Decluttering Victoria home “overwhelming” for woman living with hoarding disorder

The thought of getting rid of the hundreds of items consuming her small apartment in Victoria left Susan feeling tremendously overwhelmed.

A contributed photo of the same room taken after Susan and her sisters decluttered her home in the summer.

A contributed photo of the same room taken after Susan and her sisters decluttered her home in the summer.

The thought of sorting through and getting rid of the hundreds of items consuming her small apartment in Victoria left Susan feeling tremendously overwhelmed.

Piles of organized items lined the main hallway and took over the tiny kitchen, only allowing access to one burner on the stove. Things also piled up in the bathroom and bathtub, making it difficult sometimes to shower. The nights she couldn’t reach her bed, Susan slept on a blanket on the floor.

Living with hoarding disorder and depression hasn’t been easy for the 62-year-old nurse.

In addition to her apartment, Susan has seven storage lockers (that cost as much as her monthly rent) packed with items she purchased from auctions. She knew she was overdoing it, but it didn’t matter. Wading around in a fog, the only thing that made her happy was buying new things from craft fairs, flea markets and rummage sales to add to her collection of tea cups, linens, china, teddy bears and dolls.

But after six years of living amongst the clutter slowly taking over her home, Susan reached her breaking point and decided to get help.

“You have to get to the point where you realize you want to change, that you are not getting where you want to get, that you never will and you need help,” said Susan, who did not want to publish her real name.

“You think I’m intelligent, I’ll just tidy up and I have the wherewithal, but you don’t know how to cope with it, you don’t even identify or know why it happens. I got to the point where I had to say, I don’t know what to do.”

Hoarding is a mental health condition that can be caused by a number of reasons. Sometimes genetic factors play a role and a person’s upbringing, along with other problems like decision making, being organized, and issues with emotional attachment.

An estimated one in 25 people in Greater Victoria are directly affected by hoarding, defined as the excessive collection of items, along with the inability to discard them. Despite the high prevalence, doctors say a lot of people are hesitant to disclose they have a problem.

Attending monthly meetings with the city’s Hoarding Education and Action Team (HEAT) peer support group, Susan began setting goals and tried to do something with the mountain of items consuming her home. But her anxiety and depression made it tough to get anything accomplished. Her mind was all over the place and she couldn’t think straight. Eventually Susan felt like she was losing control.

Seeing their family member in need, Susan’s sisters offered to help declutter her place and in August, the tedious task of sorting through and getting rid of the items consuming her tiny apartment and life officially began.

Working from morning to night for at least five days, they packed the items into boxes and put collectibles into another storage locker, bringing the total to eight. At times Susan was forced to make some hard decisions that left her crying in the backyard.

“I felt so embarrassed, I felt so upset that they shouldn’t have been doing that, but I was excited at the same time and really thankful that they cared enough to do this for me,” said Susan, who couldn’t believe what she saw once the process was over.

“It blew my mind. It was all open, I could see the floor in every room, it was normal. I started to remember what it was like when I first moved in (in 2004). It felt like a big load had been taken off my shoulders. I just thought I want this in my life.”

These days, things are looking bright for Susan who’s filled with a positivity she hasn’t felt in a long time. She’s managed to keep the clutter out of her home, but admits the Christmas season has caused things to get a bit messy again.

Learning how to control her disorder will be an ongoing process. Susan still likes to go out and buy things, but she’s learned, with the help of her support group, how to control what she purchases, noting they’ll only make her happy in the short term so take a picture instead. She’s also been pre-approved to purchase a house — a dream she thought at one point would never come true.

“I understand that it’s not over for me. I’ve got all this stuff that’s in storage now and I try not to dwell on it. I have a lot of really nice things that I’ve forgotten about because it’s in storage,” said Susan.

It’s facing a part of yourself that you don’t want to face. It takes everybody their own amount of time to get to that point where you say I can look at this, I have to because I am just so miserable.”

 

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A member of the Belmont Secondary School in Langford has tested positive for COVID-19, the Sooke School District announced Thursday afternoon. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Positive COVID-19 case identified at Belmont Secondary School in Langford

Other school members could’ve been exposed on April 20

Starting in June, Government Street will be closed to most vehicles between Humboldt and View streets. A section of Government Street was transformed into a pedestrian-priority walkway in the wake of COVID-19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria plans 10-hour closures of Government Street come June

City’s business relief plan extended, Government St. from Humboldt to View closed noon to 10 p.m.

As part of the province’s strategy to combat the opioid overdose crisis, take-home naloxone kits have been distributed throughout the province. (Courtesy of Gaëlle Nicolussi)
Vancouver Island could be at its worst point of overdose crises yet: medical health officer

Island Health issued overdose advisories for Victoria, various communities in the last two weeks

While Buccaneer Days public events are cancelled again, such as the annual parade, a home and business decorating contest will allow the spirit of the event to live on. (Facebook)
Esquimalt Buccaneer Days COVID-19 cannon fodder again

Annual celebration cancelled a second time, decorating contest full steam ahead

Police are looking for this suspect after a man was stabbed on Pandora Avenue Tuesday night. (Photo courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Police seek suspect in Victoria stabbing

The stabbing took place in the 900-block of Pandora Avenue, just before 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Have rising prices caused you to give up hope of buying a home?

Do you have a spare 50 grand or so kicking around (have… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of April 20

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

MLA Shirley Bond, right, answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on February 19, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Former B.C. gaming minister says she wasn’t told directly about dirty cash flowing to casinos

Shirley Bond said Thursday civil forfeiture, gang violence and gambling addiction were also major concerns in 2011

RCMP Constable Etsell speaks to tourists leaving the area at a police roadblock on Westside Road south of Fintry, B.C., Thursday, July 23, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Yvonne Berg
B.C. police say they take ‘exception’ to conducting roadblocks limiting travel

Asking the police to enforce roadblocks exposes officers to further risk and possible COVID-19 infections, says federation president Brian Sauve

The conservation service confirmed they do not relocate cougars from settled areas but that euthanasia is not necessarily the fate for an animal in the Fanny Bay area. The hope is that the animal will move on to wild areas. (File photo)
Woman hopes cat-stalking Fanny Bay cougar can avoid euthanization

Conservation officers do not relocate the animals from Vancouver Island

Tofino residents expressed frustration over a recent post by Long Beach Lodge owner Tim Hackett that falsely claimed all residents have been vaccinated. (Westerly file photo)
Resort owner apologizes for suggesting Tofino is safe to travel to

Long Beach Lodge owner Tim Hackett apologizes to community and visitors

BC Hydro released a survey Thursday, April 22. It found that many British Columbians are unintentionally contributing to climate change with their yard maintenance choices. (Pixabay)
Spend a lot of time doing yard work? It might be contributing to climate change

Recent BC Hydro survey finds 60% of homeowners still use gas-powered lawnmowers and yard equipment

Journal de Montreal is seen in Montreal, on Thursday, April 22, 2021. The daily newspaper uses a file picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressed in traditional Indian clothing during his trip to India to illustrate a story on the Indian variant of the coronavirus. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Montreal newspaper blasted for front-page photo of Trudeau in India

Trudeau is wearing traditional Indian clothes and holding his hands together in prayer beside a caption that reads, ‘The Indian variant has arrived’

Most Read