“The Hoarder Next Door”, with Stelios Kiosses
When I started watching “The Hoarder Next Door“ I thought “Oh, more of the same thing, more hoarding … they’re copying that American show … oh well, I’ll take a look anyway …” After seeing several episodes of the show I can report that it’s not more of the same, it’s actually quite different.
The problem is basically the same, of course – people with a hoarding problem that’s got totally out of hand, to the extent that their hoard has taken over their lives. Their homes have become their prisons. They can barely move around their impossibly cluttered rooms, and in some cases there are rooms in their houses that they simply cannot venture into anymore.
Psychologist with a caring attitude
What’s different is Stelios Kiosses‘ attitude, and his approach. He’s an Oxford graduate with over 20 years’ experience of treating people with various problems, including obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), low self esteem, and of course, hoarding disorder. He’s a trained psychologist and psychotherapist with an impressive list of academic qualifications and achievements, but what’s even more impressive is his wonderfully supportive attitude towards the people he comes into contact with.
Even the simple phrase that he utters at the start of each episode shows his caring and understanding nature: “There’s a bit of the hoarder in all of us … it’s when it gets out of hand, there’s a problem …”
Hoarding – we’re all hoarders, to some extent
I know exactly what he means! I’m aware of the hoarder in me. I do tend to keep things, far too much for my own good. It’s nothing like the people he treats for the problem, but yes, there’s a bit of the hoarder in me, that’s for sure.
Until I got round to getting rid of a lot of paperwork several years ago, I had receipts and bills and magazines and all kinds of things dating back probably twenty years or more. Logic told me I didn’t need them anymore, but until I took the plunge and made a start on it, I couldn’t part with any of it. It seemed to be way too important to part with, at any cost. Even when I did, I kept some of the more recent stuff – even stuff that I knew was of no real importance!
Hoarding books and papers … why?
I did something similar with books. I had hundreds of books, and I’d already given boxes and boxes of books to charity shops over the years. But still, there were hundreds left! I separated them into piles. Some went immediately to charity. Some were passed on to people I knew would appreciate them. And a big stack (several hundred!) went on to the Amazon website for resale.
At the beginning, I thought I’d be happy if someone would buy the entire stack and take them off my hands (that was never gonna happen – they were all listed individually)! I’d have been happy if I’d been offered £100, or maybe £200, for the lot. Two years later I’ve only shifted a portion of them (about 100), but they’ve brought in about £450! That’s definitely a win-win situation – I’m shifting books (okay, pretty slowly, admittedly), books that would otherwise just continue to clog up my bookshelves, other people are buying decent books at a fair price, books that are mostly in excellent condition, and I’m making money on the deal. What could be better?!
Do we all have a bit of OCD in us?
So I recognise the hoarder in me. And I’m doing something about it. It’s not just books, and paperwork. I tend to ‘save’ things that ‘might come in useful one of these days’. Yeah, where have you heard that before? From every hoarder on every show about hoarding, that’s where! But I’m aware of my hoarding tendencies, and I’m keeping them under control.
Er … that’s what I keep telling myself, anyway!
Back to The Hoarder Next Door. Stelios has a nice, relaxed way of approaching the people he is trying to help. He is not in the least confrontational. He just asks a few questions, in a very conversational tone. In his quiet, unassuming way he get to the bottom of most people’s problems within a few minutes. As he points out, he believes hoarding is generally caused by unresolved emotional issues. And he’s good at pinpointing those issues … boy, is he good!
Incidentally, this isn’t saying anything against the American version, or the psychologists involved in those shows. It’s just that with hoarding a different approach can sometimes work wonders.
I think it’s just a subtle difference, and it may owe more to the fact that Stelios is British, with a more laid back British attitude, than anything else. Also, I think the American show tends to put too much pressure on people to make changes in a matter of just a few days, maybe to add an element of drama to the show, I don’t know. I’m sure the producers could tell you the answer to that, but I’m not sure they’d be happy to.
Getting to the heart of the matter
In the episode I just watched, the lady he visited hadn’t even been in her living room or dining room for years. She felt she couldn’t. And not just because there was so much stuff in the room that it was almost impossible to actually get in, but because of stagnant, unresolved feelings concerning her long-gone husband.
He encouraged her to go in right now, assuring her he would be with her all the way, since she was obviously in a delicate state even thinking about it. He asked her if she knew why it was so difficult to go into that room, and she told him her husband had spent the last several weeks in there (they weren’t communicating at all by that time), and he used to sleep on the couch, in a sleeping bag.
He didn’t waste any more time. After getting her to open the window and let some fresh air in, he told her he had some homework for her. He said the best thing she could do would be to dig out the sleeping bag (now buried under a mound of junk), take in out into the garden, and put a match to it. That’s all he asked her to do. Then he left her to take care of it, in her own time.
She dug out the scuzzy old sleeping bag (it wasn’t easy … neither physically nor mentally). She put it in a bin in the garden and she set light to it.
And she watched it burn …
She knew instinctively that he’d seen the sleeping bag as a symbol of a relationship that had gone sour, and she knew he was right – she’d been hanging onto the feelings surrounding the marriage break-up. As she watched the ritual burning of the sleeping bag, she was letting go of the past, and all the bad memories that it held for her.
Stelios makes it look deceptively easy. You can’t help thinking “I could have done that!” … but that tends to be the way when you watch a master at work, right?
Letting go of the OCD compulsion
Once she’d done that, the rest just flowed. She had overcome that one monumental stumbling block, a block so insurmountable that she couldn’t even go into that part of the house, and she was on a roll. Over the next few weeks, she went from room to room, clearing years and years of junk out and merrily filling skips (dumpsters, I suppose that is, if you’re from the US of America).
This kind of thing is typical of the Stelios method; he gets to the bottom of the problem in almost no time, and he lances the boil. Sometimes he needs to do more work to get the desired result – more talk, more mental clearing exercises, more ‘homework’, whatever – but he gets there. And the beautiful thing about it is that it’s painless.
The hoarder, by the end of the six weeks of the treatment, is glad to be clearing the clutter out of the house. He or she is actively clearing and cleaning, not stubbornly fighting against the process. By clearing away the emotional problem, the physical problem can be tackled much more easily.
Professional clutter clearers
To ease the clearing process, he has a couple of professional lady cleaners go in and assist. They too have the same attitude. They are hell bent on clearing out years, sometimes decades, of junk and clutter, but they do it only with the permission and compliance of the hoarder, every step of the way. They steer clear of any room that is problematical until the hoarder feels that he or she can deal with that room. They’re supportive and friendly, just like Stelios, and their methods work just as effectively.
End of low self esteem
At the end of an episode of The Hoarder Next Door, the hoarder (ex-hoarder, by now) is cheerfully inviting family and friends around for a meal, and revelling in them all being able to eat at a dining table for the first time in years. They are often on the verge of tears at having regained the freedom to have their house back, after years of existing in a sort of self-made prison. And you just know they’ll never again be in that horrendous situation, because not only have they cleared away all the clutter, they’ve also come to terms with the emotional problem that caused it in the first place.
That’s what makes the Stelios method so effective. That it doesn’t depend only on clearing away the physical clutter, but that it helps to tidy up and heal the hoarder’s fragile mental state. As their dinner guest often remark, they look happier, more relaxed, more confident, and more like the person they knew ten or twenty years ago.
And that’s a result!
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