The Cost of Keeping Things – A Hoarding Story

The Cost of Keeping Things – A Hoarding Story

October 27, 2011

Well, as many of you know we have been working on a hoarding home for quite some time now.  Here’s a quick review:

  • We were called in July to help with the downsizing and de-cluterring of a home.
  • The home owners moved into a retirement home and no one was living in the home.
  • The home was filled from top to bottom
  • The daughter of the couple (I’ll call her Jane from hereon in) was in charge of deciding what was going to be saved, given away, etc.
  • Jane had confessed to us that she is a third generation hoarder (her mom and grandmother are/were also hoarders)

When we started this project in July, the house looked similar to what you might see on the TV show Hoarders.  Luckily, there were no animals in the home and there was no rotting food.  There was just a lot of stuff!  As we did a walk-through of the home, we were taken downstairs to the walkout basement.  We stopped at the bottom of the stairs as there was no place to go further.  What we saw were boxes upon boxes (some full and some empty) as well as many loose items and a ton of furniture.

We started on the basement working through the many boxes.  The first day was great as there were a lot of empty boxes that were hauled out to the garage.  That freed up some space for us and allowed us to truly see what we were dealing with.  Jane wanted to take time to go through every box and decide what to do with what was in each box.  It became clear very soon that we were not going to meet our two-week deadline.  Going through the memorabilia that was found was very time consuming and emotional.  Not only was it time consuming, it was stressful for Jane to decide what to do with the items.  Should they be given away?  Should they be kept and if so, where would they go?  Could they be re-sold?  Just so many questions and not enough answers!  Jane was very hesitant to make decisions.

After two weeks of going through the basement, we had gotten through half of the items and the process of sorting into ‘keep’, ‘recycle’, ‘donation’, ‘charity’ was taking it’s toll on Jane.  Jane started to go through boxes that we had already decided on and it felt like we were taking steps back.  It was then we decided to have a time-out from this project.  Jane needed a break from decision making and needed some time to wrap her head around all that had to be done.  I needed a break as I was getting frustrated at seeing Jane go through boxes we had already decided on.

I kept in contact with Jane to see how it was going and if she was making some headway.  We were eventually called back when Jane’s husband stepped in.  After all, he too was going through all of this and seeing his wife spend countless hours away from their family.

We came back and quickly came up with a timeline.  The house needed to get on the market to list yet it needed to be emptied and Jane was emotionally drained.  Although I never, ever suggest renting storage units for hoarders, it is exactly what we suggested.  We needed to have the home emptied and Jane needed time to make solid decisions on items in the home.  Due to the large amount of items, we did the following:

  • one storage unit for all the boxes that Jane wanted to go through with a fine tooth comb.  This included boxes upon boxes of old family letters, old family photos, memorabilia from her grandmother and great grandmother, etc.
  • one storage unit for the antique dining room set as well as for all the fine china, crystal, etc.  Jane is deciding if she wants to switch out her dining room suite for the antique one.
  • one storage unit for all the items that are being donated to Heritage Park and the Glenbow Museum.  Both Heritage Park and the Glenbow Museum were unable to get to the house within our timeline.

The plan for the storage units is to dwindle down to one storage unit (the one with the boxes) and eventually have no storage units.

There were many deliveries the week we cleaned out the house.  There were deliveries to the storage units, to the auction house as well as various charities and donation sites.  There were also deliveries to recycling and finally a small delivery to the landfill.  We then had various service providers come in to do the rest.  We had a team of cleaners come in and scrub the home from top to bottom, we had the carpets professional cleaned, and we had the windows professionally washed.  Walking through the clean, empty home gave me a feeling of relief.  Relief that this project was finally over and relief that Jane could take a much needed rest!

When I tallied up the invoice, I was shocked at the cost of this project.  Including our work from July, the total bill (including all service providers) came to just over seventeen thousand dollars!  Yes, that is not a type-o.  It cost just over seventeen thousand dollars from start to finish on this particular hoarding home.  All money aside, what really stays with me is the emotional cost this project had on Jane.  Having pressure on her to make the right decision on what to keep, making sure she didn’t get rid of anything, yet trying to figure out where to put it all was very taxing on her.  The countless sleepless night, the inability to make a decision, was very costly on Jane’s health.

In one of my email conversations with Jane, she was saying how she sees herself as a hoarder and wonders how to move forward.  I was telling her a story of a family in our community.  Here is an excerpt from my conversation:

…you can’t change the past, but you can direct your future.  You mentioned below that it makes you look at your life differently.  I bet this situation has made you think about things and about your own situation.  In the end, as sad as it may sound, it is just ‘stuff’ and ‘things’.  We recently had a family in our community lose their home to a house fire and they lost everything.  Everything that is, except their family.  When people were helping them out they kept on saying, ‘…but none of us were hurt so everything else can just be replaced.”  Hard to replace 100 year old items, but impossible to replace a loved one.  That made me really think about what is important.

When I look through my home I think what I would grab if we had a fire.  Would it be my laptop? My computer? My iPad? My favorite pair of boots?  Nope!  I would grab my husband and my kids.  The rest is just stuff!

I came across the following quote that I often think of – especially with Jane.  I believe it truly fits with this project:

“Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.” — Herman Hesse

Sheri Bruneau

Get It Together Inc.


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