Ending the stigma around hoarding

In this blog Michaela Shaw, the founder of Community Bees, attempts to explain what hoarding is and to dispel the myth that people who hoard are ‘just lazy’. 

Hoarding is, in fact, a much more complex issue. 

So what is hoarding?  

  • Is it an illness?
  • Is it laziness? 
  • Is it hereditary? 

Michaela has been working with people who live amongst their hoarded possessions for the past two years and the common thread she has established is that hoarding is a chronic mental health condition, one of the most debilitating forms of loneliness and isolation.

“Hoarding stems from an illness – a loss maybe, or from being on your own and not having anyone to share your thoughts, joys, laughter or bad days with. 

Hoarding is not about laziness, or not being bothered, it’s about being isolated, anxious and depressed. 

It’s about wanting to shout out for help but knowing no one is hearing. It’s about sensing your situation, but being engulfed in it. It’s feeling agrophobic, not wanting to go out and not knowing what to do. It is a huge sense of being let down and at the same time letting yourself down and at a total loss.” 

Michaela does not claim to be an expert, but having helped 78 people declutter, tidy, organise and deep clean their homes and gardens in the last couple of years, and having spent hours talking and sharing tears and laugher with those people she has helped, what she does know is there are more and more isolated people in this situation and that society seems to have forgotten about them. 

“Michaela you’ve done more in ten minutes than the other company that’s been helping me did in a year.”
Decluttering client

But decluttering and cleaning a house is just the first step of supporting these people. 

“This isn’t a quick fix, it’s not a case of ‘my home’s cleared, I am fine now’, what is needed is a long term connection and friendship, these people need guidance and support, they need to share laughter and tears and having meaningful person-centred goals that culminates in their total wellbeing over a period of time.”  

“I felt very embarrassed, it had got so bad. But I couldn’t see it because of my depression.
“The rooms were really bad from floor-to-ceiling you couldn’t get into the house really. I slept on top of the rubbish, I only had use of the bathroom if I clambered over the rubbish, and I had no kitchen as I couldn’t get to it.  I didn’t have a sink, I couldn’t get to my fridge or my freezer.
“I just used to sit on the doorstep during the day.
“There are not enough words in this world to say how much they’ve helped me.” 
Sylvie, Decluttering client

For Michaela, something she pondered on a daily basis is – ‘Why are these people not supported?’

Community Bees have chosen to help people with this condition because they have identified that these are the people that find themselves in the worst place, at the lowest ebb, anyone can find themselves in. Often surrounded by clutter, piles of rubbish, living amongst their own waste, unable to live safely in their own home, and absolutely unable to function in society and with no hope of getting themselves out of the most challenging situation. 

But it is this situation that when you change it for them, turn their lives around, you feel the most rewarded. 

“It really is the best feeling helping someone in this way. The help we give is life-changing. It transforms the person from the depths of despair, to a meaningful, functioning life.”

“Thank you for doing so much for me. You help me do things I haven’t been able to do on my own.” 

Heather, Decluttering client  

Michaela wants to fully acknowledge the help she gets to do this type of work, thanking the volunteers and the people themselves for being brave enough to let her into their homes. 

“I need to thank the handful of volunteers that have helped me through those difficult times and those behind the scenes helping us create positive change. I also have to thank those people who have let me into their homes to start them on the road to recovery.”

Support Community Bees so they can support more people with this condition

Michaela has identified many, many more people who need this exact support, but to do that Community Bees need funding.

“Now I want to thank the next person who comes forward and supports us to support more people, through pledging to fund or sponsor Community Bees.”

If you would like to support people call me directly on 07772 107763