Interview Series: Hoarding Experts – Wendy Hanes & Angela Esnouf

Over the next few months, we will be interviewing professionals who work with the hoarding population.  We are asking them to share their insight on people who hoard and people who think they have the hoarding disorder.

We had the fabulous opportunity to spend some time with Wendy Hanes and Angela Esnouf from Australia when we were at the NAPO (the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals) conference in Fort Worth, Texas in early April.

Wendy Hanes is a CPO® and a CPO-CD®. She is the only organizer in Australia to hold these prestigious international designations. Additionally, Wendy holds specialist certificates in Chronic Disorganization, ADHD and Hoarding from the ICD (The Institute for Challenging Disorganization).

Angela Esnouf is the past president of the Australasian Association of Professional Organizers. She and Wendy are actively involved in building the professional organizing industry in Australia and raising the standard of service through professional development.

Questions and Responses

What training have you taken?

We have participated in classes through the ICD (The Institute for Challenging Disorganization) and in a variety of workshops. Dr. Randy Frost ran a workshop and Lee Shuer ran a Buried in Treasures workshop. We have also participated in two workshops on Motivational Interviewing. Angela took Denslow Browns’ course in the Coaching Essentials Program. We attend lots of conferences to increase our knowledge on hoarding and organizing. Locally, the Catholic Community Services hosts a conference on hoarding and squalor.

What percentage of your clients do you suspect have hoarding tendencies?

Angela has about 70% and Wendy has anywhere from 70 – 100% of clients with hoarding tendencies. Wendy stated that some of her clients are very engaged and some are very resistant.

As you start working, are there times when you discover this is something other than hoarding?

Yes. 50% of the time it is ‘passive decline’. This is a situation that mostly occurs in the elderly. It can look like hoarding, but the person is not actively accumulating. They have fallen into a slump. They are simply not keeping up with any clutter removal. So, all the stuff in the home continues to pile up.

What do you mean by the term ‘squalor’?

Squalor is a description of the environment. There is lots of filth, debris, rotting food and garbage. This co – occurs with ‘passive decline’. This term was coined by a pyscho-geriatrician: Professor Steve McFarlane.

What tool do you use to determine the amount of clutter?

We use the ICD Clutter Hoarding Scale. This tool provides us with lots of information about the home. It will help us determine if mold is present, if there are infestations, and what personal protection as organizers on the job we need to stay safe. We have used Randy Frost’s Clutter Image Rating Scale but find the information it provides is not as in depth.

How do you determine if the working area is safe for you and your client?

Wendy always does an in person visit before starting the job. She looks for biohazards like a smell indicating mold. She also keeps an eye out for pet feces and looks to see if the cat boxes are full to overflowing. If the home is in an area where drug use is prevalent, she looks for evidence of drug use – indicating that needles may be hiding in the hoard. If necessary, Wendy will call a forensic cleaner to come in a do a pre-clean before any work is started.

Would you be willing to share something you learned – maybe the hard way – from a client?

This happened early in my career (Wendy). I found out how clients can use you. I was brought in by a Community Housing Project to work with a woman who was in danger of being evicted. I made lots of suggestions and she agreed to everything! I was very surprised by her reaction. I was anticipating some resistance to all the changes I wanted her to make. I made my report to the Community Housing Authority and recommended that the woman’s lease be extended. They agreed. I went back to work with the woman, to implement the changes she had so readily agreed to and found that she didn’t answer the door or her phone! I had been played. She only agreed to the changes so that I would write a positive report. I have since found out that she is still playing the same game!

Angela found out the importance of setting and sticking to boundaries. She was working with a client – doing some de-cluttering and came across a bag of souvenirs from a trip. The client told Angela they were from a cruise she had taken. Angela told the client that she had always wanted to go on a cruise but that her husband wouldn’t agree to go. So, the client said that the next time she was planning to go on a cruise, Angela could go with her.  Then the client wanted to be Angela’s best friend! Angela’s tip is don’t divulge any personal information.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering going into the field?

Get trained! You don’t know what you don’t know. These clients are very vulnerable people. If you go in like a steam truck wanting to clear everything out, you can do more harm than good. They may isolate themselves further and they won’t trust you anymore. There may be backsliding. It’s important that there is no judgement in the work we do and that we inspire trust in our clients.

Do you have a shareable list of resources for people challenged by hoarding and/or their families?

Yes. Go to our website: Hoarding home solutions.com.au/resources. This is a serious subject. We offer a training course in which we chunk down the information into manageable units. We offer practical solutions to empower people to work through this challenge. The course is online and is a series of webinars and videos. It is 13 modules and takes between ten to twelve hours to complete.

Thank you very much for this fabulous time spent together learning more about the work you do in Australia.

If you are or if you know a professional who works with people with hoarding tendencies, please feel free to get in touch with us. We’d love the opportunity to talk with you, too!

Diane N. Quintana is a Certified Professional Organizer, Certified Professional Organizer in Chronic Disorganization, ICD Master Trainer and owner of DNQ Solutions, LLC based in Atlanta, Georgia. Diane teaches busy people how to become organized and provides them with strategies and solutions for maintaining order in their lives. She specializes in residential and home-office organizing and in working with people challenged by ADD, Hoarding, and Chronic Disorganization.

Jonda S. Beattie is a Professional Organizer and owner of Time Space Organization based in the Metro-Atlanta area. As presenter, author of three books as well as a retired special education teacher, she uses her listening skills, problem solving skills, knowledge of different learning techniques, ADHD specialty, and paper management skills to help clients tackle the toughest organizational issues. Jonda does hands on organizing, virtual organizing, and moderates a Zone Plan Teleclass for those who prefer to work on their own with organizational coaching.