Jan 30 2009

CLA = Clutterers Anonymous

  • To differentiate it from Cocaine Anonymous (CA), Clutterers Anonymous is abbreviated as CLA.
  • Like every other Anonymous program founded in the spirit of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), CLA also has 12 steps, which are essentially the same 12 steps as AA’s original 12 steps.
  • Read more about how Wikipedia describes CLA.
  • Check out the list of dozens of different 12 step programs, for everything from Debtors Anonymous (DA) and Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA) to Overeaters Anonymous (OA) and Marijuana Anonymous (MA).
  • And here is an online support group for CLA.

Jan 29 2009

Hoardhouse on Aggregatr

The current layout on hoardhouse's aggregatr page.

The current layout on hoardhouse's Aggregatr page.

Using the web-based technology developed by a friend of the hoardhouse.com team, we are now presenting a sampling of news stories/videos about clutter & hoarding in a Drudge-esque format.

Click on the image above to visit our Aggregatr page.


Jan 27 2009

New Jersey Hoard House

Here is the slideshow of Catherine’s home in northern New Jersey.


Jan 26 2009

Boxes of Baltimore

John’s apartment in North Baltimore was photographed by hoardhouse in late December. However, by mid-February, most of the mess is likely to be gone. We will try to document the one-bedroom apartment as it progresses through these stages of decluttering.


Jan 25 2009

Clutter on 28th Street

Here are some photographs of hoarding at Frederick’s residence. We will likely be returning to his place to document how the scene has changed since the clean-up and fumigation of his studio.


Jan 25 2009

Hoardhouse on the Internets

We are now officially set up on the premier photo-sharing site and the premier social networking site.

See our Flickr photos.

Check out our Facebook group.


Jan 19 2009

Project Update

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and tomorrow is the inauguration of our nation’s first president of African origin. These are momentous times for hoarders and non-hoarders alike.

As we continue to make progress on this Hoardhouse project, it is important to give you, our readers, an update on where this effort is headed. We are finalizing the designs for the eventual Hoardhouse website, which we will launch in mid-March. Thus, in two months time, this blog layout will be replaced by a fully loaded multimedia site organized thematically (the hoarders, the clean-up specialists, the social workers, and the experts).

We are always open to suggestions about our material and our mission. As we continue to cover a topic that can be controversial and sensitive for many people, we realize that empathy and understanding are key to doing the best possible reporting. This has been and will remain a process of learning about the psychological and social facets of a highly complex phenomenon.

While we have certainly logged some solid footage thus far, it seems that much of our most meaningful work lies ahead. Also, at this point, while we conduct the rest of our reporting and production, the ultimate feel of our site is still somewhat nascent.

In terms of our most recent reporting, we have decided to shift how our blog reflects what we learn. Some of our posts thus far have included our opinions and speculations about hoarding. We are now interested in blogging more factual material about our goings-on, even if we have become more restrained with how much detail is revealed about the particular hoarders that we meet.

Our coverage of Catherine in New Jersey will continue, although we are concerned about her medical and legal situations.

Each of the three Hoardhouse group members attended three different Clutterers Anonymous (CLA) meetings in Manhattan this past week. We plan on returning to these CLA chapters in the West Village, Union Square, and Times Square. We are cultivating relationships with a number of folks that we’ve met at these meetings. It has been somewhat of a challenge to present ourselves candidly as journalists, when the conventional expectation at any 12-step Anonymous meeting (even if considered an “open” meeting) is that all attendees are part of the “fellowship.”

There is a relatively small minority of CLA attendees who appear reluctant to share their thoughts if they perceive that their full anonymity and confidentiality are threatened by the presence of a journalist or researcher. However, we have found that the vast majority of attendees were comfortable with our journalistic inquiries, as long as we explained our goals. Yet, some hoarders and clutterers (we are still ascertaining the difference between the two terms) fear that we have voyeuristic intentions. We always reiterate that our aim is to be informative, thorough, and transparent.

In sum, our project has been fulfilling and challenging thus far. We will continue to pose the difficult questions about our subject matter. Some of the bigger picture questions that we seek to resolve include: does hoarding deserve its own DSM classification when it is generally comorbid with other disorders? Why did so many people start hoarding in the 1980’s? Do most New Yorkers know at least one hoarder? Could there really be 5 million hoarders in America?

We look forward to engaging with our readers and viewers over the coming months.

Happy Inauguration Day!


Jan 13 2009

Hoarders All Over the Globe?

Charles's Baltimore apartment. Level III Baltimore apartment.

The international community of hoarders is constituted disproportionately by Americans and other western folks. Additionally, 1st World countries with less effective social safety nets are far more inclined to produce a more extremely acquisitive brand of citizen. It is in the societies which over-emphasize material possessions and capital accumulation that clutter becomes most problematic and pathological. Thus, from initial attempts at gauging the hoarder proportion in countries like Sweden and Netherlands, it seems that many fewer citizens of those places have heard about hoarding. This is probably a result of the fact that hoarding is simply less common in societies that have more engaging mental health care and social counseling programs for all citizens. But, to be clear, much of these observations are speculative and certainly do not stem from any complex statistical survey of hoarding around the world.

As with many other psychosocial problems, the libertarian U.S. seems more likely that Western European nations to allow hoarders free reign to practice their odd craft without interference from government officials or health care workers. Many Europeans whom I have met seem rather surprised at my tales of American hoarding because they see such extremely deviant psychological cases as shocking. This derives not from the mere psychological deviance but from the fact that the appropriate public and private sector safety nets simply are not effective in addressing so many hoarding situations. The ‘live and let live’ creed reinforces a ruggedly individualistic social order accompanied by weak social protections in the U.S.

Beyond the welfare states in which hoarding seems less likely to fester, 3rd world societies perhaps contain much less compulsive clutter. In discussing the topic with lots of contacts in the subcontinent, I have not managed to discover any examples of hoarding in India. Perhaps the problem has not much been popularized or perhaps it takes on other forms. But, either way, hoarding is not recognized the same way there. It is very unlikely that anywhere close to 1-2% of the population suffers from the condition – as in the U.S.

The question that behooves asking is whether poorer, less developed societies are as prone as the U.S. to the same type of misdirected urges to accumulate junk and non-junk alike. The same goes for eating disorders and a number of other psychosocial disorders that occur with much more frequency in the urban, industrialized West. Deviant use of space and of stuff is less of a possibility in countries where there is much less space and stuff is afforded per capita. Is it wrong to assume that folks in underdeveloped countries have neither the time nor the sensibilities to engage in compulsive clutter?

There is a fellow Columbia Graduate School of Journalism student who had originally intended to do a print masters project on hoarding. She hails from Lebanon, where she said hoarding is not terribly common. However, she said that the one hoarder who she’d met in Beirut was completely unashamed of her behavior, in contradistinction to many American hoarders whose shame has no bounds.

Another international difference that I have heard about was involved the story of a Dutch family that had appeared on a popular TV show called Clean House. According to the person who told me about the episode, the father was such a hoarder that the rest of the family was forced to sleep together in one bedroom. This sort of situation seems fairly uncommon amongst American hoarders. The vast majority of hoarding cases that we have come across domestically are older folks who live alone. While I have heard about some American hoarder-couples who contribute equally to their household’s clutter, this Dutch example seems to confirm that there are some differences between American hoarding and hoarding abroad.

While the United States appears to be far more of a hoarder nation than most others, it remains difficult to determine whether hoarding simply takes on different forms in other societies. Are there more advanced forms of hoarding in highly evolved societies? Is there increased growth in clutterers who hoard information rather than physical possessions? Could this reality alter the established norms of hoarding? Moreover, do less developed societies simply have many more people who hoard food, water, and medicine rather than goods that are considered worthless or extraneous? These questions and more will be among the issues addressed in this blog during the coming weeks and months.


Jan 9 2009

Hoarding In The New Year

We’ve all returned from our winter break and are ready to get back to work on this important project. Coincidentally, hoarding is making the headlines. The Sun is reporting two hoarding deaths occurred in the same week across the pond in the United Kingdom.

The tabloid reports Gordon Stewart, 74, may have died of dehydration when he became disoriented and got lost in an elaborate maze of tunnels he had dug out of boxes and random debris he had hoarded for years. Like many hoarders, the story notes that officials believe Stewart had no living relatives. From the few pictures The Sun posted on its website it looks like Stewart was an extreme Level 5 hoarder. 

 

Photo Credit: The Sun

Photo Credit: The Sun

 

Photo Credit: The Sun

Photo Credit: The Sun

 

Photo Credit: The Sun

Photo Credit: The Sun

 

 

 

 

Two things stuck out for me from this story. First, Gordon Stewart is a man. From our research we’ve found this affliction is more common among Caucasian widowed or single women. Second, his neighbors alerted the police only when they hadn’t seen him come outside for a few days. It’s an interesting contrast to Catherine’s case because her neighbors have alerted health and county officials who have threatened to take her house away if she doesn’t clean up at least two rooms. I wonder why Gordon Stewart’s neighbors and local British authorities put up with the trash and debris outside his house while Catherine’s neighbors and county officials insist on her getting parts of her house cleaned ASAP? 

The second story reports that Joan Cunnane, 77, was buried alive “under 3ft of ornaments, clothes in suitcases and electrical goods, still in their untouched packaging”, she had hoarded for 16 years.

Joan was a borderline level four/five hoarder. She is more typical of hoarding cases because she was white and never married. 

 

Photo Credit: The Sun and Cavendish Press

Photo Credit: The Sun and Cavendish Press

 

 

Joan had the same problem that Catherine has with her car. The hoarding spread to her car with only room to seat the driver. The story also highlights the effect this disorder has on the physical safety of people living and interacting in a hoarding situation. Joan’s best friend, Roy Moran told The Sun about the danger he faced when he’d visit with her. 

“There were thousands of videos. When I walked in they fell down. It was a death-trap.” 

Photo Credit: The Sun and Cavendish Press

Photo Credit: The Sun and Cavendish Press.

 


 



Jan 7 2009

New Year’s Resolutions

With the start of a new year, Anna Leah, the moderator of a hoarding support group in New York, has challenged each of her group members to throw away one thing every day.

This resolution seemed somewhat unfathomable to one of the group members who claims that ubiquitous store sales continuously sway her into buying things she doesn’t need. Currently, her closet is cluttered with stacks of shoes, many of which she has never worn. In an attempt to curb her shopping sprees, the group member recently placed a sign in her agenda that says, “No Buy.”

Another group member recently donated a large quantity of travel books that she saved for trips she never ended up taking. Upon donating the books, she received a “donation receipt,” which she said motivated her to give away the books.

While she has taken control of cleaning out some of her clutter, she still feels obligated to ask her brother, who occasionally lives with her, whether she can donate his overbearing stacks of canned-food, which she says he’ll never eat. Another group member stressed that it’s important for her take control of her own surroundings and scolded her for suggesting that she ask her brother first before discarding his hoarded food.

At the end of the meeting, Anna Leah suggested that this year her members make an effort to create an environment where they’ll have access to fresh air and safe surroundings. The group members should start by clearing items away from windows or air vents, and if their homes are extremely cluttered, the group members should clear a pathway so that they can safely roam throughout their home.