The following is an article from the Concord Monitor, May 14, 2012
Bringing order to chaos
Sarah M. Earle
If you battle clutter, you probably suffer from a condition known as 'red-blooded American.' If, however, you are waving the white flag amid a pile of junk so high you can't move, you may need the help of Raymond Mailloux, CEO of Community House Calls and Healthy Homes in Chester. Mailloux's company assists homeowners with a range of issues, including accessibility modifications and everyday chores. But thanks to shows like A&E's Hoarders and TLC's Hoarding: Buried Alive, Mailloux has found his de-hoarding services particularly in demand lately. He recently returned from an international conference on hoarding in San Francisco, where he was a featured speaker.
What did you talk about at the hoarding conference?
My presentation was called 'A Gathering Storm: Dealing with Hoarding.' What we were looking at is what we do to provide intervention to assist people with hoarding disorder and hopefully make changes for them. So we looked at things like the de-hoarding process, support for the individual, support for the caregiver, what we do with education, what we do with collaboration, possible funding sources, things like that, just really talking about our specific hands-on approach dealing with this issue.
Is hoarding a significant part of what you do?
It's getting more so, because there's been an increased awareness about the issue of hoarding, mostly because of shows like Hoarders. There's little research that's been done, so it's relatively new in terms of what you do, what you don't do, how you treat it and what's effective, the genesis of it all. It's fascinating.
So shows like Hoarders are helping people realize that this is a real disorder and causing them to call you for assistance?
That is correct.
How is the work that you do similar to or different from what we see on these reality shows?
Well each situation is unique, each individual is unique. I would say we've had a couple that the gravity of the environment would match what you see on the show. Others have not been so dramatic.
There have been a few who were on their way to eviction if changes weren't made, which is awfully sad. Those are also the more difficult ones to do because it's kind of forced upon them, and that's never a good approach. The best outcomes are when somebody is willing to have some intervention. . . . You really have to develop a sense of trust, a relationship, a bond with that person to be successful.
You just don't want to take their stuff out, that's not what it's about for sure. It's really about how do you effect change with them, provide them with some insight and empower them to take control over their stuff, so the stuff hasn't taken control over them.
You can't just go in and start touching their stuff and think you're going to be successful, because you're not. You need to work with them, get permission. And really, whoever it is, who wants their stuff touched?
Can you tell me a little bit about the underlying causes of hoarding?
Well, it can be very different for everybody. Sometimes it's a sentimental value: Somebody gave this to me, I've got to hold onto it whether it has a use or not. That happens quite often.
Other reasons people hoard is for future value: It's going to be worth something sometime. I need to hold onto it.
Another is conservation, that it's going to have a future use, even if it's just a simple elastic or envelope: I can use that again. Sometimes it's a simple change in health. They no longer can discard like they once did so they just continue to maintain and keep.
Other times it's compulsive buying. We've done several homes where the home is very cluttered, and there are those Home Shopping Network boxes everywhere, many of them unopened. People get comfort out of the things around them, so they hold onto things. And sometimes it's trauma.
One person we worked with had, in a very short time, lost two family members and a family pet, and all in tragic ways. And at the end of that, she told me, I just couldn't let anything else go because I've lost so much in such a short period of time.
Why do you think people are so fascinated by the topic of hoarding?
Not a lot is known about it, and every case is different. There's no cookie-cutter approach. And you never know what you're going to find. We had a gentleman in Manchester who hoarded clocks and watches.
He passed away, and we were called in by the family to clean the environment and sort and so on, and there had to be at least 500 clocks, and probably 1,500 watches throughout the house.
He was going to take a piece of one clock and fix another and so on, but he just never got to it. So he just kept collecting to the point that most of the passageways were cluttered. You could not get through.
So, practically speaking, what's your general plan of attack for a home like that that's just overtaken with stuff?
Well, it depends who you're trying to please, if you will. Working with a spouse and the husband has passed away and she wants the home de-hoarded and cleaned, that's an easy one. You work with them, but they're in a different place. Somebody that is under the threat of eviction, they don't want this to happen but they understand it has to happen, so the approach is going to be a little different there versus the person that has recognized, because of a show like Hoarders, that they have a problem and they need help, or one where the family is intervening.
When we walk in we're looking at, is the person feeling embarrassed, are they feeling shame? Do they have a mistrust? What emotions do we have to get through. We never use the word 'hoarder' though. We say 'organizationally challenged' because that label, because of the awareness, is a stigma for some people.
Do you bring in a crew that helps you with all this or how do the logistics work?
We do everything from start to finish. I have a wonderful supervisor, and she'll go in and do the initial assessment. She has a great capacity to assess what's going to work best for that person, and when do we bring in more help. Also important in that process is, when do you stop? You've got to watch body language and you've got to watch the tone and you've got to watch the individual and know when it's time to say, 'okay, enough for today.'
Do you have a trained therapist who deals with the root issues?
At times we'll work in collaboration with the mental health centers to get a trained therapist to provide counseling intervention for behavioral therapy needs. But oftentimes we're on our own.
How can I tell if I or someone I care about has a hoarding problem? How do I know it's reached a level where I need help?
Thirty percent of the population collects things. As kids we collect things, baseball cards and so forth, and we learn to let go of things along the way that are insignificant. When you come to the point that you're unable to make decisions about what to throw out, when you feel you need to keep everything, then you need help, you need somebody to come and give you some assistance.
It really is the failure to discard items that really have no or limited value, coupled with the living space has become so cluttered that it precludes the use of the home. You can't get to the bathroom, you can't get to the bedroom, your stove is covered with papers and whatnot. And I'd say thirdly, when you've become socially isolated, so you can't have people over, have your family in. You're not functioning.