May 4, 2023

In our first episode of "I Live This: Transforming Mental Health through Personal Connection," the journey of one peer to support other over-finders, understand his collection, and express his feelings along the way.

Lee Shuer isn’t scared to admit that learning along the way has been part of his process as he moved from mental health worker to certified peer specialist and internationally-renowned expert on supports for hoarding conditions.

“There’s this thread that runs through it all just wondering if I could have done better. What did I learn?” Lee says. “I look at these things and I kind of fill in the blanks with what I know now. What would I have done then? And when I’m coaching, or mentoring, or training around these topics I try to catch people up on what I’ve learned from the experience so they don’t necessarily have to start where I was 23 years ago.”
Lee Shuer

Lee (pictured at left) is co-founder of Mutual Support Consulting and author of “The Buried in Treasures Workshop Facilitator's Guide,” with Dr. Randy Frost. He’s been at the forefront of developing self-help groups and workshops for people who want to regain control of their collections and clutter in a judgment-free way.

Peer support and self-disclosure

Lee started working at a traditional mental health provider, initially, and was stunned by the level of responsibility given to him on day one. While his background wasn’t in mental health or counseling, he had lived experience to draw from.

“I didn’t realize what an impact that would have on me – trying to keep something secret on the job because I didn’t think I could talk about it, keeping the job secret at home because of confidentiality, and having all these things and not really talking to anybody about it,” he says.

Keeping those secrets, Lee says, impacted the quality of the work he was doing. He describes self-disclosing as a life-changing moment. It came with negative aspects, like a consistent fear of job loss, but it also helped Lee see the bigger picture and connect with other peers in the movement.

"Hoarding”

Lee first reached out for support for his own tendency to over-acquire by joining a local study for people who had too much stuff. The goal: let go of one item. Lee parted with a sentimental t-shirt, but didn’t let another item go for several years – a byproduct of the fact that the study offered no follow-up help.

94 sometimes its like POW

Happenstance led him to the Western Mass Hoarding Disorder Resource Network, which Lee joined as a mental health counselor.

“I didn’t tell anybody in the group that I have clutter stuff. There’s so much stigma I was worried that they wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about it around me,” Lee says.

Lee sees language as an important first step in breaking down the stigma (much of which was created by popular depictions on television) surrounding hoarding conditions.

“Once people start to think bigger about this and realize the challenges go much deeper – it’s not just about loving your stuff so much that you don’t care about other people, but that there are some deep-rooted mental health challenges here – it helps to raise the level of compassion.”
Lee Shuer

Lee’s workshops and other resources focus on evidence-based treatments and tools that can actually help people.

Buried in Treasures workshop

In 2009, Lee started running what would eventually become the Buried in Treasures Workshop. It served as a crash course in helping himself so he could help others. It’s a 16-week program based on cognitive behavioral therapy and is developed in a way that laypeople can utilize the skills and approaches.

They address mindful acquiring, increasing sorting and discarding, and maintaining the process. The underlying challenges and goals relate back to what matters for a person.

“It’s really important not to forget - myself and a lot of other people - we don’t live alone. The clutter we create does impact other people," Lee says. “Even though a mental health challenge might not be our fault, it’s still our responsibility to help create and maintain a safe and healthy environment for everybody involved.”

Lego guys keep on truckin purple wall
80 zoinks

Expressing emotion

Lee is a multi-talented artist, using modalities like pen and paper, marker, photography, music, poetry, and more. He wrote a poem on the first overnight shift he worked alone, back on New Year’s Eve in 2001:

I’ve just spoken with a man who will toast the New Year with a glass of ginger ale

I shall do the same because I said I would

It was 3:30 a.m. when the phone wrang

That’s the first time I’ve had to deal with something like that

He said he couldn’t sleep

And I said I couldn’t blame him

I suggested music and watching the snow

We’ve gotten seven inches here in Northampton

Must have been 12 inches on the ground in Southampton already when I left

It’s been coming down for 15 hours now

That’s nothing compared to a man on the wagon

Lee uses these poems, drawings, and other expressions to reflect on his experience, and work to better understand and support his peers.

Lee shares other work with us during our full conversation, including a violin piece he improvised, his thoughts on self-expression, and how words can sometimes fail us. You’ll see some of his visual work featured throughout this post. Listen to our interview with Lee Shuer, certified peer specialist, co-founder of Mutual Support Consulting, and author of “Buried in Treasures” to hear more!

Find more details about our podcast series "I Live This: Transforming Mental Health through Personal Connection," including future interviews, resources, and more.

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