ABOVE: Anne relaxing on the porch of her new, clutter-free home PHOTO PROVIDED BY ANNE
by Anne from Maitland
I am a mother of three, and I also have many happy and healthy grandchildren. I raised my three children by myself – with some help from my mum when I got really sick – in the same house for 26 years. I tried hard to bring my children up so they wouldn’t be scared of life. I got them involved in sports and dance activities and tried to be the best mum I could.
As a mother, we give so much to our children and often have so little left for ourselves. During their upbringing, I was sure to make time to express myself by writing poetry and doing other creative things. Some of my poetry has been published, and I won an Editor’s Choice Award in 1992 or 1993. I have painted for a number of years, and I’ve got experience using oils, watercolours and acrylics.
During a traumatic period of unwellness in 1990 I was given a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. I had another period of unwellness in 1994 or 1995. At first I found it difficult to cope, but then I began taking a medication which makes me feel a lot better. While I already had difficulty maintaining my home before that point, I think that this traumatic period in my life was what lead to me acquiring my hoarding problem.
“I want to be able to enjoy my life, maintain my home, have friends and family over and be able to cook and entertain. That is why I work hard to take control of my hoarding problem.” -Anne
One of the worst consequences of my hoarding was that it became difficult to have other people around for visits, whether they were friends or tradesmen, and this made my life very isolated.
I’ve had assistance with my hoarding from numerous organisations and companies in the past, but as they didn’t provide me with any ongoing follow-up support I just ended up going back to hoarding again.
A major challenge
As my three children grew up and moved out of home to start their own families, our home became far too big for just me, so I requested to be transferred into a smaller one-bedroom unit. This meant I now had 26 years of clutter to sort out and clear up before I could move into my new home.
Flourish Australia supported me with this huge job. They assisted me in sorting my possessions for the big move by helping me separate everything into the following five categories: Keep, Op Shop, Maybe, Storage, or Throw out. Flourish Australia staff also supported me in maintaining my house and keeping it clean and tidy during the sorting, and they were very good at supporting my mental health during this whole process. For instance, they would offer me suggestions as to how I could live in a more positive environment. Thankfully, unlike the other services who have offered me help over the years, Flourish Australia has continued to support me when I need it. I am very grateful for the guidance and support I’ve been provided.
My new home
I am now living in a one-bedroom house, and I continue to sort and maintain my possessions to keep my home as uncluttered as possible. I have been looking after my new unit by using some of the skills that I learnt from the Flourish Australia staff. If I need to acquire something new, then I need to make room by letting other things go.
I’m not isolated anymore, either: I receive regular visits from family members and friends, and some of my grandchildren have even had sleepovers at my new place.
Becoming who I want to be
I’ve worked on myself in many ways. I attended an ongoing hoarding support group where I learnt to acknowledge my triggers, how to control my hoarding with steps and rules, and how to achieve my goals. When I first decided to take control of my hoarding problem I discovered that parting with things that I wasn’t emotionally attached to was not as hard as I had assumed. I am also sure to regularly take some time out to just enjoy life. This could mean going out for coffee or lunch, attending yoga and Tai Chi classes, or exercising my creative side by drawing, painting and writing. I love to cook and I can really whip up a storm, but I haven’t gotten back into it on a regular basis just yet.
My hopes for the future
In the future I hope to keep my hoarding problem to a minimum. It’s a big job, but I am slowly chipping away at living a better life. I want to be able to maintain my home, have friends and family over, be able to cook and entertain, and just enjoy life. With support from Flourish Australia and a psychologist from the hoarding program, I am learning to be more assertive in taking control. I continue to see my psychologist at least once a month to help keep me on track.
I have a positive outlook now and I will continue to do all I can to achieve my goals, even if I stumble at times. I want to enjoy as much of my life as possible, join some groups, and continue my arts, crafts, writing and exercise.
Advice to others who hoard
Seek help with your problems. Listen to the positive advice and feedback that you are offered. Try to learn from your experiences, and live a happier, more positive life. Never give up when things look tough, and keep your eye on the prize. Know that you can beat hoarding if you try, and be sure to ask for ongoing support if you need it. You have to believe in yourself and be respected for who you are. Life can be a challenge, but help is available. If someone suggests you try something that will help, try it.
Note that collecting and hoarding are two different behaviours. This article from the Anxiety Recovery Centre Victoria illustrates the difference:
Where to get help
“Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding” by Tolin, Frost and Steketee
7A, 500 High Street MAITLAND NSW 2320
1300 779 270