The Secret Lives of Hoarders

The Secret Lives of HoardersI’ve been looking for a book about hoarding that I can wholeheartedly recommend and I’ve finally found one. It’s called The Secret Lives of Hoarders by Matt Paxton, and is available in paperback and ebook.

The author begins by explaining that the original hoarding scale he used ‘was a pretty subjective one and based roughly on the number of dead cats we found in a house.’ That got my attention. Those are the words of someone who’s been there and really done that.

He then goes on to decribe the five-stage Hoarding Scale he’s developed, which ranges from mild Stage One clutter to severe Stage Five hoarding, such as the house where his crew discovered, under all the junk, a rat’s nest made of plastic shopping bags that was nearly 8 feet (2.4 metres) wide and 2 feet (0.6 metres) tall. Even more amazingly, after the rats were exterminated and the nest pulled apart, the bags were found to contain $13,000 in cash. The hoarder had been leaving loose change in her shopping bags for years.

What I like very much about this book is the author’s non-judgemental and insightful approach to clutter. He explains, “For a hoarding cleanup to be successful, it is important for hoarders to get a better understanding of what is the trigger and why they hoard.”

‘Cleaning is easy,’ he says. ‘Nearly anyone can empty a hoarded house. The real challenge is helping a hoarder make the lifestyle changes to stay clean.’ This is so true.

He makes it very clear that he’s not a therapist, but through his writing you can see that he has a real talent for getting to the heart of the underlying issues. I also really appreciate how respectfully he relates to the hoarders he works with.

‘Many hoarders have significant emotional and pyschological issues,’ he explains, ‘but they are neither stupid nor ignorant. In fact, most hoarders are very intelligent and can see through any mental games someone tries to play. Late-stage hoarders have already played those games on themselves for years. Forget the tricks. Respect the hoarder and spell out the game plan from the beginning. Straightforward conversations and respectful dialogue may start slowly, but they can save years of wasted effort.’

Best of all, I like the section called ‘Hoarder Hangover,’ which I recommend that every professional organizer, clutter clearer and hoarding therapist reads, as well as the friends and family of hoarders. It will give them a better understanding of what hoarders go through after the cleanup.

All may be well for a few days but then reality sets in. The place is so CLEAN. There is so much SPACE. There is no place for the hoarder to emotionally hide any more. Many completely freak out at this point, and can revert back to hoarding behaviour in no time at all in their attempt to cope with all the feelings that come up. I’ve seen many times that this critical juncture is when they need therapeutic support and encouragement more than ever. In fact, in Matt Paxton’s experience, ‘hoarders who don’t follow through with therapy and organizational support are 100 percent guaranteeed to fail.’

Many of you reading this will know Matt from his Hoarders show on TV, but reading his book is very different. In recounting his experiences, he and his writing partner, Phaedre Hise, pass a deep level of insight, knowledge and skill that is of great value to anyone who knows a hoarder, is a hoarder, or could become one if they don’t get their clutter under control. It’s also a very informative read for people who are interested in undertanding more about the hoarding epidemic that is sweeping through the western world, affecting over 12 million people in the USA alone at the moment.

Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd, 2011

About Karen Kingston

Karen Kingston is a leading expert in clutter clearing, space clearing, feng shui, and healthy homes. Her two international bestselling books have combined sales of over three million copies in 26 languages and have established themselves as "must-read" classics in their fields. Her best-known title, Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, is now in its fifth edition. She is best known for her perspective-changing insights and practical solutions that enable more conscious navigation of 21st-century living.
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