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Missouri woman starts support group for hoarders

Friday, April 15, 2011 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

ST. JOSEPH — Amy Grier of St. Joseph has taken action to declutter her home in much the same way that helps people lose weight, stop drinking or get rid of other unwanted habits: She started a support group.

It's called "Be HAPPY," a free support group for women who accumulate things and have trouble getting rid of them. HAPPY stands for Hoarders Anonymous — Put Possessions into Yin and Yang.

"I struggle with this urge to acquire items I think I'll need someday," she said in an e-mail about the new group to friends and customers of her children's craft shop, Rock Paper Scissors. "It's time to say, 'Enough.'"

The goal is to work together on decluttering for 12 weeks by coming up with at least one bag of items to be given away each week. They will give the bags to a charitable group and make friends in the process.

"This is not an exchange of items," she said. "We'll rotate donation sites and promise to never open each others' giveaway bags."

Accumulating too much stuff is a common problem, but it needs to be kept in check, as evidenced on the A&E TV show "Hoarders" and TLC's "Hoarding: Buried Alive," where people have so many possessions that they can't walk through the house.

According to mayoclinic.com, people who engage in hoarding typically collect items because they think these items will be needed or have value in the future.

A person also may hoard items that he or she thinks have important emotional significance, serving as a reminder of happier times or representing beloved people or pets. Or they may feel safer surrounded by things they collect.

Grier said her business of putting on birthday parties for children and coming up with clever yet inexpensive crafts has been a big contributor to her problem.

"I'm always thinking 'I can use this'" she said. "But I have to get rid of the things I'm not using. If I didn't need it for the Tinkerbell parties, I've got to give it away."

She said she is also guilty of keeping things just for the memories.

"My brothers called me a pack rat when I was little," she said. "When I start to look at the things in my closet, I say to myself, 'I remember when I wore that, and I was with so and so.' Or I think, 'I might need this because my son is coming to visit.' The memories attach to everything, so I don't throw it away."

She has run out of space to store those memories, however, which is what prompted her to start the support group. Now, instead of gazing wistfully at an old dress she will never wear but wants to remember, she is going to take a picture of it. And if it's something she can buy, borrow or find again, she's going to toss it.

"My best advice for hoarders is to do it in stages," said Lisa Doyle, a personal organizer and chief administrative officer at Addiction Awareness LLC. "Go through everything and get rid of anything that is pure garbage or you are sure you are done with, don't need or have no more use for. This usually gets rid of quite a bit."

She said to go back through everything and store things that you only use once or twice a year. Be sure to mark the boxes, and keep a list of where you can find things in an easy-to-find place, such as on the side of your refrigerator. The standard declutter guideline is if you haven't used it in a year, get rid of it.

When it's time to say your final farewell, think about the concepts of sharing and helping others, Grier said.

"I'm trying to teach myself, saying, 'Someone else can use this,'" Grier said. "And it's wasting time in my closet."


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