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 Clutter Workshop Offers Hope and Healing

 for the Toughest “Packrats?/EM>

“It’s estimated that more than two million people suffer from hoarding or chronic clutter, and the figures are probably higher because, this is a problem deeply hidden by embarrassment." -- Beth Johnson

“When a home is very cluttered, it can be a serious fire hazard. We have seen cases where people have died because they could not get out of their home quickly... and (the danger) is not only to oneself, but to others living in the building or to neighbors.?-- Dr. Randy Frost

By Brenda Sullivan

Special Correspondent
to the Reminder

—It’s that time of the year again—finally, when we can open the windows, shake out the area rugs and corral the “dust bunnies.?Spring cleaning.

For some of us, spring cleaning means a bucket and mop, broom and dust pan, paper towels and a variety of spray cleaners. For others, Spring may be a painful reminder of how out-of-control their homelife has become.

 

It is difficult to estimate how many people live in dread, behind closed doors, of their clutter-clogged homes being discovered by friends, co-workers, repairmen, or others.

 Beth Johnson, founder of the Clutter Workshop, has some inkling, however. Whenever someone writes about her work, or a camera crew joins one of her support groups, she is inundated with hundreds of phone calls and e-mails for the next several weeks.

Johnson deals with the toughest cases of “packrat?and “clutter bug.?People who have filled every available space with “stuff.?

In one case, where the homeowners were willing to allow a Channel 8 camera crew into their home, the couple had even filled their shower stall with boxes.
To people whose accumulations have reached this level, Johnson is a Godsend.

The most important gift she bestows on her group’s members is hope, says someone who learned the pleasures of giving away treasures, after attending the workshop.

“It was very helpful to find ways to get rid of stuff without just trashing it, whether it was to give it to a charity or sell it to an antiques shop,?said Tiffany, who shares a six room house in Manchester with her husband and two dogs.

 “I felt like I wasn’t wasting things that I thought, at some time, were important. So, it made me feel invigorated and like I could meet the challenge,?she said.

Tiffany (a name she uses to protect her privacy when talking about her clutter issues) spotted an ad for Johnson’s workshop and thought, “Oh my gosh, this is exactly what I need,?she said.

“I knew there was something wrong because, I would go through my things I had saved from my past and it would make me happy to see them, but it was so much stuff that I couldn’t enjoy my home the way I wanted to,?she said.

Unlike many chronic clutterers who become isolated (and then depressed) because of the chaos in their homes, Tiffany enjoys company and so, has managed to keep the main living areas clutter-free and clean. It was the out-of-sight rooms (the den, her son’s former bedroom) that began to wear heavily on her mind.

As a writer and teacher, she has accumulated an overwhelming amount of papers. A childhood tradition also added to the heaps of stuff filling up space.

“Every year, after Christmas, my mother, sister and I would shop at the after-Christmas sales. So, I have boxes and boxes of stuff I thought I would give to my son. But he’s Mr. Neat,?Tiffany said.

 Inspired by one of Johnson’s many tips on how to change the feelings of loss to something more positive when letting go of possessions, Tiffany found a way to put her Christmas collection to good use.

Tiffany belongs to several online writer’s groups, including one for stay-at-home mothers, many of whom are single parents and in some cases, women who left abusive marriages with just the barest of possessions.

Tiffany offered up her Christmas items to them for just the cost of postage. The requests came flying in, from Washington State to Italy.

“I felt wonderful about that. These are people who had nothing,?Tiffany said.

 More recently, she has decided to part with some of her hundreds of books by donating them to tag sales for worthy causes, such as a group that provides shelter for abandoned dogs.

Johnson, who lives in West Hartford [CT], began to help others with their clutter after going through the trauma of clearing out a deceased relative’s house.

“For me, more than anything, it is important to make a difference in this world. I think this is one place where I can make a difference,?she said.

As Johnson connected with others doing research in this area, and began to work with individuals  who were overwhelmed by their clutter, she realized the enormity of the problem.

In a world that inundates us with catalogs, “freebies,?and a general philosophy that more is somehow better, “there are still not nearly enough resources for the escalating clutter problem.,?Johnson said.

“It’s estimated that more than two million people suffer from hoarding or chronic clutter, and the figures are probably higher because, this is a problem deeply hidden by embarrassment,?she said.

“People suffering from chronic clutter are often talented achievers in the ‘outside?world, and would ‘die of shame?to let people inside their front door,?Johnson said.

The Clutter Workshop actually is a collection of services. There is an initial five-hour workshop given in two parts.

The workshops focus not so much on why someone is buried in clutter, but how to change behaviors and  adopt new strategies for both stemming the influx and sorting through/letting go of the accumulated stuff.

Workshop members can then choose to follow-up with periodic support group meetings and special events, such as a group tag sale in May, and guest lecturers such as  Dr. Randy Frost.

Frost, a psychology professor at Smith College, has run an anxiety-disorder clinic at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He writes and speaks nationally about obsessive-compulsive behavior.

Frost notes that there is more than peace of mind at stake in a home packed with stuff. “There are lots of health and safety issues. When a home is very cluttered it can be a serious fire hazard. We have seen cases where people have died because they could not get out of their home quickly... and (the danger) is not only to oneself, but to others living in the building or to neighbors.?Frost said.

On the psychological side, “hoarding is closely associated with depression,?perhaps because the person becomes isolated, Frost said. “Social contacts tend to diminish until he or she sees very few people.?/P>

But people can change., with help.

“Working with this problem is difficult, and people need to anticipate some degree of distress,?which makes getting help important, whether a support group or a workshop like Johnson’s, Frost  said.

The Clutter Workshop has been presented throughout Connecticut.
The next will be given in two parts, from 7 to 9:30 p.m. on May 15 and 29 (two weeks apart) at the new Center for Progressive Therapy (across from Cheney Hall).

Pre-registration is required. Details on costs are available online at www.clutterworkshop.com, or by e-mailing Johnson at jletgo@juno.com, or by calling (860) 232-3838.


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