There were times, Sandra Stark remembers, when she couldn’t use her kitchen or sit on her sofa. Her collections — figurines, vases, paperweights — had overtaken every closet, drawer and surface. Stacks of clothing and old magazines added to the clutter.
Her daughters came in and threw everything away — to Ms. Stark’s horror — but a year later her home was again barely navigable. “I couldn’t throw out my garbage,” she said. “I put it in plastic bags, but I couldn’t take it out.”
A drop-in support group sponsored by the Mental Health Association of San Francisco helped her begin to control her hoarding behavior, and she has made considerable headway. “My bedroom is still a work in progress,” said Ms. Stark, 67. “But I can cook again.”
She has become a trained peer responder who works with others with this disorder. Many of the Mental Health Association’s clients are older adults: A woman in her 70s occupies one small room because the rest of her spacious house — leaking and mildewed — is filled with stuff she can’t discard. An 87-year-old, a compulsive thrift-store shopper, faces eviction because the city health department says she has created a safety hazard. “I’ll say, ‘Of these dozen black leather coats, pick two,’” Ms. Stark said, mapping her strategy to help keep the woman in her home.