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Historic Hoarding: Grey Gardens

With today’s busy lifestyles, accumulating “stuff” that clutters living spaces happens, but when too much “stuff” begins to pile up and hamper functional living, it becomes a problem. This problem is called hoarding, and it can strike people from all walks of life.

From the grocery store cashier to high-level business executives to surgeons and nurses, hoarding spans all education and income levels. Experts estimate as much as 2 percent of the population can be classified as hoarders. Hoarders acquire and then fail to discard large numbers of possessions that are useless or have no value.

Grey Gardens the documentary

Photo courtesy of wikipedia commons

The Somber Story of Grey Gardens

Some hoarding stories are legendary, like the one about the East Hampton’s mansion, Grey Gardens. This mansion was inhabited by “Big Edie” and “Little Edie” Beales, the aunt and first cousin of former U.S. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.  The story of Grey Gardens demonstrates how hoarding can affect people from all levels of society.

Grey Gardens deteriorated severely from both neglect and the hoarding tendencies of its two inhabitants. Exposed in the early 1970s in a National Enquirer article and New York Magazine cover story, the Beales found themselves in danger of eviction. Grey Gardens itself was in danger of being demolished by the Suffolk County Health Department due to its lack of running water, an overabundance of garbage and decay, flea infestation, and cat and raccoon overpopulation. In the summer of 1972, Onassis and her sister Lee Radziwill provided the funds to have the home professionally cleaned, sanitized and repaired to meet village codes. Then, the home quickly fell into disrepair again within a matter of months because of the hoarding tendencies of the inhabitants.

Most hoarders neither recognize their living conditions nor admit they pose a problem, making them even more difficult to identify and help.

Here are basic ways to help a hoarder:

  • Focus on function. Help hoarding sufferers recognize how clutter prevents them from living comfortably and staying healthy.
  • Hire a professional. A professional organizer, especially one familiar with compulsive hoarding, can help a hoarder learn to prioritize possessions in order to prevent health citations or eviction.
  • Be respectful. Shaming those with hoarding tendencies will never bring about positive change. To effect change, respect the hoarder’s dignity.
  • Encourage treatment. Mental health counselors, cognitive behavioral therapy, antidepressants, and programs specifically developed for hoarding offer an array of treatment solutions to help hoarders curb their hoarding tendencies.
  • Accept that hoarding may continue. In the event hoarding cannot be curtailed, focus on harm reduction to minimize the dangers of hoarding, such as keeping doorways and stairwells clear and minimizing fire hazards.

If excess “stuff” in the home is crowding out your home and preventing comfortable living, lean on the professionals at Rainbow International®. Their hoarding cleanup and removal services can restore your home to order and safety in no time.