Helping A Hoarder With Order: Program In Denver Metro Area Can Help

By Alan Gionet

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – “I’m really sick of it. I’m sick of the mess. Sick of not being able to find anything,” said Lin Nicholson.

Nicholson lives in a mid-century home in Aurora, where the yard is cluttered and a tree bows over the driveway.

There’s no point heading for the garage — the garage is chocked full. The upstairs bedrooms are full. Much of the basement is unnavigable. But there are signs of hope.

Lin Nicholson (credit: CBS)

CBS4’s Alan Gionet interviews Lin Nicholson (credit: CBS)

This week, workers hired under a grant program funded by the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) were in her home finishing a partial cleanup and moving her bed from the living room to an orderly basement bedroom. The bed had been moved to the living room when it was squeezed out of other rooms by boxes and boxes of things.

Standing in the basement room Nicholson said, “I am responsible for all that mess upstairs, it’s just and I don’t know how it all happened, that’s what’s interesting.”

She is an admitted hoarder. Nicholson has been getting counseling and help through the Seniors Resource Center that administers the grants. Only recently has hoarding been classified as a mental illness.

Nicholson has made huge steps. There was a time when boxes were even stacked up out on her front porch, making the house look like a fortress. At that point, every room, including the living room was so full there wasn’t room for the bed anywhere.

Lin Nicholson (credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

“I went and bought a little dog bed and I curled up on the dog bed in front of the TV set,” she said.

“We’re able to help her,” said Albert McClure of contractor Clutter Trucker. “But that’s really the inspiring thing about coming and working with Lin is that she’s really trying very hard and that’s what makes it great to work with people like that.”

Hoarding is only beginning to be understood. We first met Lin and reported on her situation recently as the cleanup got going.

Loretta Trujillo of the Seniors Resource Center told us, “It’s about the person who’s living in there and I think that if society understands it’s a human being in there a lot of times all they need is a little compassion and dignity and that’s what we offer.”

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

Trujillo said it’s estimated that 2 to 5 percent of the population are hoarders, but she feels that number is low.

Hoarding happens behind closed doors. Few are like Lin and willing to allow people from the outside in their homes. Cases end up with code enforcement, animal control, police and other first responders, and the courts. With all of that, the cost to the community becomes great.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

“I’ve reached a stage now where I guess I need help. Somebody coming in to help me,” said Lin as she looked over her clean room. Workers also scoured the kitchen where she’s been eating only microwaved food for well over a dozen years.

There’s no stove, having been long ago removed, but there’s now hope that maybe one day there will be one. Nicholson is aware that nine out of 10 times, hoarders return to hoarding. She wants change.

“My biggest fear is that I might die and they’d have to carry me out in a body bag and then somebody’s going to have to clean up this stuff,” she said.

Most of the house is still full. There’s simply not enough funding to complete a full house cleanup.

Lin Nicholson (credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

“We come in and we think of things like the functionality of the client, like the bedroom, bathroom kitchen,” said Jenn Giordano of Clutter Trucker.

The workers are trained to deal with the hoarders. Giordano is working on a master’s degree in counseling. Albert McClure is studying to his PhD. Lin’s case is relatively easy.

“The people we work with, most of the time they don’t want to get rid of it, they’re very stubborn,” said McClure. “They’re not willing to help themselves. And that’s what’s most sad about working with the people.”

With help, Nicholson is trying to lead a new life.

“Even if I have order between this room and the bathroom, that’s progress. Even if the rest of the house isn’t right,” she said.

Families or hoarders who need help can contact Loretta Trujillo at the Seniors Resource Center at (303) 235-6942
Her grants are limited, but there may be some help available.

Alan Gionet is anchor of the CBS4 Morning News and reports on a wide variety of issues and “Good Question” stories. He started at CBS4 in 1994. Follow Alan on Twitter @AlanGTV.

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