do. What is the right way to dispose of something or the right place to put something? When they don’t have a definitive answer, they do nothing which adds to the piles of things.

They can also have Tourette Syndrome (TS). The TS portrayed on television is only about 3% of the TS population. Usually it is evidenced as least two muscle tics and at least one vocal tic that have been present at anytime for more than twelve months.

Other common co-morbid disorders are other anxiety disorders as well as mood disorders such as Major Depressive Disorder and Bipolar Disorder.

We also see social, learning and memory problems in this population.

How do you treat hoarding problems?

Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERPT) and other therapies are used for the co-morbids and our hoarding specialist directs the intervention for the hoarding. We also refer to a psychiatrist for the appropriate treatment of some of the co-morbid disorders.

What do you think about support groups like Clutterers Anonymous or Overcoming Hoarding Together?

Groups like these are great because they demonstrate to the participants in the group that they are not alone. Sure, everyone has their own story but there are similarities. Participants in the group can empathize in ways that people who are not living in such devastating circumstances cannot.

Do you think online support groups like the Facebook Clutter-Hoarding Support Group are beneficial?

Yes. For the same reasons as I just gave. Of course, in an online group you can remain somewhat anonymous. You are, therefore, not as vulnerable as when you attend an in-person support group and it might be a good option.

Thank you very much for this fabulous time spent together learning more about the work you do.

If you are or if you know a professional who works with people with hoarding tendencies, please feel free to get in touch with us. We’d love the opportunity to talk with you, too!

Diane N. Quintana is a Certified Professional Organizer, Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization, ICD Master Trainer and owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC based in Atlanta, Georgia. Diane teaches busy people how to become organized and provides them with strategies and solutions for maintaining order in their lives. She specializes in residential and home-office organizing and in working with people challenged by ADD, Hoarding, and Chronic Disorganization.

Jonda S. Beattie is a Professional Organizer and owner of Time Space Organization based in the Metro-Atlanta area. As presenter, author of three books as well as a retired special education teacher, she uses her listening skills, problem solving skills, knowledge of different learning techniques, ADHD specialty, and paper management skills to help clients tackle the toughest organizational issues. Jonda does hands on organizing, virtual organizing, and moderates a Zone Plan Teleclass for those who prefer to work on their own with organizational coaching.

 

Interview Series: Hoarding Expert; Dr. Roberto Olivardia

Over the next few months, we will be interviewing professionals who work with the hoarding population. We are asking them to share their insight on people who hoard and people who think they have the hoarding disorder.

We recently interviewed Dr. Roberto Olivardia. Dr. Olivardia is a Clinical Psychologist, Lecturer in Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Clinical Associate at McLean Hospital. He maintains a private psychotherapy practice in Lexington, Massachusetts. He is co-author of The Adonis Complex, dealing with various manifestations of male body image issues. He has appeared in publications such as TIME, GQ, and Rolling Stone, and has been featured on Good Morning America, CNN, and VH1. His blog, “Psychology in Sync” is featured on the Psychology Today website

We are looking forward to his presentation, Obsessed and Distracted and Impulsive, OH MY!: Helping Clients with ADHD and /or OCD at The Institute for Challenging Disorganization conference (ICD) in Orlando this September.

Questions & Responses:

Since the DSM-5 was published, have you diagnosed anyone with the hoarding disorder?

Yes, but not a huge amount. I am working with a couple of cases now.

If you are working with someone with hoarding tendencies, do you or a designated professional go into the home?

Some I do. I used to do a lot more home based, especially working with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), but now we depend more on Skype.

Do people accurately report the severity of their hoard?

In my eyes, people vastly underestimate. But if they say, “I’m a hoarder,” then yes, they are usually right. Quite often a family member will call in expressing concern for their loved one who hoards. When the family calls, we look at it more closely.

How do you treat hoarding problems?

When possible, we have the person bring samples of what they hoard into the office to go through. For example, if the hoarding situation deals with papers and files, we have the clients come into the office with the items and we go through it. One client had boxes and boxes of clippings. None were related in any way to him – just informative pieces – which as you know you can now access easily on the internet.

What common comorbidity issues do you find?

I see specifically OCD and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Most common in ADHD are severe executive functioning deficits. They are looking for the most perfect organizational systems which they don’t find so they can’t organize.

We also see Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD). Someone with OCPD is often very rigid. They have a hard time making decisions because, for them, there is a right way and a wrong way. These are individuals that others might refer to as being “anal” . They feel they are right about how they are doing something and can’t budge. For example, an OCD person fears throwing something away because they might need it while an OCPD person won’t throw something away because it not the right thing to do and may actually think you are wrong and immoral if you throw that same thing away of yours.

We also see Depression, Bi-Polar Disorder, and a history of trauma, including emotional abuse, neglect or loss. With trauma we see emotional abuse and emotional neglect or loss. I had one client who had both of his parents take their lives at an early age and his hoarding was based on this trauma.

Do you feel that once you get one issue taken care of, then the hoarding is easier to work with?

Yes, although it depends on each situation. Unresolved trauma and loss – if you process that first then it is easier to let go of items. One client was hanging on to an old, broken clock. It was not a valuable clock but for him it was a memory and he stated that he wouldn’t have any more memories so this one was important to hold on to.

One client with ADHD was also an impulsive spender. We had to deal with how much he was spending before we could deal with what was already in the house.

Another client had enough flatware and dishes for 40 people and lived alone. But he hated washing dishes and silverware and only wanted to do them once a month. He also spent a lot of money on clothing because he hated to do laundry. He tried to do the same with food as he hated grocery shopping, but he couldn’t maintain it because when he bought a month’s supply of food some would go bad. These treatments are different from treating Bi-polar Disorder or psychosis.

What do you think about task forces like the one in San Francisco?

Task Forces are great. Anything that brings awareness to the challenges faced by those who hoard is very positive. After all, studies show that 3 – 4% of the population has hoarding problems. For people who are local to the Boston area, I refer them to Boston University. Gail Steketee does amazing work there.

What was your most difficult hoarding situation?

I work primarily with eating disorders in men. I had a client who would binge on food and then vomit. It was a hoarding problem because he then kept his vomit in jars. The jars let him know that he had gotten rid of the food he had binged on. He became quite ill. The good news is that with treatment, his bulimia was resolved. He also hoarded food because he was afraid others might eat it. This caused problems with rot and with bugs.

This was a very layered treatment.

Can you share something you learned from experience?

Often one issue is a sign of other issues. If there is a food hoard, I try to find out where this problem comes from. I get into their own space and hear how they describe it. I wonder about the hoard – is it something the client is trying to work out or is it something he is using to avoid working something else out. This shows that as human beings we don’t all work through issues the same way. Everyone has a story.

Are groups like Clutterers Anonymous or Overcoming Hoarding Together helpful?

I have found that they are helpful. Participating in these groups helps people eliminate a lot of shame. Some go to support groups and some participate online. They might hear someone’s hoarding story and extract pieces that they can relate to. They may find some common core.

Do you have a shareable list of resources for people challenged by hoarding or their families?

The Boston University Hoarding Research Project has good information and pamphlets.

The International OCD Foundation hoarding link has information for both those who hoard and their families.

Professional Organizers who have experience in the area of hoarding are a good resource.

There are books to recommend for hoarders and for their families.

 

Thank you very much for this fabulous time spent together learning more about the work you do.

If you are or if you know a professional who works with people with hoarding tendencies, please feel free to get in touch with us. We’d love the opportunity to talk with you, too!

Be sure to check back with us to see who we interview next in this series!

Diane N. Quintana is a Certified Professional Organizer, Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization, ICD Master Trainer and owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC based in Atlanta, Georgia. Diane teaches busy people how to become organized and provides them with strategies and solutions for maintaining order in their lives. She specializes in residential and home-office organizing and in working with people challenged by ADD, Hoarding, and Chronic Disorganization.

Jonda S. Beattie is a Professional Organizer and owner of Time Space Organization based in the Metro-Atlanta area. As presenter, author of three books as well as a retired special education teacher, she uses her listening skills, problem solving skills, knowledge of different learning techniques, ADHD specialty, and paper management skills to help clients tackle the toughest organizational issues. Jonda does hands on organizing, virtual organizing, and moderates a Zone Plan Teleclass for those who prefer to work on their own with organizational coaching.

Interview Series: Hoarding Expert; Satwant Singh

Over the next few months, we will be interviewing professionals who work with the hoarding population. We are asking them to share their insight on people who hoard and people who think they have the hoarding disorder.

We recently interviewed Dr.Satwant Singh RN, MSc DPsych. Satwant is a Nurse Consultant, cognitive Behavioral Therapist and Mental Health and Clinical Lead. He facilitates the London Hoarding Treatment Group. He is accredited as a therapist, trainer, and supervisor by the British Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Psychotherapies. Satwant set up the first innovative primary care CBT service in East London in 2001. He provides teaching and training both nationally and internationally.

Questions & Responses

We saw on your website that you are part of the London Hoarding Treatment Group. Would you please tell us about it?

The London Hoarding Treatment Group began in 2005. It meets once a month and is open to individuals who are self-diagnosed with a hoarding problem. It is also open to other family members. The group often has people pop in from Australia and the Netherlands. This group has become a model for other peer run support groups.

This group is very creative because the people involved can critique their own photos. The London Hoarding Treatment Group was the basis for our book Overcoming Hoarding: A Self-Help Guide Using Cognitive Behavioral Techniques.

How is the treatment group set up?

The treatment group has a once a month meeting and everyone has a buddy or accountability partner. Sometimes the buddy can be ruthless with their critique but its OK because they are operating on the same playing field. The critique is accepted as helpful and not negative.

Do people accurately report the severity of their hoard?

No, they tend to overreport. They tend to say it’s “so awful.” Then I am happy to go in and say “No, it’s not so bad.”

How does the system work?

People bring in pictures of their home and they talk about the picture. They answer questions ie. How does this picture make you feel? How would you want it to be different? What impact has it had on your relationships?
The picture provides an emotional distance from the “stuff”. They can unpack the hoard by talking through the picture. These peer run support groups raise awareness for other professionals as well. 

What kind of funding do you have?

There is no funding, but my employer allows us to use his space for the meetings and I give my time.

Do you go into people’s homes to see the level of the hoard yourself?

Sometimes, if the home is nearby or convenient and I have been invited.

What tools do you use to determine the level of clutter in the home?

We use the Clutter Image Rating Scale and the pictures they bring in of their home. We also use the H.O.A.R.D. acronym tool. This tool has five questions.

 H. Tell me what HAPPENED in this picture.

O. What would you like to OVERCOME and what are your goals?

A. Can you imagine life without ALL of this stuff?

R. How is your life and RELATIONSHIPS affected by this problem.

D. What would you like to DO about it?

What advice would you give someone who is thinking of working with people challenged by the hoarding disorder?

Be aware that you are working with individuals that have a problem – not problem individuals.

Don’t use the word “hoarders”. Instead use words like “a person with clutter issues.” It becomes problematic if you don’t see the person but only the problem and this happens when the word “hoarder” is used. It’s important to treat the person with respect. Never ask the question “why?” because that implies judgement, but instead ask them to tell you the story and engage the person in conversation. There is not much training available. Instead of learning about dealing with the hoard, one needs to learn about how to build the relationship.

Do you have a shareable list of resources for people challenged by hoarding and their families?

Look into HoardingUK . They do a series of workshops in the UK that are open to people with hoarding issues and are also open to professionals. 

 Also, our book Overcoming Hoarding: A Self-Help Guide Using Cognitive Behavioral Techniques is written in a user-friendly way while based on cognitive therapy.

 

Thank you very much for this fabulous time spent together learning more about the work you do.

If you are or if you know a professional who works with people with hoarding tendencies, please feel free to get in touch with us. We’d love the opportunity to talk with you, too!

Please check back with us to see who we interview next!

Diane N. Quintana is a Certified Professional Organizer, Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization, ICD Master Trainer and owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC based in Atlanta, Georgia. Diane teaches busy people how to become organized and provides them with strategies and solutions for maintaining order in their lives. She specializes in residential and home-office organizing and in working with people challenged by ADD, Hoarding, and Chronic Disorganization.

Jonda S. Beattie is a Professional Organizer and owner of Time Space Organization based in the Metro-Atlanta area. As presenter, author of three books as well as a retired special education teacher, she uses her listening skills, problem solving skills, knowledge of different learning techniques, ADHD specialty, and paper management skills to help clients tackle the toughest organizational issues. Jonda does hands on organizing, virtual organizing, and moderates a Zone Plan Teleclass for those who prefer to work on their own with organizational coaching.

Interview Series: Hoarding Expert: Dr. David F. Tolin

Over the next few months, we will be interviewing professionals who work with the hoarding population. We are asking them to share their insight on people who hoard and people who think they have the hoarding disorder.

We recently interviewed Dr. David F. Tolin, Psychologist, PhD, ABPP. Dr. Tolin is an expert in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for anxiety, mood, and obsessive-compulsive and related disorders. He uses evidence-based practices for conditions such as hoarding and hoarding disorders. He is board certified in clinical psychology. He is the author of Buried in Treasures. He has been featured on the TV series “The OCD Project,” “Hoarders,” “The Dr. Oz Show,” and “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

Questions & Responses

Has your book, Buried in Treasures, been translated into other languages?

Yes. Buried in Treasures has been translated into Norwegian and Japanese and possibly other languages.

If you are working with someone with hoarding tendencies, do you or a designated professional go to the home?

We used to go into the home. Currently, we rarely go to a client’s home. When we were doing research, we had staff members go in to assess the severity of the clutter in the home.

If you do not go into the home, how do you know the condition of their home?

We use the Clutter/Image Rating Scale and have clients point to the picture which most closely resembles the level of clutter in their home.

Do you find that the clients report accurately?

Yes. If we do not ask a judgmental question regarding the level of clutter; such as ‘is your home very messy or cluttered’ because that could lead to an inaccurate assessment.

What are the most common comorbidity issues?

Major Depression Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity are the most common. Surprisingly, the incidence of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is not that high.

How do you treat hoarding problems?

We use Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. We ask patients to bring in a box or bag of clutter from their home and we talk about it. We also ask the patients to bring in photographs of their home. The patients share before and after pictures with the group. Everyone is very supportive of one another.

Do groups like Clutterers Anonymous or Overcoming Hoarding Together help patients?

These groups may be helpful. As of yet no research has been done to support this theory.

What are your thoughts on the Buried in Treasures support groups?

I’m in favor of these groups. Randy Frost is currently looking at the efficacy of these groups and feels that they may be as effective as therapy.

What do you think about task forces on Compulsive Hoarding – like one in San Francisco?

They are absolutely necessary. Social services agencies need to coordinate to be effective. I’m happy to see more task forces springing up around the country.

Would you like to add anything?

The defining characteristic of the hoarding disorder is an inability to let things go.

You have a list of resources on the back page of your book, are those still valid?

Yes. Some clients have found the following websites to be helpful:

www.ocdfoundation.org/hoarding
www.childrenofhoarders.com
www.napo.net
www.challengingdisorganization.org

Thank you very much for this fabulous time spent together learning more about the work you do.

If you are or if you know a professional who works with people with hoarding tendencies, please feel free to get in touch with us. We’d love the opportunity to talk with you, too!

Be sure to check back to see who we interview next in this series!

Diane N. Quintana is a Certified Professional Organizer, Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization, ICD Master Trainer and owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC based in Atlanta, Georgia. Diane teaches busy people how to become organized and provides them with strategies and solutions for maintaining order in their lives. She specializes in residential and home-office organizing and in working with people challenged by ADD, Hoarding, and Chronic Disorganization.

Jonda S. Beattie is a Professional Organizer and owner of Time Space Organization based in the Metro-Atlanta area. As presenter, author of three books as well as a retired special education teacher, she uses her listening skills, problem solving skills, knowledge of different learning techniques, ADHD specialty, and paper management skills to help clients tackle the toughest organizational issues. Jonda does hands on organizing, virtual organizing, and moderates a Zone Plan Teleclass for those who prefer to work on their own with organizational coaching.

Interview Series: Hoarding Expert; Amy Bowles

 

Over the next few months, we will be interviewing professionals who work with the hoarding population. We are asking them to share their insight on people who hoard and people who think they have the hoarding disorder.

We recently interviewed Amy Bowles. Amy is the president of Tucson Professional Organizers, in Tucson, Arizona. She is also a member of the American Psychological Association, the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD), and the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO).

Her company’s name, Been There Done That Organizing, LLC, reflects the fact that Amy herself has struggled with hoarding behaviors. She has personally been where her clients are at: overwhelmed with clutter and too much stuff. Helping people discover a less debilitating and more joyful life is her passion.

Questions & Responses:

What training have you taken?

I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology and have nearly completed a master’s degree in rehabilitation and mental health counseling. I have taken classes through NAPO and ICD and I have attended 6 NAPO annual conferences and 2 ICD annual conferences. I worked with my own organizer, ICD subscriber Elaine Kraus owner of Whole Life Organizing in Charlottesville, Virginia, for 2 years when I began de-hoarding my own house. I apprenticed for nearly a year with a local therapist who specialized in working with hoarding clients. She ran a support group that I adapted and made into my own when she stepped down as facilitator. I am a member of the Arizona Hoarding Task Force and I participated in an episode of the Hoarder’s TV show in 2016 as a support organizer. I have also watched every single episode of Hoarders at least 3 times (does that count?) and have learned a lot from the show about what is helpful and what is not when dealing with hoarding behaviors.

What percentage of your clients do you suspect have hoarding tendencies?

I have determined that 53% of my current clients exhibit hoarding behaviors and/or engage in compulsive acquiring. Of those, 95% have diagnosed, co-occurring mental health disorders and/or physically disabling conditions. I also work with a large number of clients whose primary diagnosis is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Both groups experience chronic disorganization as a symptom of their diagnoses.

As you start working, are there times when you discover this is something other than hoarding?

Not usually. During the phone intake and at the in-person consultation I “interrogate” my prospective clients mercilessly (*laughs*). I know just about everything before we start working except maybe their social security number – but I’ll probably find that out too when we get to the paperwork! In seriousness, I ask a lot of specific medical questions right at the beginning – like are there thyroid issues or diagnoses of sleep apnea or diabetes – to see if there is something that medically can be addressed first. I do not want to attribute thoughts and behaviors to a mental health disorder like hoarding when those thoughts and behaviors may be (at least partially) a result of a physiological problem. I ask all about their life–history (the good, the bad, and the ugly), their mental health diagnoses, and any challenging or traumatic experiences they have lived through. Ultimately, my clients need more coaching than organizing. Some may argue that these types of questions are outside the “lane” of a professional organizer, but I submit that I am much better equipped to provide effective coaching, guidance, encouragement, and organizing help if I learn as much as possible about my clients strengths and weaknesses from the outset.

What tool do you use to determine the amount of clutter?

I prefer the CIRS (Clutter Image Rating Scale), developed by Dr. Randy Frost and the International OCD Foundation.  If there is evidence of animal hoarding or squalor, then I may use Christiana Bratiotis’ HOMES assessment, the Uniform Inspection Checklist created by Marnie Matthews, or the Clutter Hoarding Scale® developed by ICD. Using these scales can help me provide other helpers, like code enforcement, Adult Protective Services, Child Protective Services, pest control or landlords, with a better idea of the extent of the problem.

How do you determine if the working area is safe for you and your client?

I start by asking to meet all family members, to make sure everyone is on board with the process. I have also been known to Google particularly troubled clients, and to sometimes perform background checks on certain clients. I also find out in advance if clients have pets, and at the in-person consultation, I determine if those pets need to be crated or put outside while we are working. In addition, I ask first by phone, and then in person about pest infestations, bedbugs, mold, mildew, leaks, rotting food, the use of candles or other fragrances, and the use of space-heaters. Once we begin working together, I also request that clients move objects that are located near HVAC systems and encourage them to keep it that way.

If necessary, to keep myself safe while working, I will wear an N95 mask, or a respirator, if needed. Of course, I have Tyvek suits available, goggles, and a variety of gloves. I also have waterproof and regular boots, if needed. At most clients’ homes I simply wear a hat and jeans and either a short or long-sleeved t-shirt and sneakers.

Do you usually work alone or with a team? If you work with a team, who do you want on your team?

I find it very difficult to work with a team, though I do enjoy it when the opportunity arises. I have involved a team for some short-term bigger jobs, but I find my strength is in the one-on-one work. And I have found that most clients simply aren’t ready for the team approach until we have worked one-on-one for 18-24 months. I would love to clone myself… because this is exhausting work. I would love to find someone like me, who has overcome hoarding and can help others change their minds in order to change their lives.

Would you be willing to share something you learned – maybe the hard way from a client?

I have learned that 4 hours of yelling at me is my limit. (Thankfully, such experiences are few and far between and the overwhelming majority of my clients are no different than me: they are creative, interesting, funny, thoughtful, helpful humans whose lives have taken a massive wrong turn.) I have a fairly high tolerance for chaos, and my boundaries tend to be somewhat flexible. I am non-judgmental because I know, first-hand, that most of my clients need love, affection, compassion, empathy, kindness, and encouragement more than anything else that I could provide. I have learned that the course corrections most clients need are small but there are a LOT of them needed for clients to effectively turn their lives around, and I am in there with them for the long haul.

I honestly believe that most people, most of the time, are doing the best they can with the skills they have. But still… four hours of yelling is my limit.

I guess I have learned my most valuable lesson from myself, and it is this: My unhelpful behaviors and actions do not determine my value, just as my helpful behaviors and actions also do not. My value remains unchanged, no matter what I do. And I am worthy of love, affection, forgiveness, and everything good in the world. I do not have to earn it. And this is true for everyone. I want to pass this understanding on to my clients, and if they gain nothing else from me, it is this truth that is the catalyst for significant, positive change. I think it was Carl Rogers who said “the curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”

Generally speaking, hoarding is primarily a collection of unhelpful thinking and behaviors, and good news: once we figure out how to accept ourselves, both thoughts and behaviors can be changed!

What advice would you give someone who is considering going into the field?

Make sure that you have figured out what empathy really is. And maybe… give up the idea of organizing (*laughs*). You cannot focus on the “stuff,” because it’s not about the stuff! Hoarding is having an emotional problem letting go of stuff – it’s not about about acquiring too much stuff, but about letting go of it.
Ultimately, clients need unconditional acceptance, consistent, unwavering, optimistic hope (that they will regularly borrow from you), complete faith in their ability to change their thinking, and an arsenal of self-help tools that you can share to help them develop their self-efficacy and self-esteem as they venture into effective decision making. You want your clients to become independent and to have faith in themselves that they are capable of making good decisions. They have made so many unhelpful decisions (on a regular basis) that this trust in themselves (and in otherMake sure that you have figured out what empathy really is. And maybe… give up the idea of organizing (*laughs*). You cannot focus on the “stuff,” because it’s not about the stuff! Hoarding is having an emotional problem letting go of stuff – it’s not about about acquiring too much stuff, but about letting go of it.

Ultimately, clients need unconditional acceptance, consistent, unwavering, optimistic hope (that they will regularly borrow from you), complete faith in their ability to change their thinking, and an arsenal of self-help tools that you can share to help them develop their self-efficacy and self-esteem as they venture into effective decision making. You want your clients to become independent and to have faith in themselves that they are capable of making good decisions. They have made so many unhelpful decisions (on a regular basis) that this trust in themselves (and in s) is hard to come by. Stand by their side, earn their trust, and then teach your clients to stand on their own, and trust themselves.

Do you have a shareable list of resources for people challenged by hoarding or their families?

I have a library of books I regularly receive from one client and share with the next. I also always keep my library stocked with the books: Buried in Treasures, Stuff and the Meaning of Things, Digging Out, Boundaries (Cloud & Townsend), and Women Who Love Too Much. I happily refer clients to my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/amybowlesbtdto/, and I invite clients to join some of the Facebook support groups I participate with – Hoarding Cluttering Support Group and Women with ADD. I routinely refer clients to the local Buried in Treasures workshop in Tucson, which is currently held twice a year for roughly 16 weeks. My own local support group, Excess Denied, is private, but those who are interested may contact me at excessdeniedtucson@gmail.com. I also offer virtual and in-person coaching and organizing, as well as public speaking on the issue of hoarding behavior. I can be reached at amy@BTDTOrganizing.com.

Thank you very much for this fabulous time spent together learning more about the work you do.

If you are or if you know a professional who works with people with hoarding tendencies, please feel free to get in touch with us. We’d love the opportunity to talk with you, too!

Be sure to check back to see who we interview next!

Diane N. Quintana is a Certified Professional Organizer, Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization, ICD Master Trainer and owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC based in Atlanta, Georgia. Diane teaches busy people how to become organized and provides them with strategies and solutions for maintaining order in their lives. She specializes in residential and home-office organizing and in working with people challenged by ADD, Hoarding, and Chronic Disorganization.

Jonda S. Beattie is a Professional Organizer and owner of Time Space Organization based in the Metro-Atlanta area. As presenter, author of three books as well as a retired special education teacher, she uses her listening skills, problem solving skills, knowledge of different learning techniques, ADHD specialty, and paper management skills to help clients tackle the toughest organizational issues. Jonda does hands on organizing, virtual organizing, and moderates a Zone Plan Teleclass for those who prefer to work on their own with organizational coaching.

Interview Series: Hoarding Expert; Ann Zanon

Over the next few months, we will be interviewing professionals who work with the hoarding population. We are asking them to share their insight on people who hoard and people who think they have the hoarding disorder.

We recently interviewed Ann Zanon. Ann is a compassionate hoarding expert with over 8 years of experience working with the hoarding population. She is a member of the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD) where she holds several certificates of study in methods of working with clients who hoard. After her move to Houston, Texas last year, she discovered that the laws in Houston relating to hoarding are sadly insufficient and is collaborating with other professionals to start a Houston Hoarding Task Force to make some changes. She is planning a full-day workshop in 2020 to help educated people who work and/or live with people who hoard. She is a member of a mastermind group which focuses on education and sharing hoarding remediation methods. She also has set up a Special Interest Group focused on Hoarding through the National Association for Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO).

Ann has a heart for serving people, working hard, and helping her clients achieve their goals. Besides being a Certified Professional Organizer®, she is also a wife, mother of three grown children, and formerly owned a bakery.

Questions and Responses:

What training have you taken?

The majority of my training has come through ICD (The Institute for Challenging Disorganization) where I have earned most of the certificates offered. I have also earned my NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals) CPO® (Certificate for Professional Organizers). My first training was working in an informal mentoring situation under Faith Manierre, CPO-CD® in Connecticut.

What percentage of your clients do you suspect have hoarding tendencies?

I have moved now and so my clientele has changed. When I was in Connecticut, I would say it was about 75% – 80%. However, not all were diagnosed with hoarding disorder.

As you start working, are there times when you discover this is something other than hoarding?

I do. I’ve had clients with severe ADHD and many clients suffering from depression and anxiety. In Connecticut, I worked with a lot of clients with PTSD due to the 9/11 tragedy and Sandy Hooks shooting. I have also worked with clients challenged by bi-polar disorder and one client who had Borderline Personality Disorder plus other issues.

What tool do you use to determine the amount of clutter?

At first, I used the ICD Clutter-Hoarding Scale® and I love how inclusive it is. But many clients don’t have the bandwidth to follow that scale so I often use the Clutter Image Rating Scale developed by the International OCD(Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) Foundation and Dr. Randy Frost.

How do you determine if the working area is safe for you and your client?

I rely on both my visual and tactile senses. I worked in one house where there were 34 cats downstairs but that was OK because the downstairs area was set up as a shelter and was staffed and very clean. But upstairs she was taking care of some hospice cats and this area was not clean and you could both see and feel where cats had sprayed and urinated. So, we had to dress accordingly and use gloves and masks for our safety. I also talk and listen to the client for any clues that something might be unsafe.

Do you usually work alone or with a team? If you work with a team, who do you want on your team?

In Connecticut I always worked alone. Clients are so embarrassed to even have one person in and I did not like them to have to face more than one. Here in Texas I sometimes use a team, especially if we are in a time crunch.

Would you be willing to share something you learned – maybe the hard way from a client?

Never assume anything is trash. I had one gentleman I was working with and on top of his dresser there were little round paper balls all wadded up. I started tossing them into the trash when he turned around and stopped me. These little paper balls were a fidget thing – tactile objects he kept in his pockets that he played with to help him focus.

What advice would you give someone who is considering going into the field?

Whenever someone is coming into the profession, I tell them to get the education necessary to be successful for yourself and your client. Look at your motivation as to why you are doing this.
I was working once with a woman in her 50s. She had 2 children and her husband was straying. Her daughter told her she was marrying another woman and that they were both having babies. Her son got married to his High School sweetheart (who the woman adored) and then quickly got divorced. Her world had turned upside-down in a matter of a just a few months and the stress of these changes were more than she could handle. The woman was very depressed and cried a lot.
I came home and cried each day. The lesson here is that you must learn to take care of yourself. I learned to work with my heart when I was with the client but then get into my head when I was at home. Find out who can help you with restoring your heart after you leave a client.

Do you have a shareable list of resources for people challenged by hoarding or their families?

This is something I am working on. I will have resources up on my website soon.

Thank you very much for this fabulous time spent together learning more about the work you do.
If you are or if you know a professional who works with people with hoarding tendencies, please feel free to get in touch with us. We’d love the opportunity to talk with you, too!

Diane N. Quintana is a Certified Professional Organizer, Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization, ICD Master Trainer and owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC based in Atlanta, Georgia. Diane teaches busy people how to become organized and provides them with strategies and solutions for maintaining order in their lives. She specializes in residential and home-office organizing and in working with people challenged by ADD, Hoarding, and Chronic Disorganization.

Jonda S. Beattie is a Professional Organizer and owner of Time Space Organization based in the Metro-Atlanta area. As presenter, author of three books as well as a retired special education teacher, she uses her listening skills, problem solving skills, knowledge of different learning techniques, ADHD specialty, and paper management skills to help clients tackle the toughest organizational issues. Jonda does hands on organizing, virtual organizing, and moderates a Zone Plan Teleclass for those who prefer to work on their own with organizational coaching.

Interview Series: Hoarding Expert: Geralin Thomas

Over the next few months, we will be interviewing professionals who work with the hoarding population. We are asking them to share their insights on people who hoard and people who think they have the hoarding disorder.
We recently interviewed Geralin Thomas. Geralin is a subject-matter expert featured on A&E TV’s Emmy-nominated show, Hoarders. She has also appeared on numerous radio and talk-shows. She is the author of From Hoarding to Hope. Geralin is a past president of the North Carolina chapter of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO). She received the NAPO President’s Award in 2018. She has been an instructor for NAPO since 2006.

Geralin’s advice on the hoarding disorder and professional organizing is regularly quoted in newspapers, magazines, and other print media.

Questions & Responses

What training have you taken?

In 2007 I earned my CPO-CD credentials and later became a Level V, Master Trainer through ICD. In addition, I have taken many ICD (Institute for Challenging Disorganization) and NAPO classes and attended their conferences. Reading books on compulsive hoarding, shopping disorder, and, other related challenges have been exceedingly valuable.

What percentage of your clients do you suspect have hoarding tendencies?

It’s really a very small percentage. I used to be contacted directly by people with the hoarding disorder, but now, I only work with clients if their therapist is willing to contact me first. A collaborative system is a better fit for me.
As you start working, are there times when you discover this is something other than hoarding?
Yes! Usually, there is something else which has triggered the compulsive hoarding behavior. Something like grief, depression, etc.

What tool do you use to determine the amount of clutter?

I feel fortunate because collaborating with therapists means I’m able to “bounce” my findings off of them. More often than not, the situations are below a level 4 using the ICD Clutter-Hoarding Scale®. Generally speaking, in environments measuring above a 4 or 5 clients do not want or accept help. At least that’s true in my business.

What special tools do you take to a work site?

I make sure my tools are brightly colored, like neon-bright, so that I can easily spot them. I bring an over-the-door hook to hang my handbag, lunch, coat etc. to keep it off the ground. I use clear containers and clear contractor bags so the client can easily see what is in them.

How do you determine if the working area is safe for you and your client?

I look for water damage, mold, mildew, rodent and insect infestations, skeletons from animals, animal or insect droppings, and rotting wood. Once I had my foot literally go through a floor because of rot. If it feels unsafe, I will let the therapist know. I will also say things to the client like, “When you go into that closet, you may want to be very careful because there is a wasp’s nest”

Do you usually work alone or with a team?

While filming the show Hoarders for TV I worked with large teams. In everyday situations I do both, but, I usually work one on-one with the client because my clients are almost always experiencing extreme anxiety. The team approach is most effective when working in neutral areas like a garage.
I haven’t worked with teams as much in the past 5 years. I think most therapists prefer a one-on-one client-organizer ratio.

Would you be willing to share something you learned – maybe the hard way from a client?

One of my most complicated client situations involved a woman whose husband “diagnosed” his wife (to me and her therapists) as a person with a compulsive hoarding disorder. I had worked with this client in the past and saw/heard no indication of that but, he pleaded with me to schedule an appointment with her. When I arrived, I was shocked to see 100s of bags of things she had recently purchased. There were QVC and HSN boxes and piles of items from department stores everywhere! No matter what I suggested, she would not return, donate or gift anything. She wanted to keep everything and seemed unable to categorize anything.

I suggested we send photos of her current living conditions to her therapist. The therapist had no idea the “over shopping” behavior was going on because the client never mentioned it during sessions. The client had gone through a series of events – her mother had passed away, her husband was retiring, there were some financial challenges and lots of stress. Long story short, she had been self-medicating with some over-the-counter herbal therapy that was reacting with her prescription medications; the combination was affecting her brain chemistry. So, the lesson learned is that organizers are like detectives who sometimes help uncover important clues because we see our clients in their environments. They tell us things that they might not tell their therapists.

What advice would you give someone who is considering going into the field?

Read books and blogs on compulsive hoarding. Understand the lingo, acronyms and abbreviations. Join professional associations and organizations. Network with other professionals in the field. Make sure you document client sessions in a professional and timely manner. Have business insurance. I could go and on . . .

Do you have a shareable list of resources for people challenged by hoarding or their families?

I have a list of books, movies, and related resources on my website for the general public (1)

In addition, I created two glossaries –vocabulary lists (terms of the trade). One glossary contains general organizing terms and the other contains terms that are relevant to organizers who want to learn more about hoarding and other related disorders. You can find them both on my website. (2)

My book, From Hoarding to Hope is a good resource if I do say so myself (lol) (3) Many experts including Dr. Tompkins contributed fabulous chapters in which they provide detailed information. For example, Dr. Michael Tompkins defines hoarding disorder and explains why it’s now included in the DSM V.

1 https://www.metropolitanorganizing.com/life/hoarding-resources/
2 https://www.metropolitanorganizing.com/career-coaching-business-forms/glossaries-dictionaries/
3 https://www.metropolitanorganizing.com/products-services/from-hoarding-to-hope/

Thank you very much for this fabulous time spent together learning more about the work you do.
If you are or if you know a professional who works with people with hoarding tendencies, please feel free to get in touch with us. We’d love the opportunity to talk with you, too!

Diane N. Quintana is a Certified Professional Organizer, Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization, ICD Master Trainer and owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC based in Atlanta, Georgia. Diane teaches busy people how to become organized and provides them with strategies and solutions for maintaining order in their lives. She specializes in residential and home-office organizing and in working with people challenged by ADD, Hoarding, and Chronic Disorganization.

Jonda S. Beattie is a Professional Organizer and owner of Time Space Organization based in the Metro-Atlanta area. As presenter, author of three books as well as a retired special education teacher, she uses her listening skills, problem solving skills, knowledge of different learning techniques, ADHD specialty, and paper management skills to help clients tackle the toughest organizational issues. Jonda does hands on organizing, virtual organizing, and moderates a Zone Plan Teleclass for those who prefer to work on their own with organizational coaching.