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Sort it out, Throw it away
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I was struck (pleasantly) by the summary in the Spring 2007 Hoarding Newsletter of the article, "Categorization in compulsive hoarding" by J.P. Wincze, et al. The final sentence said, "These results suggest that people who hoard have difficulty categorizing their possessions..." I have many times watched my husband, at my insistent urging, try to sort out papers or clothes or books, and seen the results strewn about the living room, with a multitude of piles, nearly each pile with just one or two items. Doing this consumed several days, as he dithered over each item.

When he finished, at last, I asked him to tell me what category each pile represented, so that I could help him file or box or dispose of items appropriately, he looked at me blankly. He could not verbalize, even by reviewing the items in a pile, what category they fit into. Then he started the sorting process over, as though it had never happened. As you can imagine, by this time I was pretty exasperated, because I did not understand his difficulty.

Thanks to the article, I now grasp much better now what is (not) going on. He does not categorize at all well, it's hard or impossible for him, he fears disposing of something valuable inadvertently (as he has done, when he lays important files crosswise across the wastepaper basket and there they go, into the round file).

Now that I understand it, I will be more patient (sort of) and I will have to sit with him and verbalize categories for him, and help him lay stuff down so that the edges of one pile do not merge into the margins of another, and the two become intermixed, thus confusing things again.

I'm well aware I'm not "teaching" him anything; this process of dyadic sorting will have to continue so long as we both shall live, but by understanding where the lacunae are in his abilities, I can help him better and keep my cool.

We have not yet crossed the threshold of disposing of anything. Right now, I'm just working on sorting and categorizing. One small step for organization; one giant step for household management.

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