Vocabulary - Part 2

First pass

One of the early stages in decluttering is the 'first pass', doing a basic very rough sort. This is a simple catagory-of-object sorting: paper with paper, clothes with clothes etc. There is no throwing away at this stage, no judgements required. Long term clients embrace this, finding it very easy and because there are no value judgements, quite relaxing. We have had a number of clients who have approached us wanting simple organisation. In the pre-phone calls, they will say that they don’t want to throw anything away. During the 'first pass', even these clients will see something and say; 'I don’t want that, throw it away'.

Goat's paths

The words clot and clog are ‘blocking’ words. Circulation is stopped. When clogs develop in a room, things can be built up so much that the room becomes impossible to enter.

Before it becomes completely impassable, the hoarder will start using 'goat paths' to make their way through. We are not the first to use this phrase and we have heard it being used by clients. A goat path becomes necessary when the surface of the floor is completely covered. The footing is dangerous and insecure. The goat path is a virtually unrecognisable trail with steps over the piles and heaps.

Looping and touching

These are how a compulsive hoarder reinforces their connection to an object.. Looping is a defence mechanism. The hoarder will verbalise countless reasons why something should not be let go. The reasons will keep coming as long is the object is under threat. Looping also serves to strengthen the hoarder’s attachment to the object. The longer it continues, the stronger the attachment will become. Taken individually, the reasons will sound sensible. Taken together they aren’t. There is no way to refute looping. As soon as it starts, a helper must say 'Okay, we’ll put that in the keep pile.' Looping is often accompanied by touching. This physically strengthens the hoarder's ties to the object. When working with a hoarder, holding up an object, not letting them touch it, and saying 'Do you want this?' can be effective.

People who are not compulsive hoarders will sometimes hold something in their lap, touching it tenderly as they tell you its story. This is part of saying good-bye. When they finish, they will pick the object up and put it in a charity bag or the bin. In its initial stages, it is possible to confuse looping and touching with these gentle good-byes. Experience will teach a helper very quickly.

Pulling apart the clots

This group who expect not to throw anything away will often have bought mountains of storage solutions. They expect to have to store the undigested volume of things. When we finish, they are left with un-used containers.

We have tried to understand why the sorting stimulates the desire to throw things away. With clots and clogs, people stop seeing the individual things. Pulling the clots apart and sorting them into their components re-establishes the individuality.


In order to help any client, it is necessary to identify what they define as rubbish.  Among compulsive hoarders much has been made of the difficulty they have with ‘value’.  Does an item have an intrinsic, emotional, or functional value? The choices and decisions needed to assign value are very difficult, even for clients with very minor clutter problems.

Having said that, most clients can tell you what they consider to be out and out rubbish. Rather than trying to assign values to everything in a room, just looking for the things they describe as rubbish and throwing them away can reduce the volume considerably. Getting rid of what the client describes as rubbish first is an unthreatening first step. There will be other things in the space that have only held their value because they are being compared to the rubbish.

With the rubbish gone, the owner will begin to question the status of what’s left and more things will be redefined by them as rubbish.


The next question is how much does the owner know about what is there. The easiest example is: post. Unopened, it is totally undigested. Opened but not dealt with is partially digested.

Digesting something is an activity. It describes a process through. In a person, when digestion is blocked constipation ensues.

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