Inside life of a hoarder

Mandi shares her story

The 13 to 17 May is Hoarding Awareness Week and a chance to focus on a disorder which can creep up on people as a response to stress, depression or anxiety.

We spoke to Surrey resident Mandi who is keen to raise awareness of her own hoarding experience and how she is helping others with her pop-up shop in Walton-on-Thames.

Addressing the problem

I didn't think I was a hoarder – what is a hoarder? It was a word I had heard but didn't see myself as one. Aren't they the people on TV programmes who are buried in paper and rotting cans of food and stuff everywhere – yes, I did have lots of clothing, shoes, and lots of belongings but that couldn't possibly be me … could it?

I was gradually losing control of my once-organised life but hadn't realised it. This continued as a repetitive pattern, often being triggered after another trauma – a loss of a parent, lover, or difficult situation and so it continued.

There are lots of ways people cope with stress, like eating, drinking or smoking and for me it was hoarding. Not that I realised at the time, no-one wants to be classed as a person with hoarding disorder, but life just happens until it becomes 'normal' coping behaviour.

My first step to recovery was to acknowledge this, I didn't just have lots of possessions, I had a very visible problem that was taking over rooms in my house and I was paying for external storage for the 'overspill'.

First step to getting help

Once I accepted, I had a problem, I spoke to my GP who suggested I attended a local Hoarding Support Group, run by the local charity, Mary Frances Trust.

It was great to chat with other people that had similar stories to tell, all very different but all with a common connection - we all had lots of belongings, wanted to explore the situation and potentially wanted to change.

I hope talking about my experience helps create more awareness of hoarding and the mental health issues surrounding it; it really is ok to talk about it and seek help, providing you acknowledge you have a problem and want to change.

Helping others

I have been very lucky and have been able to set up a 'pop up' shop to sell my vast collection aka overwhelming hoard of clothes, shoes etc. I now 'speak up and speak' out to help create awareness of hoarding behaviour/disorder, while raising awareness and funding for the charity HoardingUK.

You can find the shop in The Heart shopping centre, Walton-on-Thames. I'm always happy to share my story and offer any advice.

Practical help

Did you know that hoarding can be a significant fire hazard? If you are worried that someone may be displaying signs of hoarding behaviour you can ask for a free Safe and Well home visit from Surrey Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS).

During the visit, SFRS can fit smoke detectors, if necessary, help you devise an escape plan; sign post you to other support that's available and provide you with fire retardant bedding, if required.

The following tips will help anyone reduce the risk and impact of a fire:

  • LED flameless candles are a great alternative and safer than candles and tealights.
  • If you use portable heaters, ensure that they have space around them and that items aren't placed on top of, or too close to them.
  • If you are a smoker, make sure to have an ashtray to hand. Smoking in bed can increase risk of fire as bedding can be highly flammable. Smoking outside is the safest open.
  • Develop an escape plan.
  • Ensure all exits are clear of clutter.

If you'd like help because you think you may have hoarding disorder, are depressed or often feel overly anxious or stressed, check out sources of support for mental wellbeing on Healthy Surrey or visit your local GP.

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