Digging Out – Start with Forgiving

Digging Out: Helping Your Loved One Manage Clutter, Hoarding & Compulsive Acquiring by Michael A. Tompkins, Ph.D. and Tamara L. Hartl, Ph.D. offers a methodical, scrupulous, comprehensive and clinically-developed program for a support team to attempt to help a person with hoarding disorder clear his or her environment to an extent which will make that environment safe. The authors’ guiding principle is that it may not be possible to ever convince a person with hoarding disorder to let go of even an insubstantial number of possessions or to stop acquiring unnecessary items. But it is often possible to persuade a person with hoarding disorder to clear his or her spaces such that they are safe(r). And that needs to be considered a success.

Hoarded room Casual Uncluttering project

The protocols are designed with an assumption that the endangered person’s team consists of family, perhaps friends and/or community members such as congregants of a church, and perhaps professionals like housing authority representatives or animal control officers. The authors underpin their understanding with a stipulation that these team members may have no practical training in therapeutic or conversational techniques which might make the discussions between members of the team (which must include the person with hoarding disorder) more effective or less-time-consuming. The authors are honest: the process will be painful. And, potentially richly empowering, fulfilling and healing. The film My Mother’s Garden illustrates that.


And it starts with forgiving. The people who have been harmed by the person with hoarding challenges must forgive the person with challenges. The person who engages in hoarding behaviors quite probably has to forgive well-meant, poorly structured offers of and attempts to help. I’ve posted about forgiveness in another article. It was extremely startling to see the protocol in Digging Out include such a mission. And convincing.

I’ve also posted about using the harm reduction framework with a client. Yes, it can be done.

About Lauren Williams

Lauren Williams, Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Virtual Professional Organizer®

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