As most of you know, I worked in mental health for many years working with vulnerable people (mostly women) but I also worked with men in the early years. When I think of the individuals I worked with, most of the women who came through the doors at My Sisters’ Place have had some kind of trauma in their life. We worked with a Relational Model and within a Trauma and Violence Informed Approach with the women there.
What this actually means is that we worked “with” the women and we took the lead from them. Who knows best about what they need than the person using the service. We made sure that we had opportunities for the women to have a say, to tell us what they wanted and what they needed, to help them feel that this was their life and to empower them to see their own personal strengths.
It is likely that most individuals who struggle with Clutter/Chronic Disorganization also have had a history of trauma and/or violence in their past.
Vulnerability factors that can put people at more risk
- Family history of hoarding (mother, father, grandmother, etc.) They likely have suffered from their own history of trauma
- History of mental illness in the family (depression, anxiety, OCD, ADHD, bi-polar, etc.)
- Parental values and behaviour (ie: values about waste, obsessively neat, compulsive acquiring/saving, hand me downs, control over decisions (perfectionism), sentimentality.
- Physical obstacles (time, space, health, others living in the home)
- Traumatic events (loss of loved one, assaults and violence, moving, deprivation, divorce, birth of a child)
- Other……..Loss of belongings, eviction, hospitalization, loss of contact with family members
“After a traumatic event a person can either try to cope using negative methods or learn to cope successfully and enhance their ability to cope in the future”
It can really depend on a person’s resiliency factors, supportive friends and family, community supports, personal resources like basic needs met, safe housing, etc.
Some of the symptoms that may show up are:
- difficulty thinking clearly – can be all over the place, not focused
- feelings of overwhelm, anxiety and depression
- physical and emotional clutter starts building up
- lots of internal/intrusive thoughts and constant ruminating
- emotional flooding – big feelings come out of nowhere
- no feelings at all and just being shut down (emotionally numb)
- avoidance tendencies and wanting to isolate
- triggers come up as they work on their stuff
- thoughts of self harm (please consult a registered therapist or mental health worker if needed)
Some people will create a little nest around themselves as this can feel like their safe space. No one can hurt them here and it can feel like a way of keeping people (or relationships) out. Compulsive shopping, acquiring and difficulty discarding can become a way of coping with those uncomfortable emotions. Other addictive behaviours like drugs, alcohol, food can be a way that people cope and can really just make symptoms worse. Moving stuff around, looking at their belongings, can be another way that people can distract themselves from the pain they are thinking and feeling
How can we as Professional Organizers help?
- Understanding the emotional, physical and psychological effects and responses that an individual might have is so important as you do this work
- Get to know your client looking for commonalities.
- Focus on your clients strengths and what they are doing well
- Ask your client what they need to feel safe and calm. Help them come up with a list if needed “What can I do when I feel overwhelmed, when it’s all too much, etc. _______________ walking, dancing, moving my body, shake off the emotions, listen to music, grounding, writing, art work, praying, etc.
- Help your client to create safety and comfort in their living space
- Grounding exercises can be helpful if your client cannot settle themselves
- As you work with your client they may need to take breaks – shorter sessions also may be beneficial
- Go slow, start small and focussed, then work on the next right thing
- Honour all feelings as you go through this process – the uncomfortable feelings go away as we work through them
- Doing what you say you are going to do and following through will help you to gain their trust.
- Advocate for your client if needed.
As Professional Organizers we need to be compassionate, non judgemental, understanding, patient, take the clients lead, and work with the client wherever they are at offering gentle help as needed.