Tackling Hoarding One Step at a Time

Later this month sees the start of Great British Spring Clean (22nd March to 23rd April). A perfect time to have a clear out at home, at work or in your neighbourhood. North Devon Homes is keen to promote clean, simple living to its tenants. Having a clean home can help with many issues other than just living tidily. Hoarding is a big issue here in the UK and one of our members of staff has just qualified to become a professional organiser starting her own business. Natalie has been working in our Independent Living Services team and so sees firsthand the impact living a cluttered life can have on the health and mental well-being of our tenants. We spoke to Natalie about her business and what it means to be a professional organiser.

1. What’s the name of your business?

My business is called Hare To Organise Ltd, I called it this because Hare is my surname and I am ‘Here’ to Organise and I help those who ‘Hate’ To Organise.

2. What do you do?

I am a professional organiser registered with the Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers or the APDO. I declutter and organise people’s homes and put simplified systems in place. I will work with people to develop a plan that is sustainable. Some of my customers may want help and advice when moving or downsizing. Some have big changes in their lives such as a new baby, separation or bereavement.  I have customers who have physical or mental illnesses  (including hoarding disorder) who have become overwhelmed and don’t know where to start.  From homes with the odd cluttered cupboard or shed, paperwork that is out of control or needs gathering for legal reasons, to a house full to the brim, I can help. 

3. Why do you do what you do?

I have always had a passion for organisation and I love helping people. Decluttering isn’t just about the physical ‘stuff’ in our space, but also mental clutter.  When everything is chaotic, it can be hard to relax. Looking after our own well-being is paramount; most people lead busy lives and don’t have the time to keep on top of everything, which can have a real detrimental effect on their mental health.  If we don’t look after ourselves, then it’s hard for us to look after anyone or anything else.   I have trained in Health & Social Care, Counselling, coaching and mental health to enable me to help on a deeper level than just the physical decluttering. 

I want to help raise awareness of Hoarding Disorder as a Mental Health Disorder and the negative impact that clutter and disorganisation can have on our well-being in general. It's great to be able to work with North Devon Homes from both perspectives to help further with particular tenants who may need a bit of help with their decluttering. 

4. Do you enjoy what you do?

I love my job. It is extremely rewarding when you have helped someone gain control of their space and their lives.  I have worked with people who have become socially isolated, physically or mentally ill and unable to use any of the rooms in their homes for the purpose they are meant; all because of the amount of belongings they have.  Not only is it detrimental to the person/family living in the property, but it is often quite unsafe for other people to enter (including emergency services).  It can be hazardous for neighbouring properties due to the increased risk of fire.  Being able to help resolve those issues is amazing.  Clients often feel a sense of empowerment when they start to make progress, which spurs them on to change things for good.

This again is why NDH is keen to support the work of professional organisers and tenants wanting to clean up their homes and neighbourhoods. By making the homes in our communities cleaner, we're also making them safer for our tenants and their neighbours. 

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5. What do you think is the biggest problem within hoarding? 

Hoarding has finally been recognised as a mental health disorder by the World Health Organisation, but there is still not much out there in the way of resource.  Many landlords and agencies have spent thousands on clearing properties, only to find that the problem only gets worse when the clearance company walks away.  There is often a reason behind the hoarding.  It isn’t a case of ‘being lazy’.  It is a compulsive disorder that will require professional engagement to identify issues that have often been embedded for some time.  People have  been left traumatised when they return from hospital or respite and a family member or friend has cleared their property thinking that they were helping, only for the person to start manically collecting when they get home, in order to resume ‘their normality’. We need to remember that we are all different.  Not everyone wants to live in a minimalist environment, but it is important for a home to be safe, hygienic and for rooms to be functional.

As with everything, services cost money and often people don’t have the means to fund help even if they want it.  Where there is a case of hoarding, people are often ashamed and reluctant to let family or friends into their home. There is so much stigma and negative media on the subject, that people avoid talking about it, therefore continue to live in an often unsafe environment.  It would be great for agencies to have the funding that is needed to help people who are struggling with hoarding and disorganisation. 

There are many homes in the UK that are under occupied due to households having too much ‘stuff’.  There are over one million unoccupied bedrooms, whilst 250,000 families are in overcrowded homes.  Working in housing, I have come across many single occupants in large properties who feel unable to downsize due to the amount of possessions they own or things that they keep for grown up children ‘just in case’.  The sad thing is, in most cases, when someone has passed away, most of those things that have been lovingly saved for years, end up in a skip.  I always think that it would be better to pass things on to those they are intended for, whilst we are still here to make the decisions ourselves.  There are also lots of charities and organisations out there that would appreciate donations rather than items going to landfill.  

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6. Is there more of an underlying issue with cleaning issues?

Just because someone is a hoarder, doesn’t always mean that they have issues with cleaning. Quite often, the accessible parts of the property are well kept and clean.

On the other hand, not everyone knows how to clean!! That may sound silly, but it’s true.  Not everyone grew up in a well kept, clean environment.  We don’t have any lessons on housekeeping at school anymore, so where do we learn?  OK, so there are now the wonders of social media, YouTube and Instagram showing us shiny homes from the likes of Mrs Hinch and famous organisers, like Marie Kondo, but in reality, where do you start when you haven’t done it before?!  If it isn’t learnt and doesn’t come naturally, how many people actually ask ‘how do I clean’?    I have worked with people who have lived with parents all of their adult life having never as much as washed a plate.  When the parent’s have passed on, that person has no idea how to manage, resulting in a property becoming unkempt and the individual’s health declining rapidly.

Physical and mental illness and disability can limit a person’s ability and they may not have the funds to source someone else to clean for them.  If there are no family of friends to help, then it can become a major problem. 

7.   What advice would you give to someone that wanted to clean up their homes / neighbourhoods?

  • Make a list - It's always satisfying to tick things off and see how much you’ve achieved!
  • You don’t need lots of expensive cleaning products.  Washing up liquid and hot water can do wonderful things!   If you do buy spray products etc, they don’t need to be branded to be effective
  • Take one step at a time.  Rome wasn’t built in a day!
  • Start small; big plans can be overwhelming, meaning that we often give up before we start.  Clearing just one drawer or cupboard can ignite that motivation to do more
  • If you are thinking about helping out a friend or neighbour have a conversation first.  Don’t take it upon yourself to just clear out their property/garden (even though I am sure your intentions are all good, this could be very stressful and intrusive for some people and deflating for you when your hard work goes unappreciated).
  • Delegate: If you have a partner or child/children, give them jobs to do.  If you have friends or family who are willing help rope them in too!
  • Clear the clutter before trying to clean or you can often find yourself going round in circles
  • A good room to start is the bedroom (after making sure exits are clear).  That way, you know that you will wake up in a calm environment.  There is nothing worse than seeing piles of chaos when you first open your eyes!!
  • Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help
  • If you are in an NDH property and think that you have a problem with hoarding or know of someone who does, then speak to your neighbourhood officer.  They may be able to help
  • If you would like a free Fire Safety Check in your home, you can contact Devon & Somerset Fire and Rescue Service  free on 0800 05 02 999 or go to their website.

8. Any other helpful information to add for our tenants?

One thing that has really opened my eyes since doing this job is the amount of stuff we send to landfill because we don’t think about what we are buying.  How familiar is.... ‘I got it because it was cheap’.  Was it cheap...?  Did you need it?...Will you use it/wear it?...Do you even like it?!! It's only cheap, if you set out to purchase it in the first place and find it at a lower price!  (I say this like I haven’t done it before, believe me I have sent bags and bags of unworn purchases to the charity shop but I’m trying to be a little more mindful now). Let’s be a little kinder to the environment and stop and think before we buy!

At Hare To Organise we encourage selling, donating and recycling wherever possible.   Another idea is to get together with friends and family for a ‘swap shop’. I am passionate about promoting a clutter free lifestyle.  As I have previously mentioned, this includes both physical and mental clutter.  If you are struggling with your mental health, then I would always advise that you seek help from your GP at your first opportunity.  I am happy to liaise with them and other services (with your permission) to enable you to get the help you need.

9.  Has the Marie Kondo Hype had an effect on your business?

Yes!  Since the Netflix programme ‘Tidying up with Marie Kondo’ launched on Netflix, it has definitely raised awareness about decluttering and the positives that come with it.  She may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Marie Kondo has certainly helped me and a lot of fellow APDO members to have the growing industry recognised. I don’t ask my clients to hold everything to see if it ‘sparks’ joy’.  We all have our own methods!

If you would like to find out more about Hare To Organise, visit http://haretoorganise.co.uk or email haretoorganise@outlook.com

Other Useful Links:

APDO: https://www.apdo.co.uk
Hoarding UK:  https://hoardinguk.org
Mind, the Mental Health Charity: https://www.mind.org.uk
Help For Hoarders: https://www.helpforhoarders.co.uk
Anxiety Uk: https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk
Depression and Anxiety Service (DAS):  https://www.dpt.nhs.uk/our-services/depression-and-anxiety-das