Interview Series: Hoarding Expert; Alison Lush

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 Alison Lush.  Alison is a member of Professional Organizers
in Canada (POC) and The National Association of Productivity and Organizing
Professionals (NAPO). She is also a Certified Professional Organizer, a Certified
Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization, and an ICD Master Trainer.
Because she lives in Quebec, she conducts her business in both French and
English.

Everything related to organizing that Alison studied, she
wondered about in terms of her own life. She developed the understanding that
she has a “relationship” with her things. There is a flow – things come in and
things go out.  Her
home supports her goals.
Alison never wants to stop learning. She recognizes the importance of education and plans to be engaged in professional studies forever.

Questions & Responses

What training have you taken?

I began with training from the POC (Professional Organizers in Canada). I have earned my NAPO (National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals) CPO® and my CPO-CD® (Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization) through ICD (The Institute for Challenging Disorganization). Recently I  earned my Master Trainer certification.

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

I believe that it is less than 5%. We must remember that only medical professionals – psychiatrists – can make that designation.

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

The term hoarding is used too loosely and too quickly. The term should never be used unless a proper diagnosis has been made. For example, I had someone come to me and say, “I have hoarding disorders.” She had seen professionals and social workers and was very involved in the process. When I met her she was preparing to move. She had been in her current home for 17 years. As we started to work, the diagnosis seemed not right. She had no trouble getting rid of items, even items I had left behind for her to take out. When I asked her again about who diagnosed her, she stated, “Oh, I diagnosed myself.” When she was in the program, the staff accepted her diagnosis as gospel. After more work and conversation, I suggested that she might be affected by chronic disorganization rather than hoarding.

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

I use the ICD Clutter-Hoarding Scale®. I also do an interview with the client. I used to rely on my eyes but now I go with the feeling. I try to go into the home like I am wearing blinders – like I am blind, and I only listen to the client.  I ask myself: What is the client feeling about the clutter? If I didn’t, I might want to start clearing an area that didn’t bother the client. I want to be sure I am addressing the needs of the client.  Thanks to the Clutter-/Hoarding Scale®, I also pay attention to odors and safety issues.

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

I pay attention to the rats’ nest of cords. I want to be aware if circuits are being overloaded. I also listen to the client. If they say something like, “Oh, we had a flood upstairs last year.” I start to look at the structure and to look for mold. I am conscious of the air quality.  I also am always aware of what exits are available.

Do you usually work alone or with a team?

I tried a couple of times to work with a team, but I have found that trust and instinct are critical and very personal, so I prefer to work alone.

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

I had a client who called but seemed very ambivalent
on the phone. But she also seemed very desperate. I met with her. She lived in
the upper level of a duplex with the owner living on the main level. She had to
move in two months. I proposed bringing in two organizers to help sort. She
agreed to that arrangement. She put down a deposit. When we arrived about 10
minutes before our appointment and were sitting in the car, she called us and
told us not to come in. She didn’t feel ready. We gave her some time and waited
in the car. She never let us in even though she prepaid. Lesson: listen to your
gut.

Another client owned 14 properties. The entire
first floor of the area we were to work in was filled with flat baskets and
these baskets were filled with paper. This was her filing system. She was
wanting to micromanage the job. I referred two junior organizers and a tech
person to her. She wanted help getting a filing cabinet set up. When I tried to
talk to her, several times she put up her hand and said, “Stop talking!”. I
finally got on the phone with her for about a half hour and basically fired
myself. I felt we were not the right fit. I closed the account and sent her the
$57 left in the account. She was not happy with me or the way I closed out the
job. I wish I had never started, and I wish I had kept a good paper trail.
Lesson: when there have been verbal conversations, follow up with an email
spelling it all out and keep copies of the email correspondence.

Then there was Christopher. I worked with Christopher for two and a half years. He had a white-knuckle grip on everything. If he had a corner piece of Styrofoam from years back, he wanted to hang onto it because it might come in handy. I had helped him unload a part some years ago. How do I know if this is Chronic Disorganization or hoarding? If the client is willing to let you walk out with some of the items you have sorted, it is probably not hoarding. If there is a very powerful emotional psychic glue between the client and him letting go of items, it might very well be hoarding. Lesson: know what you are working with.

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

Get a good education. Volunteer in the professional community. Really become a part of that community. The professional community provides great resources. You can ask questions in the online forums to get advice when you are stuck.  

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

I would love to share my YouTube channel – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSO8GIf5LswoDiU3OgBjdqw/videos .
Just last week, my most popular video passed 250K views, and very soon I will
have 5000 subscribers.

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

Interview Series: Hoarding Experts – Wendy Hanes & Angela Esnouf

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 had the fabulous opportunity to spend some time with Wendy Hanes and Angela Esnouf from Australia when we were at the NAPO (the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals) conference in Fort Worth, Texas in early April.

Wendy Hanes
is a CPO® and a CPO-CD®. She is the only organizer in
Australia to hold these prestigious international designations. Additionally,
Wendy holds specialist certificates in Chronic Disorganization, ADHD and
Hoarding from the ICD (The Institute for Challenging Disorganization).

Angela Esnouf is the past president of the Australasian Association of Professional Organizers. She and Wendy are actively involved in building the professional organizing industry in Australia and raising the standard of service through professional development.

Questions and Responses

What training have you taken?

We have participated in classes through the ICD (The Institute for Challenging Disorganization) and in a variety of workshops. Dr. Randy Frost ran a workshop and Lee Shuer ran a Buried in Treasures workshop. We have also participated in two workshops on Motivational Interviewing. Angela took Denslow Browns’ course in the Coaching Essentials Program. We attend lots of conferences to increase our knowledge on hoarding and organizing. Locally, the Catholic Community Services hosts a conference on hoarding and squalor.

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

Angela has about 70% and Wendy has anywhere from 70 – 100% of clients with hoarding tendencies. Wendy stated that some of her clients are very engaged and some are very resistant.

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

Yes. 50% of the time it is ‘passive decline’. This is a situation that mostly occurs in the elderly. It can look like hoarding, but the person is not actively accumulating. They have fallen into a slump. They are simply not keeping up with any clutter removal. So, all the stuff in the home continues to pile up.

What do you mean by the term ‘squalor’?

Squalor is a description of the environment. There is lots of filth, debris, rotting food and garbage. This co – occurs with ‘passive decline’. This term was coined by a pyscho-geriatrician: Professor Steve McFarlane.

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

We use the ICD Clutter Hoarding Scale. This tool provides us with lots of information about the home. It will help us determine if mold is present, if there are infestations, and what personal protection as organizers on the job we need to stay safe. We have used Randy Frost’s Clutter Image Rating Scale but find the information it provides is not as in depth.

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

Wendy always does an in person visit before starting the job. She looks for biohazards like a smell indicating mold. She also keeps an eye out for pet feces and looks to see if the cat boxes are full to overflowing. If the home is in an area where drug use is prevalent, she looks for evidence of drug use – indicating that needles may be hiding in the hoard. If necessary, Wendy will call a forensic cleaner to come in a do a pre-clean before any work is started.

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

This happened early in my career
(Wendy). I found out how clients can use you. I was brought in by a Community
Housing Project to work with a woman who was in danger of being evicted. I made
lots of suggestions and she agreed to everything! I was very surprised by her
reaction. I was anticipating some resistance to all the changes I wanted her to
make. I made my report to the Community Housing Authority and recommended that
the woman’s lease be extended. They agreed. I went back to work with the woman,
to implement the changes she had so readily agreed to and found that she didn’t
answer the door or her phone! I had been played. She only agreed to the changes
so that I would write a positive report. I have since found out that she is
still playing the same game!

Angela found out the importance of setting and sticking to boundaries. She was working with a client – doing some de-cluttering and came across a bag of souvenirs from a trip. The client told Angela they were from a cruise she had taken. Angela told the client that she had always wanted to go on a cruise but that her husband wouldn’t agree to go. So, the client said that the next time she was planning to go on a cruise, Angela could go with her.  Then the client wanted to be Angela’s best friend! Angela’s tip is don’t divulge any personal information.

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

Get trained! You don’t know what you don’t know. These clients are very vulnerable people. If you go in like a steam truck wanting to clear everything out, you can do more harm than good. They may isolate themselves further and they won’t trust you anymore. There may be backsliding. It’s important that there is no judgement in the work we do and that we inspire trust in our clients.

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

Yes. Go to our website: Hoarding home solutions.com.au/resources. This is a serious subject. We offer a training course in which we chunk down the information into manageable units. We offer practical solutions to empower people to work through this challenge. The course is online and is a series of webinars and videos. It is 13 modules and takes between ten to twelve hours to complete.

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

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

Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD) Conference Recap


I always go to conference with goals in mind. The theme of the conference this year was ICD R.O.C.K.S. The plan was to walk away from conference with information on the latest Research, have Opportunity to expand our thinking, Collaborate with peers, gain Knowledge through the presentations and from each other, and to learn Strategies to use on ourselves and our clients.
Diane Quintana and I also went with the idea of letting other participants know about our new children’s book, Suzie’s Messy Room. We had hoped to have the book in hand by conference but that did not happen. We did have a mock up and some post cards telling about the book.
The presentations were fantastic. We were exposed to:

    • Unlocking the Secrets to Teens
    • Still Someone: Working with People Who Have Memory Loss
    • Hoarding Disorder: Definitions and Best Practices
    • MESS: One Man’s Struggle to Clean Up His House & His Act
    • Recognizing & Managing Compassion Fatigue
    • Universal Design: Making Life Easier for Everyone
    • Nervous System Resilience
    • I Have What? A Practical Guide to Working with ADHD Adults

The conference certainly did give opportunities to network and expand our thinking. The challenge now is to incorporate all of this learning into practices with myself and my clients. I have the handout material and will set aside some times to review each presentation. I have clients in mind that will benefit from all of this new research and learning.

Next year the conference is in Portland, Oregon. The theme is Blazing a Trail. Wow!

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

ICD Conference in Chicago

Last weekend I attended the  Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD) conference in Chicago. ICD is an excellent educational and research source for Professional Organizers. The theme for this year’s conference was Overcoming Obstacles. The conference looked at obstacles such as procrastination, ADHD, traumatic brain injury, mental illness, aging issues, lingering grievances, and time management challenges.

180 attendees gathered to listen and share experiences. In addition to the powerful sessions, there was time to network and just talk to other organizers, coaches, counselors, move managers, students, and other resource people who attended and participated. Attendees came not only from all over the USA but also from Canada, Japan, Jamaica, and the Netherlands.

We received a valuable handout with research abstracts of ongoing studies as well as notes and handouts from the presenters. One of the presenters, Lois McElravy, who spoke on brain injury and ADHD, actually received a brain injury from an accident and was speaking firsthand about the experiences of living with this obstacle. Another speaker, Patrick Corrigan, PsyD, spoke on the stigma of mental illness. He suffers with this obstacle himself and could hare personal insights along with research.

I discovered new material during this conference and also received affirmation of the methods I am already using. I feel that taking time off from working directly with my clients to learn more about my profession is a very valuable use of my time.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer