The other day I went to give a consultation to a lady who had recently suffered a stroke that wanted to get her place organized. She claimed her home had fallen into disarray following her stroke and from the accumulation of her mother’s belongings after she passed a couple years prior. The “disarray” this person claimed to have seemed like an ordinary task for a professional organizer. Wrong.
The “disarray” I found upon entering her 2 bedroom mobile home was mountains of junk stock-piled in large heaps up to the ceiling. There was a narrow walkway leading all the way from the back door entryway where I came in through the living room into her bedroom. The destination into her bedroom showed mounds of junk surrounding her bed, with only a clear path in front of her bed where her TV was situated.
The word for this type of person is called a Hoarder. I’m sure you’ve heard of them.
Hoarders do not have “clutter” for us to deal with – they have mental issues for us to deal with because, as much as they may want to be helped, they don’t really want to get rid of stuff. It all has “value” to them in some way.
I believe our profession isn’t equipped to help Hoarders. If they were to agree to a “clean sweep” of their stuff using a crew to toss 95% of everything in the junk piles, they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) agree to it. Yet, that’s exactly what is needed.
In the case with the stroke victim, she only called me to help her go through the piles item by item – one by one – to determine what she wants to keep and what she will get rid of. Even if she could afford the hundreds of hours it would take to do this, the health risks being in an environment like that would not be worth the amount of money you might end up with.
I posted a picture of one of the rooms on Facebook and a fellow colleague commented:
“I did a project that was bad, but maybe not this bad. Respiratory issues followed… I made very good income from the project and it was a tremendous amount of money even tough I gave a massive fee reduction. We worked primarily outside in the driveway but I won’t take another project because of the health challenges.”
The one time I did tackle work like this was on a reality TV show (I won’t mention which one) and I ended up yelling at the field producer and then refusing to return with my crew the next day unless they got an exterminator there. It wasn’t worth the pay I got and, although I was under contract, I knew they couldn’t hold me to it unless they met my demands.
Now, don’t take me wrong here – I have empathy for Hoarders. I do care and I am concerned about their situation and I do want them to get help. It just isn’t the kind of help I can provide to them personally.
I didn’t charge her for my consultation appointment. She wanted to pay me, but I refused her money. I knew she had already spent $1000 to 1-800-JUNK to come and clear a path for her after her stroke so that she could get around with her walker. And they didn’t haul anything away.
See what I’m talking about? She paid $1000 and didn’t have them haul anything away!
A career as a professional organizer has many rewards but working with certain types of clients will not leave you with those rewards unless the place is clear of clutter and organized.
So, please know that you can refuse work if you feel you can’t help them, and if you know it will be a health risk to you.