Oak Harbor woman sheds light on hoarding

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Lots of us have it. Clutter. It’s part of normal, everyday life.

But when does clutter move from a small annoyance to a problem like hoarding? That was the topic of a seminar last week sponsored by Skagit Valley College.

Local hoarding expert Tammi Moses spoke to a small crowd at the Oak Harbor Sno-Isle Library meeting room, where she gave a brief overview of hoarding.

“If you say you’re a hoarder, there’s a good chance you’re not,” Moses said. “Really it comes down to the basic question ‘Can you use your space for its intended purpose? Can you cook in your kitchen, take a shower in your shower, sleep in your bed?’ If you can use your space as its intended, then you’re probably just dealing with clutter. So then you have to ask yourself what level of clutter and stuff can you live with?”

According to Moses, approximately two to five million people across the United States have a hoarding disorder.

Simply put, hoarding is defined as a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. But a hoarding disorder is anything but simple.

“It is very much an emotional situation and it does seem to rear its head more after either a traumatic event like a death or divorce or loss of some kind, or some sort of trauma from your past that’s never been handled in an effective way,” Moses said. “So you tend to pull things toward you as a protective measure.”

While the problem may be obvious to someone from the outside looking in, it can be very difficult for a hoarder who is at the center of the problem. They don’t necessarily see the mess and clutter. They see prized possessions that have a significant value to them. Parting with those things can be extremely painful. That’s why it can be difficult to approach someone who has a hoarding problem.

“As a community, we tend to run away from it because people don’t understand it. Hoarding has nothing to do with being lazy,” said Moses. “It has everything to do with trauma and emotional attachment and how difficult it is to release that.

“The most important way to approach someone is to look at them as a person, as a human being just like you who has an issue to be resolved,” she continued. Moses said she recommends starting the conversation with a softer approach, rather than announcing to someone you’re going to help them clean it up.

“Although that can be the most expeditious solution, it can be very traumatic for the person,” she said. “So my take on it is to talk with them. If you just listen, people will usually tell you what it is that’s going on. Don’t expect they’re going to welcome you with open arms. Have the expectation that the first time you’re probably just going to have a conversation.”

Moses is the owner of Homes Are for Living, which provides mitigation, prevention and education about the issue of hoarding. She is also the child of a hoarder. She said she was able to survive it because she had her own room and controlled what came into her space.

“I believe hoarding is largely misunderstood,” she said. “And I know too much to be quiet.”

Today Moses hopes to shine a light on the issue of hoarding and hopes to do more presentations through SVC and other outlets across Whidbey Island.

“I want people to know they’re not alone,” she said. “There are options out there and a safe place to come and talk about it.”

More information is available online at www.homesareforliving.com.

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