Posts Tagged ‘cleaning’

Detour the Dumpster—A Better Approach to Overwhelming Clutter

Thursday, January 17th, 2019

By Guest Bloggers Carolyn Quinn and Jaime Angelini

Do you have too much stuff?

Do you have too much stuff?

The people we meet who have “too much stuff” won’t ever be followed by a camera crew that captures shots of perilous, towering stacks of papers, bins or boxes.  There will never be split screen comparisons of their house or apartment before and after workers and family members arrived.

That’s because clean outs are not our approach.

Though clean outs are good for TV ratings and achieving an immediate solution to a problem, it’s not what we do.  Sure, it’s rewarding for viewers to stay tuned and see those transformed tidy, neat living spaces during the final minutes of the show.  And, truth be told, we prefer tidy homes for those living in unsafe situations, but the means we employ to get to that goal do not include a dumpster.

The reason why we don’t endorse clean outs is often highlighted in those shows:  it’s distressing.  People who are strongly emotionally tied to their possessions have big emotional responses.  Sometimes a dumpster-style clean out can be a trigger that leads to a setback of collecting – often ending up worse than the original hoard.  They begin the behavior again; re-accumulating and filling up all that prime, vacant new real estate.

A confession…In the past—in another job many years ago—one of the authors of this blog, has been “guilty” of these clean outs.  While assisting people under the threat of eviction, she cleaned up and cleaned out while working as a residential case manager.  (So, cable TV, we are not picking on you unfairly.  One of us has evolved from that thinking.)

We are better educated and better informed today.  Older and wiser, as they say.  The practices we teach now are rooted in successful programs that were proven to work long-term on changing behaviors for individuals living with hoarding disorder, also sometimes called Finders/Keepers, which is a modern term we prefer to use.

Can you identify your rooms on this chart?

Can you identify your rooms on this chart?

How it started

We originally sought out help for people in Atlantic County, following Hurricane Sandy, when we met and identified storm survivors who couldn’t part with their wet belongings.   We saw firsthand people who did not get rid of their water-logged possessions weeks—even months—after the storm.  They were stuck; and we worried about their health and safety as we observed layers of hazards in their living situation.

Jaime (left) and Carolyn (right) as part of The Atlantic County Hoarding Task Force

There was another glitch, a big one.

In our area no one local was working with people who lived with hoarding disorder.  We called and asked…a lot.  No one.

The results of online searching and researching led us to a successful initiative in Boston (now called the Metro Housing Boston’s Hoarding Training Institute).  Luckily, the forward-thinking, helpful professionals there were willing to teach others, like us.  Fast-forward through conferences, training, long-distance phone calls, more training and meetings.

The Mental Health Association in Atlantic County started its, “Too Much Stuff? Hoarding Tendency Initiative,” based on Boston’s successful model.   We have been working with people referred to us by code enforcement officials, social workers, nurses, pest control and other professionals who have become partners in our effort to connect help to those who need it and accept it.

Individuals who are ready to make a change start out by attending our “Too Much Stuff” support groups, which are bi-weekly meetings.  During a typical meeting, people at various stages in their own pursuits to declutter are working their way through the process togetherTough topics, like how their possessions affect social relationships, are discussed openly and honestly among peers who understand and offer suggestions based on their experience.

We also provide in-home services to those who are ready for one-on-one support from staff.  Each week staff spends about an hour to offer guidance on sorting/discarding, non-acquiring exercises and practicing other skills critical to manage clutter.

Some of those tips for decluttering include:

  • Start with 15 minutes a day. It’s emotionally draining, so the recommendation is to work in small, daily increments to prevent feeling overwhelmed or frustrated.
  • Resist the urge to do more or “get ahead” in a single day. The downside is that you may not return to the task the next day because of exhaustion.
  • Use a timer.
  • Sort in three piles: “Keep,” “Discard,” and “Maybe.” By the end of the session, assign the “maybes” to either “discard” or “keep.”
  • Work in the same room/space. Do not wander from room to room.
  • Maintain the space that is cleared. Mark the cleared space with painter’s tape as a visual cue to prevent the clutter from accumulating again.
  • Use black trash bags to hold items destined for trash or donation.

    Use signs like these for your ‘Keep,’ ‘Maybe,’ and ‘Discard’ piles!

What we know

Many people with “too much stuff” want to change.  They’d like to make healthier lifestyle changes—such as not buying more stuff, not collecting free stuff, or not saving mail and other ways that commonly lead to a house that is cluttered and unsafe.  We also recognize that, if these people could have changed their behaviors on their own, they would.

The reasons behind these behaviors are complex and individualized, and talking about them among peers helps.

We also know that talking about it all—the impact on family and friends, the challenges, and the successes—is an important part of the process.  People feel less alone; they feel understood.  Peer support helps.

Time and time again, we see that working toward the weekly goals is rewarding and worth the effort.  Based on our experience and what’s been reported, this yields positive results and leads to success.

Science and research have come a long way for individuals with too much stuff.  We understand that there is still a way to go to chip away at stigma associated with clutter.  Shame and embarrassment can keep people frozen in place.  We also know that this blog can make a difference to someone who reads it and shares it.

We don’t know all the answers, but we understand more than we did in recent decades.  We keep looking for answers.  And we’re confident that they’re not found in a dumpster.

We have a place for that idea:  the “Discard” pile.

Like what you read here? Need help? Email [email protected] or call 609 916-1330


Carolyn and Jaime are co-developers of  “Too Much Stuff? Hoarding Behaviors Initiative” at the Mental Health Association in Atlantic County.  

Carolyn M. Quinn works at the Mental Health Association in Atlantic County as the ICE Wellness Program Manager, which provides  peer-led support groups and a variety of wellness workshops to adults living with mental illness and co-occurring challenges. She also is a certified instructor for  Adult and Youth Mental Health First Aid as well as a certified Advance Level Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) Facilitator. 

Jaime Angelini is the Director of Consumer Services at the Mental Health Association in Atlantic County where she provides support, education and advocacy to individuals living with mental illness, substance use disorders, and those experiencing homelessness.  Jaime is a certified Mental Health First Aid Instructor, parent educator, Disaster Response Crisis Counselor and a trainer for law enforcement officials who respond to individuals with special needs.

 

 

A New Year, a New Start – Time to Declutter!

Monday, January 7th, 2019

by Mason Crane-Bolton

It’s a new year and that means a new start! After all the hustle and bustle of the holiday season (and the inevitable clutter for so many of us), now is the perfect time to do a bit of “spring” cleaning. We have some excellent tips for a good cleaning and de-cluttering, and some excellent reasons why you should toss out that old box of knick-knacks and pull out your clothes from seasons past!

Pixabay via Pexels.com

Stuff & more stuff! | Photo: Pixabay via Pexels.com

Easy things to get rid of:

Obsolete Technology: If you aren’t using your computer from 1994, you aren’t going to start using it now, and it’s unlikely you’ll ever watch a VHS tape again. Some items may be of interest to specialized collectors or electronics tinkerers, but if you aren’t one (or if you are but still haven’t touched that “project piece”) now if the time to get rid of it. Do your research with each gadget: If you think it might be of value or interest to someone research local groups and stores who might want it; but most obsolete tech is best recycled—look at electronics recycling in your area, which often has special restrictions.

Clothes You Haven’t Worn: Maybe it was a gift. Maybe you got it at a great price. Maybe it was your style a few years ago. For whatever reason, you never wore it and now it’s sitting at the back of your closet, looking a little sad and forlorn. Luckily there are lots of ways to get rid of excess clothing. If you’re looking to make a few dollars, try a yard/garage sale, consignment shop, or flea market. If you’d like to just get the clothing off your hands, try donating to shelters, dropping it off in clothing donation bins, donating to thrift stores or seeing what organizations in your area accept clothing donations.

Clothes That Need to Be Tossed: If you have old clothes/shoes that are too worn to be reused or can’t be (i.e. underwear and broken shoes) look for special drop boxes or organizations that take textiles as well as clothing donations. Planet Aid (recognizable by their bright yellow drop boxes) accepts socks and underwear, shoes and clothing in all conditions as long as it’s dry and clean.

Books: Books are a wonderful thing to have, but too many books can quickly be a heavy burden. Literally. Keep a few favorites you’ll read again and again and donate or sell the rest. Borrow future books from the library.

Old Prescriptions and Medical Devices: If you aren’t using it, you don’t need it. Although it can be hard to give away medical devices we think we might, one day, need, if they’re creating clutter it’s time to get rid of them. Fortunately you can donate your medical devices to someone in need through local and national groups, such as specific Goodwill locations (http://www.goodwill.org/donate-and-shop/donate-stuff/) and other nonprofit organizations. Contact organizations first to make sure they can take your donation if you have any questions.

Prescription medicines should be responsibly disposed at approved locations. Many drug stores now have anonymous prescription disposal boxes as do many police stations. You can go to The American Medicine Chest Challenge website (http://americanmedicinechest.org/) to type in your zip code and find drop off locations in your area.

Food: Go through your pantry and look for expired food items and things you’re unlikely to eat. Throw away the expired food items (this is different than a “best by” date, which indicates staleness) and donate any unwanted (non-expired or non-perishable) items to a local food bank.

 

Harder things to let go:

Knick-knacks: Many of us have lots of sentimental objects we’ve picked up over the years. Some might be very meaningful and important to us, but most are probably something we can do without. Go through your knick-knacks (souvenirs from vacations, past gifts, old décor); keep a few with the most meaning and decide what to do with the rest. Some options for letting go of knick-knacks are to donate the rest to a thrift store or sell at a garage sale or flea market, or to pass it down to a family member—this last option can be a great gift not only of an object, but of the memories and stories you have to go with it.

Old Cards and Photos: A lifetime of greeting cards and photographs can really add up when it comes to clutter. Just like with knick-knacks, sort through your greeting cards and choose the ones that mean most to you and recycle the rest—letting go of the cards doesn’t mean you’re letting go of the person who wrote them.

Photographs are often the trickiest and hardest thing to get rid of. Instead of trying to sort through which ones mean most to you, first go through your physical photos and get rid of the bad ones—blurry ones, ones with flash spots, over-exposed, ones you can’t remember why you took it etc. Display your favorites, the ones that give you joy. Depending on how many photos you have, store the rest or ask a friend or family member for help sorting through the rest and deciding which ones, if any, to let go. Consider digitizing your physical photos and keeping them on flash drives, rewritable CDs/DVDs, or an external hard drive. Several companies offer this service for a fee, but you can also do this at home if you or a friend have the right equipment. Then you can decide whether to discard your physical photos or keep your digital ones as a backup. You can even use a digital photo frame, which can rotate through several images so you can display more of your favorite moments.

Important Papers: This one is time consuming, but straight forward. Sort through your important papers and determine which ones you need to keep. Keep essential documents (current insurance policies, deeds, warranties, birth/marriage/death certificates, etc.) in a safe place and consider scanning a copy for backup—don’t keep this copy your computer but rather on a flash or external hard drive. Shred documents you no longer need (old bank statements and bills, expired insurance policies or copies with old information, etc.). Sign up for electronic mailings where possible to avoid future clutter—as an added bonus, some companies offer small discounts for choosing e-mail notifications over paper, plus you’ll be helping the planet.

 

There are lots of other things you may need to sort through depending on your individual situation. It may be things long acquired over the years, or things that have come into your life more recently. Whatever the reason, getting excess clutter out of your home is not only healthy, but necessary.

Getting rid of clutter:

  • Removes trip hazards and decreases your risk of falling in your home
  • Keeps your home cleaner and reduces the amount of health-hazardous dust
  • Makes organization of important information better and makes it easier to find favorite treasures
  • Creates a brighter, more attractive living space, which will uplift your mood
  • Helps pave the way for accumulating less clutter in the future
  • Improves stress, motivation, and happiness—decluttering can be extremely therapeutic

 

We hope you have a Happy New Year and reap all the benefits of a good, long decluttering season!

 

Skitterphoto via Pexels.com

Photo: Skitterphoto via Pexels.com