Humanizing Hoarding | Jennifer Hanzlick | TEDxBoulder
Articles Blog

Humanizing Hoarding | Jennifer Hanzlick | TEDxBoulder


Translator: Lis Geraci
Reviewer: Aari Lemmik What do you do? When I first started my own business, I thought I had to go to networking events and all night long,
I’d get asked that question: “What do you do?” So I would say, “I have a hoarding clean-out business.” And I would have to enunciate
the “d,” or it was mistaken, (Laughter) for “whoring!” So now, I tell people, “I work with those who are suffering
from hoarding disorder, like Jim.” Now, when I meet Jim,
I’m standing on his front porch. And this is the sign that I’m seeing. [Danger] [It is a crime to occupy
this building or remove this sign.] The city has given him
his last attempt to stay in his home, and I’m there to see if I can help. And I sit with Jim
and he starts to tell me, “I don’t know how I let it get this bad. I’ve tried so many times to clean it up,
but I can’t make any progress. I was going to see a therapist,
but I stopped going. And I could never even tell her
about the inside of my house. And actually, everything
has a purpose,” he tells me. “It’s piled high against my walls,
it’s helping to insulate my house. “My furnace is broken and I can’t let
the repair man in to fix it.” I finally say, “I just need to go inside. I need to get an estimate to see
what the cost would be to clean it up.” He says, “Go ahead in without me, I’m sorry for what you’re about to see.” Now, I go in, and I’m looking around. It’s everything that you and I have,
just a lot more of it. But then, I make my way to the bathroom and I see several Ocean Spray
cranberry juice bottles. But to me, it looks like
they’re filled with apple juice. And then I see bags, and they’re tied up
and they’re layered in buckets. And I get it; his plumbing is broken, too. It’s urine and its feces. But some people see this,
they think it’s dirty and disgusting, but it’s resourceful. I go back out, I sit with Jim,
and I tell him – he’s crying now – I say, “It’s okay, we got this,
we can clean this up.” I said, “It’s not that bad.” I tell him, “I do this every day,
I’ve seen much worse. You’re not alone, and don’t feel bad.” We can choose to judge Jim
or we can choose compassion. There are 15 million people
in the United States that have the same disorder as Jim. It’s two to five per cent
of the population, in the Denver-Boulder area,
it’s 150,000 people and in this room, there could be 110. There are more people
with hoarding disorder than with Alzheimer’s disease. But you wouldn’t know it. They’re hiding, silently,
behind closed doors. With the blinds pulled down,
they’re afraid to come out, and they’re afraid to let you in. Hoarding disorder is a serious
and complex mental illness, it’s very difficult to treat, and there are many
different factors that go into it. Genetics, learned family behavior, and studies show that there’s abnormal
activity in the brain, the pre-frontal cortex,
the place that’s responsible for organizing, planning,
and decision-making. 75% of those with hoarding
also have a co-existing mental illness such as depression or anxiety. They don’t want to live like they do. But when you hear “hoarding,”
what do you think? Weird? Lazy? Dirty or sad? Or, you wonder if you have a problem. You can’t park your car in your garage, you have stuff you haven’t used in years but you might use it someday,
so you don’t throw it out. Or your wife has so many shoes
in her closet, you think she’s a hoarder. Well, just know that the definition
of hoarding has four parts. The first one; it’s an excessive
accumulation of stuff. The second; extreme difficulty
discarding your possessions and sometimes trash. Third; living spaces cannot be used
for their intended purpose. So you can’t use your stove,
your kitchen table, or sit on your couch. And lastly, it causes
distress and impairment. So unless you meet
all four parts to that criteria, you’re not one of the 110
persons in this room. But it impacts you anyway. Hoarding is a community problem,
and whether you know it or not, it impacts you. As a community, as a taxpayer
you are part of the solution. There are cities all over
the United States that are treating the symptoms
of hoarding disorder. And they’re publicly shaming them with signs posted on doors,
with threats of evictions and fines and even jail. Take one of my clients, Mary. All of these government agencies
were involved in Mary’s case over several years. It was the second time
that a cleanup company was called in to work with Mary to help her
stay in her home. And this is common. Because there’s a 90 per cent
recidivism rate after a clean-out without mental health treatment. Just because we come in and clean it out
doesn’t mean that the behavior goes away. So when I meet Mary, she’s wearing
purple sweatpants and a grey t-shirt. She comes to the door,
and she’s a little bit feisty. She doesn’t want me in there,
but she knows that it has to happen. We work together for two hours
and I know this is going to take time. I tell her, “We’re done for the day. I’m going to come back
the following Tuesday, and we’ll start where we left off.” I come back the following Tuesday. Mary, she has the same purple sweatpants
and the same grey T-shirt. But this time, after about 30 minutes,
she starts to crack a smile. And we’re making progress. She’s laughing, she trusts me. I tell her, “Mary, I’ve cleaned out your shower,
and put your dirty clothes in one spot. Your homework is to take a shower
and to do the laundry.” So I come back the next Tuesday and you already know. Mary has the same purple sweatpants
and the same shirt. And now I’m worried. So I sit with her. I ask her, “Mary, what’s going on?
Why haven’t you taken a shower?” She says, “I can’t. It burns, it hurts,
I think I have an infection. And I haven’t been able
to go to the doctor.” Then I ask her about her laundry. She says, “I’m afraid. I was raped by two guys
in the laundry room, and I’ve been afraid to go down there.” We can choose to judge Mary,
or we can choose compassion. And there’s a whole community
of people like Mary and like Jim, who are being judged and misunderstood, and I know why I’m drawn
to this work and to this community. I know what it’s like to be embarrassed, ashamed, and afraid. Just like they are. One night, when I was 19,
I was a statistic. Teenage pregnancy, unwed mother. To make matters even more dramatic, I had twins. To make matters even more dramatic, the father of the twins is black, we lived in rural Texas, and he was abusive. One night, I felt
like a scene out of a movie. I found myself trying to escape. From Texas to Denver on a Greyhound bus. I had two babies, six months old. One diaper bag, and 500 miles
to go for safety. I’m shaking and I’m afraid, and the pain of trying
to hold back my tears in public felt like someone trying to choke me. The babies don’t know what’s going on
they can’t understand it, but they completely sense
and feel my fear, and they won’t stop crying. And everyone on the bus is frustrated. They can’t sleep, I’m ruining their trip. And it’s only making it worse. And then, out of nowhere, comes a man,
he’s dressed in army fatigues, and he just says, “Can I help?” He sits down next to me,
he takes one of the babies and she immediately stops crying
and she falls asleep. And then, he takes the other baby and she immediately stops crying
and goes to sleep. But I don’t remember his name. The words, this is what
I remember him saying. He says, “Your babies are beautiful. I’m headed home to see my wife,
and she is black. And if we have babies,
they may they be as beautiful as yours.” And I remember that moment 25 years ago. That moment, it changed
the course of my life. He could have judged me,
like those on the bus. He chose compassion. It’s a choice. We can either choose
to judge hoarding disorder, or we can choose compassion. Because judgement and shame
perpetuates this illness. So just remember next time
you call someone a hoarder, it’s not who they are. Look beyond the clutter. They are intelligent, and creative,
and funny, and generous. They are college professors,
engineers, artists, and entrepreneurs, just like you and I. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Humanizing Hoarding | Jennifer Hanzlick | TEDxBoulder

  1. Thank you for this message. I'm living with a hoarder and I've been thinking of offering my help, if even a little, instead of being judgmental as I have been. You were so fortunate to leave the abuse! Your twins are lucky to have such a kind and resourceful mother! Peace!

  2. I'm really uncertain and confused about what the race of the twins' dad and the race of the military guy's wife have to do with anything about showing compassion and being nonjudgmental?? Just really didn't fit the premise of the story… hoarding.

  3. I am a hoarder. It started after my father died in 1994. I lost my husband and later my daughter because of my hoarding. My ex husband thought if I loved him enough I would stop hoarding. I did love him and I certainly love my daughter. I do want to get better and I am proactive. I have read different articles on this subject. I have a pdf on a book by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee. This book is a workbook for a counselor to use in helping a hoarder. Frost and Steketee have studied hoarding for the last 20 years so they are experts on this disorder/condition. I do think I need to change the way I think to get better. Having people's compassion would help me trust more. Believe me I hate living like this, the shame, the guilt. But with prayer and cognitive therapy, I will overcome.

  4. 💜♾☯️May the world🌎find compassion.🙏🏻May we connect to ALL creation. Listening with our hearts. Not judging with our minds👼🏻Helping those in need💟

  5. Shame breeds more shame…. I say this because I am a compulsive overeater and live in isolation with my behaviors… I am reading the works of Dr Brene Brown and it’s helping me. I hope others can benefit as well. God bless you

  6. Wonderful.
    I feel lots of sympathy and compassion much of the time.
    But at some point I think, "Shape up or Ship out."
    I learned not to SAY THAT, but to excuse myself.

  7. The one aspect of hoarding I have never read about is the hopeless, “giving up” component. If liife is too overwhelming, and there makes not sense (there is no payoff) for “cleaning up” which seems like a senseless occupation. It all builds up. It’s too expensive to repair. Life becomes hopeless, and the hoarder feels helpless. Hoarding becomes a way of life, especially when it costs too much, or is too difficult, overwhelming, to clean it all up. Shame and fear are the most common feelings. This is passed down from parents to children; difficulty with organizing and planning. * society ** that’s where it starts.

  8. It never occurred to be to think ill of hoarders! Obviously something's going on they can't get a handle on. We need more compassion all the way around.

  9. I love the beautiful kind compassionate caring and loving person you are. Indeed God will bless you abundantly for it, because these are the same things Jesus taught.

  10. Shoot, I'd be hauling that stuff out of hoarding homes and having a sale so the homeless had money for what they needed to live. That's as far as my compassion goes. What a waste of personal resources and how advertisers just love hoarders. This sounds like an "I don't care that much" problem. There's a reason they are embarrassed and feel guilt – they should. These hoarders aren't listening to their own consciences.

  11. If there's a 90% chance of recidivism after a cleanout, but without mental health treatment, what is the rate WITH mental health treatment? Anyone know?

  12. I tried being compassionate & helped my eldest sister for literally decades but it all backfired. She refuses to get therapy & yes, she’s intelligent & all sorts of other things that are extraneous to her hoarding, but ultimately she’s going to die surrounded by stuff but she won’t change because she’s unwilling to do the internal work to get rid of her anger. Compassion is a great idea but the hoarder has to acknowledge the problem & want to deal with the addiction.

  13. They are also people you know, people you go to church with, people you work with, friends you have known for years. Maybe you even have them over to your house regularly. You've just never been to theirs. And they're not about to tell you the real reason why. These are normal, everyday people you know and love. And they have a disorder that no one quite knows how to address yet.

  14. My life partner was a hoarder. We had one chair at a desk; his mattress was in the middle of the living room so he could watch TV. I was unable to let friends come in to visit. He died in his bed one morning. EMTs and police arrived and they could not get him out of the house. Just before we started for the hospital, a cop made an excuse and asked if he could borrow the house keys. I was dealing with the loss of my partner of nearly 38 years. The cop was inside taking pictures. When I got back from the hospital, the boro put up an eviction/stay out notice on the door. That's something to come home to anyway, but to come back, feeling confused, uncertain, a helpless, hopeless, and to see that notice taped to the door…incredulous.

  15. You make me cry: I finally get some nice words, instead of just cold and harsh glances when talking ablout this subject. Thank you so much. We really need compassion.

  16. I’ve ALWAYS Had a super clean house, especially with my OCD, then I started losing everyone 7 years ago. Starting with my husband and most recently my little brother. I’m not a hoarder! I’m in pain from losing so many people!

  17. I’m happy to know there is at least one person in the world who is kind and understanding.
    I’m convinced that I’m a hoarder.
    Anyway, thank you, this was a good talk.

  18. Thank you for replacing my judgment of hoarders with compassion. Compassion is much more effective than my judgment anyway. I hope that every hoarder can find a compassionate hand up out of the brokenness in their lives.

  19. This was an amazing video and much needed for me to have patience and really love someone via being compassionate

  20. My father is a hoarder. I live in another state and I cannot help. My parents beautiful house that he worked so hard to restore is now filled top to bottom with stuff. I wish I could afford an expert like this woman to help.

  21. My ex-boyfriend called me a hoarder, but I don't have all 4 of what she said. I do probably have more than I need though. I've lived a life where I've always just gotten by. So yes, maybe one day I will need that thing…and I may not be able to buy another, so yes, it can sit in a box downstairs.

  22. Just found this. I have a friend in another state whose house has gotten bad due to many factors. Those around her have not been compassionate, they have become cold and rude to her. She is older and has fallen & broken a hip. She is recovering at this time and she is trying to go through things in her house. She has a lot of cats, also, and loves them dearly, as she couldn't have children. I wish so much that I could help her but alas, she is far away and I have not the means to go out there. I can only help her over the phone. It's a sad situation when one can't try to understand the underlying reasons why such things happen. Good video, thanks.

  23. Thank you Jennifer. I'm a professional organizer in Madison, WI who just discovered your TED talk. Well done! Are you franchising or expanding?

  24. You are an angel! You have used your experience of shame and compassion to make the world a better place, I admire you.

  25. Thank you for this. I've got a brain injury and although I work so hard at trying to do everything there are too many tasks to do so my list gets longer, I can never catch up. I really need to live in housing that is adapted to my needs then I could do most things myself far more easily, otherwise I need big big help and help to create storage solutions for my countless big & small artworks and art materials = I've tried, I can't do it myself sadly: I lost that skill when I got seriously injured but as my injuries are quite 'invisible' I'm apparently not disabled enough to get any help, this is unfair & wrong. SOS!

  26. So saddening to hear of her utter desperation on that bus alone with two 6 month old crying babies and barely enough diapers for a fraction of the journey. I keep thinking of all the organizations that could have helped her. Brave and noble that she got herself and her kids far away from an abuser though. I wonder if he went looking for her.

  27. Hoarding is honestly to be expected in this society. Everything is things, things, things, money, money, money, more, more, more. I don't want to let go of things because they have value. I could sell them. But they have memories. Memories and value and earning and creativity and resourcefulness is all tied up into it. I am not a hoarder, but I am not a neat freak. I have family members who keep everything, even if they don't need it. Because you might need it one day. I think the sickness is not just hoarding. It's also the disposable society that we live in, where things are manufactured to be thrown away. Everything is balance, and hoarding is one side, where disposable is the other.

  28. I've only caught bits and pieces of the show Hoarders but I wonder in how many other countries do people get rich making fun of people with mental disorders?

  29. I was having a dream about renting an apartment from a hoarder who refused to take her stuff out of the apartment for me… She was like "It's not a big deal." Anyways….Youtube suggested this video to me soon after. WEIRD

  30. As long as society ignores, denies, hides, & perpetrates more abuses on people affected, the root causes of mental ills and hoarding, can’t be resolved or prevented. Thank goodness for such Compassion!
    It’s only now being brought to light; it’s at great risk by those starting to push-back against the psych industry (largely driven by Pharma now)… that while there might be genetic propensity towards mental ills, it’s mostly life events that trigger it. Shattered spirits, who cannot process Cognitive Dissonance elements pervasive in society; or, learned irregular behaviors of elders who survived the Great Depression the hard way.
    Most “mental ills”, indicate disastrously shattered spirits, who have been unable to overcome the traumas that triggered their behaviors. Deep, entrenched fears, anxieties. Poverty & bad nutrition.
    Find the roots, then heal the illness. Little or nothing else can. Anything less, is only trying to stanch gushing wounds with bandaids.
    Thank you for your compassion!
    Keep remembering, “judge not, lest you be judged”.

  31. When I hear the word hoarding I think of billionaires and muti-millionaires. I would like to hear an explanation of their hoarding.

  32. I used to live with a hoarder. It was awful. Eventually I began to think I was one, too. But I'm not. Sadly, he was like that man she had to run away from. He has no empathy for others so I had to stop giving him mine. You could give him all the compassion in the world and he'd squander it and use it against you, so for him, it's wasted. Not everyone can be saved from themselves. It took a long time to clean the house out after he left, but I'm in a much better place now. I can look around, and even on the worst days I take solace in the fact that no mess I make will ever get even close to what I lived through.

  33. You should prep and stock up for a world crises nothing wrong with extra stuff just so its organize and you dont fall over it.and it's not in the middle of isle.its up to the person what they can buy with their money.we are not a communist contrey where they control you.o know there are extremes where someone can get hurt.

  34. WOW, very powerful message. We all should practice compassion instead of judging people. Unfortunately in our day and age, many people hide behind social media to fling their hate around. So sad.

  35. Thank you. Shortly after we remodeled our bathroom and kitchen and had things in boxes my QUADRAPLEGIC husband began to have breathing difficulties and more health problems with aging . in the past two years before he passed I was not able to put things away or keep the house up properly even with a few hrs nursing help. It got worse when I had to drive to hospitals andfacilities. Now with my back in terrible pain and minimal funds since he's passed I'm faced with embarrassing continuing clutter. If it weren't for one remaining son with me our yard would also fall to ruin. WE DO the best we ca Without a lot of help and low on funds. I now can see how elderly people cannot do repairs or paint nor find strength and Time to discard And rearrange their lives. Often another Problem that begins the hoarding cycle Is illness and aging. I still have countless unpacked boxes. And included in them are additional boxes of medical supplies Medicare nor thrift shops etc are not permitted to accept. Thank you for explaining this dilemma and being compassionate. I havent yet given up…..just need help

  36. My MIL is a hoarder, she has a shopping addiction as well..which has filled her bathroom..despite her buying various organizers, she is still filling not only her house with unneeded items..she is filling up her back porch. It is sad to want to help her but she is also a narcissist, she believes she is smarter than everyone else and you cannot talk to her about anything.

  37. Ok but what do you do with your family member with hording disorder that you clean their house again and again and it just never gets any better.

  38. I think that some people are saving things which are connected to a very special experience in their lives or to a very special person in their lives.

  39. I am not a hoarder, but I had a little experience that makes me believe the difficulty hoarders must go through. What I learned is that I need to be happy and I need space more than I need things. Here is my story. One day after buying yet another item at a thrift store, I had no more cupboard space. I am not talking about a lot of things. I was not a big time shopper or a hoarder. But I had a growing tendency to go to thrift stores to find treasures. It was so easy to do. Pretty things at low prices. Things like antique vases or older bowls or high quality cookware from days when those things were ever so pretty. And cookware was well made. Fine if you have a huge castle or warehouse to fill. But I didn't. And my cupboards were getting full. When they did get full, I started thinking about space in a closet. That's what made me stop. I could have easily turned my home into another thrift store. Why live in a thrift store? I didn't actually need any of it. I never needed any of it. I just wanted it. That can get you into trouble. So, I got rid of most of it. Except for a few nice things. This was not a huge investment. Maybe a couple hundred dollars or so over months. But it was a good lesson. The thrift store will always be there. I need to be happy more than I need things. And I was happier when I reclaimed my space. And best of all, I could find things in my cupboards again.

  40. I am guilty of hoarding tubes of toothpaste, hand/body/lotion, shampoo/conditioner until I can use them up. I give all my hotel soap to charities. I try to get rid of stuff.

  41. What a compassionate person!!! One of my favorite verses in the bible says, "The kindness (compassion) of God leads to repentance." Many times it is compassion and acceptance that makes the walls of fear and resistance come down, and the gratefully surprised recipient finally open to change. I wasn't surprised to learn how her suffering and experience with compassion in her own life changed her. I (and I'm sure many, many others) learned compassion from the things we suffered.

  42. I wonder why hoarding money is considered not only acceptable but desirable. Billionaires are basically hoarders.

  43. My dad is a hoarder. Hes trying to get rid of stuff but can't stop himself from bringing home more. I don't think the hoarding in itself makes him unhappy- he loves to tell people the stories behind his possessions. But it is holding him back from achieving his dream of building a place in the country. He just can't move all his stuff, and can't bring himself to get rid of it all. Its hard to see him cry over it all. I wish I knew how to help him. He won't get counseling.

  44. A physician I worked with was the kindest most caring physician I’d ever known. He was a pediatrician. Well known in my area for being the best pediatrician around, children and their parents adored him. His wife also worked in our office and she was equally as sweet. One Saturday night while watching the news a story came on about a house fire and how the wife had tragically died in the fire and the husband had jumped out of the 2 story window but died on impact. It was my boss and coworker. The story went on to say that they were massive hoarders and that had been the cause of the fire. The home was so bad it had to be demolished. Not just from the fire but bc of the hoarding. It was devastating to everyone. We later found out that their son had been killed oversees 12 years prior and that was what prompted the hoarding. So so sad. This man was intelligent, caring, and giving and you would have never suspected. I thank the speaker for this wonderful message. ❤️

  45. My brother is a hoarder and I love him, thanks to that we still have things to reflect on. THANK YOU! Those were the GREAT! TIMES!.

  46. Than you fr this analysis! I see I am maybe 2 or 3 categories away from being a real hoarder !I am an artist and have to work on my organization and cut back on trying to do every project that comes to mind !! I am So thankful you made it to your far away destination with your beautiful Children!!

  47. I work very hard at not being a hoarder I liked to see some empty spaces. Hoarding can be a pain when living with a none hoarder. Both have problems with each other's. habits..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top