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Spring Cleaning, Budding Problems

Spring is finally here! For many, the beautiful weather gives us the inspiration to clean out garages, closets, and drawers that miraculously filled with junk over the winter months. Spring cleaning is often a natural response to too much clutter.

Have you ever wondered what would happen if all that stuff your family accumulates didn’t ever get thrown out? What if, all of a sudden, every item held some sort of sentimental value; even things that would normally be viewed as garbage like outdated newspapers, old magazines, and milk cartons? It is estimated that nearly three to six million people in the United States suffer from hoarding disorder every year (

On April 7th, the Omaha Hoarding Task Force held their first community event at the Nebraska Humane Society’s Auditorium. The team presented the documentary, “My Mother’s Garden,” which followed the young filmmaker, Cynthia Lester, and her mother, Eugenia. Eugenia was sleeping in her garden because her home was so full of “treasures,” she could no longer live within its walls. After numerous complaints of her lifestyle from the neighbors, the state became involved and demanded a clean-up in order to avoid eviction. The film follows the family’s struggle to get their mother the mental health help and clean-up assistance she needed.

The siblings come together to do a mass clean-out of the home without the help of their mother. Everything takes a dramatic turn when Eugenia comes home unexpectedly to find that all of her treasures are gone. Feeling robbed, violated, and alone, Eugenia is thrown into a deep depression.

Not until 2013 was hoarding disorder recognized as a mental illness in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). The DSM-V is the American Psychiatric Association’s classification and diagnostic tool. Prior to 2013, it was considered a symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). In recent years, researchers found that hoarders did not respond well to OCD treatments therefore, it was redefined on its own as “hoarding disorder” (

The Mayo Clinic defines hoarding disorder as a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. People with hoarding disorder often stress over throwing away possessions regardless of their value, resulting in clutter in their homes, vehicles, and even offices.

A common misconception is that individuals with hoarding disorder are dirty or lazy, however, this is not the case. Hoarding refers to the volume of clutter, no to cleanliness. Squalor, which refers to cleanliness, is often confused for hoarding. As a matter of fact, it is not uncommon for a hoarder to live in a relatively clean environment, but simply have an abundance of stuff.

There is not a specific “cause,” for hoarding disorder, but there are a numbers of risk factors that could contribute to developing it. Stressful life events such as a death or divorce, a family history of hoarding, people who have an indecisive temperament, and socially isolated people are all at an increased risk of developing the disorder (

“Hoarding is a complex problem with many factors contributing to the onset of the illness including genetic predisposition, neurobiological factors, difficulties with cognitive processing, problematic thinking, and strong emotions,” says Christiana Bratiotis Ph.D., LICSW, at the University of Nebraska at Omaha Grace Abbott School of Social Work. “There is no scientific evidence to suggest that deprivation or trauma alone cause hoarding.”

In April of 2013, Dr. Bratiotis along with Tiffany Andreason at the University of Nebraska at Omaha established The Omaha Hoarding Task Force after seeing a reoccurring need for hoarding information and resources. It is estimated that between 12,000 to 21,000 people living in the Omaha area have a problem with hoarding. The Task Force now has more than 30 local agencies collaborating with one another to help manage hoarding cases across the city.

Jen Baker, MA, MSW, PLMHP at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, has high hopes for this budding group.
“My goal is that the team continues to grow and our community collaborations continue to strengthen. It would be amazing for our Task Force to eventually blossom into more of a consultation role,” says Baker. “The need is definitely there.”

Do you or a loved one hoard? Here are some helpful tips!
1. If you or a loved one wants to work on the problem in therapy, find a licensed mental health practitioner who will use cognitive behavioral treatment (CBT) for hoarding, or another treatment that would work with your concerns.
2. Avoid large clean-outs as much as possible. Large clean-outs can be extremely traumatizing and can harm the individual’s mental state.
3. Instead, first focus on harm reduction and make small manageable goals for removal.

“My Mother’s Garden” a documentary by Cynthia Lester
“Beyond the Sensationalism: Professional Response to Hoarding Disorder in the Omaha Community,” by J. Baker, M. Ghali Bergren, J. Frost, T. Andreasen, and C. Bratiotis.


About Jill Sauser, The Kim Foundation Project Coordinator

Jill graduated with a degree in Journalism and a minor in Speech Communication from the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2009. During her time at UNO, she completed a two year PR practicum program where she worked with numerous nonprofit clients including the MS Society, The Archdiocese of Omaha, The Omaha Food Bank, and YWCA. Since becoming Project Coordinator at The Kim Foundation in April 2014, she has become an active member of the Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition, The Omaha Metro Hoarding Taskforce, the Early Childhood Mental Health Coalition, the Metro Area LOSS Team, and is helping lead a community-wide community health improvement initiative with the Douglas County Health Department called, “Just Reach Out,” which is focused on improving the community’s view on mental and behavioral health treatment.