How To Practice Harm Reduction in Hoarding

How can we practice harm reduction in hoarding?

Lets face it, if you are struggling with hoarding or chronic disorganization, you likely are not going to have a home that you would see in a home and garden magazine!

Living room after  Hehe!!  This is funny but I am technically challenged with images on google so yeah this is mine.  Not sure if it is magazine worthy but you get the general idea.

Anyway, this doesn’t mean that you cannot get your home up to more of a standard that you would be more comfortable with. Your place needs to be your sacred space and while it certainly does not have to be perfect, it is important that it is healthy and that it is safe for you and your family.  Also, it is important that it is your space and you get to chose how this space looks and it is what you want for you and your family.

This might mean different things for different people. There are different ways to look at it.  First and foremost, think about areas that are causing you a lot of difficulty like a doorway with shoes, bags, purses, flyers, mail,  not able to find what you need for the day; papers, keys, etc.  I feel so stressed!  Ugh!!

If you are having difficulty finding things like keys, books, lunch bags, important papers, this is a great area to focus on and to work on making improvements that you will be able to see immediately and will make your place safer as well as may save you time in the long run as you are not searching for lost items.

Think about what your goals are for your home. Do you really wish you could be cooking more?  If so, you need to have your stove and counters clear.  It is important to clean out your fridge on a regular basis and to get good at knowing what you have,  using it up on a regular basis so you are not throwing out wasted food, (basically throwing your money out the door) or not eating out most nights.  Put your focus to this and you will see improvement.  The same thing happens with money.  Right?  The more you focus on it the more you have and the more you will bring in.  YES!!

Are you at risk of your items that are stacked in piles falling on you. I know that most of us live in small spaces and this can make it challenging to get our stuff downsized, put away or taken to its home.  But of course, we don’t want to have stuff falling over and having us even more frustrated with trying to find things.

Remember everything needs to have a home to return to. 

These are some of the recommendations from the London Fire Department if they ever have to come to your place for an inspection.

  • Each hoarding situation is looked at on an individual basis.  Sometimes the department does not need to take any action if the accumulations are non-combustible and adequate pathways are present.
  • The first thing which is assessed is overall safety (e.g. working smoke alarms).  Next an assessment of the building as a whole is done to gauge the impact a fire would have on others.  Building construction and type are major factors as well.
  • Pathways need to be a minimum of 3 feet but this depends on the mobility of the tenant and how they move (assisted vs. unassisted).
  • Clear distances from ignition sources are a minimum of about 1 foot.
  • Pile heights are required to be reduced to no more than about 3 feet.
  • Other considerations are given, depending on the situation.  For example, if the situation was deemed to be dangerous, the LFD could order the building closed and the tenant removed immediately.
  • These are some other considerations in thinking about harm reduction.
  • Do no harm – meaning you do not want to do more harm to the person as they are struggling enough.
  • It is not necessary to stop all hoarding behaviour – like I said they are likely not going to have a home that is going to be in a home and garden magazine.
  • No two hoarding situations are alike – people need to be treated as individuals.
  • The individual needs to be involved as a Team Member – do not ever throw out your loved ones items!!  This is traumatic for an individual.  They need to be involved in the plan and any decision making.
  • Change is slow – YES you need to have the patience of a saint and those who support others with chronic disorganization issues definitely do.
  • Contract failures to not mean that the harm reduction model is not working – Individuals may have difficulty with sticking to the contract but this doesn’t mean they are not making progress.
  • The individual may have other, more pressing issues than the hoarding problem – so true, this person could be dealing with all kinds of other issues, mental health, physical health, family issues, etc.  Sometimes these issues have to take precedent.What do you think?  What does harm reduction look like to you?  I am sure there are many ways we can support our loved ones who are struggling with this issue.  What are some ways that you can think of or ways that you have helped others?  We would love to hear from you.  Please share in the comments below:

 

 

 

About Kimberley

I am a Case Manager at My Sisters’ Place which is a program of the Canadian Mental Health Association London Middlesex. My Sisters’ Place is a program for vulnerable women. I love my job and all the wonderful women I work with. I am very honored to do this work with women who have been through so much and are so open in sharing their stories.
I initiated and designed a Clearing Clutter Support Group which I have been facilitating since 2007 with a co-worker. I love running this group and learn so much from the participants. We offer this eight week program three or four times a year.
I started my business Space For You in 2010 and work with individuals in their homes as well as offer some workshops in the community. I am available to speak to groups on “De-Cluttering Your Life”, “The Magic of De-Cluttering”, “Space Clearing” or really anything to do with clutter and hoarding.

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8 Responses to How To Practice Harm Reduction in Hoarding

  1. Very informative article!

    Don’t worry about being “technically challenged with images on Google” – it is never a good idea to use other people’s images without permission anyway.

  2. Seana Turner says:

    We all have our technical challenges:) This is a complicated issue deserving of thoughtful solutions, as you’ve outlined. One step at a time. Letting go of shame and seeking resources can be a very helpful first step!

  3. Well done, great tips. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Well written, Kim! I like your point about making sure the client is treated as a team member. They should be kept in the loop on everything. And I especially love your reminder that a contract failure doesn’t mean progress isn’t being made. Forward progress isn’t always made in a linear fashion. Backslides will happen and that’s okay!

    • Kimberley says:

      Thank you for responding Sarah – Yes, working with this population certainly comes with its own challenges and patience is so important as we know this work is not quick. There will certainly be backslides.

  5. Jamie Steele says:

    Great post! I really like that you point out that your home doesn’t have to be magazine perfect and that what people want from their homes is going to be different for each family. The point about not needing to stop all hoarding behavior really hit home for me.

    • Kimberley says:

      Thank you Jamie – Yes, it could be a worry for someone with hoarding behaviour but perhaps they can let go of that and still make progress. 🙂

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