Help for Hoarders Facing Eviction – What can you do?

space clearing 3

I am currently working with two women who are facing eviction.  The fact that they are aware that they could lose their housing can be a motivational factor.  Both of them have been homeless or have moved and lost most of their belongings in the past.  They both have or have had storage lockers that they are paying for on a monthly basis.

The ideal situation is if you can work out a plan with the Property Management for the individual to be able to stay in their apartment.  Property Management and/or landlords have a duty to try and work things out with a tenant especially when it is obvious that there are mental health issues.  If you can show that you are willing to work on the issues, you have a case for working towards keeping your housing.

Unfortunately, there are very limited resources for people who are in this situation and most people are not in a position to pay for Professional Organizers to work with them.   Most of the women I work with have no other supports, no family and no friends that they could count on for help.

Landlords or Property Management might agree to give people some extra time if the tenant agrees to:

  1. Get involved with VHA Home HealthCare. They offer an Extreme Cleaning Program where an assessment will be done and then 2 or 3 people will come in and clean and clear out as much as they can in a 2 or 3 day time frame.  The criteria for this is someone who is living in squalor, health and safety considerations, the Fire Inspector has made a referral, property management has had complaints and/or they are facing eviction.  If an individual is open to this help this can really help them to move forward and might help them to keep their apartment.   VHA is also working on a Volunteer One on One matching program where trained volunteers will work with individuals one on one which is probably the best case scenario depending on the level of motivation and the match.  Great experience for new Professional Organizers or Peer Support Group members!!
  2. Attend the eight week Clearing Clutter Support Group which is offered through CMHA at no cost to individuals. Check out the progress that participants make in the group:   If people are motivated to make change they will start to notice improvements and have more awareness immediately.   Participants can attend an eight week session more than once which can really help with integrating this information and the learning into their lives.  Also, once this group is finished there is the Peer Support Group that is available for graduates of the group.  This work is ongoing and will be life long for these individuals.  However, they can improve their quality of life immensely.

What happens when people are not able to let go of their prized possessions though?  Everything is of value and the thought of taking out the garbage causes major anxiety. They cannot seem to make a decision about anything in their space.  What if this person has a deadline of a month or even in some cases a couple of weeks to vacate their premises.  They may also have a number of cats that also need to be considered and homes need to be found.  Perhaps their idea of cleaning up is to move their things to storage in order to please their landlord.  Or what about the tenant who just cannot see themselves working on these issues and does not know where to start.   They are so ill that they are just not able to understand what needs to be done or what they can do to make the situation better for them.  They are not able to let anyone in to help them and attending a group is just too scary.  These issues are so complex and the threat of eviction can really put a person over the edge.

When someone has little warning and really either no opportunity for help offered or the person does not see that they have a problem (is perhaps blaming their difficulties on others, using drugs or are dealing with other mental or physical health issues) and they are being asked to leave, what then?  We know that forced clean ups do not work and someone who loses most or all of their possessions will be traumatized and will likely acquire at least two or three times more stuff next time around.  Unfortunately, there are no easy answers and no quick fixes.

A Few Tips for Working with Clients:

Ask open ended questions like:  What do you like about your space?  How do you feel when you look at your things?  How is owning this helping you right now?

Try to empathize with them by saying things like:  It sounds like you are feeling really scared right now.   I hear you saying that you want to make a change but you don’t know how.  I can see that you are really struggling with this.

Encourage and compliment by saying things like:  I can see how hard this is for you.  You are being very brave.  I can see that you really want to work on this.

A really great book that I recommend for working with family or friends is called “Digging Out”

I would love to hear about your challenges and successes with working with people.  Thank you so much for following along with me 🙂  So much appreciated.

About Kim

Kim Tremblay is a Master Organizer and a Clutter Coach. She has worked with individuals helping them clear the physical and emotional clutter from their lives since 2008. Kim founded and co-facilitated a Clearing Clutter Support Group which has helped hundreds of individuals to make positive changes in their lives. Kim is currently working virtually with clients helping them to clear the emotional and/or physical clutter from their lives. Kim is available to speak to your group about all things organizing.
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8 Responses to Help for Hoarders Facing Eviction – What can you do?

  1. It is so good to see that awareness of hoarding is growing, and along with that, good programs are being established to help folks who have this disorder. It is simply way too big an issue for a professional organizer to handle on his or her own, especially without specialized training.

    • Kimberley says:

      That is so true Janet – I really feel that we need a team approach when dealing with a hoarding/crisis situation 🙂

  2. Sarah Soboleski says:

    I love the tips you included about statements of understanding, empathy and encouragement. The Digging Out book is a great resource. I also like Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Frost & Steketee.

    • Kimberley says:

      Thank you Sarah – yes, I really think we need to be aware of how we communicate with others so that we are understanding where they are coming from – Yes, I love that book as well 🙂

  3. Sabrina Q. says:

    Great tips! When I am with clients, my favorite question to ask is: Is this item something that will get you to the goal you have for your home or office? It makes them think about the bigger picture and determine if the item will work in the space and their lives. Thanks for sharing.

    • Kimberley says:

      Thanks Sabrina, That is such a great question. I am going to use that one for myself and my clients 🙂

  4. Seana Turner says:

    This difficulty you discuss here is VERY rough – these individuals have such a struggle letting go of the littlest thing, and they are crunched by time to get rid of stuff. Talk about a recipe for anxiety! I appreciate the resources you mentioned, and your acknowledgement that there are no easy fixes. Mental illness just doesn’t have an easy fix, no matter what. Compassion and empathy are necessary, and probably a team approach to get the space safe and to respect landlords. For those who have loved ones with this disorder, I suggest intervening sooner rather than waiting for the eviction notice. Having time can be a big asset.

    • Kim says:

      You are so right Seana, these are such difficult situations and sometimes as a worker, I feel helpless as it is so very hard to help someone who doesn’t see that there is a problem or even sometimes they do and they just don’t seem to be able to make any progress. Its really heartbreaking.

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