Geralin Thomas is a professional organizer and the founder of Metropolitan Organizing located in Cary, North Carolina, offering practical organizational solutions for both the home and office. She is a Past President of the NC chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers as well as a chronic disorganization and ADHD specialist. In addition, Geralin can be seen on the A&E television show, Hoarders, (Monday evenings 10 Eastern) working as a professional organizer helping people with compulsive hoarding. Recently, I sat down with Geralin to chat with her about her work.
Kala: Hi Geralin, thanks for taking the time to chat. You’re a professional organizer and “disorganization specialist”. What interested you in this line of work and describe to our readers what a professional organizer does for their clients?
Geralin: I’ve been organizing as long as I can remember. Even as a young girl I appreciated having quality over quantity. I was emphatic about keeping only one Barbie and wanted nothing to do with any of her friends. Instead of dating Ken, my Barbie stayed in on Saturday nights organizing her dream home & evening gown collection, which was color-coded in ROY G. BIV (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Indigo, Violet).
In elementary school, when we started diagramming sentences using the Reed-Kellogg system, I was in organizing geek heaven. I knew then and there that if organizing words could bring me such joy, organizing tangible stuff would be nirvana. Once I had children of my own, the organizational skills had to grow exponentially. My two boys, born only 14 months apart, provided all sorts of organizational challenges – not just their stuff, but their time, their activities, and how everything fit into our family’s lives and our space. As every parent knows, children bring a new world of social networking, and the moms and dads I met all had their organizing challenges, too. I had fun helping solve some of their organizing puzzles, to the point where I realized this was a business opportunity; parents asked for my advice and hands-on solutions and were willing to pay for it.
Professional organizers help individuals and businesses take control of their surroundings, their time, their paper and their systems for life. Professional organizers often develop or introduce customized or off-the-shelf organizing systems so the client can find needed items in a minimal amount of time. The organizer’s primary skill is in helping the client decide what should be done with their items, educating the client on organizational techniques, developing strategies and installing systems so the client can maintain the organized space for the long-term.
Kala: You appear on the A&E television show, HOARDERS, which offers an inside look into people who are unable to part with their personal belongings, to the extent that their homes become completely cluttered. The episodes showcase some extreme scenarios where the hoarding is so intense that people are unable to live and function in the home and health hazards are a serious problem. How common is hoarding in the U.S. and what causes a person to become a hoarder?
Clip from the A&E Show Hoarders with Geralin:
Geralin: There are an estimated 3 million people in the U.S. who are affected by compulsive hoarding. Compulsive hoarding is a disease, not something people decide to do, or do because they are lazy and could stop if only they worked harder at it. It may be due to distinct brain abnormalities, is often hereditary, and may be part of another mental health disorder such as Depression or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
Kala: A common theme in the hoarding episodes on the show, is that the person is unable to fully complete the clean up process, even with a crew of people standing by to help. It also appears that though follow up counselling is offered, it often is not accepted by the hoarders. Some of the episodes are so extreme that the hoarders lose their children, have their pets removed and face eviction from their homes, yet they still are unable to stop their behaviour. Can you take us into the mindset of a hoarder to explain the behaviour and can a person with this level of hoarding, change their behaviour and no longer hoard?
Geralin: A lot of hoarders are perfectionists and have rigid beliefs about saving and discarding possessions. Decision making is often excruciating and time-consuming. It’s often less stressful to retain items and defer decisions until a later time thus perpetuating the hoarding problem. In my experience, hoarding is treatable but not curable. I tell clients it’s very much like dieting—if you stop paying attention to what you are consuming/buying you will most likely find yourself outgrowing your wardrobe/home. Hoarding is a mental disorder and it’s important to monitor what is being acquired and discarded. It’s complicated because many hoarding clients live with depression or another co-existing condition.
Kala: If someone in your family or a friend is a hoarder, what can one do to help them? What are the best things one can do and what are the most harmful?
Geralin: As is the case with many other mental health and psychological problems, addressing the issue with someone who may be a hoarder can be the most difficult step.
When doing so, it’s best to:
• respect the choices of the individual or family
• use encouraging language focusing on individual strengths
• match the individual’s language in how he or she refers to their items, things or collections
• initially focus on safety and well-being
I recommend that you do NOT:
• try to argue about an object, throwing away specific items, or organization
• use language that is negative, judgmental, patronizing or demeaning
• touch a person’s belongings without their permission
• assess a condition or provide any type of counselling or mentoring
Kala: Why are hoarders unable to differentiate between objects that hold real material, personal or emotional value versus objects that should be thrown away? Many episodes show hoarders unable to part with items such as empty old shampoo bottles, years old junk mail, and garbage.
Geralin: Hoarders may have deficits in memory and decision making abilities. Some develop and maintain strong emotional attachments to items they hoard or have exaggerated beliefs about their possessions. For example, “The minute I let go of this, I’ll need it ” or “There are so many ways to use these; I could use each of them for something different.”
Kala: Geralin, hoarding is an extreme form of clutter and a serious problem, which is why the documentary series has been so interesting to many viewers. Moving beyond this extreme, the US is a nation with an economy based on consumerism and purchasing products. Do you think that hoarding is a recent epidemic, perhaps a side effect of the materialism and consuming nature of modern life or has the tendency to hoard always been this excessive?
Geralin: Hoarding is actually quite different from compulsive shopping, which is another serious problem, one that is often trivialized because of society’s acceptance of materialism and consumption.
Kala: If polled, most Americans would share some type of clutter problem in their own homes that they wish they knew how to manage better. What tips can you give our readers on how to keep clutter under control and be more organized?
Geralin: My best advice to clients is to ask, “Where will this go in my home, and do I have a place for it right now?” It is best to only buy (or acquire) those things you actually need, rather than what you might desire in the midst of a possibly fleeting moment.
Kala: Thank you for your time Geralin. It was a pleasure to speak with you and appreciate learning more about your work.
Geralin: It is my pleasure, Kala. Thank you for your interest in organizing, hoarding and Hoarders.
For more info:
About the A&E Show Hoarders – Each 60-minute episode of HOARDERS™ is a fascinating look inside the lives of two different people whose inability to part with their belongings is so out of control that they are on the verge of a personal crisis. Whether they’re facing eviction, the loss of their children, jail time, or divorce, they are all desperately in need of help. In a fly-on-the-wall style, we’ll capture the drama as experts work to put each on the road to recovery. But cleaning is just the first step, like taking drugs away from an addict. The healing won’t be easy. For some, throwing away even the tiniest thing — a sponge, a button, an empty box — is so painful that they will not be able to allow the cleaning to be completed, no matter the consequences. For others, professional help and an organizer’s guidance give them the strength to recover. At the end of each episode we’ll find out who has been able to keep their hoarding behavior at bay and who, despite help, is still lost inside this painful disease. More info at: http://www.aetv.com/hoarders/
About Geralin Thomas – Professional Organizer Geralin Thomas offers real solutions for real people, emphasizing simplicity and excellence in her approach to organizing challenges both large and small. Past President of the NC chapter of the National Association of Professional Organizers as well as a chronic disorganization and ADHD specialist, Geralin founded Metropolitan Organizing® in 2002 to help transform the lives of her clients. Geralin has been published in an array of national magazines and is often featured on well-recognized television and media outlets, including The Fine Living Network and South Africa’s The Home Channel.
Geralin is based in Cary, North Carolina and works with clients around the world. She truly enjoys sharing her organizing tips, techniques, and problem-solving skills with others – and has helped professional athletes, politicians, artists, small business owners, and many others. Geralin holds a B.A. in Art History from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. When she is not busy managing Metropolitan Organizing®, she is busy managing her husband, two sons, and dog.
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