Compulsive hoarding is a mental disorder that is just beginning to be understood. As a hoarder, I have acquired things over the years with a specific purpose in mind at the time of the acquisition, used some of those items for their intended purposes, forgotten the goal for different objects, but now that I find that they have outlived their purpose in my life I am struggling to rid myself of those same things.

You can read the start of my journey here.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Where do I start to dehoard? pt 1 - Acquiring

I have a feeling that when most people think of dehoarding, they think of removing clutter from a space. It's so much more than that. If a person has a hoarding problem, just removing the stuff isn't going to help them at all. It may help temporarily, but it won't result in long-term change. I think I knew this instinctively when I started this journey 2 years ago and got so frustrated and overwhelmed by people telling me how to do it. It's why the people showcased on the hoarding programs are rarely successful. 

As a result, the next several posts are not going to be about how to clear out possessions or how to clean out a hoard. I don't feel I'm an expert on what to do first or how to do each bit of organizing. I only know the change has to come from within, if I am to succeed. As a result, the following posts will be about different things I have worked on to change my way of thinking. The more my attitude about things changes, the more successful I will be, and I have no doubt I'll eventually get to the bottom of the hoard and reclaim our home for us.

I also knew that in order to be successful, I was going to have to put in the work. I was doing to have to do things that made me uncomfortable, and when I thought I couldn't handle anymore, I would have to increase my discomfort. It was going to take time. It may take years, even. So I refused to put a time limit on myself. As long as I was making forward progress, I wasn't going to really worry about how long it took. It was more important for the changes to be permanent than to get the stuff out of here in a hurry. I was not going to add the stress of a deadline to my already stressful endeavor. 

When I mentioned the other day that I had a problem with acquiring things, I only mentioned shopping. But I also had problems getting free things from some of the free groups online, and I knew I needed to stop. At one point I was an owner/moderator of both a free group and a buy/sell group, and I found I was obtaining way too many items. I'm impulsive by nature, and I realized the groups were only nurturing that impulsivity. I needed to put an end to it.

So as hard as it was, I stepped away from the groups. I'd thought about leaving for a few years, but I'd put so much into them that it took awhile to convince myself it was a good idea. I know part of it was that I felt a responsibility for the groups. Would someone else run the group like I did? Would they put the love into it that I did? But a big part of it was also that I didn't want to miss out on a great item being given away. 

It was hard giving up the groups. For a few days, anyway. After a week or so, I felt such a huge relief having let go of the burden to be responsible for everyone else's actions and only be responsible for my own. It wasn't my job. I realized that, if someone decided they were going to throw something out with the trash, it was not a requirement for me to save it from disposal. 

I felt...unburdened. 

Recognizing that I was not obligated to rescue other people's discards helped me tremendously. I was changing my way of thinking, and I was loving how free I felt. As a result, I started working on other things.

I started by staying home. If I wasn't in the stores, I wasn't buying anything. I stayed off the websites that I shopped from time to time, as well as all the free groups I frequented in the past. There's a lot to be said about the old saying, "Out of sight. Out of mind." I was able to keep from bringing things home that we just didn't need.

When I did actually have to go to the store, I still shopped the clearance endcaps, but I realized I found things less and less appealing. If I did find something I felt I could truly use and wouldn't be wasted, I would only buy 1 instead of the 4 that were sitting on the shelf. Occasionally, I would put all 4 in my cart and think about them while I continued shopping. More often than not, I realized I'd lost all interest in them by the time I got up to the cash register and was able to resist the purchase. 

I got to the point I could withstand the urge to buy things fairly easily, but I felt like I still needed practice saying, 'no'. I started putting things in my cart that I absolutely loved. As I would walk around the store, I would try to find at least 5 reasons I didn't need it, and then I would repeat those reasons in my head while I was walking around. If I still wanted the item when I was done shopping, I would purposely put it back on the shelf with the thought that, if it was still there when I came back to the store later, I could buy it. 

Sometimes, it was downright torturous, but I can't tell you how often I totally forgot about the object of my desire when I got home. I'd get busy with life, and I would never think of it again or when I thought of it again a week later I was relieved I hadn't succumbed to an impulse purchase. I found I rarely went back to the store to buy whatever it was, and it was even more unusual for me to actually feel bad about not getting to the store in time to buy it before the item was gone.

It just wasn't worth paying the price of bringing it home.

This will be a lifelong struggle for me, but it gets easier the more I practice. I figure that by the time I'm ready to leave this world, I'll have practiced enough I might have it down. I'm definitely up to giving it a go.


  1. You have done a great deal of work here, a lot to learn and put into practice to come so far

  2. You've done an awesome job! I love how you can articulate how you feel.

  3. wow, you've been doing so much work. Bravo! My mom has finally admitted she has a hoarding problem and it's been tough. Your posts help me see things from her perspective so I have a better idea of how to support her changes. Thank you.

  4. This was so great. I feel like I have an insider's view of what it is like to be a hoarder. Actually, I do! Thanks for sharing! You inspire us all. :)

  5. Hi Judy,
    I've just discovered your blog and I love it so much! I'm the editor of doll hospital, an art and literature journal on mental health experiences and if you'd be up for it I'd love to include a version of this blog post in one of our upcoming issues?
    If this is something you'd be interested in or you'd just like to find out more you can send me an email at
    Thanks so much and excited to hear from you,
    Bethany (Editor in chief of doll hospital journal)


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