A common conversation my new clients initiate when I arrive at our first appointment unfolds as follows:
New client: “I just want to warn you that my place is a total mess.”
Me: “That’s ok! That’s what I’m here for. I’m sure it’s not that bad, but don’t worry about it.”
New client: [Reluctantly leads me to the ‘mess.’] “This must just be the worst you’ve ever seen. I [or my spouse, or my parents, or my friends] think I’m a hoarder.”
Me: “No, really, you’re not; don’t be embarrassed.”
New client: “I bet you say this to everyone…”
Well my secret’s out. In truth, I do apparently say “this” to everyone. But, in my defense, it’s true! My clients tend to be very hard on themselves for no reason. Having clutter is nothing to be embarrassed about and it doesn’t make you a hoarder.
With the recent rise in television shows about hoarding, I think it’s on peoples’ radar more now than ever. To make matters worse, every hoarder starts by accumulating a little bit of clutter and adds to it. So, people fear that being a clutterbug will quickly devolve into full-scale hoarding.
I think people have begun defining hoarding to include anyone who has an excess of clutter and isn’t able to declutter on their own. Luckily, The Institute of Challenging Disorganization (yes, there is an institute) developed an objective hoarding scale that can assess homes.
The scale starts with a low level of clutter (level 1), and I’m guessing that’s where most people fit into the scale. The people who are in this group have a little bit of clutter, exits are accessible, there isn’t major disrepair and the home is in generally good working order. At the opposite end of the scale is the “severe” level (level 5). The people who are in this group have clutter everywhere. Multiple exits are blocked, the home is in great disrepair and the inhabitants are at risk because of mold, lack of fire exits, and animal infestations. There are three levels in between these two extremes, guarded, elevated, and high.
For each level, 5 areas are assessed in each: structure and zoning, animals and pests, household functions, health and safety, and personal protective equipment that should be used when working in the home. I’m reluctant to summarize each category because it can be easy to misdiagnose yourself. For example, one of the points under level 2 is that there are expired medications present. I have yet to work with a client who is always completely on top of properly disposing their medication as soon as it expires. However, just because expired medications are present, doesn’t mean they are a level 2 hoarder. Though it’s an objective tool, this scale is best used with a subjective mind.
If you’re interested in learning more or think you (or a loved one) might fit into levels 2-5, please email . I’d be happy to forward the Clutter Hoarding Scale to you. You can also learn more about hording by visiting the Institute of Challenging Disorganization at challengingdisorganization.org.
Virginia Maddan, The Comfortable Structure Organizer, is the founder of Comfortable Structure Organizing Solutions. Known for her custom, simple, easily maintained organizingsolutions, she also has the unique ability to simultaneously help her clients achieve their goals while reducing their stress. Her ability allows her clients to spend their time on things they love. For more information and specific solutions, contact Virginia via www.comfortablestructure.com.
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