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Food for Thought: What to do about hoarding behavior

| October 28, 2020 12:00 AM

Last week I wrote about the reasons people save unnecessary items and how clutter can rule their lives.

This week I will write about some tips to avoid accumulating unnecessary “stuff” and stay in control.

There are four basic actions to avoid clutter: throw away, recycle, give away, keep and put away.

Being a hoarder means you will have to put constant effort into these four principles. There can’t be any “maybes” such as “maybe I could save this or maybe I could repair that.”

For example, if there is a book that has been lying around the living room in a pile of junk and you may want to read it at some point, put it in your bookcase until you are ready to read it.

If you have a broken lamp that cannot be fixed, either recycle it or throw it away. The point is whatever the item you are trying to deal with, apply one of the four actions listed above.

The One Time Handling Rule - This means you should never handle an item more than once. When you pick up an item, deal with it right away using one of the four actions mentioned above. Make a decision and do not place it in another pile.

The Finish What You Start Rule - This needs to be applied to everything you do. When you read the mail, immediately do something with it. Using the throw away, recycle, give away, keep and put principles, throw away junk mail, pay the bills and take care of the personal mail. Do not just throw it in a pile.

If you made dinner, finish this task by doing the dishes or putting them in the dish washer. If you start something, finish it no matter how small the task may be.

The Daily Routine Rule - Make a habit of doing certain things every day. If you take something out, when you are finished using it put it back. Hang up your clothes when you take them off. This is how non hoarders are able to keep an area clean. These small efforts make things more manageable so things don’t become overwhelming.

What kind of help is available for people whose lives are out of control due to hoarding behavior? Most importantly, people who hoard have to acknowledge the problem and be willing to seek help.

Since many are unwilling to seek treatment, changes will have to be made slowly.

If asked to discard items too quickly their resistance will be too great and they probably will not stay in treatment. Small and manageable goals will have to be discussed and agreed to.

Sometimes suggesting options such as recycling, sharing and or giving their stuff to charities is a start. This may work if the person has some guidance but if left to his/her own device even this becomes too much for the person to carry out.

Professionally the best approach is cognitive or behavioral therapy. This type of therapy tries to alter the person’s thinking which is based on many misperceptions.

Several mechanisms may be responsible for the hoarding behavior and will have to be addressed to alleviate the problem.

If obsessive compulsive behavior is part of the hoarding behavior then treatment will be approached from a somewhat different angle.

Dr. Leta A. Livoti Ph.D., LCSW, LCPC is a psychotherapist in Thompson Falls. She is accepting new clients and can be reached at 827-0700.