Understanding hoarding: Give hoarders respect, choice in what to discard or keep, say social workers

After years of living with clutter, Madam Leong Sow Pheng, 80, got a fresh start, thanks to a team of volunteers who helped her clean and organise her home.
Volunteers from Keeping Hope Alive decluttering Madam Leong's flat. They were careful to involve her in the process of deciding what to keep or discard.
An overjoyed Madam Leong taking in the state of her home when the volunteers from non-profit group Keeping Hope Alive had finished their work of cleaning up. She says she is thankful that she now has the space to invite her friends over for karaoke again. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY
An overjoyed Madam Leong taking in the state of her home when the volunteers from non-profit group Keeping Hope Alive had finished their work of cleaning up. She says she is thankful that she now has the space to invite her friends over for karaoke a
What 80-year-old former seamstress Leong Sow Pheng's one-room rental flat in Chin Swee Road looked like when it was cluttered with all the items she had hoarded, before it was cleaned up with the help of volunteers. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Piles of old CDs alongside stacks of fabric reeking of mothballs. Cans of preserved vegetables past their expiry date, and multiple slips of new 4-D lottery tickets on the floor, in drawers, or in bags.

It took years of hoarding for all these and many other items to accumulate in the one-room rental flat in Chin Swee Road occupied by Madam Leong Sow Pheng, 80.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2019, with the headline 'The science of hoarding, the art of decluttering'. Print Edition | Subscribe