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Understanding hoarding: local woman shares story

12:07 AM, Feb 19, 2010   |    comments
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"If I was outside walking the dogs and I ran across something that someone threw away, like a vase or a winter coat, I'd pick them up and bring them home," she said.

Shelby collected so many things that the clutter began to take over her life.

She says it began in 2003 when she became disabled and lost her job. With her then-husband already unemployed, the couple could no longer keep up with the mortgage and lost their home.

"That's when the hoarding started," she said. "I really became afraid and I was scared that we would end up on the streets."

Shelby blames her ex-husband for a large amount of the clutter, but admits she played a role too, like the time when she developed a habit of collecting "thousands" of rocks.

"In the midst of going through the problems financially and issues that I wasn't really facing, I was putting all of my efforts when I was outside into collecting rocks that were oval and round... I did the same thing with golf balls," she said.

After six years of not being able to easily get around in her condominium, the 48-year-old finally decided to ask for help. She found the phone number for a professional organizer and was soon linked up with Margie Feinberg, who owns the professional organizing service Margie Feinberg Associates.

"I have to say, it was quite striking," Feinberg said of the first time she walked into Shelby's home. "There was really not much room to move. The kitchen was not habitable. The appliances didn't work. There was clutter everywhere. I was concerned for safety issues."

Metro State College Health Professions Assistant Professor Dr. Steve Rissman says hoarding is a psychological disorder that can take on many forms.

"People can be compulsive hoarders of animals. There's some new information that people are hoarding data," he said. "People will have multiple computers, multiple backup systems."

Rissman says researchers are trying to conclude whether or not there is a genetic link, which some think may involve damage to chromosome 14. Rissman added that approximately 80 percent of hoarders have lived with a person who also hoarded.

Often hoarding is linked to obsessive compulsive disorder.

"About a third of all people with OCD are hoarders. However, a majority of hoarders are not obsessive compulsive," he said.

Shelby does not suffer from OCD but, since her problem began she has been diagnosed with ADHD and bipolar disorder.

"It's not that the person is a slob or a pig or a clutter bug or a hoarder," Shelby said. "It's that they have other issues going on."

She also suffers from painful physical ailments like fibromyalgia. All of those things made it hard for her to even begin thinking up cleaning up the clutter throughout the years.

"I wanted to clean it up. But every time I'd go to clean it up, anywhere I would go to even start cleaning up, I would just get so overwhelmed and frustrated that I would go and sit down again," she said.

Feinberg has been working with Shelby for seven months. In that time, she has managed to help Shelby clean up her kitchen and bathroom. Feinberg says it is very important that a person with collecting issues be a part of every step of the cleanup.

"One of the things that is very important is that a person isn't pressured into having a person like me come into their home. It's not going to work out," she said. "The best chance of having success is that person, themselves, being ready."

People who hoard often have trouble making decisions on what to keep and what to discard.

"In holding on to that sense of security they hold on to everything," Rissman said.

"To them, accumulating is part of their nature," said Feinberg, who has been a professional organizer since 1994. "An egg carton can have the same value as a photo album or a gold necklace."

Shelby has made a lot of progress in letting go of things she does not need. On one Wednesday afternoon, she removed dozens of containers she had collected. Feinberg donated them to a charity. For Shelby, it helps to know the items she does not need will go to someone who needs them.

"It makes all the difference in the world. I wouldn't throw it away, but I'd give it away," she said.

Shelby's treatment also involves talking to a counselor and taking medication to reduce the symptoms of her psychological disorders. She is proud of the progress she has made and so is Feinberg.

"She's amazing," Feinberg said.

Shelby, though, says she would not have been able to achieve nearly as much without the help Feinberg provided. She is confident the help will get her to her ultimate goal: a completely clutter-free house.

"As long as I've got Margie by my side, I'll do it," she said. "It will happen."

To find a person who specializes in working with people who have chronic disorganization and hoarding issues, you can visit the Colorado Chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers' Web site at Once there, click on "Find an Organizer" and then click on the specialty "Chronic disorganization/Hoarding/ADD/ADHD."

To contact Feinberg, visit

(KUSA-TV © 2010 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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