Sherri Richards, Published February 21 2013
Calming clutter: ‘Hoarders’ organizer Thomas distinguishes between hoarding, collecting and disorganization
What: Red River Valley Home and Garden Show
When: 3 to 9 p.m. today, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday
Admission: $8, free for ages 14 and younger. Two-for-one admission 3 to 5 p.m. today and Sunday.
Info: Show features nearly 330 companies and several seminars. Geralin Thomas will speak at 11 a.m., 2 and 4:45 p.m. Saturday; and 11:30 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. Sunday. Chef Jyll Everman, a former contestant on “Next Food Network Star,” will speak at 3:30, 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. today; 9:30 a.m., 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. Saturday; and 1 and 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
FARGO - Geralin Thomas came out of the womb organized. Too organized, she admits.
Even in the throes of young motherhood, with two children 14 months apart, she was surprisingly organized. She began helping other moms. Then their husbands called her for help.
She began her North Carolina-based business Metropolitan Organizing in 2002 and now lends her skills on the popular A&E program “Hoarders,” work she describes as rewarding.
While hoarding is a mental health disorder and not curable, people can learn to manage and cope with it, she says.
“On the show there have been people we have helped and changed their lives,” Thomas says. “And it’s been literally a life-changing experience for a lot of people in the public. This wasn’t even a word five years ago.”
Now, people have a label to put on the behavior, an understanding of the illness, as well as a spectrum for comparison. Thomas says people will call her for help, invoking the names of people from the show to give her an idea of their situation.
Thomas will speak at this weekend’s Red River Valley Home and Garden Show at the Fargodome. Her seminars will discuss hoarding, clutter and building a better closet. She encourages people to come to her with their questions and problems.
Her appearance ties into a large trend in the home building and redecorating business, says Bryce Johnson, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association, which sponsors the 52nd annual home show. More companies focus on maximizing space and organization in closets, kitchen cabinets and garages, she says.
“It definitely helps you live a lot easier, with the different designs they have out there,” Johnson says. “I think people try to simplify their life and when you have a lot of stuff, it gets to be overwhelming to a point where it’s hard to take care of it.”
Thomas distinguishes between hoarding, collecting and being chronically disorganized. People’s clutter can also be situational, beginning after a wedding, move or birth of a child, she says.
“A collector takes pride in what they have, they want it to increase in value,” Thomas says. “Lots of collectors enjoy categorizing. A person with a hoarding disorder, they are ashamed.”
Hoarders are not proud of their behavior. Nothing is categorized, organized or documented, she says.
Our lives today are ripe for increased clutter, Thomas says. There’s the ability to shop online 24/7. Items are packaged and wrapped more heavily. Goods are cheaper to buy than repair.
“I see people with drawers full of cameras, telephones, computers. Things like that are really changing,” Thomas says. “Pagers, I find them in people’s drawers all the time.”
And children are clutter magnets, she says.
“We have children’s artwork and school papers to be signed and sporting activities and Scouting,” she says. “There’s a lot of stuff that goes with each of our children and each of their activities.”
So why do we hold on to all that stuff? Thomas says people have different reasons:
- Sentimentality. “Those are the people who hang on to their old wedding dresses after they’re divorced or single-digit jeans when they’re double-digit,” she says.
- Frugality. “They think everything is worth something someday,” she says. Think Beanie Babies, quarter collections or old Coke bottles. The problem is, Thomas says, that very few things are uniquely valuable these days.
- Resourcefulness. “Everything has a potential use,” for these people, she says, from wine corks to a margarine container. “Everything can be repurposed.”
- They’re eco-minded. “They feel a responsibility for the health and safety of the planet,” and only want to dispose of items in certain ways. She thinks of an elderly client with a stack of 30 phone books that she wouldn’t throw away unless they would be recycled.
Thomas says her work begins with talking to the client, to gauge how much insight the person has into his or her own behavior.
Often, she simply hopes to plant a seed of an idea, even if people seem to negate anything she says.
“Sometimes people act like ‘I don’t want to hear that from you’ but then they’ll tell me something,” she says. “They will often take what you’re saying and you can hear them arguing with themselves.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5556.