Right in the Middle of the Mess

Have you ever dropped a white athletic sock into that warm, linty space between the side of the dryer and the wall? Of course, right? It is pretty much a non-event.

Maybe you didn’t notice it at first. Maybe it took watching a damp pair of white briefs slip to the floor to see the sock because it was peeking out when you leaned to over to pick up the briefs.  A white sock now grey with lint after lying in that fuzzy space for a week or two.

What if a voice in your head told you not to pick it up?

Maybe, on another occasion, you discovered your daughter’s light pink anklet had slipped there as well. But, again, the voice said to leave it. Your heart even began to race at the thought of touching it.

What if this cycle went on for five years?

How many socks would a family of four accumulate in the corner of the laundry room after five years if, to keep mom from having a panic attack, or going into a rage, no one ever picked up the socks that landed on the floor?

The laundry room in question was in a two-story, 4000 square foot home with a brown brick front, tasteful, yet minimal landscaping, and four terra cotta pots of different sizes displayed on the front walkway. Built circa 1985, the home was the same model as at least twenty of the eighty or so other homes in the subdivision west of Chicago.

I was summoned there because the therapist of a woman in her late 30’s, married with two kids, had encouraged her to hire a professional organizer. The woman admitted to me that she was not in the habit of letting people in her home. I was aware how brave she was to push through her heart palpitations and nausea to let me in the door.

As we toured the home, I began to notice discrepancies. Cockeyed piles of paper covered surfaces in the front two rooms. Matted tufts of dog hair that had been gathering over time until they were thick enough to see, were in long stripes across the back of every step of the beige carpeted staircase. Yet the kitchen had clear, disinfected counters and recycling that had been scrubbed clean. This client was on a complicated journey.

While hoarding and OCD may seem at opposite ends of the spectrum, we have come to understand they are actually strands of the same disorder. Hoarding “is now recognized as being more common than previously thought, with an estimated prevalence between 2% and 5%.”  (Psychiatry Journal). “It is now classified in DSM-5 as Hoarding Disorder (HD), a distinct entity under the category, ‘Obsessive Compulsive and Related Disorders.’” It is all about compulsive behavior. The acquisition behaviors are compulsions, just as the cleaning ones are.

Yep. Hoarding Disorder is right in there under OCD. And this client exhibited behaviors of both.

While I could not change these facts, that is why she was working with a therapist, what I could do was help make her daily living areas safer. And help her daughter. She was a good mom, but her Hoarding and OCD behaviors were impacting the safety and well-being of the family.

My goal with clients is not to change them, but to help them discover how to tap into her strengths. And this time, though more complex, was no different. This devoted mom knew her brain would not let her pick-up the socks in the laundry room, but it was becoming a fire hazard. She also knew her racing heart would not let her deconstruct the mess on the floor in her daughter’s room, but it was interfering with her daily living skills and school work. She trusted me to help take her to the next level. She discovered that, while she could not watch me take items off of the floor, she could make decisions about them once I moved them onto table in a different location of the home.

That is why I have such passion for what I do. I help people get un-stuck, right in the middle of the mess!

This client and her therapist identified specific ways in which her behaviors were impacting the family. She agreed to let me into the home to assist with helping her be a better mom. Not by insisting that she change, but by letting go of what she could not control.


Declare Order Professional Organizing is now available as a Podcast!

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