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Published May 09, 2013, 11:45 PM

Cleanup Week problematic for hoarders, psychologist says

Good intentions can turn into backlog
FARGO – For most metro residents, Cleanup Week is a beneficial time to rid their homes of unnecessary clutter, broken items and, well, just plain junk.

FARGO – For most metro residents, Cleanup Week is a beneficial time to rid their homes of unnecessary clutter, broken items and, well, just plain junk.

For others, it can be an unhealthy exercise in addiction.

“The problem is, for people who really struggle with hoarding, or hoarding tendencies, Cleanup Week is kind of like Christmas,” said Renae Reinardy, a licensed psychologist and founder of the Lakeside Center for Behavioral Change in Fargo.

Reinardy has specialized in treating compulsive hoarding for more than a decade. She also was a cast member on the first two seasons of the A&E network show “Hoarders.”

Reinardy said Cleanup Week – which wraps up today in Fargo, Moorhead, West Fargo and Dilworth – is a positive event for the majority of people who don’t suffer from compulsive hoarding.

But for those who do, the weeklong smorgasbord of curbside throwaways can prove irresistible.

“It’s awfully tempting for people,” she said, comparing it to what would happen to alcoholics if everyone put their booze out on the boulevard.

On Thursday morning, 43-year-old David Gardner pulled over and stopped his black pickup on 26th Avenue South near the Fargo Country Club to adjust straps holding down the metal chairs, fans, metal bookcase and other items piled high in his pickup’s box.

The unemployed north Fargo resident was collecting metal to sell to a scrap dealer, but he said he occasionally takes items home to fix them and sell them at yard sales or keep them for himself.

“Every now and then if I find something that’s good, I’ll pick it up,” he said. “I found another drill. Don’t know if it’s any good.”

Gardner said he’s somewhat of a pack rat, but doesn’t consider himself a hoarder.

“I have a lot of stuff in my garage,” he said, adding some of that stuff is from last year’s Cleanup Week.

Reinardy said hoarders often collect broken items, often ignoring the fact they don’t work but other times thinking they can fix them.

“The problem with hoarding is that they have 1,500 other projects just like that that need to be done, and so it contributes to this backlog that they have of their to-do list,” she said.

Hoarders often have good intentions of clearing out clutter, Reinardy said. But while they may talk tough, as soon as they handle an item, they think about reasons why they should save it.

Those reasons usually fall under three primary value systems, Reinardy said: instrumental value, in which the person believes everything has a use; sentimental value, such as kids’ toys or items that represent something from their past; and intrinsic value, when something’s “just too nice” to throw away.

“We all have those value systems,” she said. “(It’s) just people with hoarding tendencies believe them more deeply and they generalize them to more types of items.”

Fargo’s solid waste utility director for the past six years, Terry Ludlum, previously worked in the city’s environmental health division for 17 years and said he was inside a number of homes where hoarding was an issue. But he said the items he saw people hoarding “weren’t things that were picked up from a curbside.”

Ludlum said in talking with other health inspectors from around the state, he found that Fargo had fewer problems with neighborhood complaints that eventually led to court action to force residents to clean up their yards, and he credited Cleanup Week.

“There’s another avenue for everybody to get rid of that waste, as opposed to just putting it behind the garage,” he said.

For hoarders tempted to peruse the boulevards, Reinardy offered a few tips, such as trying to avoid driving around and paying attention to what she called “drug dealer talk,” in which a person convinces himself that he’ll try it just for a little while.

“That talk lures people in, and then next thing they know they’re gone all day driving around,” she said.

“The other thing is just slow down and really analyze their thoughts and really think, ‘OK, somebody threw this away for a reason. Is there something wrong with this?’ ” she said.

More information on hoarding can be found at www.ocfoundation.org, the website for the International Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Foundation.

Cleanup Week collections on track with 2010, 2011

FARGO – Collections during this year’s Cleanup Week are on track with those in 2010 and 2011, said Terry Ludlum, Fargo’s solid waste utility director.

Crews picked up a total of 973 tons on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, compared with 997 tons through the first three days of Cleanup Week in 2010 and 892 tons in 2011.

Last year, crews collected 1,145 tons through the first three days, which Ludlum attributed to the early spring and lack of an organized spring flood fight.

“I think everybody had a chance to clean out their garages and garden sheds well in advance,” he said.

Residents who didn’t move their junk to the boulevard in time for their regular garbage route still have a chance to dispose of it for free, Ludlum said. The city landfill is open at no charge until 3 p.m. Saturday.

Piles of junk that were placed on the boulevard after Cleanup Week crews already went through will be picked up next week, but there will likely be a charge for it, Ludlum said.

He also reminded residents that crews won’t pick up electronics such as televisions and computer monitors. Those are accepted at the city’s Household Hazardous Waste Facility at 606 43½ St. N. from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays; and from 8 a.m. to noon on the second Saturday of each month.

Electronics also may be recycled during the Electronics Recycling Event from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 1 at the Fargo Solid Waste facility at 2301 8th Ave. N.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528