I am standing with coffee in hand in the kitchen with a gentleman that I met a year ago when we could not really open his door due to the items stockpiled behind it.

The washing was finished by the sink and fresh shopping away in the cupboards.  He was beaming, he was proud to be hosting us.

He was the brave one that cautiously accepted our assistance to work with him, though by this time circumstances were starting to become seriously pressurised. He could not return from hospital unless we could make the home accessible and habitable. He was nervous at the door that first day, I remember it clearly. But with our reassurance and careful approach he let us in and work with him.

We created a pathway to his kitchen, and made his home accessible. We secured external funding for a skip, and we took several care load of quality donations to charity. Most importantly, he could start to enjoy his home again. The focus was not on what was going out but what was being gained.

After a day with plenty of breaks between decision making for biscuits and tea, he could finally sit at his piano and we had a five-minute amazing recital. We love those moments, as we get a real insight to the person beyond the stuff. We can see the concrete gains in reclaiming their identity. Decluttering as a hoarder can be a frightening experience and the sense of overwhelming loss in letting items go is palpable. But underneath some of the ‘easier’ decisions are the belongings that encouraged their interests and core sense of who they are. A few good things in their rightful place rather than a proliferation of many items that scatters a sense of who you are into chaos. “Let us find you in all this,” I say,” because all of this (cue pointing to piles to the ceiling) isn’t you as you are now.”

I spend 2 hours every month speaking to community groups and agencies about the risks associated with hoarding. The statistics I quote are that 1 million people in the UK are not able to access their bedroom and kitchen due to extreme stockpiling of items. These are people who are deeply distressed by the idea of anyone coming in to remove those items. They suffer with hoarding disorder, now known as a medical condition in the UK and a genuine disability. Only 5% of those people are known to support agencies, so it is a hidden issue and often a source of social isolation. 30% of fire deaths in the UK are connected to hoarding and many falls are caused by stockpiling in hallways and stairs.

If you think you are facing such risks due to accumulating items and not being able to let items go out of your home. Here are some tips for you.

Start to look at what you say to yourself about your stuff

There can be a script to the compulsions to bring items into your home and / or not be able to let items go. It is worth writing them down to start to pick at the rationale and whether it is working for you. You can start to look at counter-scripts very carefully, to gently challenge those ideas about yourself and your relationship with the items in your home.

Bring in a respectful co-worker

What I mean here is someone who is on your side, works at your pace and will respect your wishes. This is a special person who you will need to trust. It may be that family members or even your best friend may not fit the bill here. It also needs to be someone who can genuinely give you space to relapse, to avoid making difficult decisions on some days.They need to understand the power of that script (see above) even if it is not a rationale they share. Sometimes it is a good friend, and sometimes a good friend is too close.They may struggle to appropriate space for you to stay genuinely in control of what is happening to each individual item in your home.

Celebrate the wins

I wrote about finding time to have fun and enjoy playing on the piano that was rediscovered under clothes and books. It is so important to reconnect with those important belongings. Hold them, smile at them, use them, as there are belongings that are there to augment your life. In that connection it helps get a real sense of what is important to you, and you can be uplifted by the discovery. For us, we find that by being grateful for the discovery, a little confidence appears. The world can be a trusted place, your home is a sanctuary, not a huge receptacle, and that good things can come your way by giving yourself a little space.

Change Your Space is a professional decluttering and downsizing service in Devon. We have helped hundreds of people address a sense of overwhelm in their homes since 2013. 

Free consultations are available.