Thursday, 8 October 2015

A poem for National Poetry Day - "Hope" by Cherry Rudge

Hope - by Cherry Rudge

 “I can’t see the wood from the trees” she said
“I’m being overwhelmed by clutter” he said
“I’m too embarrassed to let anyone into my home to see the mess” she said
“STOP the sensory overload, it’s killing me!” they said.
“I’m drowning in paperwork”
“I feel like a prisoner in my own home”
 “There’s so much stuff I don’t know where to start”
“I hate it when people have a go at me about the chaotic way I live”
“No one understands….”
“It's not a lifestyle choice for me to live like this...”
“I wish they’d help me instead of being so judgemental”
“I feel so useless at getting organised - who on earth would want to help me?”

“I’ll help you” I said.  

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Testimonial from a client with ADHD

I absolutely LOVE meeting the folks who attend the Unique ADHD support group in Shepperton, Surrey - they all have INCREDIBLE and humbling stories to tell.  

Many have endured years of frustration, ill-health, depression, anxiety, OCD, addictions, failed relationships, failed attempts at organising their homes, and generally living unfulfilled or complicated lives;  they've struggled with life, not knowing why they were different.  

Many have experienced amazing lightbulb moments about what's caused them to be this way only when their own children eventually get diagnosed with ADHD.

So here's a very flattering testimonial from one of the group's members - who also happens to be one of the most gorgeous, caring and intelligent people I've ever had the privilege of meeting, and working with.

"As a busy mum, full time student and working parent I found that managing some of the simple things in life became more difficult resulting in anxiety. When I first considered getting a professional organiser my family didn’t fully understand why especially as my house is extremely tidy and organised in many ways….I have however been described as Monica from FRIENDS as I have this ‘secret cupboard’ where I put things if they don’t have an official home. Over the years this cupboard has had more and more things put in it, which have not been tackled that it got to the point where just opening the door caused unnecessary stress.

Then I met Cherry… organising fairy god mother.

I knew the process wouldn’t be easy as I was confident that there would be some things in my cupboard that I didn’t wish to deal with and was scared of opening Pandora’s box. However, with Cherry by my side, someone to talk to, someone to guide me through the process, someone to support me with the emotional attachments, I was able to let go of the past and move on whilst keeping the things that mean the most to me and finding them a permanent home within the house and out of the cupboard. The process became enjoyable and I looked forward to Cherry’s next visits of discovering something new or something I had forgotten about. My house is almost totally organised from top to bottom as we even ended up tackling the garage and the garden shed as I didn’t really know how to organise these areas effectively as they are often have multipurpose uses.

I would highly recommend Cherry, not just to those who have large organising projects but even to those who have busy lives and need some assistance getting that paperwork sorted, dealing with emotional attachments of possession or tackling a small area that never seems to be organised. I have learnt a lot from Cherry and she learns so much from her clients that it is not a prescriptive service but unique and bespoke that she works to the clients needs with a sympathetic and non-judgemental ear. I will be working with Cherry in the future as my child grows up as I struggle to decide what to keep and what not to keep from his childhood possessions. My family have all seen the benefit of this truly amazing lady and not only do we have an additional cupboard..clutter free but it is now used as an organising workstation for maintaining the space as a functional, practical and usable space which has actually cleared other areas which were often used.

I am happy not to be anonymous and have my name attached to it as I truly believe in your service and would highly recommend you. I don't have anything to hide and feel that many people can benefit form your service, everyone must have a few things in life that they struggle to justify why they have them, or that cupboard where its never organised (even my mum has an issue with her tupperware cupboard...its never tidy)."

Hailey - Chertsey

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Is clutter affecting your health or wellbeing, or both? Then fill in this form and take it to your GP

Feeling unwell, overwhelmed or at the end of our tether because of clutter and disorganisation is a much more common, debilitating and potentially life-changing problem than you might think. 

Chores that some people find easy can be a nightmare for others - like filing paperwork, time-keeping, meal-planning, money management or quickly finding things that have been put away in that safe place - so safe you can't remember where it is! 

Juggling a busy lifestyle or having to cope with expected or unexpected life events doesn't help, and add to that an existing health condition - or one that you may not even know you have - and it can become overwhelming and a recipe for disaster.

I regularly hear of people who feel so anxious or embarrassed about their homes that they won't allow people in - even when they have no heating, hot water or electricity, and are in desperate need of help and support from trades people such as plumbers, electricians or heating engineers.

And it might not even be your own clutter that causes heartache or health problems - it might belong to a loved one or friend.

So how to ask for help? 

It's common to sometimes feel embarrassed or uncomfortable about going to a GP, especially if we don't know how to start a conversation about lumps, bumps or problems with bodily functions.

And then there's the predicament about how to start a conversation about symptoms that may affect our minds rather than our bodies, like feeling anxious, having obsessive thoughts or not being able to cope with life in general.  

Which is why this new ice-breaker form will help overcome the awkwardness of not knowing where to start the conversation about health problems related to extreme clutter, hoarding and disorganisation.   The idea is that people download and complete the form and present it to their GP, or other medical professional. 

GPs assess and treat patients all the time for conditions which can make organising difficult, such as:

According to the 2014 annual health survey for England, one in four adults has been diagnosed with a mental illness at some stage during their lifetime.

By 2018 the NHS and NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, which is sponsored by the Department of Health) are likely to have added Hoarding Disorder to the list of mental health disorders, although only specialists will be able to diagnose it.  

I heard about a case recently where someone (who exhibited hoarding behaviours and had all sorts of health problems due to their complex situation) had completed the ice-breaker and ticked all the boxes except one.

It's estimated that between 2%-6% of the population exhibit hoarding behaviour:
  • Acquire and fail to disguard possessions which appear to be useless or of limited value
  • Have clutter which is so severe that it prevents or precludes the use of living spaces for what they were designed for
  • Have clutter which causes significant distress or impairment for the individual and family members.
And in England* The Care Act 2014 classifies hoarding as self-neglect.  Which means GPs and any agencies coming into contact with hoarders have a duty of care to report patients exhibiting hoarding behaviours to the local authority, so that it can be investigated by its Safeguarding team.
*There may be slightly different arrangements for Scotland and Wales

Excessive amounts of clutter creates high safety risks, not only for the people living in a property, but also neighbours and public safety services such as the Fire & Rescue Service (FRS) who get called out in the event of an emergency.  Which is why the ice-breaker includes an extract from the Clutter Image Rating Scale on the back, as the FRS like to know whenever Level 5 or above is reached, so they can visit and do a Safe & Well visit (previously known as a Home Fire Safety visit) and discuss things with the resident such as emergency evacuation plans and fit free smoke detectors.

Which makes it even more important that people whose health is affected by clutter, disorganisation or hoarding visit their GP and use this new form to ask for help. 

I must thank OCD-UK for kindly giving me permission to use the format of a similar ice-breaker that they devised for people worried about opening up about their OCD.

My vision is that GPs will learn about and recommend the services of specialist practitioners (working in conjunction with other agencies) to those who suffer with the conditions outlined above, or are at risk of going on to have mental illnesses as a result of the perceived stigma and shame that many people still sadly associate with living in a cluttered or disorganised home.

So, if you or someone you know feels unwell as a result of clutter or disorganisation and don't know who to turn to, please don't poo-poo their difficulties and tell them to snap out of it - it's likely to make them feel worse.

Instead, why not suggest that they click here to download this simple to use ice-breaker document, fill it in and hand it to their GP at their next appointment?

Because life's too short for your health to be ruled by clutter or disorganisation.

Do please let me know how you get on using the form, and what kind of response you get from your GP.  

                     Thank you.

Originally published July 2015 - updated May 2017

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Guardian article: Extreme hoarding of extreme memorabilia (the man who sleeps in Hitler's bed)

Alex Preston wrote an excellent article in today's Guardian newspaper about Kevin Wheatcroft, an extreme collector who lives in Leicestershire, and who has a fascination for collecting German World War 2 and Nazi memorabilia. MASSES of memorabilia, known as the Wheatcroft Collection.

Many who read the article may find Mr Wheatcroft’s seemingly fanatical collecting shocking, abhorrent and disrespectful to the millions of people who suffered and died as a result of atrocities ordered by a fanatical leader.  And I can see their point.

To those of us who are related to AND work with hoarders, the article gives an absorbing insight into a person who demonstrates classic hoarding behaviour, and who has finally come to realise the burden of his situation.  

Mr Wheatcroft inherited his interest in collecting (plus a construction business, properties and Donnington Park Racetrack and motor museum) from his late father - Tom Wheatcroft - who rescued Donnington Park Racetrack from closure back in 1971.

It just so happens that the main focus of Kevin Wheatcroft’s hoarding (some may say it’s collecting) isn't something that is as socially acceptable like things we see in the media or I see at my client's houses such as newspapers, clothes, shoes, Star Wars models, Lego, light bulbs, dolls house paraphernalia or Snoopy mugs.

Collectors generally proudly display their collection, and may swap pieces and talk to other collectors. Whereas people who hoard may feel shame, rarely allow others into their houses and are less likely to talk about it.

I've come across loads of hoarders who want to achieve what Mr Wheatcroft has said he wants to achieve – “saving” items for future generations to see, to learn about the past. Usually though, my clients do tend to fill their homes with more mundane/less expensive or exclusive things like newspapers or Royal Family memorabilia!

Mr Wheatcroft has the money, expertise and inclination to bypass your average car boot sale, charity shop or skip and go straight to the country of origin, shipping "treasures" back to the UK by the container-load. 

Unlike many hoarders, Mr Wheatcroft’s hoarding habit isn’t so severe that it prevents or precludes the use of living spaces for what they were designed for, primarily because he has pots of money to continually buy more space (and probably have people to clear/clean up after him).

Whilst Mr Wheatcroft’s acquiring habit and difficulty discarding items may have caused or could cause significant distress or impairment for him or his family members, the ones who are likely to demonstrate the most about his collection/hoard are those who object to what they perceive to be his glorification of an evil era by collecting artefacts from it.

The general characteristics of hoarding were recently outlined in an excellent Hoarding Framework document written by a team headed by the LOVELY Sally Savage of Nottingham Fire & Rescue Service's Persons at Risk Team (one of my colleagues on the Chief Fire Officer's Association's Hoarding Working Group). 
  • Fear and anxiety: compulsive hoarding may have started as a learnt behaviour or following a significant event such as bereavement.  The person who is hoarding believes buying or saving things will relieve the anxiety and fear they feel.  The hoarding effectively becomes their comfort blanket.  Any attempt to discard the hoarded items can induce feelings varying from mild anxiety to a full panic attack with sweats and palpitations.
  • Long term behaviour pattern: possibly developed over many years or decades of ‘buy and drop’. Collecting and saving with an inability to throw away items without experiencing fear and anxiety.
  • Excessive attachment to possessions: people who hoard may hold an inappropriate emotional attachment to items.
  • Indecisiveness: people who hoard may struggle with the decision to discard items that are no longer necessary, including rubbish.
  • Unrelenting standards: people who hoard will often find faults with others; requiring others to perform to excellence while struggling to organise themselves and complete daily living tasks.
  • Socially isolated: people who hoard will typically alienate family and friends and may be embarrassed to have visitors.  They may refuse home visits from professionals, in favour of office based appointments.
  • Large number of pets: people who hoard may have a large number of animals that can be a source of complaints by neighbours.  They may be a self-confessed ‘rescuer of strays’.
  • Mentally competent: people who hoard are typically able to make decisions that are not related to hoarding.
  • Extreme Clutter: hoarding behaviour may be in a few or all rooms and prevent them from being used for their intended purpose.
  • Churning: hoarding behaviour can involve moving items from one part of the property to another, without ever discarding them.
  • Self-care: a person who hoards may appear unkempt and dishevelled, due to lack of bathroom or washing facilities in their home.  However, some people who hoard will use public facilities in order to maintain their personal hygiene and appearance.
  • Poor insight: a person who hoards will typically see nothing wrong with their behaviours and the impact it has on them and others. 
For Mr Wheatcroft, perhaps having the largest “collection” of Hitlers heads in the world might be satisfying in one way, but frustrating in another as it's not a COMPLETE collection - there are still others out there somewhere to be collected.  As a recovering perfectionist myself (as a result of being the daughter of a controlling hoarder with unrelenting standards), I can see where he might be coming from if this is the case.

Whatever his reasons, I'm glad Mr Wheatcroft has finally realised that it’s time to find people to catalogue and restore his hoard – I hope there are historians and museums queuing up to help him achieve his dream of displaying this collection to future generations.

Perhaps having real-life tanks in his garden reminds him of happy times as a child playing with Tonka toys, whilst sleeping in Hitler's bed makes him feel important and special.  

I’m an optimist, so I'd like to think Mr Wheatcroft isn't actually hoping that megalomania will transfer to him from the bed whilst he sleeps, and he will go on to rule The World as a result. 

Instead, I wonder if his actions might be subconsciously proving something to himself (and his late father):
  • that he is free from the shadow of parental control (where unrelenting standards no longer apply), and capable of purchasing anything he wants without having to ask someone else for it.  Or perhaps….
  • that he is as good as (or better than) his dad at collecting 

We may never know - only his therapist (or his professional organiser or the restorers or museum curators) may ever be privy to that kind of information. Which is a shame because I'd love to know more.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Don't pour unwanted medicines down the sink or toilet - become an Antibiotic Guardian instead

Rather than pour out-of-date and unwanted medicines down the sink or toilet (which could mean the drugs then get into the environment or water we drink), we regularly take unwanted medication from decluttering clients to pharmacies for safe disposal. 

Plus, did you know that antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats facing us today?  

Without effective antibiotics, many routine treatments will become increasingly dangerous. Setting broken bones, basic operations, even chemotherapy all rely on access to antibiotics that work. 

Even large corporations are finally realising the impact that over or mis-use of antibiotics can have.  

According to an article on the BBC website today, in a bid to win back customers amid slowing sales, global restaurant chain McDonald's has announced they are to begin reducing the use of antibiotics in its chicken products; they will focus on removing those antibiotics than can have an impact on human health, but keep those necessary for poultry welfare.

Cherry Rudge of Surrey-based professional organising firm Rainbow Red has pledged to be an #AntibioticGuardian.  You can make a pledge too via

So why not join her and pledge to be an Antibiotic Guardian, and help her safeguard this precious commodity, and the human race?  

On behalf of this and future generations, thank you.

For more information about antibiotics and how to become an Antibiotic Guardian click on the links below and check out the websites for:

Antibiotic Guardian
MRSA Action UK
Public Health England

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) - resolving conflict and differences peacefully

If you've ever had a heated conversation with someone (and who hasn't?!) and come away feeling utterly frustrated and not listened to, or felt the other person didn't seem to understand or respect your point of view, then let me introduce you to a technique that I've discovered - through personal experience - can a be a complete life changer.

It's an empowering process called Nonviolent Communication (NVC), which was developed by a clever chap in the USA called Dr Marshall Rosenburg (1934-2015), and introduced to me by a friend and professional organising colleague of mine - Gina Lawrie of Empathic Decluttering, who I've worked very successfully with on various decluttering jobs with hoarders.

Gina (based in Farnham in Surrey) - also happens to be an international NVC consultant, trainer, coach and mediator. She co-developed (in association with her NVC colleague Bridget Belgrave) a practical and fun method of teaching NVC called NVC Dance Floors.  

This instantly appealed to me when I found out about it because (a) I like dancing (don't worry, it's not strenuous and you don't need to wear any sequins!), and (b) it doesn't involve death by PowerPoint or having to sit and read a book! 

I've been on a couple of training days to learn the fundamentals of NVC, which focuses on three aspects of communication:  self-empathy, empathy and honest self-expression. And of course, the more I learn about NVC, the more I realise there's more to learn!

NVC has increased my confidence to communicate with others in a more structured way, and express my observations, feelings, needs and requests with clarity in order to resolve conflicts and differences peacefully.  

As a result I've managed to calmly facilitate conversations in situations where people with passionate opinions or anger-management problems have attempted to take control of a situation.

I've also coached others to communicate more specifically and less aggressively too (so that they state actual facts rather than make assumptions or jump to conclusions), which means that if there's ever a disagreement or heated debate, the result is usually more likely to result in a win-win situation than a stalemate - or worse.

NVC can help reduce conflict caused by clutter or disorganisation

Because clutter is a very emotive subject, it can create a lot of tension amongst family members, friends, neighbours, landlords and other agencies working with hoarders. 

Which is where NVC comes to the rescue.  

In extreme cases where clutter is a problem, using NVC techniques can help open or re-open communication channels and resolve conflict; which can mean the difference between someone feeling that their views are being listened to and taking action to reduce their clutter, or not taking action and be evicted from their home. 

"Vive la NVC" I say....

My vision is to have NVC taught in schools around the world, so that future generations will know how to use it effectively to talk to each other more respectfully, and negotiate peaceful ways of settling differences of opinion.  Imagine all that time and money it would save. Less grief, less heartache, fewer stress-related health problems....

In the meantime, I hope that by reading this blog you'll feel motivated to learn more about NVC, and that by putting it into practice it becomes as life-changing for you as it's been for me.

For more information about NVC, check out 
the Center for Nonviolent Communication website.

To find out about Gina's training days
check out the Calendar section of her website, or call her on 01252 728242.