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"I'm not going to give up": Minneapolis resident opens up about battle with hoarding

MINNEAPOLIS -- Many of us know what hoarding is, but what do we really know why it happens? We're getting a closer look at the disease from the inside. 

WCCO's Jennifer Mayerle talked with people about the mental illness to better understand it.

Dawn invited us into her Minneapolis home, creating a pathway for us to enter. She wants to open the door to allow people to better understand people who hoard.

"I've been battling issues with organization and clutter," Dawn said.

She said he was born into trauma and has battled extreme anxiety and depression. She cares about her belongings.

"I felt like I needed to be the personal historian of me, because how else would the world know I was here," Dawn said.

This is a better home space than where it's been.

"The pile on the table and such was far, far higher," Dawn explained.

During the pandemic she was forced to work from home and grew even more isolated. Dawn says it only added to her condition and caused her to buy more.

"I developed an obsession with buying Barbie things during the pandemic as a survival mechanism. I take their pictures and I put them in different scenarios. They became my family during the pandemic because I had no one to turn to," Dawn said.

Mayerle asked, "When you look at your home right now, what do you see?"

"I see a prison. I become paralyzed with picking up and sorting out what to do," Dawn said.

Therapists say there isn't a quick fix, if you will, for hoarding. Wade Crandall is the Clinical Site Director at Nystrom and Associates in Hugo.

"It's really legitimately a mental illness and we need to treat it as such. A lot of times with hoarding you're also going to see depression, anxiety and OCD," Crandall said.

Crandall explains sometimes people will hang onto their items as a way to manage trauma, or the behavior can be normalized by a family member who hoards. There are other reasons too.

"Another big one is people who have gone through grief and loss, and what we call unrecognized loss. Losses that society doesn't recognize so loss of job, loss of status," Crandall said.

He says during the pandemic, isolation and avoidance exacerbated the issue. In some cases, eviction moratoriums contributed to the problem.

Crandall says family members can help, although he cautions against a forced clean-out, saying it could cause people to shut down. He instead suggests being supportive.

"And having an open door for your loved one. I mean if the person could just get rid of it, they would," Crandall said.

Sometimes people are forced to manage their belongings as safety factors into hoarding.

Joe Jurusik fields calls, typically from first responders.

"They'll report that the home is hoarded, we'll get that call and then we go out to see for ourselves," Jurusik.

The Environmental Health Inspector in Hennepin County has the enforcement authority to order people to clean-up, but says he takes a compassionate approach.

"I find it better to work with them and have them understand why I want them to clean the house. These are peoples treasures they've saved for whatever reason," Jurusik said.

He showed us before and after photos of homes. Pointing out where the home started, and the improvements made.

"In a lot of cases huge transformation," Jurusik said.

Statistics show hoarding impacts 2-5% of the population in varying degrees, or 1 in 20 to 50 people.

It can occur at any age but tends to be older adults who live alone.

Dawn has taken steps on her own to take control of her home, hiring a professional organizer.

"One of the big goals is there's enough space for emergency crews to be able to get in should something happen to me," Dawn said.

She continues to work on her clutter, and hopes by talking about it, it will help people realize they're not in this alone.

"That it's not a choice and it's not something to be ashamed of. I'm not going to give up because there are possibilities and people are not just one thing," Dawn said.

The Minnesota Hoarding Task Force offers resources online. It's comprised of people who work with people who hoard.

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