“Hoarding,” when you hear the word what do you think about? If you are like most Americans with cable TV you think of reality shows showing impossibly cluttered homes and desperately fragile people engaged in an emotional tug-of-war with experts who have come to “help” them. This is not a fleeting phenomenon. Literally millions of people are affected by this disorder.

Four years ago I became immersed in this disorder through my job with ServiceMaster where I was the marketing and education manager. ServiceMaster Clean, our parent company, had just partnered with Matt Paxton, star of the Hoarders and Extreme Hoarding TV shows and his company, Clutter Cleaners, to perform Hoarding Resolution. I was invited to go through training with Matt Paxton and a new chapter in my life began. Hoarding Disorder is now an official mental disorder and is listed in the latest American Psychiatric Association’s publication, DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). My background in ministry and counseling set me up as an eager learner about the disorder and how to help those affected. I learned that there are many different types of hoarders; from animal hoarders to information hoarders to shop-a-holic hoarders to collector hoarders. There are 12 to 15 types depending upon whom you read. There are even styles of hoarding that give clues to the genesis of this anomaly in a person’s life. Interestingly, no matter where you go in this country there are hoarders. The promptings and acting out of their disorder is remarkably consistent, even though not one of them attended “hoarding school” to learn how to do it. This consistent pattern and prompting reflects a consistent source. Almost every person affected with Hoarding Disorder has experienced a significant life trauma. But, it is a life event from which they have never sufficiently recovered. That is why one should never physically clean a home without the assistance of a counselor, therapist or coach. The hoarding is just the symptom, not the entire issue. I continued to learn how to help people with this issue and got involved with the Dallas Hoarding Task Force. It was a wonderfully rewarding experience. Because of that involvement I helped start the Tarrant Area Hoarding Task Force over three years ago and served as its chairman. Both Task Forces include employees from cities such as Dallas, Fort Worth, Arlington, Hurst, Bedford, Euless, Watauga and others. Cities, through code enforcement, community services and police departments are faced with this hoarding challenge in a growing way. In fact, Tarrant County Judge, Glen Whitley, released one of his employees to actively serve on the Task Force which meets monthly. Adult Protective Services, Mental Health America, Area Agency on Aging, Meals on Wheels and a host of other agencies and non-profits now participate. I even taught continuing education classes on how to deal with this disorder and a new class is being prepared now.

So, what is “Hoarding?” It is the compulsion to gather as much “stuff” as possible. It is not an addiction, it is a compulsion. It’s root is not physio-genic, but psychogenic. Many times hoarding is associated with OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder). But, with the release of the latest APA DSM -5 Hoarding Disorder stands on it’s own as an emotional/psychiatric malady. It is a popular topic because of it’s assumed uniqueness. What you see on TV is true. A recent poll showed there to be upwards of 10 million people with “Hoarding Disorder” in America. And, countless family and friends of Hoarders are affected. It is real issue and it is not going away. I speak on the topic frequently and one consistent question is always asked; how do you differentiate between a person who is just messy (or cluttered) and someone with hoarding disorder. It is a valid question. The answer is rather involved. In a nutshell, when a person begins to disassociate with family and friends, when their domicile loses it’s normal function and when they begin to abandon personal hygiene and social norms there is a problem. We all have seasons of clutter. Seasons when the kids are home from college and your garage is the staging area before the next year in school begins. Or, the season when there is a death in the family and you, as an heir, become the recipient of items belonging to the dearly departed. Or, the season when a person is ill or injured and cannot physically handle their setting. Or, the season when mom or dad must move into a senior community with a room 1/6 the size of the house in which they lived for years. And they take a lifetime of belongings and items with them. We all have stuff. The problem is when the stuff has you. Helping the person with Hoarder Disorder is a process. Not an event. These people need our compassion and understanding, not our criticism. You would not believe what many of these folks have experienced. Their hearts have been broken, their dreams shattered and they have been ridiculed by family, friends and professionals. Many of them have crossed the threshold of personal validation from human to animal validation. One of the purposes of Master Your Disaster is to give insight and help to those affected, including their families and friends. A “Workshop” is being put together to help those affected by this situation. My approach is a little different than many in that I approach it from a spiritual perspective. Hoarding Disorder knows no socio-economic, gender or ethnic boundaries. You drive by homes on a daily basis that are occupied by someone affected. Not only is there help for the hoarder. There is hope for the hoarder.