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Climbing out of a loved one’s clutter together

Bec Shuer headshot colorBec Belofsky ShuerWhen I asked my husband in 2005 what he planned to bring to our downsized apartment, I was shocked to hear him say, very matter-of-factly, “Everything.” I let out an incredulous laugh and pushed him to get real – certainly everything couldn’t be coming with us! To my dismay, he was serious, and we quickly had a big problem. What was to be a happy move into the next phase of our life brought with it complications I hadn’t envisioned. My husband’s extreme attachment to his large number of possessions was about to consume us.

Sure enough, all Lee’s stuff came to the one-room studio apartment. Clutter filled our living space. Suddenly, I felt adrift in my own home. I was overwhelmed, saddened, stifled. I felt squeezed out and insignificant. I tried to live like this for a bit, to figure things out and see what would happen. After much contemplation, though, I realized I had to save myself, and hopefully, our relationship from the damage that the boxes and bins and stacks of things were causing. Serendipitously, I saw an ad seeking volunteers for a research study; they wanted people who had too much stuff! I had a feeling this would lead us to the kind of help we desperately needed.

When Lee came home that night, I couldn’t wait to show him the newsletter. I was hopeful that he would call the number, but afraid he’d say that he didn’t need it or he didn’t want it. We talked and I explained how much the stuff was hurting me and our life together. We couldn’t have friends over, I couldn’t access my hobbies, and there was no space for peace to be had. It wasn’t good for either of us. Lee agreed. He enrolled in the study, and I was grateful for his openness to the possibility of change. I wanted us to get through this, but I had no idea what such a process would look like. I buckled up for the ride and pledged my support and commitment. I had hope and I shared that with Lee.

When the study finished, Lee worked with local Smith College professor Dr. Randy Frost and his colleagues to develop a peer action group based on Buried in Treasures, a science-based program to help people with compulsive hoarding disorder through recovery, and that became a life-changer for us – and now many others. I could see the results of Lee’s work week-by-week, and it was heartening. My challenge was to bear with the process, regain my identity, and keep the big picture in mind. We succeeded in beating clutter. It’s important to know that recovery is possible and it looks nothing like those screaming shows you may have seen on television.

Up next: Read "The musings of a recovering finder/keeper" by Lee Shuer.

For more information about resources regarding hoarding, contact the Information & Caregiver Resource Center at LifePath.