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.


Dec 17 2008

To-do Lists

Anna Leah, who moderates a decluttering support group in New York, said that there are three rules, which each of her members should adhere to: they cannot bring any hoarded items to the group session, they cannot visit any thrift shops, and they must throw away at least one thing each week. Since starting the group four years ago, Anna Leah said that her members rarely follow through on her rules. Just last week, at least two of the members, found themselves rifting through items at a flea market.

Anna Leah said that the support group is a great way to get hoarders to confront their problems. She believes professional organizers only provide a temporary fix because they’re not showing hoarders what they need to do to minimize their clutter.

During the session, one of the members discussed the connection between art and hoarding. As a collagist, he’ll hoard various items and feature them in his work. But he said that lately he hasn’t been able to finish any of his projects because he easily gets distracted.

Several of the group members admitted to suffering from the same problem. One of the members suggested that she found it effective to set due dates for herself, while another member suggested keeping an agenda: her agenda included a list of color-coordinated tasks organized by their level of importance.

Anna Leah emphasized how important it is for each of the members to keep a “to-do list,” because it’s easy for people who suffer from hoarding to become forgetful and it’s important for them to establishing a level of control.

Another member of the group expressed her difficulty in discarding old magazines. After asking the group whether she should tear out the pages that are most relevant to her, one of the members suggested that she discard all of the magazines because most articles can now be found online through the publication’s archive on their website.