What most people would consider rubbish are often things that have real meaning for hoarders. Many of those things are of little or no monetary value but are attached to a strong emotional connection to the person and come with feelings of grief, sadness and fear when they are lost or taken away.
The reasons why someone begins to hoard aren’t yet fully understood. They may be struggling to cope with a traumatic life event, such as the death of a loved one but why it manifests itself this way is unknown. Some of the people I met have twenty years of established behavior. Many others do realize that they have a problem, but are reluctant to seek help because they feel extremely ashamed, humiliated or guilty. It is this guilt that keeps these behaviors secret from the people around them, this shame pushing them further inside and leading to more accumulation.
Although it is estimated to occur in between 2% and 5% of the population, there are no clear pathways to access support within existing health and well-being services. In the absence of medical recognition of hoarding as a specific disorder in the UK, statutory organizations look to regulatory powers made within environmental health legislation. This legislation addresses the problems created by hoarders but does not recognize or address the needs of the person hoarding. The answer from above is to force solutions that in fact reinforce the problem instead of taking the time to understand why and to start from there.
These images portray the externalization of an internal world.
Complete this questionnaire, agreeing or disagreeing with each statement.
1. Is the door to your house & the doors to other rooms blocked from opening 90 degrees?
2. Do friends or family often suggest you “get rid of stuff” in your home?
3. Are you (or your family) embarrassed to have friends over to your house?
4. Do you have a large collections of similar items that you don’t use?
5. Do you have more than ten unopened items or outfits with the tags still on and have they been there longer than a year?
6. Do you often save things - boxes, bubble wrap, old clothes, broken appliances - because they “may have a purpose some day”?
7. Would it take you more than one day to clean your house for visitors?
8. Do you often trip over items when walking through frequently used rooms in your home?
9. Is your bed and/or kitchen table filled with clutter?
10. Do you often eat out because you can’t see your stove, microwave or kitchen table?
At some point in our lives having a collection of something has appealed to most of us and 30% of British adults consider themselves ‘collectors’. But when it becomes excessive, consuming their living spaces and straining their relationships it becomes problematic. What might have started as a habit has become a great burden to sufferers. Commonly linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), studies have found it is often neither an obsession nor compulsion. This means a large number of sufferers remain undiagnosed and receive inadequate or no treatment at all.
The causes of hoarding remain largely unknown. Very few studies have been done on a condition that affects potentially 5% of British adults, 3 million people.This is an unknown disorder, happening all over the country behind closed doors. What studies that have been done have also found abnormally high levels of trauma or stressful life events in sufferers. The most common conditions found in hoarders are that of anxiety and depression yet when these feelings are presented to health officials, they seldom ask about the possibility of a hoarding condition.
This behaviour is happening behind closed doors all over the country. Sufferers often know they have a problem but with health officials being inadequately trained to deal with it and broader society having little awareness and therefore acceptance of hoarding, sufferers are often pushed deeper and deeper inside their own homes. When the media does highlight the issue, it is often done in a whimsical and entertaining way. The underlying problems remain hidden under piles of newspapers.
Hoarding is dangerous, both physically and mentally as well as for the wider community. Fire, infestation and collapsed buildings are all very real threats. The only tangible answer in the eyes of the council is to Blitz-clean people’s homes. They arrive and clear the house in a matter of hours until everything is gone. This is done against the sufferers will and is a traumatic and non-preventative process that arises from a general lack of awareness.
There is no official diagnosis for hoarding and it is not yet classified in the U.K. Blitz-cleans ignore the sufferer and the trauma experienced reinforces the problem. The person receives no treatment and a house that has been cluttered for twenty years can take as little as two years to become re-cluttered.
For the last 6 months I have been working with Making Room, a charity specifically working with hoarders. I arrive to their homes and together we work on clearing the clutter room by room. I don’t throw anything away and am there to encourage the sufferer, to assist them in developing decision-making strategies and to help them identify and challenge the underlying beliefs that contribute to the hoarding problem. It can often take months to achieve small goals and I admire their commitment, motivation and patience.
Although this new approach to hoarding is more time consuming, it is definitive and is centered on the person’s needs. Once they start, the process of de-cluttering alone is therapeutic and coupled with support from mental health experts can really start to make a meaningful change in their lives. I believe hoarders have to decide they want to change and to throw away their clutter, piece by piece. For this to happen they need support, patience and space.
White male, 60 years old. Hackney Homes tenant. Level 9. He was referred to Making Room by support workers who gained access to his flat after a gas company was unable to do a gas safety check. He grew up around London Fields, youngest of 3 boys, with a mother and stepfather who drank and gambled. He attended a special needs school. He seems to have been co-dependent on his mother as an adult, who had bad arthritis and heart trouble. Regards himself as a loner who walks the streets out of boredom and not knowing what else to do. Never leaves Hackney. Collects as he walks around. He was never able to hold down a job.
White male, 60 years old, born and raised in Hackney. Level 9. He has been a Hackney homes tenant for 30 years. Studied Latin and had been a substitute teacher (Latin, Greek and Math) for many years. He has never been able or wanted to hold down the same job. He would eventually like to return to teaching but his situation is holding him back. He was referred to Making Room when he started collecting in the corridor of the council building outside his home. He has had two blitz cleans in the past, all his belongings having been cleared out. He spoke of feeling lost in his own home and started recollecting immediately.
White female. 62, private home owner. Level 5. She was referred to Making Room by her psychotherapist, who had researched the condition online. She had been making complaints to her psychotherapist for a long period of time about the state of her home. She was born and raised in Hackney after her parents immigrated to UK from Poland during World War II. She was a literature teacher who suffers from depression for many years. She leaves the curtains closed constantly for fear of the clutter being seen from the outside. She has isolated herself from the world.
To find out more about this project, including further documentation of sessions with the people mentioned above, please click on the link below to download the magazine.
JANUARY 2016 - LONDON COLLEGE OF COMMUNICATION.
A series of larga-scale photographs, audio and items collected during the de-cluttering process aimed to recreated the experience and tell a story that remains untold.
Throughout the space there was be a 20 minute audio recording playing on a loop consisting of interviews I have conducted with the people involved, recorded as we try to de-clutter their homes. It contains insights into the disorder and the de-cluttering process itself and gives an opportunity to the viewer to experience this process both visually and aurally.
Manu Valcarce is a Spanish documentary photographer based in London. His interests are in everyday people and their stories, being drawn to social issues and human rights. He works by immersing himself in the lives of the people he documents, living and working with them in an attempt to gain a better understanding and resulting in a more honest representation of their situations. He has worked on projects ranging from the lives of Muslim transsexuals living in Jakarta, Indonesia to those affected by austerity in rural Spain. He has spent time living in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and in the dormitories of migrant Indian workers who work in the Singapore’s blooming construction industry with no rights and little pay. His work has been exhibited in solo exhibitions (The “Transit” Workers of Singapore, 2014) and as part of festivals like PICS 2014 in Barcelona. He has been shortlisted by Travel Photographer of the Year, AOP Open Awards, Portrait Salon U.K and National Geographic Travel Photo Contest.