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Memories of the National Hoarding Conference, London

National Hoarding Conference

I have to admit to some ulterior motives in attending the first National Hoarding Conference earlier this May. It meant I’d finally see inside the renowned Emirates Stadium and it meant meeting up with several fellow members of the Association of Professional Decluttering and Organising (APDO). Very appealing.

Mostly though, I went to listen and experience. Here are some things I’ll remember from the day:

As often happens, a colleague and I had a lovely encounter with a woman as we washed our hands in the loo. Initially drawn to each other by mutual admiration of our individual styles, we began chatting. She told us of her long-term struggle to find help with her hoarding. She’d even resorted to offering herself as the subject of a TV programme. It never happened. She went through some exposing initial processes, then the producer telephoned to say she ‘wouldn’t make good telly’.

Among the exhibitors, Jasmine Harman had constructed a representation of a hoarded home: a realistic depiction of the living circumstances for thirty percent of the conference attendees. Resonant of her humiliation in growing up in a hoarded household, this was no art installation. Jasmine had put it together to raise awareness. She invited me to sit on a chair I hadn’t noticed so I could be photographed. It wasn’t comfy.

national hoarding conference 2018

Understanding of Hoarding

When I look back, I’ll remember a strong sense of increased understanding of hoarding and saving behaviours compared to just a few years ago. A housing officer stated that past lessons have taught local authorities and housing bodies to give householders with hoarding behaviours more control. They’ve learned that clearing a hoarded property only results in it becoming full again. I was thrown back to a memory from my first APDO conference in 2014 where a colleague described such a house clearance. She stood with her severely distressed client in his garden as council workers invaded his home without his understanding, endorsement or permission.

Satwant Singh, one of the few psychologists in this country directly working in the hoarding field, explained the definitive link between hoarding and trauma. Eloquently and sensitively, he described how a relationship with an object (unlike a person) can be “stable and static”. Amid nods and grunts of recognition, he talked of the barricading safety offered by piles of stuff. “Recognition and Acceptance”, he said, are the initial key steps towards gently tackling this cycle of suffering.

A humbling experience

Some of my most humbling memories are of moments when those with hoarding and saving behaviours spoke out. Accounts of misrepresentation, stuckness, shame and isolation combined with experiences of being misunderstood and side-lined were universal. Someone describing himself as a recovering hoarder inspired hope and aspiration for everyone present. Two prevalent words of the conference day – ‘control’ and ‘autonomy’ – were integral to his recovery process. With evident self-awareness, he spoke of his relief and the phenomenal physical (as well as mental) health improvements he’s experiencing as a result of his ongoing recovery.

My abiding memory is of Jo Cooke, a fellow APDO colleague, speaking in the final plenary. This is something everyone in the world needs to know and understand : “Hoarding is not a lifestyle choice”.

With massive thanks to all the organisers, volunteers, speakers, facilitators, exhibitors and fellow attendees.

Caroline Rogers

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