Interview Series: Hoarding Experts – Rachel Seavey

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 Rachel Seavey. Rachel founded Collector
Care when she discovered her passion for those with hoarding disorder. She
helps others shed their emotional and physical clutter. Rachel’s media
appearances include the Emmy-nominated A & E series Hoarders, the CBS Sunday
Morning Show and The Lady Brain Show.  Rachel also hosts “Hoardganize” a
popular organizing podcast for listeners struggling with organization. She is
fluent in Spanish and loves to travel. When she is not de-cluttering, extreme
cleaning, or blogging, she’s with her son, dogs, and bearded dragon – living
life and having fun.

Questions
& Responses

What
training have you taken?

I have taken most of my training through ICD
(The
Institute for Challenging Disorganization – https://www.challengingdisorganization.org/
).

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

While a lot of the clients I work with have
characteristics of hoarding, I believe only about 25% are true hoarders
.

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

Yes. It could be an injury that has suddenly
made a person less mobile and so less inclined to pick up after themselves, so
stuff accumulated or grief that has thrust the person into a depression. Or
another clue may be the level of clutter.

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

My team uses the ICD clutter hoarding scale.
We keep laminated copies in our trucks and refer to them whenever we have a
question.

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

I always make an in-person assessment first.
If there is mold, I have that treated first. If there are rodents, I sometimes
end up in a catch 22 position. Of course, I want the rodents dealt with first,
but some companies will not come out and bait for the rodents until the clutter
is cleared. If there is structural damage, I will not put the team in danger
. I make sure the damage is fixed before we return to work.

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

Collector Care uses teams. I have five
employees and sometimes subcontract out other NAPO organizers. I insist that
everyone has a business license and insurance. Our truck drivers have slightly
different qualifications.

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

I fit the lead organizer to the job. Most of
the team can do the lead job but if someone is uncomfortable taking a job where
there is a level 4 or 5 hoard, I honor that.

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

I have learned to ask about everything that is
going to be tossed. Ask, ask, and over-ask.  I never assume even if it
seems obvious to me and my team. Once early on, the team and I were working in
a room without the client. There were a lot of dead plants and dead flowers
mixed in with the clutter. They were not on display or even all in one place.
We put all of them in our dumpster. When the client came into the room, she was
very distressed. Some of those flowers were from her mother’s grave. Eventually
the client forgave me, but I never forgave myself. Another time, we were
working in a kitchen. There was a vat of used cooking oil right by the stove.
We secured it and took it to the dumpster considering it a safety hazard. The
client was extremely upset with us and demanded that we retrieve that oil.
Apparently, it was a special oil that came from Italy and it meant a lot to
her. Our team lost time on the job trying to retrieve that oil. We eventually
did find it. Ask, ask, over-ask.

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

I would advise them to take the tele-classes
offered by ICD.  Get all the training you can. I have had organizers
volunteer to assist on some of our jobs just so they can see what it is like
and so that they can better make the decision if this type of client is for
them. They should also be aware that this type of work involves a lot of
physical labor. You must be able to work long and hard. Emotional burn out can
easily happen so plan for how to handle it if it happens.

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

The ICD website has many resources. I also
really appreciate Judith Kolberg’s books on hoarding, chronic disorganization,
and ADD. You can find them on her website.

Do you
have any books or articles you have written that you would like to share?

I would love to share my podcast (http://hoardganize.libsyn.com/)  series and my blog on my website (http://www.collectorcare.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!

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.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Clutter Awareness Week

Next week is clutter awareness week. We don’t always see the clutter around us because we tend to get used to it. But even if we don’t notice it, clutter causes stress and a feeling of overwhelm.

Take a walk through your home. Pretend that you are getting ready for out of town visitors or that you are putting your house on the market. Notice if you have stacks of papers and other items on the floor or out on exposed surfaces. NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals) states that the average American receives almost 15,000 pieces of junk mail in their lifetime. How much of that is hanging around in various parts of your home right now?

Clutter can impact your daily living. It can eat up your time as you look for needed items. Clutter can affect your health. You are less likely to cook healthy meals if you can’t find your kitchen counter and your fridge and pantry are packed tight with who knows what. You can trip over stacks of stuff in your home and fall. If your house is heavily cluttered, you will have a build up of dust, dander, pollen, and maybe even mold.

Clutter can cost you money. You find yourself paying late fees because you have misplaced bills. You buy duplicate items because you can’t find those scissors, folders, or the can of green beans in the very back of your pantry. You may be paying for a storage unit to store those items that won’t fit into your home.

Now is the time to plan. Set aside some time this month to tackle your clutter. Start off with a hot spot that really bugs you. Make a list of all the tasks you want to accomplish to declutter this area and schedule times to complete those tasks. By the end of March, have that one area clutter free. Enjoy that feeling and celebrate!



Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Clutter and Safety

I once helped clear out a home that had been damaged by fire. The house had been extremely cluttered with only pathways through certain sections of the home. The owner was an elderly woman who had difficulty walking. The fire started at 2:30 am. If not for her son who was there that night, his mother would very likely not have been able to get out alive.

When I go into homes and see exits blocked and the floor covered with clutter, I worry. When I go into homes and see clutter stacked all over the counters and on the stove and in the oven, I worry.

If the person living in those conditions had to exit the home quickly – in the dark – could they move out without tripping or getting disoriented? If they fell in their home or had another medical emergency, could first responders get into the house with a gurney?

When I work with clients in these situations, the first thing I address is their safety. Even if we do not remove anything from the home, we try to open pathways and clear spaces around at least two exits.

This blog is just a plea to anyone who knows someone living in this situation, please, without judgement, help them make their environment a safer place.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Valentine’s Day – a day for romance! A chance to spice up the relationship and show some love.

You look around your love nest. You notice the piles of shoes by the front door. Then there are the piles of papers and magazines cascading off the coffee table and the CDs and DVDs scattered on the floor. The living room is going to have some serious work done to look romantic. Maybe just scoop it all up into a box that you stash in the spare bedroom and deal with it later.

But what about the dining area where you want to put out that romantic meal? It seems to be covered in projects, bills, used plates and silverware, along with clothes to fold and put away. It is definitely not ready for that special meal. Another box or two?

On to the bedroom for a hard look. More scattered clothes along with stacks of books and magazines. And all those cosmetics on every surface. This room is not ready for that special night even if the lights are low and you use candles.

Sigh!

OK, do what you can to salvage tonight but then go back and look around the common areas in the home. If you want a peaceful romantic feeling what are you going to have to do to inspire that romance?

Remove everything from those zones that do not match your vision. Have specific places for everything that does belong in that room and put those items away. If you are short on space, let some things go or look for another storage area.

Now, clean and polish those newly exposed surfaces. Put out some flowers and candles. Play that special music.

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Being organized
Is romantic, too.

Enjoy your special day!

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Closing the Loop – Completing the Task

A lot of clutter in your environment may well come from not completing tasks.

When you work on any project, you want to see the job completed and then put away.

Marilyn Paul in her book, It’s Hard to Make a Difference When You Can’t Find Your Keys, talks about the rhythm of organizing. This rhythm is cyclic. With any task you first get ready for action, you then take the action, this causes a natural disorder, and then you need to restore order. Many people do not do that final step and so have a series of natural disorders building up in their environment.

I come into homes and see piles of laundry both clean and dirty. Those piles are there because tasks were not completed. Dirty clothes are washed, dried, and maybe even folded but the final step of putting the clothes away is not done in a timely manner and so a bit of clutter begins to accumulate. Or a person has a closet with clean clothes and they dress for the day. The clothes get dirty. They may make it into a hamper at the end of the day but then the dirty clothes pile up and cause clutter.

I love to cook and prepare meals from scratch. I am good about getting out the materials and prepping the food and cooking it. What I am not so good at is immediately cleaning up from my cooking mess. I will do it (if my husband doesn’t do it first), but not immediately. So for a while there is clutter in my kitchen.

The same holds true for paper tasks. You pull out your bills or a bank statement or a project you are developing. You complete the task or at least complete a part of it but then you push the paper aside and leave it out on your work area. Now your desk is cluttered and it is harder to do the next task.

I put the challenge out to you. Look around your home and see some hot spots where clutter is building up. Could this clutter be there just because you did not complete a task? The trick to controlling this clutter is to complete each task before beginning another one.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

The Elderly and Clutter

Sometimes I help empty out houses of deceased parents. The children left behind are often astonished at the amount of clutter left behind. This accumulation does not really fit with the mother or father they knew growing up. They wonder what happened.

Possible reasons for clutter in the elderly:

  • They are weaker physically
As parents age, they often develop physical difficulties that they might not share with their children. It is harder for them to move around. Putting things away may be difficult so they leave the items out on the table or counter “just for now”. They may think they are going to get better and they have visions of giving parties and entertaining again, so they continue to buy and keep cooking paraphernalia that they never will use. They may have difficulty doing laundry and when the laundry becomes overwhelming, they may just order new clothing. During the holiday seasons it is easier to just buy a few new decorations rather than pull down and use what they already have.
  • They don’t see the clutter
The buildup of clutter may come slowly over time. They adjust to what is in their home and stop seeing it as clutter. The same may be true of odors that have developed because cleaning is now more difficult. If they were shown a picture of their living area, they would probably be surprised.
  • They have mental issues
They may forget that they have items and so continue to buy more of what they already have in abundance. As dementia sets in they also forget to put things away, eat properly, and take care of other living skills. Things accumulate around them. Anxiety and depression are also common in the elderly. They may shop just for the social contact. They may worry about not being able to get what they need later so they overbuy now.
  • Fear of want
Because they are on a fixed income and no longer have a regular paycheck, they worry that their money will run out. When they see a good deal on canned food, light bulbs, soaps, paper products, they buy in bulk. There is not usually a good place to store all these products, so they are placed here and there, often on the floor. If an item becomes broken, they hold on to it with the idea that it can be fixed someday.
  • Gifts
Perhaps the parent was once a great cook and loved to throw parties so still now they are gifted with cookbooks and cooking paraphernalia they do not need. They may get gifts of throws for the couch, scented soaps, or because they loved dogs, figurines, pictures, and books about dogs. The parent does not want to give away or throw away someone’s gifts, so they just accumulate. 
There are many reasons why the clutter accumulates but the crucial point is that children should be in contact with their parents and go to their homes to visit. Having parents come to their home or going on a cruise with them will not tell the whole story. 

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

The Beauty of the Zone Plan

Stuff comes into our homes all the time. Sometimes it is something we buy to freshen up the look of a room. Sometimes it is a gift. Sometimes it is an inheritance. All of this can be good. But often the item is just placed somewhere without a lot of thought and/or it is added to what we already have with nothing going away. This can add to a lot of visual clutter in our homes.

I have a system in my home and one I share with my clients that keeps that clutter under control. The system is called the Zone Plan.

This is how it works:

  • You divide your home into 10 zones. My zones include the office, the living room, the kitchen, the laundry room, the master bedroom, the baths, the guest bedroom, the attic, the storage shed, and the entry hall and storage closets. 
  • Each month, except for July and December, you work in one of these zones. The intention is to redefine your vision for the zone and note what is not working with that vision.
  • Then you brainstorm what needs to happen to change what it is now to what matches your vision.
  • You develop a plan and schedule times to work on the project.
  • You touch everything that is in the zone. You decide what supports your vision and stays, what goes, and what is moved elsewhere.
  • At the end of the month you celebrate your wins and move on to the next zone.
The beauty of this plan is that you know you are going to get to every area eventually. If you open your linen closet and see that it needs some work, you can just smile and say, “Your turn is in June!” and shut the door. By completing a zone project instead of zig-zagging through your house, you feel a real sense of accomplishment. 
For more information on the Zone Plan visit my website – http://timespaceorg.com/services/ – or send me an email at Jonda@timespaceorg.com .

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Organizing the Office Using the Zone Plan


It is the beginning of a new year and January is Get Organized Month. I would love for my whole house to be magically clean and organized. However, the reality is that I am the one that has to make that magic happen and it would be crazy to think that I could do it all at once. That is why for years I have been maintaining my home using a Zone Plan. This plan has me touching everything in my home at least once a year. (http://timespaceorg.com/services/) 


The first zone I work on each year is my office. In the past year files have gotten overfull, project bins are hanging around even after projects are completed. New items have come into my office and it is now feeling a bit crowded. Now is the time to follow the program and work my plan on the office.


1. What is bothering me in this zone?

  • Clutter and unfiled papers
  • Projects not in bins
  • Files too full
  • Too much laying around and screaming “DO ME”
2. How do I want my office to look and feel?
  • Look clean and uncluttered
  • Look and feel welcoming
  • Have empty spaces to allow for growth
  • Feel productive
3. What do I need to do to make this vison come true?
  • Sort and label all loose papers
  • Clear out all desk drawers and desk surface
  • Purge files and put into a project bin all I will need for taxes
  • Shred and archive papers
  • Declutter and organize bookshelves and the storage credenza
  • Set up bins for current projects and purge old projects
  • Deep clean room
4. Schedule times to do each task
  • Pull out calendar and see what times are available for work
  • Schedule reasonable times for each task and dates/times to work
  • Write on calendar the dates and times 
By the end of the month, I will call whatever has been accomplished “good enough” and move on to the next zone. The office is now ready for regular maintenance until the next year. I always reward myself by buying a fresh flower for my desk.


Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Health Hazards of Living and Working in Clutter




Recently I have had several of my clients cancel sessions because of respiratory problems and, yes, this may be an allergy but it could also be due to dust, dander, and even mold in stacks of papers and items throughout the house. I recently had some respiratory difficulties after working over five hours in a home with papers that had been scraped off the floor in another room. I could see hair, dust, and some trash mixed in with the papers. It is my own fault that I did not stop then to get out my gloves and mask.

Unless you clean your home on a regular basis, the clutter gathers dust. When you have piles of “stuff” you are not likely to move them in order to clean. This accumulated dust can cause lung irritation and allergy flair ups. Stacks of boxes that block vents also cause poor air circulation and lack of filtering the air.

I’ve also unpacked boxes of papers that have been stored so long there was evidence of black mold on the papers or books. You certainly don’t want to breathe in mold and sometimes the papers are important ones that need to be kept.

Another health hazard I have come across is animal feces. If it is difficult for animals to get out the door or get to a cat box they are more likely to use the floor or go on the items stacked on the floor. Once an area is marked, animals will continue to use this space as their latrine.

Bugs and even rodents also love clutter. Mounds of material and paper make great nests. Bugs love paper boxes that have been stored on the floor for long periods of time. The presence of bugs and rodents is not a good combination for good health.

Tripping accidents and fire are also hazards I have observed. It’s hard to navigate around piles of clutter and I had a client narrowly escape a fire in her home because of the clutter. Trying to navigate your way out of a smoke filled home with only pathways to walk is a very scary experience.

And while this is not as obvious, stress of living with clutter can affect health.

The bottom line here is that even if you are not close to staring in a hoarding episode, clutter can eventually harm your health. It’s amazing how much better you will feel once you have your clutter under control.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Dealing with Clutter Overload

You’re never quite sure how it happened but over time clutter completely took over an area in your home. At first it was just grandma’s china that was put into the room “just for now”. Later you had to quickly clear up the other guest bedroom for company and you just scooted some of the projects you were working on into this area. Then it was already a bit of a mess so anytime you didn’t know where to put something – in it went.

Now, you want to reclaim the room. You’d like a craft room or a place to keep and sell items on eBay. But the mess is huge. You can hardly open the door. You don’t even have a goat path clear across the room. You are overwhelmed and don’t know where to start.

When I work with clients I like to use a variation of the Mount Vernon Method. This method involves starting at the door and moving clockwise around the room completely cleaning one area at a time. I use a similar method but do it in two or three sweeps around the room.

On the first sweep around the room we only deal with items that are on the floor. Each item is identified and placed where it belongs. To keep from running all over the house, we set up zones outside of the room. One zone is “belongs in the house but not here”. Another zone or stack is “will go back into this room”. Then there are the trash, recycle, shred, and donate piles. Sometimes we also have a “leaving the house but going to someone specific” stack. The client is strongly discouraged from going to another area in the room and is always refocused back to the area at hand. The idea is just to keep on moving around the room one step at a time. Depending on how much stuff we have in the piles, about 30 minutes to an hour before quitting time we go to the stacks in the hall and deal with them. Hopefully by this time we have some clear space in the room to stack the items that will eventually live in this room. Items going somewhere else in the home are now taken to that spot. If there is no place to put them at this time, we just put them as close to where they are supposed to go as possible. Trash is taken out right away. Donate and shred piles can either be dealt with right away or held until more of the room is completed.

After we have cleared the floor, we go back around the room and deal with the surfaces of any furniture. We use the same technique. Then we look at what is stored out of sight in the furniture.

The client has a vision of how she wants this room to look and what function the room will have before we even begin. So the last step is placing everything back into the room that supports that vision.

I love the way this works with clients and they can really see their progress after each session.

If you have one of these “rooms of shame” you can get help to keep you focused or you can try this method on your own. A big part of making this work is to break the project down into manageable tasks and sticking to a timeline. Always allow time at the end of each session to clear up the stacks you have placed in the hallway.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer