Secret life of hoarding: How one woman is taking back control of her life

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DENVER -- Chances are there's someone who hoards things living in your neighborhood.

They live in every zip code in America, every neighborhood and it doesn't matter if they're rich or poor.

"People don't choose to live like this. You don't want to live like this," Lin Nicholson said.

But overcoming the disorder that leads to hoarding can be an excruciating process.

Nearly five percent of the population is afflicted with mental illness that compels a person to accumulate items to excess.

A lifetime of memories fills every room and every space at Lin's home in Aurora.

"When you're living in it, it's very depressing and you feel overwhelmed," Lin said. "People don't choose to live like this. You don't want to live like this. It's just something that happens to you, you just lose control of your space."

The problem started for her 12 years ago with the deaths of her mother and then her husband. "I was grieving. And in the grieving, you collect this stuff and why you do, I don't know."

Lin said those possessions filled a part of her that was empty. But they now strangle her happiness.

"You reach a point though, either you die among all this stuff or you're going to get it taken care of before you die."

An organization called Clutter Trucker is helping her take care of it. Their mission is giving Lin hope.

The first day of cleaning out the home she inherited from her parents was tough. Most can't understand the difficulties she has parting with the possessions. ""I was thinking we should probably kind of stop. I was sensing that," Lin said. That was even though workers had not made it inside the house yet.

She gave a tour of the home and said the upstairs had been unusable. She's not comfortable having friends over to the house. "I'd love to have company, entertain, bring people back to my house. I have beautiful dishes I'd like to use."

But the problem isn't isolated to Lin's home. She also has six storage units that she's been paying a thousand dollars a month for years. She doesn't have the money anymore. And now, she has to remove all of her things by the end of the month or lose it all.

Cristina Sorrentio Schmalisch is a therapist who co-authored "The Hoarding Handbook: A Guide for Human Service Professionals."  The video clip below is an extended interview with her about the topic of hoarding.

Schmalisch said hoarders place value on things most of us don't. "They are really like having heirlooms all over the house, even if it's just an old receipt or a broken pair of sunglasses."

She said hoarders like Lin fear letting go of things they feel responsible for or that they might need.

Clutter Trucker's third day back to Lin's home showed progress in the living room. Lin stood in front of the fireplace she said she had not been in front of for 12 years.

She said she slept on a dog bed for a time in the living room. But now her real bedroom is a place where she can rest her head. "I think it was almost waist high standing on top of newspapers, books, clothes."

And the cleanup uncovered more space and a childhood toy, a hand puppet that she had hoped to find. ""Where were you, Jocko? You've been lost for 12 years. Ha. Ha."

More happy memories were found, too. "Thank goodness they found the pictures of my husband, Carl. He had the best looking legs of any man or woman I had ever seen. They were beautiful legs."

The work continued.

"I have been feeling really good about this. I am surprised I feel this good. But I was ready to let things go. I just needed help to let things go," Lin said.

She said until Clutter Trucker came along she struggled to find help. Clutter Trucker has been cleaning her home for four days for free. That's about $4,600 worth of work. But she still needs about $4,000 worth of cleanup performed.

The link is where people can go to donate: Clutter Trucker hoarding scholarship fund information

 

 

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