Recently The Manulife Centre for Community Health Research & Supportive Housing of Waterloo hosted their first event: Towards Hoarding Responsive Communities Symposium

The hoarding symposium’s aim was to examine community supports, service gaps/needs and interventions centered on hoarding. They hosted over 200 local, provincial, national and international academics, professionals, and service providers over the course of the 2 day event.

The event executed over 10 facilitated workshops:

Wilfred Laurier University Campus

Location: Downtown Kitchener Wilfred Laurier University Faculty of Social Work campus

  1. Understanding Hoarding: The Case for the Integration of Trauma-Informed Principles in Practice
  2. Working with People with Lived Experience: Insights from the Front-Line
  3. Hoarding and Professional Organizers: An Anthropological Approach
  4. Hoarding 101: An Overview of Everything you Wanted to Know and More
  5. Understanding the Merits and Challenges of Collaboration: Exploring the Possible Development of a Provincial Network for Service Providers Working in the Area of Hoarding
  6. Animal Hoarding from the Inside Out: An Investigators Perspective
  7. Developing a Positive Working Relationship with Clients who Hoard
  8. Hoarding: A Case Study from Waterloo Region
  9. Fire Prevention and Threat Reduction
  10. Eviction and Homelessness Prevention

    more workshops

    11. Buried in Treasures: An Overview of Clinical Interventions for Hoarding Disorder 12. Understanding Emergency and Enforcement Services and Their Role in Hoarding Cases 13. Family Accommodation in Problematic Hoarding: When Does Support Cross the Line?
Supportive Hoarding of Waterloo

Supportive Hoarding of Waterloo

Day One of the symposium featured an opening keynote address provided by Dr. Gail Steketee, PhD, MSW. Steketee is Dean and Professor of the Boston University School of Social Work.

Steketee’s research and clinical work focus maily on hoarding, and her work has contributed to the development of diagnostic criterai for Hoarding Disorder in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).  She has published more than 15 books and 200 articles and chapters on haording and obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders.  Her best-selling book, Stuff (Frost & Steketee, 2010, Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt) was a finalist for the Books for a Better Life Award.

Steketee spoke candidly in her opening keynote entitled Understanding and Treating Hoarding Disorder: It Takes a Village. The talk confirmed that we keep “stuff” because of sentimental, instrumental, and instrinsic values that we place on our belongings.

Dr. Steketee asked the audience to raise their hands if they knew someone with hoarding behaviours. When I raised my hand and looked around , I saw that almost the entire 80 currently present attendees also had their hands raised.

Steketee pointed out that the common age for hoarding tendencies occurs primarily at age 10-25 years, that depression and worrying are common accompaniments with hoarding, and that hoarding is for the most part NOT caused by trauma.  The keynote paved the way to many conversations and debates on the topic of hoarding.  

Hoarding Symposium

Towards Hoarding Responsive Communities Symposium

Many recognized as well that there are many questions and not as many answers. The current treatment for those who would like help with their hoarding behaviours is an astonishingly low success rate of 30%. Dr. Karen Rowa pointed out in her workshop, Family Accommodation in Problematic Hoarding: When Does Support Cross the Line?, mentioned the impacts that the supports around an individual can play in their treatment. Rowa listed both the positive and problematic behaviours that families and friends can adopt so as not to contribute to worsening unfavourable behaviours.

Digging Out

If you’re helping a friend or family member with hoarding behaviours this book could assist you.

Positive Behaviours: being empathetic & showing concern, setting clear limits, and using a great deal of patience.

Problematic Behaviours: being frustated, supporting the disorder, making excuses for a loved one, and associating relationship dissatisfaciton.

A good book to follow for a support person of a hoarder is “Digging Out (Tompkins & Hartl, 2009)

For those who are quick to jump and help “clean out” hoarding spaces it should be said that the current research shows this to be a poor decision. Forced clean outs currently indicate that there is a 50% chance there will be NO change in hoarding behaviour, 13% of cases develop worse hoarding behaviours, and only 5% of those suspend their hoarding  behaviours.  Individuals appear to make improvements when they complete homework and if they have motivators/people to help assist them with that homework. Examples of homework could be as simple as keeping the stove clear from items at all times, emptying the garbage on garbage day, or avoiding situations where acquiring items might be more prevalent.

Provincial Network

Challenges of Collaborations and is a Provincial Network Possible?

Organizers of the Hoarding Symposium left participants with reflective questions to ponderUnderstanding the Challenges of Collaboration and A Provincial Network and discuss.
One of the most interesting of those questions being: “Do you think there is an appetite in the province of Ontario for a provincial network on hoarding and if so, what would that look like and if not, why not?”

As professional organizers we are very happy to have participated in the conversations at the Hoarding Symposium and are even happier that they were conducted in Waterloo Region. The more we learn about hoarding and acquiring the better we can serve our clients who request help. Academic conversations and discussions also reduce the amount of stigma that may be attached to hoarding by creating a better understanding of behaviours. We look forward to future discussions and events such as this. Congratulations to S.H.O.W. and The Manulife Centre for Community Health Research.


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Samantha provides personal, home and business organization solutions for individuals who are ready for change. She is a Co-Founder of KW Professional Organizers, a sought after public speaker and blogger.