When Bravo TV host of Interior Therapy Jeff Lewis entered the home of entrepreneur and philanthropist Bob Lorsch, he covered his mouth and whispered to his sidekick Jenni: “Can rich people be hoarders?” He was overwhelmed by the pieces of art and collectibles that crowded each of the grand rooms in the estate.
Hoarding disorders cross all socio-economic backgrounds and can even occur in children. Hoarding is seen more frequently in men than in women. Recent studies indicate that as many as 1 in 20 people are significant hoarders.
Hoarding is more than having a lot of stuff or being messy. In a hoarding situation, accumulated items are getting in the way, and there is no more space for other items. An extreme emotional attachment can occur between owner and objects. According to staff at the Mayo Clinic: “It’s not clear what causes hoarding. The condition is far more likely to affect those with a family history of hoarding, so genetics and upbringing are likely among the triggering factors.”
I get referrals from psychological counselors because of my experience and training in working with hoarders. Recently, I was a lead organizer on an episode of A&E’s Hoarders show and I am a member of the Institute for Challenging Disorganization. Most organizers are not trained to work with hoarders. Behaviors can be so ingrained that they are difficult to change. Often there is an underlying psychological issue that makes the hoarder susceptible to the behavior. I see first-hand how people form attachments to objects. They may believe in not wasting or are afraid of losing opportunities or memories represented by the objects. It’s not easy for them to let go. Piles of stuff accrue because they have difficulty giving up items.
People like Bob don’t recognize the negative consequences of a hoarding disorder. It was Bob’s wife who brought in Lewis to help them sort things out. She felt it was negatively impacting their marriage. The problem gets worst as people age. Older hoarders have a hard time categorizing things. Whether they’re called pack rats or collectors, living in a home which functions as a storage locker is not safe, especially for seniors. The likelihood of fires and falls increases. It can be frustrating for friends and family members who want to help.
When hoarders want help they often rely on an exterior motivator. Some times a professional organizer trained in hoarding disorders can help by offering both emotional and physical support. What is important is that the person make all decisions. This increases their ability to better their lives by creating a more livable, comfortable space for themselves and their families. This Daily Herald article explains how I was able to help a Schaumburg woman overcome a hoarding disorder.
Sometimes people with a hoarding disorder can understand how their behavior was harming their lifestyle after they make changes. With tears in his eyes, Bob Lorsch thanked Jeff Lewis for all he had done for him, for his wife, and for his collections.
To observe the wide variety of hoarding situations and solutions watch A & E Hoarder episodes or visit the Institute for Challenging Disorganization website to download an assessment measurement tool that covers health and safety issues related to hoarding.