People with hoarding disorder may seek the services of a professional organizer if they view their problem as being primarily one of disorganization. Also, working with a professional organizer may be more acceptable to some people than seeking mental health treatment.

What are Professional Organizers?

Professional organizers work to improve the quality of their clients’ homes or workplaces through organization.  They provide knowledge about:

  • Organizing skills – for example, sorting, categorizing, and organizing possessions; setting regular routines like recycling and sorting mail/bills.
  • Tools, such as storage containers and file folders.
  • Systems – for filing paper, for managing appointments, etc.
  • Prioritizing activities (e.g. when to run errands, do housework, etc.)

Professional organizers not only transfer skills and help create organizational systems, they also help motivate their clients to carry out the de-cluttering work. Many individuals with hoarding disorder have severe motivational problems. As a result of working with a professional organizer and becoming more organized, clients can experience a range of benefits as they are better able to find needed possessions and feel less stress in their day-to-day lives.

How can they help those with HD?

Professional organizers working with those with hoarding disorder can use a range of organizing strategies. One standard strategy is O.H.I.O. (Only Handle it Once) for those who “churn” items. This happens because difficulty making decisions is a common problem in hoarding disorder, and many clients lack organizational systems. As a result, a client may start to work on a pile of items, become frustrated (what to do with the items, where to put them, etc.) and then put the object down in the same or different pile. O.H.I.O. raises awareness of churning behavior and encourages clients to make a final decision about the item.

Related to this, a key sorting strategy is to encourage clients to sort into a small number of categories. Typical first categories are “keep,” “discard,” and “unsure,” with the latter allowing for discussion about decisions.  Other important strategies are to identify a “home inside the home” for each item and to encourage the development of maintenance skills, like reading and sorting mail daily, regularly removing items, recycling, and putting items away shortly after use.

Professional organizers can provide important help for clients who are getting mental health treatment for hoarding disorder. Very few mental health providers make home visits, and even those who do usually only provide limited visits.  Working with a professional organizer can give clients critical hands-on help with their excessive items. Ideally, the professional organizer would contact the therapist and work with them to help the client’s hoarding disorder symptoms.

Some professional organizers have specialized training in working with hoarding disorder or related problems, such as chronic disorganization (CD).  For these cases, the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD) provides information about chronic disorganization (CD) and trains professionals to work effectively with this problem. However, CD is not the same as hoarding disorder – a person may be chronically disorganized without having hoarding disorder, such as if their CD is due to current depression or attention deficit disorder.  In contrast, most people with hoarding disorder do have CD. The ICD provides contact information for professional organizers with different levels of expertise in working with CD (www.challengingdisorganization.org).  The National Association of Professional Organizers (www.napo.net) provides contact information for the broader group of professional organizers and also provides training opportunities.