Digging Out a Hoarder…
A few years ago, Moving Forward took on the job of Digging Out a Hoarder in Kirkland, Washington. Like many people, Sue (not her real name) liked to read the entire “Seattle Times” newspaper before she threw it away. Actually, she felt compelled to read the entire newspaper before she threw it away. She was interested in almost everything and didn’t want to miss a single detail. She loved to file interesting articles for future reference.
Her collections gave Sue a sense of security and control. Although she stored a great quantity, it was all neatly organized and accessible… until she took a bad fall on her front stairs and broke both of her arms simultaneously.
Suddenly, everything became harder to do. Reading the newspaper, cutting out articles, pulling down the right box to file them in. She started a box called “To File.” Then she started a box labeled “To Read.” Then she just started piling the neatly folded newspapers in the corner of her bedroom.
Fast forward a few years. Sue’s arms were weaker than they were before and the backload of newspapers was growing intimidating. Sue’s best friend, Wilma (not her real name), tried to get Sue to work with Moving Forward to dig out from this hoarding situation.
Hoarding can make the hoarder feel in control.
But throwing out the paper meant accepting that Sue was no longer really in control of her world. It was just too frightening for Sue to consider. And besides, each individual newspaper didn’t take up that much space. So it continued to accumulate.
And then it happened. One day, Sue tripped over a pile of slippery catalogs and hit her head. Three days later her neighbor called 911 because she hadn’t seen Sue come in or out for days.
The medics found Sue on the floor of the bathroom: unconscious, dehydrated, but still breathing.
Now everything changed.
Sue was expected to recover, but would not be able to return to her old second floor condo. Wilma finally convinced her to hire Moving Forward to move the important items to her new home.
Hiring a professional can make “digging out” easier
When Moving Forward took on the job, they found a home so full of paper that few rooms could even be used for their original purpose. The bed was unreachable. The master bathroom and its closets were overstuffed and the paths to them had been filled in. The path from the front door to the recliner (that now served as Sue’s bed) was only a foot wide. The refrigerator was still usable, but the rest of the kitchen was stuffed. Even the lovely view from Sue’s windows was obscured by piles and piles of neatly stacked newspapers.
Moving Forward worked closely with Wilma, in-person, and Sue, via the phone, to separate out what to move to the new apartment, what to move to storage, what to sell and what to dispose of. And what a project it was digging out this hoarder!
Even with a crew of three, it took almost two and a half weeks. We loaded more than five dumpsters with recyclable paper and were surprised to find un-cashed checks and stock certificates in the lower layers . We were able to clear a whole wall of tax record boxes dating back to the 1970’s by having it shredded. An ebay selling company took on the task of selling the unearthed knick-knacks and memorabilia; some dating back to Seattle’s World’s Fair in 1962.
In the hospital, Sue was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder and started taking medication and working with a therapist. Sue told us that she didn’t really know why she had kept so much stuff and said she was relieved to be free of it. But we are sure that, at the time, the hoarding really did make sense to her.
When Sue was able to leave the hospital, her home was all set up and waiting for her to try out her new life skills.
Digging out a hoarder takes non-judgmental patience and the ability to see the world from another person’s point of view. At Moving Forward we are dedicated to digging out hoarders with the sensitivity and respect that all people deserve.
***originally published 8/10/11