Thursday, April 17, 2014

Collector Care Interviews: Lee Shuer

Hello Collectors! I am super excited to feature Lee Shuer on our blog this month.When I first (read) of Lee's story I was touched. He is a Collector who has had the strength and courage to face his hoarding disorder full on , and the passion to help other Collectors do the same. I wanted to know how he did it, not so much the sorting process, but how he kept himself focused internally. As you know, I love self-help, positive thinking and affirmations. What did Lee tell himself during his battles and struggles that kept him focused?

Rachel Seavey: Do you still have urges to find and keep? How do you manage these?
Lee Shuer: Yes. I like stuff, I want stuff, and I still have urges to acquire. But they aren’t as overwhelming as they once were. Back in the day, I couldn’t walk away from a toy sale, free box, thrift store, or tag sale without bringing something home. Today I can go to those same places, confident that I won’t leave with unnecessary items. My priorities have changed.
Lee's "Old" Kitchen

What gives me strength to say “no,” when I need to is the perspective I’ve gained over the past several years of practice. I can see the bigger picture, and the patterns that lead to a cluttered home. I ask myself questions when I find something I want but don’t need. Some of these questions are, “Am I buying it because I can’t find the one I already own?” “Do I have a place to put this?” “Do I have a plan for immediately using it?” And the two most important questions, “Would my wife approve,” and, “Will this help me overcome my clutter problem?”

When it comes to saving things, I ask myself similar questions. Another question that helps in this part of the process is, “Does this item represent who I am now, and who I want to be in the future?” Much of what I have represents different phases of my life. Do I really need those things anymore? Or have I just neglected to look at them that way. I’m not the person I used to be, and I don’t need the same things anymore.
Most of the time these questions work.
Lee and his beautiful wife Becca

Sometimes, and this happens to anyone trying to overcome a long-standing habit, I don’t abide by my own rules. When I notice this happening, I don’t give up. In fact, I see it as an opportunity to put all my skills to the test again. I hear my peers cheering for me as I get back on track.

Rachel Seavey: Happy wife, happy life! I love the questions that you ask yourself, and how aware you are of your finding habit. During your journey, did you lose faith in yourself or the process? How did you regain it?

Lee Shuer: I haven’t lost faith in my process, because I believe that up’s and downs are a part of the process. When I start to have a hard time, I accept it, and use my action plans to move forward again. My WRAP for Reducing Clutter takes these natural patterns into account, and I take responsibility for regaining control.

I recently lost a close family member, and since then, my clutter has reflected the emotional event. I don’t feel like I’m failing, I feel like I’m feeling. I know that this is a part of my grieving process. I’m not acquiring more, but I’m letting things get messy. I know that grief is a trigger for complications in several aspects of my life. Clutter is just one. I know that eventually I’ll start to feel better, and so will my home.

Rachel Seavey: Grief is quite often a trigger for our clients to clutter. It's important to give yourself a break when you are going through a hard time. Backsliding is very normal, and with a positive attitude you can get back on track easier with less guilt. The more you understand yourself the better. It's important to take small steps every day towards your decluttering efforts. This is in order to learn a new routine and so that you don't overload yourself with your own high expectations.
Lee, what steps do you take daily to work on your decluttering? 

"Kaya Lu Bug" and "Honeybee Violet Shuer"
Lee Shuer: Daily maintenance is the key to sustaining a life less cluttered. Am I great at this? No! Am I getting better at it? Yes. I know that one of my biggest challenges is putting my “toys” away after working on a project. Art supplies, music gear, video equipment, electronics…if I don’t re-organize them after I use them, they end up getting piled on top of each other. And so the cycle of chronic disorganization continues. When I clean-up, I break the cycle.

Some concrete chores can help me keep my confidence high and the clutter at bay. Tasks like making sure that the recycling goes out on trash day, or that dishes are cleaned and put away, or that the rug is vacuumed, help me take more pride in my home. My goal is that on any given day, if the doorbell were to ring, I would be proud to give my guest a tour of the house. Every room, every closet. Basement to backyard. A month ago, my home looked great. Today, I’m not as happy with it. A month from now? I know it will look great again, maybe even better than ever! For me there is no real failure in recovery, just opportunity for self-discovery and growth.
Lee's "Old" Home Office

Rachel Seavey: Making a list of daily chores and sticking to them is an important part of learning how to become more organized. Thank you for being specific on your chores, and so honest about your personal process.  How long has this process taken you? When did you start and when do you plan to finish?

Lee Shuer: I started working on reducing my Finding and Keeping habits back in 2005. Becca, my wife of one year at the time, gave me the ultimate ultimatum: let the stuff go, or I go. This had a lot to do with there not being room in the home for her to have a life. No place for her identity. No space to display her art, or her aesthetic. I had too much stuff.

Lee's Home Office
I accepted help, and started to let things go, and stopped my constant acquiring. That was 9 years ago now. Just this January, Becca said to me, “Finally, this year, I’m happy in our home. Every year we’ve said that next year will be better. It’s finally better.”

That feels great. I’ve worked on this for both of us (and for our three fluffy cats who now have more room to play!) I think I’m past the hardest part of my recovery. My desire to acquire and save will probably never diminish completely, but my skills will be enough to keep those impulses in check.

A big part of my recovery process has been peer support. The folks who have attended the trainings and workshops that I run give me strength and inspire me to be a role model. I am driven by their energy. I want to do as much as I can to help myself and others, through the creation of new interventions and support group models, like the Buried in Treasures Workshop, and Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) for Reducing Clutter.
Lee's "Old" Living Room

Rachel Seavey: Most of my clients have the hardest time finding where and how to begin. What is your advice for someone with hoarding disorder who does not know how to begin?

Lee Shuer: Ask yourself, “How will life be better if I reduce my Finding and Keeping?” Your answer will be the prize that you keep your eyes on. When the road gets bumpy, and the light at the end of the tunnel seems dim, this hope may keep you moving forward.

I can’t tell anyone how to succeed, because I’m only the expert on myself. But I’ve seen this help a lot of people.

You’re not alone. Millions of us know what it’s like to have too much stuff, and the complications that it leads to. There are options for support and skill-building. Whether you find a Buried in
"Buster Friday Williams" one of Lee's Cats
Treasures Workshop or join a WRAP for Reducing Clutter Group, find a compassionate therapist, have a loving friend or family member, or join a Clutterers Anonymous group or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy group, help is out there. This is an amazing time to begin working on reducing your accumulation. You may even be the support that someone else needs to have success.

Rachel Seavey: Collectors you are not alone. Lee I love the question you suggest to ask yourself
“How will life be better if I reduce my Finding and Keeping?”
Collectors I love this question! It inspires me to transform it into an #affirmation of 
"My life will be better if I reduce my Finding and Keeping."
Lee, thank you so much for stopping by and giving such great answers! I hope our readers find the inspiration that you have found.  

To find out about the most current research and support options for people who collect and clutter go to or Lee Shuer's website,

Power to the Finders and Keepers!
Lee's Living Room

Lee's Bio: I am a Certified Peer Specialist, and an Advanced Level WRAP facilitator. I partnered with Dr. Randy Frost to create The Facilitator’s Manual for the Buried in Treasures Workshop. I created WRAP® for Reducing Clutter, based on Mary Ellen Copeland’s Wellness Recovery Action Plan®. I authored The Mutual Support Workbook, for training mental health workers, as well.

Over many years, I have learned to live successfully with my own mental health challenges, and since 2000, I've strived to integrate the best of clinical and peer services. My work has been featured on,, Seoul Broadcasting System, Scientific American,
Nature, The New York Times, Le Monde de I'ltelligence, Canadian Public Radio,  WFCR,  P.E.E.R.S. Network Radio, CBS Sunday Morning, and through speaking and training engagements across the United States (and Sydney, Australia, in September 2014!) 

I proudly received citations from the Massachusetts State Senate and House of Representatives for developing meaningful employment opportunities for people living with mental health challenges in 2010, and was awarded the Outstanding Advocate award from the Mental Health Association of San Francisco, for raising awareness about peer support and developing self-help groups for people who collect and clutter, in 2013.
I live in Western Massachusetts, USA, with my wife Becca and our three cats.
"Honeybee Violet Shuer"

Rachel Seavey, Professional Organizer (and blogger) For Collector Care

Collector Care specializes in Hoarding Disorder, Chronic Disorganization and Professional Organizing. We  love what we do, and  provide realistic expectations and timelines. Please visit our website at  or call 925-548-7750
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  1. Rachel,

    This is an absolutely fascinating interview.

    For me, the part where Lee says, "I don’t feel like I’m failing, I feel like I’m feeling. I know that this is a part of my grieving process. I’m not acquiring more, but I’m letting things get messy. I know that grief is a trigger for complications in several aspects of my life. Clutter is just one. I know that eventually I’ll start to feel better, and so will my home" is brilliant. Such wonderful self-awareness + mindfulness.

    I can't wait to re-read and share with clients and organizers.

    Thank you!

    1. Geralin, thank you for stopping by.
      I especially love the sentence:
      "I don’t feel like I’m failing, I feel like I’m feeling."
      Lee realizes when he is down he tends to become messier. He acknowledges it, and allows himself more slack. He understands backsliding is normal. Lee has incredible insight in his habits and feelings. There is no wonder why he has been so successful in his journey.

  2. Great blog article Rachel and Lee. I remember when we were at the Mental Health Association of San Fransisco's Clutter and Hoarding Conference and Lee played a beautiful tune on his violin. He brought tears to people in the audience which was made up of Collectors, Organizers and Mental Health Professionals. You both share the same passion and dedication to helping those with hoarding disorder, it's great that you were able to put this blog together. Tony Leonardini, General Manager, Collector Care