Chattanooga, TN

Here’s What Happened When I Hired a Chattanooga Cleanup Crew For Hoarding Help

Shannon Ashley

If you've got a hoarding situation in Tennessee, there are businesses that can help you get your life back.

Bio-One took this photo of my living room during their initial walk-through

In early 2020, I felt as if everything in my life was spinning out of control. The pandemic hadn’t even hit the US yet, let alone Tennessee, but I was really struggling to keep things together. I had this bout of pneumonia that seemed like it would never end, and as my energy drained, I pretty much gave up on taking care of my apartment.

By the time the Bradley County schools closed in March and everyone was working from home, my messy home had escalated into a real hoarder’s situation. I’ve written before about some of my struggles with hoarding and how I learned back in 2019 that I do much better with housecleaning help. I fell back into my hoarding habits, however — 1.) because I didn’t know how to organize effectively, and 2.) when I’m really stressed, I hoard stuff and throw self-care out the window.

After several months of trying to get my act together, I realized that my efforts weren’t working. It felt like I was just moving stuff around.

It was awful.

I had this whole goal to get my house cleaned by Christmas but no matter how many hours I put into “organizing,” everything was still a mess. Once I realized that I had way too much stuff and this was a legitimate hoarding problem, I realized I couldn’t manage it on my own. I needed professional help.

So, I Googled “hoarding cleanup, Chattanooga” and filled out an online form with the first local business that came up. It was Bio-One. The owner emailed me that night and we scheduled a free walk-through for the estimate.

During the walk-through, he took photos to share with Emily, of Lively Organizing, a Cleveland-based professional organizer who frequently works with him on big projects. I have to admit the whole thing moved a bit faster than I expected. He came in on January 6th to do the walk-through, got me the complete estimate the next day, and then asked if they could do the cleanout that weekend. I sort of panicked and asked if we could do it on a weekday while my daughter was in school. The forecast called for rain on Monday and Tuesday, so we scheduled it for Wednesday the 13th.

I didn’t sleep well in anticipation of the whole event.

I knew that in the long run, I would feel relief, but I was very nervous. Having someone go through your belongings feels like really too much. I’ve had a hard enough time even sharing pictures and explicit details about my hoarding because it fills me with such intense shame.

I know it shouldn’t. I know that this is a mental illness plus some struggles with executive functioning for a neurodivergent brain. But for me, hoarding carries much of the same stigmas as obesity. There’s that deep-rooted fear that if people see what I’m really like, they’ll be repulsed.

So, it was scary, but everyone I worked with from Chattanooga Bio-One Lively Organizing was incredibly kind.

The initial clean up only took one day. The owner and two dudes in hazmat suits — yes, hazmat suits — went through my kitchen and living room while the organizer helped me declutter upstairs.

There were definitely some casualties. Things I didn’t want to throw away or donate that got accidentally hauled away, but nothing of vital importance. I was pretty bummed to find out that the guys accidentally took the cord to my Zojirushi water boiler — especially when I found out my model was discontinued and nobody seems to sell the cord by itself these days. But I wound up finding a brand new boiler that looks just like my old one except it’s a bit smaller. As it turns out, I actually prefer the smaller size.

All in all, the guys from Bio-One did a great job. Most hoarders they deal with require far less sifting than me. The only other items that got mistakenly hauled away were some food items I would have liked to have kept and a handful of clothes that I mistakenly chose to donate. And honestly, that was just because I was so tired by the end of the day I made a simple mistake.

The trade-off was undoubtedly worth it, however. Just to be able to breathe again, to see the my floors, and use my furniture without a headache —it’s difficult to put into adequate words but it’s certainly a relief.

Bio-One probably spent about 6 hours at my place. The hazmat suits caused a stir for some of the neighbors, who wound up calling to complain to the landlord. The maintenance team swung by and questioned me, even though the whole thing had already been cleared by my landlord’s office, but they didn’t hinder the process too much.

You may or may not be surprised to hear that after a few weeks, my home is not “done.”

I’m still working with the professional organizer to go through each room and transform the space. Last time, we got through my daughter’s room and closet. We also have to get through the 1.5 bathrooms, the living room, and two more closets. I never knew though what a relief it would be to hire this sort of help, however.

For $50 an hour, Emily's this person with a plan. All I really have to do is decide what I want to keep. Or explain what sort of stations my home really needs. Emily is easy to talk to, non-judgmental and she even hauls away the stuff for me when we’re done for the day. She knows the best places to bring donations so there’s much less waste, and she helps keep the process moving along when I would have burnt myself out after only 10 minutes.

So far, we’re mostly just working with whatever bins and tools I’ve got, though, in the future, I can definitely see myself investing in new containers and shelves to truly maximize my space. Especially since I began watching The Home Edit on Netflix, omg. I mean, seriously, just look:

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=3cYc1R_0YYPoRQb00
https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=3ZBq3o_0YYPoRQb00I have these kinds of fridge goals (once I figure out exactly HOW and WHAT I want to eat on a regular basis, that is).

For now, I’m not actually focused on making my space look this beautiful. This first round is to simply get it decluttered and reorganized so I can figure out what my life really requires. Over the years, I’ve realized that I don’t even know how to create and maintain healthy routines, and part of the problem is that I can’t fully function in so much mess.

Like a lot of other people with autism and ADHD, organizational tasks are hard for me. I get really hung up on making decisions, and then I proactively hoard different stuff thinking I might want to eat a certain way or follow a specific habit that I’ve never done before. Then, when my life gets too chaotic, I don’t stick to any of those habits. So, the junk piles up.

Once I get my home finished in this first sweep, I’m going to start working on my habits and begin curating my life in a way that makes me feel healthy and at peace. Then, once I know what habits, routines, products, and foods help me feel my best, I can adjust the organization systems to better meet those needs.

Obviously, what I have been doing isn’t working. Traditionally, I “overshop” and buy stuff I don’t need, but can’t seem to keep track of what I’ve got. Working with the organizer is really helping me to see the value of patience and much more strategic shopping. Coming from such an impoverished background, I never actually learned how to shop for a kitchen, stock a fridge or pantry, and buy toys or clothing for kids.

This past week has been a huge education in the importance of shopping for the space you have and resisting the urge to fill every square inch.

Now that I know that and I’m working with Emily (who never seems to get stumped on a home challenge), I’m finally beginning to feel like there’s hope for my whole life again. This week, for the first time in at least a year, I’ve cooked in my kitchen without feeling overwhelmed about cleanup.

For me, that’s an incredible accomplishment.

Anytime I write about my issues with hoarding, depression, and my struggles to keep things neat and tidy, I’m sure the big question is what it all looks like.

As much as I want to be absolutely fearless and make super sharable inspirational posts where I show you what my place really looks like sometimes, I am not that cool. In the past, I haven’t been brave enough to share photos.

Today, I’m only sharing a few glimpses of my place because it’s finally getting better.

Here’s what my kitchen looked like last week at the initial walk-through. One of the biggest issues with hoarding is that I lose my counter space. When I lose my counter space, everything else adds up. Dishes in the sink, boxes, garbage. Everything.

Same thing with the kitchen table. All I did through 2020 was shift one mess into another.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=3DHqzv_0YYPoRQb00My kitchen was just a sea of overwhelm. And lots of good intentions.
https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=1KJecr_0YYPoRQb00Virtually no space to actually cook.
https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=29WMVu_0YYPoRQb00Even the table couldn't keep clear.

A month later, here’s what my kitchen looks like today:

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=23Bjoq_0YYPoRQb00Hello counter space!
https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=3Lsq3x_0YYPoRQb00A table we can actually use!
https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=1yWIYS_0YYPoRQb00A shelf that actually makes some sense.

It’s not perfect. There’s one little pile of stuff going into the donation bin and another little pile going into a seasonal box. But now, I can actually move around and work in the kitchen without a headache.

I can also take better stock of what I have, don’t have, and definitely don’t need any more of.

I never realized how amazing it would be to get help with my kitchen cupboards and drawers, plus, the organizer didn’t shame my ridiculously large collections of jam, honey, or tea. (Though we did edit them down a tad!)

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=2UldHM_0YYPoRQb00I have a thing about buying too many beverages. Now, I'm working on getting through my stash before adding more to it.
https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=2ZNkIY_0YYPoRQb00Now that I can SEE all the jam and honey, I think I'll actually start putting it to good use.
https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=24oPV0_0YYPoRQb00No more bottles falling out of cabinets!
https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=005B0i_0YYPoRQb00Time to begin using the food I bring home instead of shoving it away like I've been doing.

Cleaning the kitchen out and suddenly having a pantry where I can actually see what I’ve got made me realize that I need to quit shopping in bulk because it’s not worth the stress — or kitchen real estate.

Moving upstairs, I was still overwhelmed with “stuff.” Wherever there was floor space, things just went to die. You know, boxes piled up and I kept telling myself that I’d get to them soon. But every time I tried to deal with them, or finally move stuff off the stairs, I felt paralyzed by the scope of the job. And I knew I didn’t have enough space for virtually anything I was trying to move.

Phew. It was crazy. Walking around boxes and clutter made me feel like I was losing my mind. I felt so inept. Breaking each task down into a smaller chore didn’t help either because I was so burnt out on trying to edit things down or categorize them.

The good news is that when you hire hoarding professionals, none of this is daunting to them.

They took these spaces and helped me make them livable again:

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=2Lv8Yj_0YYPoRQb00Laundry was killing me, but there was lots of stuff we didn't even need. Fortunately, Emily brings everything don't need to local charities where our stuff can finally do some good.
https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=1CqmgI_0YYPoRQb00The stairs were a common catch-all for things that were *meant* to go up or downstairs.
https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=3Wi53w_0YYPoRQb00This was yet another spot where I just gave up.

Now, they’re really not so bad.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=2ZMU7W_0YYPoRQb00This spot changes from day to day but this is now as cluttered as it gets.
https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=1uLTas_0YYPoRQb00I'll be catching up on laundry this weekend...
https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=12Yhj3_0YYPoRQb00No more hazards.

My bedroom was such a wreck that I couldn’t even make it into the closet (top left corner). Hence the laundry nightmare. For the most part, 2020 was so dang exhausting that I couldn’t seem to make a dent in the mess on my own.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=0A3Rxq_0YYPoRQb00This was the land of random laundry, half-empty water bottles, and lost stuffies.

Now, it’s fully walkable, and the walk-in closet has been thoroughly cleaned out too. I have places for everything again! Clearly, there are still a few spots of clutter, but those will be dealt with when we redo the bathrooms and finish my daughter’s bedroom.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=4Awyi9_0YYPoRQb00

At one point, my daughter’s room was the last beacon of order in our home in 2020. But shortly after her birthday last April, I found myself giving up. I couldn’t seem to stay on top of cleaning her room or helping her clean her room while managing “distance learning” on top of my regular work. Suddenly, our life was full of worksheets and her room looked like this:

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=31Uy5K_0YYPoRQb00My daughter's room sort of... blew up last April.
https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=1yMeO4_0YYPoRQb00Hard to believe this was in good shape last year.
https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=1R80M0_0YYPoRQb00Looking at this mess made me feel like such a lousy mom.

Friends, these are the pictures of a woman who just gave up. I know they are probably shocking to a lot of other parents, which is partly why I’ve been so nervous to share these. But I also know that I’m not alone.

Now that I know more about navigating the world with autism, ADHD, and a disability like lipedema, I know I don’t even have to do this thing alone.

Clearly, my daughter’s room isn’t finished yet, but it looks much better — don’t you think? We still have one whole wall to declutter and plenty of work ahead, but just looking at that floor gives me life. Getting our home on track is certainly a journey, yet it’s such a happy and hope-filled time after some hopelessly deep battles.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=3M59Zd_0YYPoRQb00

Finally, there’s the living room. This one hasn’t been organized at all, but it has had the first round of decluttering by the guys with Bio-One.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=1KRgrY_0YYPoRQb00This is where I do most of my writing.

Today, we can sit on the couch again and walk around the room without trouble.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=45aves_0YYPoRQb00Phew! We're making progress.
https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=1VqKDc_0YYPoRQb00

My daughter is a pretty happy camper about all of this, too. She’s been able to see firsthand how much easier it is when we help each other and clean up promptly.

The best news about all of this is that I now know how to navigate this stuff moving forward.

I’m confident that as I work with the professional organizer to keep things up on a monthly basis, I’ll learn more about myself and the systems that work best for me. Then, I’ll be able to periodically evaluate my apartment and make adjustments as needed.

Sharing photos of how bad my place had gotten and where it currently stands today is something that leaves me with plenty of apprehension, even though I know how and why I got here. But some of you reading this might be able to identify with the pain, shame, and guilt about hoarding, or simply keeping a messy house.

I really want to encourage you, though, to get help if you need it — and to get it as soon as you can. My apartment didn’t have to get to this point, but I was lacking the necessary skillsets for folks with neurodivergent thought processes.

As embarrassing as it may be, we really do need to talk about this stuff. If you’re on the spectrum of autism, or if you’ve got ADHD like me, you may need tools your parents and educators couldn’t give you. My story (diagnosed at nearly 40 years old) is not so uncommon. There are lots of adults out there who get a late diagnosis and are trying to make sense of it all when they’ve already learned how to cope (perhaps poorly) in a neurotypical world.

Maybe, before your place turns into a nightmare like mine, you can chat with a friend who excels at organizing, pick up a few how-to books, or enlist a few loved ones to help you make better sense of the space you’ve got.

It’s worth making yourself vulnerable — trust me on this one. Tonight is honestly the first night in well over a year that I made dinner for my daughter and didn’t stress about the cleanup. There was no fighting for counter space, no shuffling misplaced dishes around, and no overwhelm.

It was just… nice.

Simple.

I made split pea soup and toast, we had dinner after watching Frozen, and she enjoyed the fact that our meal was sort of Scandinavian.

https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=4YQOMZ_0YYPoRQb00Soup, toast and jam cleanup was not terrible.

Sure, it was only one meal. But the entire meal felt like one long-overdue exhalation, you know?

It was easy.

And sometimes, in the midst of all life’s struggles, what you really need is for something to be easy.

If you need help with a hoarding situation of your own, don't hesitate to call Michael at Chattanooga's Bio-One. Call 423-902-9858 or email info@chattanoogabioone.com.

To reach Emily, email her at emily@livelyorganizing.com.

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Single mama, full-time writer, ex-vangelical. It's not about being flawless, it's about being honest. I cover real-life issues, like family, parenting, relationships, and spiritual abuse.

Cleveland, TN
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