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

Decatur Book Festival

Last weekend was the Decatur Book Festival. This is one of my favorite yearly events in Decatur. Judith Kolberg, Diane Quintana, and I had a booth that offered organizational help, book coaching, and of course a chance to buy our books.
Judith, Diane, and I also had an opportunity to do a book signing at the booth of Eagle Eye Book Shop. Eagle Eye is so supporting of the local authors. They also carry our books year round.
I also enjoyed chatting with all the people who stopped by our booth to buy our books, look at our before/after pictures, share their organizational challenges or victories, talk about book ideas , or ask questions about the local NAPO (National Association of Professional Organizers) group. It was great to see and reconnect with people that I know and to meet new people who may become friends, clients, or colleagues.
It was also fun to visit the other booths. It is exciting to see the diversity of books and services that are offered. I also revel in all that good food and good food smells, the sound of people enjoying themselves, and the children’s parades.
If you missed the opportunity this year to go to the festival, there is always next year. I am already looking forward to it.
If you missed the opportunity to buy our books they are available not only at Eagle eye but also at Squall Press -www.squallpress.net. My book is also available on my website – www.timespaceorg.com.

Jonda S. Beattie
Professional Organizer

NAPO conference

Next week I will be attending the NAPO conference in San Diego. This will be my 5th conference. Before I head off to the conference I set goals for myself.
I want to learn about the latest trends and resources in the organizing industry. I plan to glean information from experts in the field that I can use to improve my services. I want to see the newest products and services offered in the industry. I hope to network with other organizers in different parts of the country. This will give me a chance to meet face to face with some organizers I have just chatted with or shared information with on Facebook. I will also have some social time with organizers from my own chapter.
I also plan to have some fun. I have never been to San Diego so I am going one day early in order to see the city. I hope to take a tour and learn more about the area.
When I return I will develop an action plan from this wonderful experience.

Jonda S. Beattie
Professional Organizer

Decatur Book Festival

This past weekend was the Decatur Book Festival. I look forward to this event every year. This year I was in the booth – Get Organized! – with 3 other organizers. This gave us a chance to sell our books, sign up people to participate in our upcoming workshop (From Vision to Victory Workshop- at Eagle Eye Book Shop- Sept. 11, 18, & 25), give information about our services, and for those who visited our booth and were interested in organizing – give them passes to our next NAPO meeting.
Every year I enjoy talking with all of the people who stop to look at our before/after pictures, share their organizational challenges or victories, talk about book ideas they have, or ask questions about our NAPO organization or the Atlanta Hoarding group. I always end up meeting people who become new friends and colleagues.
It is also fun to go around and visit the other booths. I love to see the new books that are out and some of the products concerning the books. Other authors are in their booths and enjoy chatting about their books.
And as with any festival, there is all of that good food and good food smells, the sound of people talking and laughing,and the children’s parades. The festival ended with the Zydeco band and some great dancing by the gazebo.
I am already looking forward to next year.

Jonda S. Beattie
Professional Organizer

ADHD

What is ADHD and how does it affect individuals? ADHD is a condition that develops in some children in early years but can continue into adulthood and often gets worse for post menopausal women. ADHD can make it difficult for people to focus and control their behavior. Criteria for a formal diagnosis is determined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders from the American Psychiatric Association.
ADHD people are often bright yet challenged by simple tasks; creative with the big picture but fall apart with follow through; interested in many things and often work on multiple projects but complete few.
So how can ADHD individuals be helped or how can they help themselves. Susan Karyn Lasky gave some great tips at the last NAPO conference.
First teach time management skills. Give them reality checks-“With all that is on your plate, will you have time to paint your deck or should you hire that out while you handle more critical tasks?” Have them put recurring maintenance tasks on their calendars and note how long they will need for each task. Help with prioritizing tasks. Point out the options- if you do this then there will not be time to do that.
Use a timer-especially for distasteful tasks. Have them reward themselves after they have completed the task or part of the task in the allotted time. Encourage short breaks. Give reminders of all the progress that has been made.
Keep the environment relaxed.
Set up systems that work the way they think. They well may be pilers instead of filers. Use printed labels and clear containers.
Focus on strengths instead of weaknesses. Know their learning styles and check that they understand what you ask them to do.
Above all, accept them and accept less than perfect (and teach them to accept less than perfect, too).

Jonda S. Beattie
Professional Organizer

Power Office

One of the presentations given at the NAPO conference this year was on Creating a Power Office by Judith Lubowicki, CPO. She defines a Power Office as one that: contains systems that are flexible and expandable; contains work areas that are unclogged and easily accessible; contains systems that are clear to everyone; contains processes that can be duplicated easily; and contains tasks, routines, and maintenance that are planned-not left to chance.
The two I would like to discuss are systems that are flexible and expandable and having tasks, routines, maintenance that is planned.
We often set up our office and expect it to stay that way. Well, life happens and things change so our office must be able to change to meet the new circumstances. My business is steadily growing, so each year when I reconfigure my office I have to deal with the past year’s growth and leave room for new growth. As my files grow and get more complicated, I need more file storage. I now file archival materials in another room. Activity and projects are in files and binders in my bookcase. I color code my files so that I can easily refile and if a file is out I know exactly where its home is located. I have finance files, active client files, nonactive client files, activities, projects, reference, and product instructions/manuals/warranties. Items I need everyday I can reach without leaving my chair. I already have plans for January when I revisit my office zone again.
The other challenge is that we often don’t plan and schedule routine and boring tasks and we just leave them to chance. We need to schedule these tasks on our calendar. While not fun to do, it makes the workspace so much more enjoyable to use and will save us time in the long run. I do a yearly reconfiguration but weekly and daily maintenance tasks like clearing the desk, putting away random folders, and filing.
Let me know your office challenge!

Jonda S. BeattieProfessional Organizer

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Resilience

One of the presentations I attended at the NAPO conference was Boost Your Resilience by Dean M. Becker. I like to share the great ideas from conference with others.
Our constantly changing environment, demands of our jobs, and the tough economy cause stress and anxiety. So what skills do we need to do better and feel better in this environment? Dean’s statement “More than education, more than experience, more than training, it’s resilience that determines who succeeds and who fails.”
He pointed out what resilience is not-(see picture). Doing the same things over and over again and expecting something different is not being resilient. Trying to solve the unsolvable is not resilience. Giving up too soon is not resilience.
He goes on to say that “The scientific research also shows that more than genetics, more than intelligence, more than any other factor, it is the Thinking Style that determines who is resilient and who is not.”
One of the big take aways from all this is that events do not directly impact what we do. It is our thoughts after an event that influence what we do. Your thoughts impact how you feel and react.
My challenge to you is to be aware of your thoughts when you encounter stress. I would love to hear your experiences on this topic.

Jonda S. BeattieProfessional Organizer

NAPO 2009 Annual Conference

This coming week I will be attending the 2009 NAPO Annual Conference. This will be my third conference and I am very excited about it. At our conferences we learn about the latest trends and resources in our industry. We get to network with organizers from all over the country. We discover new organizing systems and resource to share with our clients. We learn new business and marketing skills. Other organizers share what has worked well for them. Scott McKain will be our Opening Keynote speaker and Michael Port will be our Closing Keynote speaker. In between there will be days of workshops and visits to the expo hall. After a week off, I will be ready to share a lot of great new ideas!

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Jonda S. Beattie
Professional Organizer

NAPO in the schools

I did a couple of NAPO in the schools presentations today. It’s interesting to work with the children to help them see the importance of organization and some of the steps towards organization. We go through the process of discussing what disorganization is and then take poor disorganized Drake and organize him. The kids also do a hands on activity of organizing a set of items. It is fascinating to see how they work out their sorts. Today I had the usual sorts by size, color, function. I was studying one fellows sort and could not figure it out so I asked him. He sorted by hard and soft items. I feel like organizational skills should be part of the school curriculum.

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