Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dorothy Breininger Sweeps Up in "Hoarders!"

Have you caught “Hoarders” yet? My former student and client, Dorothy Breininger, appeared on the August 24 episode as the organizational consultant for one of 2 hoarders featured on the show (You can see her again this Monday, Aug 31). These hoarders are not just people with clutter who need help getting organized – like many of us. The two hoarders (whom I’ll call Greg and Mary) on this hour-long show have domiciles filled almost from floor to ceiling with mountains of stuff, making easy navigation, sitting, sleeping or going to the bathroom impossible. Dorothy’s task is to prevent Greg from being evicted by eliminating all the crap (figuratively and literally) from his apartment. She does much more.

Dorothy understands that the layers of detritus stuffed into Greg's apartment are a reflection of the unconscious and unexpressed experiences, decisions, memories and recordings that have piled up in his mind since early childhood. Unless he deals with it, he'll end up on the street. Her mission is not just to clean up the physical mess, but to help him see what the mess represents (sadness about his parents’ divorce, depression and slow suicide), get complete with it and let it go; then to get in touch with his desires and vision for the future (to be a writer, to have friends and nature in his home) and to be in action about it. She takes Greg on an inner transformational journey.

Rather than have Greg physically clean up the tons of junk himself, Dorothy does the dirty work and he gets to experience the process vicariously. As she labors, she describes what's there and asks probing questions, triggering Greg to share his emotional responses and flashes of insight, which are many. There's no shame or blame and their on-going dialogue is punctuated by Dorothy's trademark bear hugs and words of appreciation and encouragement.

When the apartment is finally emptied and scrubbed, a writing space is created to support Greg’s vision, with a new bookcase, desk and chair; river rocks are placed on the back of his toilet to remind him of nature; and a friend is brought in to complete the celebration. At the end of the show, it's stated that Greg is writing everyday and keeping his home clean.

I note this final result because it contrasts with the other featured hoarder, Mary, who abandons her home before completing the cleaning. Her consultant’s style is very different from Dorothy’s - conceptual, detached and hands-off - where Dorothy’s style is engaged, caring and hands-on. I question the omission of the caring kinesthetic vibe when working with someone who’s addiction is all about stuffing their homes and burying themselves under physical objects.

Additionally, Dorothy focuses on helping Greg create a big purpose for himself, based on his own desires and vision. Mary’s coach, on the other hand, focuses on Mary's physically sorting through and discarding the mountains of clutter herself, an exhausting process, with the end goal being to sell the house, per a divorce agreement. No wonder Mary weeps when she discovers her grown children’s baby clothes, gets cranky with her son, when he tries to help, and eventually abandons the house altogether. I'm left worrying about Mary's future.

"Hoarders" is mesmerizing; it powerfully juxtaposes real people who have real addictions with the possibility for transforming their lives. Will they or won't they? With Dorothy Breininger's powerful coaching, Greg is off to a fortuitous start.

Be sure to catch Dorothy on the Aug 31 and Sept 21 episodes of "Hoarders!"

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