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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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In Spokane, there’s help for hoarders

Ceci Garrett has been helping hoarders, like the resident of this place, with Lightening the Load, a faith-based organization in Spokane. (Colin Mulvany)
Ceci Garrett has been helping hoarders, like the resident of this place, with Lightening the Load, a faith-based organization in Spokane. (Colin Mulvany)

From the outside, Kristi’s house looks like everyone else’s in her neighborhood. The grass is green and mowed. Blooming plants greet visitors near the door.

But inside there are telltale signs of Kristi’s battle with hoarding disorder. Her guest bathroom is used as extra closet space since her own is full of clothes she never wore but wanted to keep. Her living space is filled with items she accumulated.

Kristi asked for her last name not to be used in this story, but she hopes her experiences will help others.

“I have no idea how it all started,” she said. “I wasn’t brought up that way.”

It’s estimated that 3 to 5 percent of the population are hoarders. In Spokane County that translates to 14,000 to 23,000 people.

In some large cities, teams of code enforcers, first responders, elder services workers, counselors, home pest exterminators and others have combined forces to help hoarders.

But not in Spokane.

Now one woman wants to bring change.

Ceci Garrett founded Lightening the Load, a faith-based organization to help hoarders overcome their disorder, and Hoarding Consultants Northwest, a one-on-one coaching and organizing service. In addition, she is leading the charge for a task force to be formed to help those who need it.

For Garrett, the fight to live in a clean home is personal: Although she is not a hoarder, Garrett’s mother is and the two were featured on the A&E show “Hoarders” in 2009.

Garrett said growing up in the home of a hoarder was painful. She didn’t even realize there was another way to live until she visited the homes of her friends. She moved away right after she graduated from high school.

In 2009 her mother fell in her home and emergency responders had trouble getting to her because the house was filled with so much stuff. Estimates for cleanup ran from $25,000 to $50,000, which neither of them could afford.

Then she found Clutter Cleaners, which specializes in that kind of cleanup. The founder of that company, Matt Paxton, worked for the television show and asked Garrett if she and her mother wanted to be on it.

“She had no other options,” Garrett said.

The home was condemned and torn down. Garrett moved her mother to Spokane, where she lives in an assisted-living facility. She has no spending money and her access to new items is limited.

“It works for us,” Garrett said. “It’s not ideal, but we’re more able to have a relationship.”

But the experience taught Garrett something: She wanted to look for ways to help others in her situation and started a support group for adult children of hoarders. Instead, the interest was from the hoarders themselves, not their children.

“This is why I’ve had the experiences I’ve had,” she said. “People have seen my story. This is what I live, eat and breathe.”

She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology and started her own crusade for those who suffer from hoarding disorder.

“She, by far, is the main contact of the community,” said T.J. O’Dell, a licensed mental health counselor in Spokane.

Although O’Dell said many counselors in Spokane have dabbled in treatment they can only do so much from an office to help.

“This is not how most people want to live,” O’Dell said.

Both O’Dell and Garrett said it is unclear what causes hoarding disorder. There could be some sort of trauma involved. There could be a family history. It could also be a symptom of other disorders, such as dementia or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Whatever the cause, there’s a stigma associated with hoarding.

Kristi, the woman with hoarding disorder, said her own daughter often doesn’t tell people about her condition because she doesn’t want that to be the only thing they associate with her.

She struggled to apply what she learned about resolving her disorder, until confronted with a choice: She had a houseguest arriving and didn’t want to ask that person to stay in a hotel.

“I felt overwhelmed for years,” she said. “I was stuck. What do you do with everything when your closets and cupboards are full?”

Then, “I just had to do it,” she said.

Kristi and her daughter worked to clear her living room and guest bathroom. The kitchen was cleaned up. There are some rooms that still have piles of paper, clothes and other items she’s collected, but it’s a start.

“We love it,” Kristi said. “We sit and look around at all this space. It’s the way we want to live.”

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