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.

doland

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 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.


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 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!