May 3 2009

Hoardhouse Published in the NY Daily News

In today’s New York Daily News, a Hoardhouse article appears on the cover of the Metro section! “Bronx-based service cleans out hoarders’ cluttered homes” tells the story on Don Tagatac’s Trauma Scene Cleaning Management Inc.

Here is the lede:

Catharine harvests rainwater for bathing and uses a litter box as her toilet. She has had no plumbing for seven years. The Georgetown University alumna sleeps on massive rubbish piles next to her 10 cats.

The story also appears on hoardhouse.com as “Declutterer Extraordinaire” in the Cleanup section.


May 3 2009

Hoardhouse Speaks at NY Hoarding Conference

On Tuesday, April 21st, Hoardhouse participated in a hoarding forum at Hartley House in Hell’s Kitchen. Ben Piven spoke on a panel and screened “Debugging and Decluttering” and “Hostage to Hoarding.”

The event was moderated by social worker Patricia Petersen and included Trauma Scene Cleaning Management Inc. owner Don Tagatac, attorney Jason Blumberg, housing advocate Bob Kalin, and social worker Susan Siroto.

Hoardhouse is grateful for the opportunity to share our work with social workers and others who deal with hoarders/clutterers on a permanent basis. Thanks to the Hartley House for including us in the hoarding conference!


Mar 23 2009

Launch!

The new version of hoardhouse.com is now live.

Thanks for your support. Be sure to visit the blog for future coverage and news on this issue.

Please pass this link an message on to your friends, family, colleagues or anybody who might be interested in hoarding, cluttering, and NYC.

Thanks again,

Karn Dhingra, Jackie Kasuya & Ben Piven


Mar 13 2009

April Conference on Hoarding

Hoardhouse has been invited to participate in a forum on compulsive hoarding that will take place at 10 a.m. on April 21st at Hartley House, which is a settlement house in Hell’s Kitchen. It will be an excellent way to present our multimedia project to an audience comprised mostly of social workers who seek to learn more about the topic.

Patricia Petersen, a passionate social worker at Hartley House, is organizing the conference. At yesterday’s planning session for the forum, she summarized the gist of dealing with hoarder clients, “You don’t just go in and grab someone’s stuff and tell them to throw it away!”

Participants plan the April 21st hoarder conference at Hartley House.

Participants plan the April 21st conference at Hartley House.

Then, Bob Kalin (a community organizer at Housing Conservation Coordinators) talked about an elderly Polish woman who had stowed away $25,000 worth of crumpled $20 bills. That was just one of several hundred hoarding cases he has dealt with over the past 20 years. Next, Don Tagatac (whose Trauma Scene Cleaning Management Inc. has worked with several dozen hoarders) mentioned how his business seeks to protect support agencies against exposing their social workers to bedbugs and other hoarder scene problems. The conference’s panel discussion should be a great opportunity to share our final product with professionals who can make practical use of our material.

There are 10 days left until the project is complete, and our full package goes live. It will be interesting to see how enthusiastically the body of work is received by all types of stakeholders. We have tried throughout to cover the issues at hand in a balanced way. In covering four broad groups (hoarders, psychologists, clean-up specialists, and support professionals), we have sought to give each a sufficient platform to voice perspectives and concerns.

That being said, we would like our viewers to continue to give candid feedback about our work – in terms of both the form and the content. We are striving to create an easily navigable site with information organized efficiently. And we are still earnestly working to avoid any semblance of voyeurism.

Also at the meeting yesterday, Susan Siroto (program director at Search and Care, on the Upper East Side) talked about avoiding an Oprah-type spectacle. While the eminent talk show host’s unique brand of edutainment has noble aims, we certainly hope to be more informative and thorough in our reporting. Stay tuned!


Feb 24 2009

Less Than a Month to Go

We’re entering the stretch run and our website is due to our professors in less than a month. After much discussion we’ve finally decided on a layout for the site. We ‘re almost done with our reporting and are putting all the multimedia pieces together for the site.

We visited Washington, D.C. and Baltimore this past weekend  to interview Erin Doland of unclutterer.com and John. Erin was great and very open with us. She talked about the creation of unclutterer.com and her childhood battles with clutter and how she deals with clutter today.

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We met John earlier in the school year and took some pictures of his apartment but he recently had his apartment cleaned and organized and was kind enough to invite us back to his place for an in-depth interview. John didn’t want to be on camera so we asked him to discuss items and objects that he particularly cherishes. John loves to go on cruises and is enamored with all things related to the ocean and oceanliners.  The interview was eye-opening and gave us more insight into his character. We hope we can present a nuanced portrait of him in a video that emphasizes his relationship with his belongings.

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On a side note,  Eric Adler of the Kansas City Star  recently wrote a story about hoarders in Kansas City. The headline the paper published was: The hoard festival; Packrats celebrate their collections — until they get in the way of living.

The headline was a little misleading because it read – at least to me -that the story was about a festival that celebrates hoarding. This is not the case . The story is about a few Kansas City area residents that have hoarding and clutter problems. The story gives some decent background information on the condition of hoarding and quotes Dr. Randy Frost, an expert we’re still hoping will speak to hoardhouse.


Feb 12 2009

Delta Burke and Andy Warhol were Plyushkins?

Once known for her confidence and charisma as Suzanne Sugarbaker on Designing Women, Delta Burke made headlines last year after opening up about her battle with compulsive hoarding syndrome.

“At one time I had 27 storage units. I don’t have a big enough house,” she said during an interview with Entertainment Tonight. “My mom had it, it’s my mother’s fault. She saved the diaper I came home from the hospital in.”

How does someone who was once voted “most likely to succeed” in high school become a compulsive hoarder? Well, as Burke mentioned, oftentimes the ailment is hereditary. Eighty-five percent of people who hoard can identify another family member who has the problem, according to the Department of Psychiatry at UCLA, San Diego. Other times, hoarding can be a result of neuropsychiatric disorders like eating disorders and is frequently linked to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Burke has a history of both disorders.

Adding to the list of celebrity hoarders, Andy Warhol collected over 400,000 objects in the last 15 years of his life, according to Matt Wrbican, an archivist at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Among the many items Warhol accumulated were newspaper clippings, unpaid invoices, pornographic pulp novels, airline tickets, supermarket flyers, and postage stamps.

Wrbican spends his days sorting through the 610 cardboard boxes, known as “time capsules,” that Warhol left behind.

“It would be easy to label the stuff ‘junk,’ but they’re really archives,” said Wrbican during an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald.

Wrbican added that when Warhol went on trips he would not only bring home typical souvenirs but also, the porcelain, cutlery and menus he used on Air France Concorde.

As for Warhol’s four-story townhouse on the Upper East Side, his kitchen and bedroom were the only rooms he could walk through. Anything that couldn’t fit in his home was transfered to a nearby storage unit.

Hoarders have also graced the pages of classic novels like Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls. One of the characters, Plyushkin, collects and saves everything he comes across – including a cake that is several years old, which he consumes after asking his servants to scrape off the mold.

In Russia, the name “Plyushkin” has become synonymous with people who accumulate useless objects. Those people are said to have “Plyushkin syndrome” or “Plyushkin symptom.”


Feb 9 2009

Conquering Clutter the Hudson Guild Way

Hoarding and decluttering have recently graced the pages of two major lifestyle magazines: Domino and Real Simple. In the February 2009 issue of Domino, interior designer Ryan Korban offers pack-rats solutions to clearing out clutter. In the March 2009 issue of Real Simple, a reformed hoarder, Erin Rooney Doland, discusses how she was able to purge her excess belongings.

With an estimated 4.5 million Americans suffering from compulsive hoarding, it’s no surprise that discussions on hoarding have become ubiquitous. Oprah.com has over 40 articles devoted to decluttering your home.

Here are a few simple tips on decluttering that I picked up from my experience attending the Hudson Guild decluttering support group meeting:

Don’t discard items – donate them!


Anna-Leah Braudes, the moderator of the Hudson Guild decluttering support group, said that it’s less stressful for hoarders to donate items rather than discard them. Most hoarders have an easier time giving up belongings if they can give it to someone who appreciates them. Braudes recommends donating clothes to the Salvation Army and books to Merchant Marines.

As for items like newspapers, Braudes says that purging papers is very difficult to tackle because of their frequent delivery. She added that hoarders like to randomly clip articles from the paper, but fail to file them in a place where they’ll have easy access to them at a later date. It was suggested at one of the meetings that hoarders should cancel their subscriptions to publications because most information is now available via the web through a publication’s online archive. Articles can easily be bookmarked or forwarded to a personal email account for quick future reference.

Acquiring decision-making skills

During each of her meetings, Braudes emphasizes to her members how important it is to acquire decision-making skills before discarding items. She says that if a hoarder discards an item without understanding why they’re discarding it, they’ll be more likely to repossess that item at a later date.

Braudes says that professional help, such as hoarding expert, Dr. Randy Frost’s, cognitive behavioral therapy for hoarding, can help hoarders tackle obstacles that they cannot handle on their own.

Below is a list of a few programs that offer professional therapy for hoarding:

Bio Behavioral Institute –  (Great Neck, NY)

UCLA – OCD Intensive Treatment Program (Los Angeles, CA)

The Institute of Living – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (Hartford, CT)

Seeing it for yourself

Not too long ago, Braudes suggested a bold idea, that as a group her members visit each other’s home so that they can visualize what each person is referring to during group discussions. But to date, no one has accepted Braudes’s suggestion. In fact, several members ended up dropping out of the group to prevent this from happening.

Braudes believes if hoarders can view the clutter of others in-person, it will encourage them to look at their own clutter more objectively. Often times, Braudes’ members relate to the items being talked about and, she said this serves as an obvious way of helping each other.


Feb 5 2009

The Cluttered Lives We Live

This project has forced me to think about clutter in my own life. Clutter extends far beyond our residential spaces, and it is relevant to time management, social life, information intake, and cultural choice.

Cluttered space often remains cluttered because clutterers lack the time management skills to accomplish tasks efficiently and effectively. Spatial and temporal clutter are intertwined. Similar psychological mechanisms are at play.

Spatial clutter arises from the failure to discard stuff from one’s personal sphere. Clutterers cannot decide when they have accumulated too much. There is a pathological issue in executing simple decisions about what to discard and what not to discard. Many clutterers are also fundamentally unrealistic about how much can be accomplished in a given time frame – with decluttering activities or otherwise.

Thus, time clutter and space clutter are intimately related. Inability to regulate one’s spatial life is inextricably linked to an inability to cope successfully with time constraints. Though there is not always a correlation between the two, many spatial clutterers also have a cluttered schedules.

But there are also time clutterers who do not suffer from cluttered space. Many meticulously neat people have intensely chaotic schedules. I have begun to contemplate my own time management and whether my schedule is too cluttered. Perhaps I do best with a cluttered schedule. Or perhaps I, too, should schedule less cluttered days.

During a Clutterers Anonymous (CLA) meeting on January 15th, I committed explicitly to thinking more about the relationship between spatial clutter (to which CLA is dedicated) and other sorts of clutter (namely, temporal and social).

A third type of clutter is social clutter, which is often be linked to temporal clutter. My life is often socially cluttered – whether due to technology such as Facebook or an excessively extroverted personality.

Is there a limit to one’s Rolodex, cellphone contact list, or Facebook friends? Is 1000 enough? What’s the line between a social butterfly and a social clutterer?

Next is information clutter. Columbia Journalism Review’s November/December 2008 issue dealt with information overload. Are we bombarded with too much knowledge? How much time do we spend uncluttering our gmail? Do you routinely lose files on your desktop and hard drive?

In this age of infinite information, it is difficult to maintain satisfactory levels of order in these realms. Technology should increase the speed and the order of our lives, but it also contributes to tremendous clutter problems. As with physical space, informational clutter does not become a problem until you simply cannot find what you’re looking for. Or, when you simply run out of space to store stuff.

But, information clutter does not stop there. Idea clutter in the classroom is forever nagging. Especially for journalists, word clutter and other written expressions of disorganization can be disastrous. Informational clutter is seemingly endless…

The fifth and final type of clutter in this entry is cultural clutter. Does this afflict me? I constantly find myself partaking in a rapidly growing number of cultural traditions. Is there a limit to the digestible variety of cuisines, fashions, religions, holidays, and languages?  Is splintered cultural allegiance detrimental to personal growth?

What may be burdensome clutter to some may be positive for others. For example, cultural clutter  might be more accurately labeled “cosmopolitan,” “diverse,” or “eclectic.” Similarly,  a social clutterer might be called popular. Are information clutterers not intellectual and informed? Time clutterers are often high efficient people. After all, when you need something done quickly, give it to a busy person.

Back to spatial clutter. There is often a very fine line between a collector and a clutterer.

In sum, let’s consider five potentially cluttered realms: space, time, friendship, information, and culture.

A little bit of minimalism does the body (and the mind) good.


Feb 3 2009

Thoughts

Work has picked up on our website and at school as of late. The team has been surprised by the amount of access we’ve been able to get from people with this illness and experts on this issue. The situation wasn’t  looking so good a few weeks ago. I was banned from a de-clutter support group because of concerns about liabilities and was kicked out of a Clutterers Anonymous meeting but Frederick , an attendee at that meeting was kind enough to give me his phone number and returned my  call the same night. He invited us to his apartment to let us interview him on camera and take pictures the next day. Frederick’s an artist and used to work in fashion design. We are currently working on a video that will feature him talking about his condition.

Last week Ben and I ventured out to Long Island to interview Dr. Fugen Neziroglu of the Bio-Behavioral Institute. Dr. Neziroglu was very gracious and answered all of our questions. She commented on some of the pictures of hoarding sites we’ve been able to document.  And an interview with Dr. Randy Frost of Smith College is in the works. He’s considered one of the foremost experts on this topic.

We’ve also been kicking around a few interesting concepts for the site and welcome any comments and ideas from our readers.

The project has also gotten some attention on the internet. We continue to receive emails from people all over the country and the world. And Unclutterer, one of the more widely read blogs on the topic of clutter has discovered our site.

We’re humbled and honored by our readers’ encouraging words of support and will continue to report on this issue in a thorough and transparent manner.


Feb 3 2009

The Freecycle Alternative

Freecycle is a global, grassroots movement that aims to reduce the gargantuan waste problem facing our planet. One of our readers, a member of the NYC chapter of Freecycle, sent us an e-mail proposing the Freecycle alternative to the problem of hoarding things (stuff generally, junk specifically).

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Here’s what this freecycler Brian wrote: “My wife and I make use of [Freecycle] to reduce our unwanted but still usable stuff.  The flip side is that people can get lots of stuff for free.  I see three or four people posting ‘Wanted’ requests almost every day. I’m curious to hear about any stories you’ve come across that have used freecycle or similar tools to acquire stuff.”

The notion of using Freecycle to gain more stuff might be an attractive one for hoarders looking to expand their stuff holdings. But, it seems that many hoarders would benefit from using Freecycle to downsize and declutter their residences. At heart, Freecycle is a means of exchanging items that would not necessarily be viewed as marketable in most mainstream marketplaces. It most definitely keeps stuff out of landfills by finding new owners for anything from cribs and blankets to treadmills and cross trainers.

In assessing what sort of impact the 6.3-million member international Freecycle movment has had on our collective attitudes towards stuff, perhaps it helps to think about where the preserved stuff would otherwise be located. Just like the material preserved, salvaged, and hoarded by compulsive clutterers, the Freecycled stuff is kept out of the dominion of trash. Like hoarders, freecyclers prevent stuff from being eternally committed to the massive containers, fields, and craters chock full of what we typically call “waste.”

Many Freecyclers (and some hoarders too) view themselves as conserving the environment and lessening our global trash menace. Freeganism (often associated with dumpster-diving) is a related movement that seeks to promote anti-consumerist values and the repudiation of socioeconomic disparities. Perhaps Freegans are anti-thetical to hoarders, since they aim to reduce our collective addiction to material possessions and only use what they absolutely need. Emphasis on sheer utility is not seen in hoarders, who often keep goods of minimal use or exchange value. Freecycle emphasizes functionality, while hoarders often fail to appraise an object’s actual capacity to be harnessed beyond the personal and sentimental realms.