Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer and the author of several books on real estate, architecture, and remodeling, including The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing, 2014). Barbara’s most recent book is The Garden Bible: Designing Your Perfect Outdoor Space, co-authored with Michael Glassman (Images, 2015).
Geralin Thomas: Extreme Accumulators
Geralin Thomas, a disorganization expert on A&E’s TV show “Hoarders,” specializes in helping persistently disorganized people as well as excessive stashers.
October 1, 2011
How’d you get interested in helping hoarders?
I created Metropolitan Organizing LLC, an organizing business in Cary, N.C., nine years ago. A&E found me through the Institute for Challenging Disorganization, which helps the chronically disorganized.
Many people struggle with throwing things out, but that’s different from hoarding. How do you differentiate between the two?
A hoarder tends to keep things of very little or no value to anyone else. These things take over their living spaces to the point where rooms aren’t functional. A pack rat hates throwing things away but still can sleep in a bedroom. A hoarder may have to sleep in a chair because the bed’s piled high with stuff.
Why do hoarders—and others—have such a tough time getting rid of stuff?
Hoarding is a mental disorder, and mental disorders fall across a spectrum. I don’t have stats on how many people struggle with throwing out things to various degrees, but hoarders, pack rats, clutter bugs, and collectors all save for distinct reasons: “sentimental savers” can’t let go of the 55 photos of their child blowing out birthday candles, even the bad ones; “eco-minded” people feel responsibility for saving the planet even when the cost compromises their home, health, and safety; the “value-minded” think their Beanie Babies, Pez dispensers, and postcards are worth a fortune; and “resourceful” types believe they’ll find a use for every ordinary object, whether a bag of pine cones or cat litter box, because it can be repurposed.
Are we hoarding more these days?
Definitely! Maybe because it’s easier to purchase stuff; every couple of miles there’s a Target, Wal-Mart, or Dollar Store selling affordable stuff. Plus, shopping is now available 24/7 online so anything, from anywhere, can be delivered to us wherever we live.
Why do you think a TV show about people struggling with their stuff has become so popular?
For lots of reasons. We relate to why we hang onto our own stuff; it’s a wake-up call to keep our acquiring habits in check; and we probably know someone who overaccumulates. I also think children of hoarders watch since they know how it feels to grow up in a home stuffed with stuff. It’s not a happy, healthy place. It helps them to see people reach out for help.
What’s the best tactic to convince hoarders to part with stuff, especially before putting their house on the market?
Unfortunately, there’s not a real estate salesperson on the planet who can help a person with a hoarding disorder unless the hoarder wants help and is willing to get therapy. Many lack insight that they have a problem.
Is there an emotional process that helps people let go of stuff?
I tell them they’ll most likely experience discomfort and frustration, but gradually feel less burdened, and eventually love the results.
For more information about hoarding challenges, visit www.challengingdisorganization.org.
A&E’s “Hoarders” airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
Updated: November 24, 2021