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October 13, 2011 - Image 8

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2011-10-13

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metro >> on the cover

Hoarders come from different backgrounds;
the common denominator is emotional attachment.


"Hoarding often results in
left home.
reaction to loss of control, fear of
"I could never have friends over;
property being taken away, and
there was no room': he said. "To my
loss of security' Shulman said.
mother, getting rid of stuff is like
He added that the generalized
giving away a piece of yourself"
value that many Jews place on
This kind of situation is typical,
acquiring things can cause these
says Shulman, who has worked
people to become hoarders. In
Terren ce
with people whose homes are filled Shulm an
addition to those that he treats
with excessive amounts of items
professionally, Shulman said he
ranging from jewelry and clothing
has seen evidence of hoarding
to expired coupons, empty yogurt
among Jewish people he knows
containers and even used bandages.
on a personal basis, including
Retiree Jonah H. said he has been
some friends and relatives.
trying to get rid of the piles of old
Jim M., one of several local
paperwork that have gradually
Jewish hoarders interviewed who
overtaken more of his living space.
wanted to remain anonymous,
"The room isn't really that small;
said his family never ate a meal
it's just that I have so much junk
at the kitchen table because it
it makes it look small," he said. "I
perpetually covered with
don't know why I'm holding onto
newspapers and other clutter his
this stuff. I'm trying to let go of
ex-wife refused to remove. Every
things, but it's a slow process:'
time he would try to clear the mess away,
Shulman believes that "a complicated
she would become extremely agitated,
equation of risk factors:' which includes
telling family members not to "touch her
genes, chemical imbalance, heredity and
environment, determines whether a per-
A 2010 article in Time magazine esti-
son develops a hoarding disorder. He also
mated that between 6 million and 15 mil-
attributes the behavior to what he calls
lion people in the United States have the
"spiritual risk factors:' such as childhood
mental health disorder known as hoarding.
trauma or other emotionally wounding
The condition has received attention in
recent years from popular television shows
"There may be also be some organic dif-
such as Hoarders and Hoarding: Buried
ferences in the brain of a hoarder, but it is
possible to build new neuronal pathways
"Exploitainment" is the word used by
to change the behavior," said Shulman,
Clinton Township therapist Debbie Stanley
founder and director of the Franklin-based to describe those shows, which she claims
Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft,
are unrealistic and misleading.
Spending and Hoarding.
"They show the worst-case scenarios,
There are no statistics on the incidence
people with very little insight and a lot
of hoarding among Jewish people; however, of squalor': said Stanley, who specializes
some experts believe certain factors may
in treating chronic disorganization and
cause Jews to engage in hoarding behavior.
hoarding. "My clients are well functioning
Holocaust survivors may be more likely
— some are extremely high functioning —
to stockpile items such as food and house-
and they are not dirty."
hold goods, says Dr. Charles Slow, director
Stanley added that the shows' quick-fix
of programming for Holocaust Survivors
solutions, where years of clutter disappear
and Families at Jewish Senior Life.
in one weekend, are misrepresentative.
"Many survivors who went through such
She said that two years of treatment,
extreme deprivation, including starvation,
including psychotherapy and hands-on
have a sense of fear that what they have
decluttering, is a reasonable time period
could be taken away again': Silow said. "As
for achieving a successful outcome. The
they built new lives, many would accu-
transformation can take place more quickly
mulate things like canned goods or extra
when the client agrees to use outside help to
linens. They want to psychologically assure perform the clean-up, but Stanley stresses
themselves that it won't happen again."
that the person doing the hoarding should
Shulman agrees that the Holocaust as
make the decisions about what to discard.
well as other individual and collective
"Stripping away a person's coping mecha-
traumas such as war, violence and anti-
nism before a better one has been gradually
Semitism can trigger hoarding behavior.
established is not only cruel, but it doesn't

8 October 13 • 2011

work': she said.
Shulman said people who hoard often
exhibit related compulsive behaviors such
as kleptomania, shoplifting, and excessive
shopping and spending. Hoarding can
include people whose homes are overrun
by animals to the point of posing a health
hazard. Many individuals now engage in a
process known as digital hoarding — their
computers are filled with thousands of
emails, photos and electronic files they are
emotionally unable to delete.
Nina J. decided to seek professional
help as she approached her 70th birthday.
Always a collector, Nina now has more than
2,000 pairs of earrings, countless pieces
of costume jewelry, which she stores away
in plastic boxes, and a bag filled with 200
nightgowns she has never worn.
"I would save things for best, and best
never came': said Nina, who also has so
many houseplants it takes an entire day to
water them.
Nina also engaged in compulsive shop-
lifting, a behavior she has since overcome
through a combination of therapy and
12-step meetings.
"I was arrested three times, and it still
wasn't a deterrent': she said. "It began to
make me sick; it was a real conflict between
the person I knew I could be and a crazy
Nina still has not overcome her compul-
sion to shop and stockpile items she knows
she will probably never use. She has tried to
get rid of some of her possessions through
consignment shops, but ends up returning
to the store to buy them back.
"I once gave some clothes away to a
friend and went into terrible mourning
and agony;' she said. "I humiliated myself
by asking for them back. She just laughed
at me. I find that people just can't compre-
hend; they have no sympathy."

Nina felt the therapy she received did not
help her overcome her emotional attach-
ment to the possessions that fill several
areas of her colonial home.
"No amount of looking at why was help-
ful': she said. "Many other people have the
same why's, but they don't hoard."
Stanley believes the key to success-
ful treatment is getting to the root of the
hoarding behavior. She said it is common
for concerned family members to want to
swoop in and perform a major cleanup,
thinking this will resolve the problem. This
kind of well-intentioned intervention, she
says, can do more harm than good.
"It's not about the stuff,' she said. "First
you have to honor the fact that this behav-
ior is serving them in some way."
Stanley has worked with clients who
used the clutter as a kind of barricade; they
felt being surrounded by a lot of things pro-
tected them from robbers or other invaders.
"I've heard people say they feel more vul-
nerable when the clutter begins to go:' she
said. "I tell clients, `First you have to figure
out what the hoarding is giving you. If it's
safety, then let's find another way to make
you feel safe.'"
Sometimes adding extra locks or install-
ing an alarm system will reduce the fear so
the client can begin to deal with the mess.
Hoarding, in its extreme, can pose
serious health and safety hazards. West
Bloomfield Fire Chief Jay Wiseman esti-
mates that his staff members encounter at
least one hoarding situation in any given
month when responding to medical emer-
gencies. Wiseman said that severe clutter
makes rescue efforts more difficult for EMS
workers, who have encountered homes
where floors are completely covered with
shoulder-high stacks of newspapers, piles
of clothing and overflowing shopping bags.
Navigating through narrow paths, known

How Do You Identify A Hoarder?

These questions are taken from the book Cluttered Lives, Empty Souls:
Compulsive Stealing, Spending and Hoarding by Terrence Shulman.
• Are some of the living (not storage) areas in your home cluttered?
• Do you have trouble walking through areas in your home because of clutter?
• Do you have trouble discarding things, even those you no longer use?
• Does the clutter in your home cause you to feel stress?
• Do you have strong urges to buy things for which you have no immediate
• Does the clutter in your home keep you from inviting people over to visit?
• Do you feel unable to discard possessions even after deciding you want to
get rid of them?
• Has compulsive buying caused financial stress or difficulty?

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