Unlock the Door and Throw Open the Blinds: A photo series

Photos are on display at Union Station in Kansas City April 9th-23rd as part of the Inspire KC exhibition.

Nikki Crawford, PhD

A story about a woman who feels buried in her stuff.

 Gift Wrapping Table

Gift Wrapping Table

“Ten years ago my house was fine, even 7 years ago it was okay. My dog passed away in 2010 and then I retired, it really started to pile-up after that. I don’t have my grand kids over anymore, frankly I am too embarrassed to have anyone over. Only one of my friends and Nikki has been in my house in the past several years.”

 Stacks, Tubs & Paper Bags

Stacks, Tubs & Paper Bags

Meet Ruth, a brave and delightful woman who agreed to let me take photos of her home. We are working together to make her home a place of peace where she can feel calm and settled.

The excess stuff is a major challenge for her, yet it certainly doesn't define who she is. Ruth is a very engaged mother and grandmother, dedicated volunteer in her community and church. She is a retired professional who loves musicals. She is a loyal and compassionate friend. I find her to be curious, funny, and engaged in an interesting life outside of her home.

It took courage for Ruth to have her “stuff” photographed, she hopes that in sharing these images she might inspire others to open up and ask for help.  

 Overflowing Cupboards

Overflowing Cupboards

Enough? Too much? Too little? - we have our individual thermostats.

A “Thrifty” gene related to compulsive collecting has been discovered by scientists. This gene, they suggest, was helpful to our ancestors who were more likely to survive when they held on to excess resources.

 "I don't even know where to begin"

"I don't even know where to begin"

Ruth’s living room, hall and spare bedroom are full of gifts she’s not yet given her family –  many of us use gift giving is a way to express our love. This way of showing affection has gotten even easier as our ability to manufacture and import goods cheaply has improved. According to research at UCLA our consumption of material goods has actually doubled over the past 50 years.

 "I really am capable"

"I really am capable"

“I really am capable”, is a phrase I often hear from clients wanting me to know that although they’ve gotten behind on managing their stuff, they function very well in other areas of their lives.

Excessive clothing is an area of struggle for many of us, and low prices have greatly increased our rate of purchasing.  Shopping for many people is a soothing and distracting way to avoid being home amidst the clutter. According to Mattias Wallander, CEO of USAgain, a textile-recycling company, we as Americans now buy five hundred percent more clothing than we did in 1980.

 Overwhelmed

Overwhelmed

Too much clutter cascades into other challenges. A few years ago Ruth had a roof leak fixed, but she has not yet repaired the ceiling because she is embarrassed to have a painter in her home. So when she notices the ceiling she criticizes herself for not having it fixed, which spirals into more self-criticism. She worries that in a health crisis paramedics would have to come into her house. Broken appliances may remain so for months due to the shame of having a repair person come into her home.

 No Rest

No Rest

Most of us know someone who lives with too much stuff. Extreme hoarding behaviors have been diagnosed in approximately 2-5% of U.S. residents. Although I don't know if Ruth has extreme hoarding behaviors, she has definitely come to a point in her life when she is interested in drastically changing how she lives.


When I work with Ruth I see a nuanced and beautiful person who is far more complex that any particular set of behaviors.

I see dreams yet to be realized. I see a woman stepping into another phase of her life.

I see we all want the same thing - to live a life of love and acceptance of ourselves and those around us.

I love to find ways to support people who are overwhelmed by their stuff. To walk with them to reclaim their homes and create a life that feels more expansive, satisfying and rich.

I’m grateful to Ruth for being brave and wise and for allowing me to share a small piece of her story.

Nikki