Today’s post features an interview with Certified Professional Organizer®, Geralin Thomas. Geralin has been featured several times on the A&E program, “Hoarders,” and, in this interview, she explains what it’s like being a hoarding expert.
My area of expertise is residential organizing. I particularly enjoy helping clients who are chronically disorganized or clients with mental health challenges, including hoarders.
2. You are one of the organizers featured on the A&E show, Hoarders. What is that experience like?
It’s interesting (in a good way). Before the show, a lot of people weren’t even aware of the term, “hoarding,” let alone recognizing it as a disorder. Bringing this disorder out into the open has ignited a lot of conversations about the impact on families, communities, landlords and, of course, the health of the hoarder. It has been a very rewarding experience.
3. Do you continue working with the people profiled on Hoarders after filming ends?
No, so far, I haven’t worked with anyone located in my home state of NC. I refer my TV clients to a qualified professional organizer who lives near them whenever possible. I do, however, stay in touch with many of the clients via phone and email. I even talk to some of their family members too, with their permission, of course.
4. Would you say the show accurately depicts the way you would normally work with a client? Do you often have a team of people that works with you?
Yes, when working with hoarding clients, I use a team of professional organizers and collaborate with a therapist. Nothing about what I’m doing, meaning the organizing process, is fabricated for TV. The producers encourage the “experts” to do what we normally do. The challenge for me, personally, is to do this with a team I’ve never met before and do it quickly. It’s been GREAT bonding with professional organizers and 1-800-GOT-JUNK teams all over the US. I’m fortunate to work with really incredible, capable, and caring people.
5. At times, it gets very emotional when a client’s friends or family members are involved in the clean up process. Do you discourage or encourage their participation? How do you keep everyone calm…and remain calm yourself?
Education is key! If family members insist on participating (in “real life,” not TV), I have a meeting where boundaries are established and rules are set. I gently request that family members read books and watch movies about hoarders/hoarding BEFORE coming to help.
Truthfully, it’s usually less tense if friends and family do not participate but it’s not always an option, especially when the client is on a tight budget. Friends and family always have the best intentions and want to help but they lack understanding and want to work at their pace, not the client’s.
6. In your experience, how likely is it that clients regress or stop responding positively to the help they get from you (and/or other professionals)?
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.
7. While keeping certain details confidential, can you describe the most difficult case/job you’ve worked on?
Frankly, every single hoarding case has many challenging moments; each and every job is emotionally and physically draining. The homes are often full of safety hazards so spending long days in that environment isn’t healthy, and once I walk out the door for the day, the day’s events remain in my mind.
8. How does your work impact your life personally? Does it take a toll on you and your family?
Yes, in addition to what I said earlier, about the environments being toxic, I’m much more mindful of my own spending/shopping/acquiring/saving habits.
For example, years ago, I enjoyed seasonal decorations, while now I think the amount of “holiday stuff’ on store shelves is ridiculous. The amount of energy used to manufacture those things and the space that all that stuff takes once we own them is terribly wasteful.
9. Are there books or resources that you would recommend if someone wanted to get more information on hoarding or chronic disorganization?
Here is a link (on my website) that has helpful resources:http://metropolitanorganizing.com/resources/hoarding.
Here is a link to buy “Hoarders: DVDs, but note you can watch them on line.
About Geralin Thomas
Geralin Thomas, CPO-CD®, and founder of Metropolitan Organizing®, LLC, (established in 2002) has helped professional athletes, politicians, artists, small business owners, and others live more productive and balanced lives. A chronic disorganization and ADHD specialist, she is also a Past President of the North Carolina chapter of NAPO®. Residing in Cary, North Carolina with her husband and 2 teenage boys, Geralin is a Tarheel fan and graduate from The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She teaches new organizing courses for NAPO and enjoys working with clients and new organizers.
- “Hoarders” Snapshot: My Life as a Hoarding Expert by Dorothy Breininger(dallisonlee.com/blog)
- Interview With Dr. Marla Deibler, Therapist Featured on “Hoarders” (dallisonlee.com/blog)
- Lindsay Lohan: Celebrity Hoarder? (trueslant.com)
- How to handle the hoarding habit (vancouversun.com)