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  • Writer's picturekathrinkim

Cleaning for a Hoarder (part 1) -

If you are familiar with my business, you know that I am invited into people's closets to help them go through what they have and help them get rid of what isn't working for them. While there, I help them put together fresh outfits. We talk about fit, life style and whether an item has seen better days. When it's time to move something out, we either donate it or we put it in the toss pile. The first few times someone has to put something in the donate or toss pile, it's hard. But, as we progress through the closet, they begin to feel lighter and it gets easier to make these decisions.

I've worked in closets that when we started, the doors were hard to open; the closet was overly full. I've had clients that have had multiple closets and were feeling overwhelmed, needing to bring their wardrobes back to a manageable amount of clothing. One time, a woman's closet had her washer and dryer in it. Even though it was a good size walk-in closet, it's function felt confusing and over-whelming. I helped her clean, re-organize and got several new storage options for the area that made the feel of her closet/laundry area inviting and functional.

Last week I had a new experience.

I was asked to help a woman, who is moving from her town home to a senior apartment, go through her house and pack. But, there is a catch. This woman had become a hoarder.

Now, let me confess, if you entered my home at this very moment, you'd find too many shoes by the back door. (This is a fight I continue to lose with my family.) I have a pan of dishes from last night's dinner that I will need to be washed when I'm done writing this. My furniture needs a dusting ( a chore I loathe). But... I like order. We want to know where the can opener is when we need it. And....we don't need four can-openers.

If I let the dishes go too long, it would become a mountain of dishes overtaking my kitchen. If we never put the shoes away from season to season, a pile of boots, shoes and sandals would grows by the back door. If I never went through my mail, tossing all those advertisements, I'd lose the important papers in the piles. This is a little glimpse of the scenario I went to.

I started with a short visit with my client. We talked about her impending moving date, what her goals were in this chore, and we chose only one room for that day to start in. She chose her living room, where she spent most of her day.

It was a small space but, it was full. I approached it much as I do a full closet; starting at one wall and moving to the other side. We had boxes for packing items she'd want to keep and take to her new apartment. We had bags for trash. And, we had bags for donations. Seven hours later, we had moved through that area and I found the vacuum and dust cloth to tidy. Honestly, most of her piles were papers that needed to be looked through and determined whether to toss, shred or file.



People don't decide that they are going to let their closets get so full they can't use them. People don't say, "I'm just gonna ignore my mail and not cash those checks!" No, somewhere in the journey of life, something gets too heavy for their heart to bare and the everyday tasks take a side seat. The piles grow and all of the sudden, their environment becomes something that they never intended it to be. This was the case with my client. She was still dealing with the grief of losing a loved one years ago. THAT is when the piles began. Luckily, she was at the point she willing to accept help.


If you are starting to go through your home to whittle your belongings to a manageable level. Here are a few items to think about.

Cassette Tapes: My client had several dozen cassette tapes but, no cassette tape player. You can purchase cassette players at Target and Walmart but, in my personal experience, they are not made well anymore. I've purchased three and all three didn't last long and ate the tapes. It became a pain and I gave up.

So, if you choose to keep cassette tapes, make sure you have a quality player.

As cassettes sit unused, they become brittle and breakable, becoming unusable. These are items that should be whittled down to only the dearest to keep, if any. And...many can be found in todays forums of music options. (Alexa, Pandora)

VHS Tapes: This one hits home. I have some old Disney tapes I'm gonna need to move out. This is another technology that is almost obsolete. There are advertisements out there telling us that if we have the original Disney Beauty and Beast VHS, it could be worth a lot of cash. Well, how in the world? And, how do you find someone that has that kind of money to waste? Do we sit in the clutter waiting for someone to discover we have a few interesting VHS tapes that are drying out, or do we move them on and have peace? I'm being blunt but, that really is the decision. (Now, I'm off to purge some VHS tapes in my basement).

Records: The cool thing about vinyl records is that they have a longer life than Cassette or VHS tapes, if cared for well. But, when it comes to hoarding, the question is, How often will you listen to them? How many are dear to you? What ones can you let go of? Where will you keep them?

I am not a minimalist and I am very sentimental so, I truly understand the desire to hold onto memories. But, there needs to be balance and space to do so.

Personal papers: We all have to dispose of old doctor papers, prescriptions, bank statements, taxes from 7 years ago. These items, when cleaning, should be shredded to avoid the headache of handing out personal information out of your trash. SHRED!!

Photos: Of all the things my parents offered to me as things they wanted to give me from their homes, it was the photos that I wanted. They are treasured history. But, as I've learned, the photos can become over-whelming, too. They need to be organized in a way that is useful and findable. That takes time; lots of time. Personally, I'm in the process of organizing mine in files and divvying them out to those that it would mean the most to them to have.

I have mine in a filing cabinet. But, when dealing with going through an elderly parent's home and finding photos along the way that they want to keep, I would suggest a clear sided tub to keep track of them until they know where and what to do with them. The clear sided tub makes it visible from the outside what it's storing and it is less likely to get misplaced.

Crafts: This was a Biggy. My client is very crafty and had craft supplies throughout the house. There were many projects started but, lost in the piles unfinished. The crafts need to be gathered together in one location. One can not deny the mountain when they are standing next to it. Then, a list of criteria needs to be made of what characteristic makes items salvageable and what is not. We found that there was a certain type of yarn that my client didn't like knitting with, and yet, she had a large amount of it. That was an easy decision for donating and she felt good moving it on.


Don't wait for Spring cleaning! Start with this list and get a head start.

Twin Cities Wardrobe Consultant Kathy Banta

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