Your boyfriend is so not a hoarder

“I’m giving your card to my boyfriend, he is such a hoarder,” a woman with flowing blonde hair said to me at a party.

Here’s the thing, Flaxen Locks, your boyfriend is probably 99.9% so not a hoarder. I’ve never met this gentleman, he very may well be a hoarder but people bandy about the word “hoarder” like a badminton birdie and it’s very often not a justified label. Questions: Does your boyfriend stock dirty dishes under his pillow? Does your boyfriend have books piled on his windowsills to block out the sunlight and create a blockage to the emergency exit? Does your boyfriend receive frantic calls from the FDNY looking to shut him down? These are all extreme questions because hoarding is just that, extreme.  

I’ve been a professional organizer for eight and a half years now and I’ve developed pointed questions for weeding out hoarders. In the beginning of my organizing career I was just so excited to obtain a new client that I’d show up to their apartment no questions asked. The worst result of this poor planning was a visit out to Brooklyn to meet a client who shared her apartment with a roommate. As she showed me the kitchen, the bathroom and the shared living space, I thought, “This isn’t bad at all.” But wait for it, friends. She pried open her bedroom door and we had to literally step up onto a stage of clutter. There was about 2 feet worth of papers, books, magazines, clothing and other stuff that escaped my crime-scene eyes. All I could see was the top layer of crust, there was subterranean underbelly for sure. If I were less aware I would have probably dug right in to try to save this woman from her horrible predicament. Instead, I sucked it up and said, “I would hate to waste either of our afternoons, I don’t think I’m qualified to help you. Please go to to search for an organizer that specializes in hoarding.” We were both a little embarrassed as she found me through a friend of a friend but I knew we’d both end up frustrated and defeated if I stayed and attempted to dig in. There are amazingly talented organizers out there who have the skill set to help hoarders and I am not one of them (know your strengths, people).

So here are are the questions I now ask potential clients on the phone when I smell even a waft of hoarder in their voice:

  1. Are there paths running through each room with clutter on either side?
  2. Are you able to sleep in your bed without obstructions?
  3. Would you consider your home to be a safety hazard?
  4. Are your pets able to roam freely throughout your home?
  5. Is each room functioning, even on a base level?
Hoarding is no laughing matter and the people who suffer from this affliction are in serious pain. I do not make light of their situation and I also know that misdiagnosing them can lead to a lot of upset from both the client and the professional. Do you think you suffer from hoarding? Do you think a loved one does? Apply the above questions to your living situation and if you’re really concerned/curious, let Oprah grill you.
With love, light and less clutter,

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