coworker gave me a smaller gift, volunteer is a hoarder, and more

It’s four answers to four questions. Here we go…

1. Coworker gave me a smaller gift than she gave everyone else

I work in a doctor’s office with mostly women but my department is all women. There are 10 of us and for the most part we get along great and work well as a team. My question is, should I feel slighted if I received a gift from one of my coworkers that was considerably less than others on my team? I do recognize this is petty and I am thankful to receive anything, but I can’t help but feel snubbed. I help this person considerably throughout our work days and am always available to her. Then it’s Christmas and I get a few items thrown into a bag, where others on my team are receiving bigger bags with wrapped presents and a card with handwritten wishes inside. I don’t ask for anything in return when I help anyone but it makes us all feel better when we’re recognized.

I know I have a lot of “but’s” in here; I’m just not sure how to ask what I’m feeling. I also know I control my feelings and I should just get over it, but it honestly makes me not want to go over and above to help someone where it makes them look good and it leaves me over here in the dirt.

Office gifts are so weird, in part because of things like this. I would try to assume that it wasn’t intended as a snub — that she just works more closely with others, or talks to them more frequently, or couldn’t figure out what you would like while she had perfect ideas for the others, or something else that would explain the difference. If she generally treats you well, that’s really what matters. Don’t let gift comparisons generate bad feelings when you felt fine about things between you before hand — that is giving too much power to the sometimes arbitrary or inexplicable world of gifts!

2. Volunteer is a hoarder and her office is a mess

I was hoping you could give me some other ideas about how to handle a problem we’ve been having with a volunteer at work. “Anne” is a valued volunteer and has been so for several years. Some close to her have become aware that she is a hoarder. That shouldn’t matter, but it is now spilling over into our work space. The space in question is an office that is used to hold Anne’s desk, three cabinets for storage, and some files. It is the “official office” for the activity Anne handles (she has a desk), but the entire space is shared. Her own admitted use of the room is low.

The room is prone to flooding, so we try to keep things in there to a minimum. After the most recent flooding, it was cleared and cleaned. As time went on, however, it started to fill up with stuff that other departments had set out to be thrown out. One department cleans out their office, the unwanted goods would show up. Broken stuff, random stuff, stuff well past its prime, stuff! There have been some new things placed there by other volunteers that ARE necessary — a new piece of equipment waiting to be installed, new props, etc., but Anne complains bitterly that everyone is taking her space. Except it’s not, it’s shared.

Anne and I previously had it out when I found some items I had specifically set out to be thrown away and she retrieved. She’s also been known to go into the dumpster to retrieve things. She said the item could be fixed (it couldn’t). I later threw it out myself at home. I told her that the space was shared, and that a lot of the things she was keeping were broken items, out-dated materials, or just junk. She replied that it was her space and that it was not junk and then kinda started melting down, threatening to quit. I talked her down, and told her that it needed to be accessible to everyone.

I haven’t gone to that room since May. I went down there and it was worse than ever. Over the summer, almost all of the other departments cleared out their spaces — and guess where it all was? It made me realize she has a bigger problem than we realized. She is getting anxious over her daughter going to college and I see it manifesting in this room. It’s just filled with junk. I want to be compassionate about this, but at the same time, she cannot bring her hoard here. The board is aware of the issue, but because she is such a valuable volunteer and everyone wants to be nice, no one wants to say anything. I would lead the conversation, but need to feel backed up. The board doesn’t realize that we can’t take on new volunteers and say, “Hey, here’s the space you’ll be working out of with Anne” and expect them to feel okay or even safe about it. Help.

Do you have the authority to just tell Anne that the things stored there that were intended for the trash are now going to be disposed of, and then just arrange for that to happen (preferably on a day when she’s not there so she doesn’t have to see it happening)? It might be better to skip the heads-up and just do it — but I’d read a bit about best practices for dealing with hoarders first so you’ve got some information about which would be easier on everyone.

If you don’t feel you have the authority to do this on your own, talk to whoever can okay it and say, “The office has become unusable and the trash needs to actually go to the trash. I’m going to dispose of it all, and I want to make sure you’ll sign off on that.”

This isn’t really a question of being nice or not; you can be perfectly nice to Anne and still say, “Sorry, but this space needs to be freed up and it’s becoming hazardous to have this many items in here. We need to be able to use the space for other volunteers as well.” She may well get upset. You can say, “I know it’s frustrating not to have more space, but we have limited space and need to clear this one out.” Your measure of success here isn’t “Anne doesn’t get at all upset” but rather “the space gets cleared out and we all eventually move forward.”

You might also implement a rule of “items set out for the trash stay out for the trash and aren’t up for grabs.”

Read an update to this letter here.

3. Our coworker’s spouse syncs their household calendar with our personal ones

I work in a small office, four persons to be exact. Our president also serves as the HR person. We use Google calendar for travel, vacation, and doctors appointments. We share one calendar, meaning each person does not have an individual calendar. One person’s spouse has been given permission to sync the calendar to their household calendar. Personally I find this a violation of my privacy — she has no need to see when I am on vacation or have doctors appointments. We have no calendar sharing policy.

What is the best way to approach the topic of having separate calendars and having a privacy option for non-employee invites? I formerly worked for a very large automobile company where employee privacy and safety were held in high regard.

That is weird, not least because I can’t figure out why someone would want their household calendar to be filled up with the schedules of their spouse’s coworkers.

It would be reasonable to say, “Hey, it seems strange to have our personal calendars shared outside the office. Can we change this so that Jane is just syncing with Cecil’s appointments and not everyone’s? Or maybe it’s time to have individual calendars that are shared to a group calendar?”

(And if that doesn’t work, you might just choose to include fewer personal details with your own calendar appointments.)

4. Listing lots of free courses on a resume

With the proliferation of free or low-cost online learning out there, I have taken a bunch of courses in things that I haven’t needed to use in jobs yet but that have been satisfying both practically and intellectually. I also work in an industry and role where job descriptions are always shifting and required skillsets evolve quickly. I know that the things I’ve learned about aren’t worth much to an employer unless I’ve demonstrated that I can successfully use them in the workplace, but I wonder if there’s nevertheless a benefit to listing them somewhere on my resume. I’m a lifelong learner, self-starter, etc. — and for some things, I’ve already learned the basics on my own and can get up to speed quickly if it becomes required of me. Is there a way to showcase my informal online learning without sounding silly?

I’d just list the things that truly strengthen your candidacy for the particular job you’re applying for — which might be some of them or might be none of them. If you include everything, you risk look unfocused or like you don’t have a good sense of what’s most relevant to the job. And you’re going to take up a lot of real estate on your resume that could be better used for things directly related to the job (and if you’re thinking you have space for all of it, you still don’t want to include less relevant stuff because you want a skimming reader’s eye to land on the things that are most important),

{ 387 comments… read them below }

  1. Phouka*

    On Letter 2 — I wonder if you are misunderstanding the “things ended up in this room”. It sounded to me as if the departments were cleaning out and setting things outside their own spaces, or in the designated space for throwing things away, but Anne is collecting them and putting them in her workspace. Mentioning that she will retrieve things from the garbage made me think this is not an issue of the space being used by others.

    My mother is a hoarder, the urge to pick up things others have thrown away seems to be pretty common.

    1. BEECEE*

      Hi – Original Poster of Letter 2 – and yes, Phouka, you are correct. This is all stuff that was not left in this room at all – it was put where the garbage goes until it gets taken to the dumpster. She either takes it from here OR the dumpster and then moves it into the office. No one but Anne is putting the junk in there.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Oh! I did misunderstand. (And that was even after I clarified with the OP before writing the answer!) I’ve updated it to speak to the actual problem.

        (For people reading this after that change and who are confused by this: I’d originally read the letter as saying that coworkers were using Anne’s office as a place to store things that needed to be thrown out, and my original answer was largely about telling them to stop doing that.)

        1. Ramona Flowers*

          We all kinda posted at the same time. Would be understandable if you removed a bunch of the comments pointing this out.

      2. Marley*

        You’re going to need to fire the volunteer. This behavior isn’t going to change. Hoarding is hard to treat — and is only treated if the sufferer admits she has a problem.

        Is the cost of time to clean up twice plus the cost to morale worth the services she is providing as a volunteer? I doubt it.

        (I have a bit too much personal experience on this topic.)

        1. memyselfandi*

          I’m with you. They may not have to fire her. If they clean out the space when she is away and make it clear that she can’t continue to put thing in the room, she may get upset enough to quit on her own. This is a tough problem. I feel sorry for the volunteer, but this is a workplace.

          1. fposte*

            That’s an interesting question. I was thinking maybe just startlement that things got out of hand unexpectedly and the hope that a better solution could be found if things were approached calmly. But OP, if this is an indication that you find it hard to resist placating Anne in the moment, be aware of that tendency and make sure that it doesn’t happen at the expense of the organization.

          2. Kimberlee, Esq.*

            I mean, I get it. If you’re a small organization, having rockstar volunteers is rare and treasured. The labor they do out of love often can’t be replaced, just because you don’t have the budget to hire someone and you won’t find someone else that wants to spend 30 hours a week doing your bookkeeping, or whatever. I totally agree that it’s gonna come down to either stopping the hoarding (in the office) or leaving and that it’s likely gonna mean her leaving, but I very much understand the impulse to be as flexible as possible with high-value volunteers. Even paying $200 a month for a junk haul might be a better value than losing the volunteer in a small organization.

        2. Koko*

          I’m curious if any lawyers could speculate how this situation would be different if she were a paid employee rather than a volunteer. Could you fire an employee who was engaging in hoarding behavior in the office and wouldn’t stop? On one hand it’s a disability which I’d think would be protect, but on the other hand the behavior probably constitutes a substantial hardship if she can’t keep it out of the office.

          1. fposte*

            IANAL, but I feel pretty comfortable saying “reasonable accommodation” doesn’t mean “letting your employee bring the contents of the dumpster back into the office.”

            1. Yomi*

              Yeah, I think this is where the line really would be. Yes, hoarding as described here is likely a mental health issue and could be a disability. So you can’t fire her for being a hoarder, even if she was an employee (I would imagine anyway).

              But what she’s doing isn’t a reasonable accommodation, not even close. It’s not an accomodation at all, it would be enabling behavior and actually frowned on greatly if she was in treatment. Reasonable accommodation for a hoarder I would think would actually take the shape of not letting her access the dumpsters and/or taking away some of the temptations to acquire. Or maybe “we’re cleaning out the office during the slow week over the holidays, Anne, you’ll be working from home and shouldn’t come in.” Or even agreeing not to throw away things in her space without her present, but not allowing her to be present when you’re cleaning other areas.

              So no you probably can’t say “you’re a hoarder, you’re fired” but you can say “this behavior cannot happen in this office, it’s not allowed” and then if she continues she would be fired for the behavior, not the disorder.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I don’t want to go too far from the topic, but here’s my quick take. Although hoarding disorder could be recognized as a disability, depending on how it manifests it may not be a disability for the purposes of the ADA. Even if it were covered under the ADA, allowing the hoarding to occur would probably fall beyond the bounds of a reasonable accommodation.

          3. Leenie*

            If this happened to be covered by the ADA, I would think that reasonable accommodation would be more along the lines of giving her time off for therapy and/or not making her the one responsible for purging the office.

      3. Samiratou*

        I would say you need to do more than just ask TPTB if they’ll have your back. Like, someone else needs to be there when you talk to Anne and/or clean things out, because Anne is going to freak out. She may quit. She will have an emotional reaction and people who just want to be nice will almost certainly not be able to deal with her reaction and will throw you under the bus to calm her down (Oh, Beecee thought it would be a good idea to have more space! But it’s fine! We don’t need to change anything now!) and then you’re back to square one. Or square minus one.

        I don’t really know what the solution is, as it would suck to have to fire her over something like this, but based on her previous reaction it won’t be as easy as just throwing the stuff out while she’s gone. You’re still going to have to deal with the fallout when she gets back, and the further accumulation of stuff, etc. Unless she deals with her anxiety herself, the hoarding will continue, I think.

      4. Kitte*

        BEECEE, I managed a hoarder. Her desk was shared with 3 other part time staff. Eventually, even I had to use the desk, and couldn’t–because there was no desk left. Even the walls became a nightmare of stuff.

        I gave her 1 week to clean up. I also assigned file cabinets. Whatever was in Flora’s cabinet was Flora’s business. Whatever was on the desk had to be cleared at the end of her shift. Anything she wanted to keep (yes, even thrown away garbage) was not to be left in that area.

        She complained that she couldn’t work in a space that was so sterile. I reminded her that we were at work, that the desk had to be accessible, and that I made everyone clean their workspace (this happened 2X per year for everyone else). She complained, and it became a running battle. But, after multiple reminders, it got easier to remind Flora it was clean up time.

        Months later, Flora admitted that she knew my answer would always be “no keeping things.” But for some strange reason, testing me like that gave her a sense of security. She knew she had to get rid of it. When she did, her world did not crumble. She told me that even though she felt like she was losing something, she could always rely on me being the same.

        To me, it felt like I was managing a 7 yr old. Not sure I liked being her disciplinarian, but we had an otherwise decent working relationship.

    2. Hills to Die on*

      I wonder if the miscommunication is with ‘her’ workspace. It isn’t hers—it’s the organization’s. I would be very, very tempted to toss everything when she isn’t there and continue to do it regularly, but she WILL freak out, from everything I understand about hoarding. Which admittedly isn’t much.

      I would rather ask forgiveness rather than permission from Anne, and keep a hard line even given her value as a volunteer, but I have a low tolerance for clutter and dysfunction. You may get away with it the first time, but you will need to keep telling her to take it home or you’ll toss it, and it will continue to create friction. Not sure if that’s an option.

      1. Daffodil*

        “I would be very, very tempted to toss everything when she isn’t there and continue to do it regularly, but she WILL freak out, from everything I understand about hoarding.”

        Yes, that’s my impression of it as well. Hoarders tend to see their stuff as an extension of themselves, and other people messing with it is extremely distressing.

        You have to either accommodate Anne’s hoarding or draw a line and not let her do it. If I were in your shoes I’d give her a few days’ warning that you are going to clean out the office on [day when she isn’t there] for [reasons], and then do so. That way it isn’t a surprise betrayal for her. The risk is that she might show up to ‘help’ that day, which might go okay or might be a horrible scene. Can you pick a day when she definitely has other commitments?

        1. Artemesia*

          The OP cannot cure a hoarder. There is no way to deal with her in the office other than forbidding the hoarding and disposing of the junk that is recycled from the trash of the office. There is no line possible here but a hard line, or living with the mess.

          1. Daffodil*

            Yeah, that’s pretty much what I was getting at. People who struggle with hoarding are not lost causes – far from it – but you can’t fix anyone else’s mental problems for them.

            1. Specialk9*

              Oh, could you tell me more? I know very little about hoarding apart from a tv show I watched once, and every person they helped clear out and get counseling, quickly filled the space again. I thought that was just kinda how it worked. So what actually works to help people stop hoarding?

                1. Yomi*

                  HUGE second for looking up the work of Randy Frost and his co-author Gail Steketee. Their books are INCREDIBLY well researched and well put together. I can’t say enough good things about them. “Stuff” is especially eye opening and fascinating and it changed my life.

                  The TV shows about hoarding are actually awful, they don’t depict a good treatment strategy, which is why they often fill the space up again right after. Frost and Steketee get into it in their books. But a forced cleanout all at once is basically the absolute worst thing you can do to a hoarder if you actually want to make things better.

              1. Clorinda*

                It’s an addiction and it can’t be cured from outside. Forced cleaning won’t help a hoarder any more than forced rehab will help an alcoholic. And it’s more like a food-related addiction than alcoholism or drugs, because you can 100% quit substances but you have to eat. Similarly, you have to have things, and you have to replace some of them from time to time. So it’s a very, very difficult problem and it comes from a place of deep pain.

                1. Clorinda*

                  Sorry should have added: OF COURSE the management has every right to maintain the office space in whatever condition they want and should take steps to enforce it. They can’t treat Anne’s disorder (if she even has a disorder, which we don’t know) but they can clean the junk from the shared space.

              2. FD*

                Not a sufferer myself, but I do have a relative who is. From what I understand, hoarding is an anxiety disorder. Assuming a person is genuinely ready to change, cognitive behavioral therapy has generally shown the most promise. Sometimes medications are helpful as well.

                Hoarding is similar to obsessive compulsive disorder in the sense that the behavior soothes feelings of anxiety. In a way it’s more of a symptom than a cause. This means that a person has to learn healthy, constructive ways of handling anxiety in order to really make progress.

                One of the things that makes treating anxiety disorders like OCD and hoarding difficult is that the behaviors genuinely make the person feel less anxious. If you feel anxious, perform a ritual/save something from the trash, and immediately feel better, that behavior becomes a very strong habit very quickly. In order to get better, you have to give up the thing that makes you feel better, and deal with all those overwhelming negative feelings until you have better coping skills in place. And since other coping skills often don’t have such strong feeling of reward, they don’t become a strong habit so quickly.

                That’s why you really can’t make someone stop being a hoarder (and why it often takes a long time with lots of backsliding even if a person chooses to get help). The person has to find all that strength inside themselves to start and stick to it.

                1. Goya de la Mancha*

                  “If you feel anxious, perform a ritual/save something from the trash, and immediately feel better, that behavior becomes a very strong habit very quickly.”

                  Makes sense. However I have anxiety problems (been treating for a decade now) – and this just scares the beejeeuz out of me! I have the exact opposite reaction. I tend to purge and purge and purge until my home is bare bones because all the stuff just makes me feel more anxious. That also might be my claustrophobia acting out as well though ;)

                2. MsChanandlerBong*

                  Thank you for explaining that. I don’t know if she is a hoarder according to the diagnostic criteria, but my best friend displays many of the same behaviors as the OP’s volunteer: taking items from dumpsters, trash cans, and curbs; making grand plans for fixing up said items and selling them but then never following through on the plans; etc. It’s hard to keep quiet sometimes. She’ll blame her husband and kids for the mess, saying that if her husband would just take care of the kids for a week so she could have time to organize without interruptions, the house would be clean. But it wouldn’t be. The stuff she has now would be organized, but then she’d just keep bringing new stuff into the house.

                  Your comment about anxiety was really helpful. I took my friend and her kids to my cousin’s house to swim one time, and she spent the entire time telling the kids not to sit at the picnic table because it was dirty, along with worrying about them playing in the grass (it was just a regular outdoor picnic table with a couple of leaves on it; it wasn’t caked with dirt or anything). I thought, “Your house is filled to the brim with junk, but you’re going to complain about a couple of leaves and specks of dirt on an outdoor picnic table?!” Your comment made me understand that both behaviors–worrying about the kids coming into contact with dirt, and her hoarding-like activities–stem from anxiety.

                3. fposte*

                  There’s also a tendency to animate every object, or every object within the hoarding ambit. Think of how you feel about the ancient family photo or childhood toy or pet’s ashes that you’d grab if there were a fire–that’s the kind of attachment a lot of hoarders feel to everything they own and therefore why just getting rid of the object makes things worse. That’s another one of the reasons it’s considered akin to OCD–it’s the investing of items with crucial emotional significance.

                  I’m a much recovered low-level hoarder, and it’s a weird pattern–I don’t attach to objects like that now, but the attachments to objects I acquired earlier don’t recede so easily.

                4. JulieBulie*

                  Replying to fposte: That’s exactly the problem I have with letting go of things. For example, I kept a sweater with a broken zipper for years because I remembered the day I bought it: I had a bad cold. I went to the mall with my cousin, we saw Star Trek VI after shopping. Nothing remarkable happened that day. I didn’t have to keep the sweater in order to retain the memory, but it felt like tangible evidence of a good day, as if I needed to be able to touch it.

                  I kept a cruddy old blender for years, thinking I was going to take up a particular (messy and time consuming) hobby that required a blender. I never got around to it. The blender is gone now, but in order to get rid of it I also had to admit to myself that I was never going to do that fun thing.

                  My house is full of things I really don’t need, with significant emotional baggage attached to each one. Now that I know that, I’m finding it possible to slowly unload some of my beloved junk by addressing the baggage.

                  (Fortunately I am not also a compulsive acquirer, or I’d be in a lot more trouble!)

                5. another bureaucrat*

                  Thank you for this – it gave me a little lightbulb moment for my own family. I have been diagnosed with OCD , and have hoarding in close relatives. Thinking of it as similar to a checking behavior helps me understand it so much more. I get nervous about forgetting to lock the door, I have to touch the door. My relative gets anxious about (whatever), they save items and make sure they are “prepared” with all of the things they could possibly need. Thanks. It makes me feel more compassionate thinking of it in that way.

                6. Turquoisecow*

                  My step-mother-in-law makes many similar excuses for the amount of stuff she has. She blames it on her husband for not doing his share of the work in organizing. She blames it on IKEA’s inability to have *precisely* the right storage cabinet she needed (so the stuff is in boxes). After her granddaughter was born, she went out and bought a bunch of (creepy) dolls and a rocking horse. Her daughter refused the gifts (she has a small condo and no place to keep this stuff), so it’s her daughter’s fault for being unappreciated. (I think she did return them, but they might just be in a storage unit or hidden).

                  She’s constantly giving other people gifts that she apparently has a strong emotional attachment to, but the other person doesn’t want – it’s not expensive things, but emotional. She places a high value on stuff of any kind, and is definitely a compulsive shopper.

                  I’ve only known her for a short time (about 4 years), but according to my husband she used to be a fairly put-together, successful person. When she met my father-in-law, she had a good job and a house, and most of the house was completely ordinary, just the office was a mess. Somewhere along the line she was in a car accident and lost her job, so I imagine stress is a factor.

                  The interesting thing to me is that she doesn’t seem embarrassed by the state of her house. She either ignores and doesn’t mention the piles of boxes, or dismissively mentions them as things she hasn’t gotten to yet. She invites us to her house or seems fine allowing us to come by (my father-in-law also invites us over frequently). In contrast, a lot of people I know are very conscious of and worried about the small amount of mess in their house making them feel bad.

                7. FD*

                  I’m glad it’s helpful for some people.

                  Obviously, also remember that hoarding behaviors, like really anything, is on a spectrum. Generally to have a diagnosis of hoarding, it has to be substantially affecting day to day life (e.g. making it hard for you to get a job, stay healthy, etc.). (Obviously it’s not our or the LW’s business to know whether the behaviors Anne has meet the standards for a clinical diagnosis.)

              3. Daffodil*

                Speaking only in general terms because I’m definitely an armchair psychologist and not a real one – it’s inside the anxiety/OCD/eating disorder/addiction cluster of disorders, so treatment and recovery is similar. (That’s not an official cluster or anything, just things that I’ve noticed are related. They’re all driven by feelings of anxiety and coping methods for that anxiety, some of which end up feeding on themselves and getting much, much worse as a result. I’m inside this cluster, hence my interest.)

                Recovery absolutely can’t be forced from the outside. It’s very much a question of how much self-insight the person has into their difficulties, how motivated they are to deal with it, and how deeply ingrained the harmful coping mechanisms are. Outside resources – a professional psychologist, access to medication (if appropriate), family and friends, and finances – can make a huge difference, but they’re not enough in themselves. Life circumstances also affect mental health a lot – many people get a lot worse after the death of a loved one or the loss of a job, for example.

                My impression is that those TV shows are ineffective because they’re very short term. Hoarding is fascinating to me (and I suspect to many other people) because it’s one of few mental issues that has a physical manifestation. It makes really fascinating TV. Cleaning up the stuff, though, is only treating a symptom and not a root cause. You wouldn’t expect someone to be cured of an addiction in three days, hoarders aren’t going to be cured either. If anything they’re likely to refill harder and faster after the trauma of having their home invaded and emptied. We all love a rescue narrative, but that isn’t actually a rescue. By the time someone gets to TV levels of hoarding, recovery and cleaning up is likely to take years of slow, incremental work.

                It’s something I have a lot of compassion for. I’m not a hoarder but have enough attachment to the things I own that I can see how people go down that path. I’ve gone too far down other unhealthy paths to try to deal with my anxiety, and have taken years to walk back from them. It’s by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but also the most worthwhile.

          2. Steve*

            Does letter writer have the qualifications and training to diagnose someone as a hoarder? I thought diagnosing mental issues was not allowed here.

            1. BookishMiss*

              We are also asked to take the letter writers at their word and give them the benefit of the doubt.

            2. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

              LW didn’t say “she has hoarding disorder, which I personally believe to be rooted in childhood trauma” or anything, she’s told us her coworker hoards things and is distressed at the thought of disposing of them, which she doesn’t need qualifications of any kind to do. Anyone who hoards can be described as a hoarder, in a colloquial sense if not a clinical one, and OP’s issue of dealing with the stuff Anne keeps in the office is the same regardless.

              1. Steve*

                But commenters are saying she is a hoarder in the clinical sense. At least some are.

                I guess the answer is that sometimes it is okay to diagnose mental illness and other times it is not.

                1. Runner*

                  Please stop this. The OP is asking for help with the now hazardous office conditions and a volunteer who went off the rails the last time this was addressed.

                2. Temperance*

                  No, the answer is that no one is diagnosing this woman with hoarding disorder, but calling her behavior hoarding. It’s not a clinical term, and it’s an accurate description of a person who keeps everyone else’s junk.

                3. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

                  You didn’t ask about commenters, you asked about the letter writer, which I answered in good faith even though it struck me as disingenuous, which I’m now sure it was.

                  But okay, I’ll soapbox. Armchair diagnosing is uncool because it’s often done wildly and irresponsibly by people who have no idea what they’re talking about. “Maybe he has Asperger’s?” of someone who repeatedly makes unwanted sexual advances to a colleague after being told to stop, for example – people with Asperger’s can have difficulty grokking unspoken social cues, but violating clearly spoken boundaries is not a thing that can be explained or excused by Asperger’s. This tendency both excuses shitty behavior and insults people who have these conditions and don’t behave inappropriately.

                  But given the behavior LW describes, it is reasonable to think there is more in play here than “I want all this shit in my space just because,” and LW is not wrong to want to approach it sensitively. Recommending an approach to a situation as if someone *definitely* has a mental illness is generally inappropriate. Speculating about the various mental illnesses that could theoretically be driving certain behaviors is usually not productive. But when there is a certain behavior very strongly associated with mental health issues, taking that into account when approaching the situation is not a bad thing to do. It doesn’t mean you can’t address the situation at all – I feel very strongly that “they can’t help it” of behaviors that adversely affect others is unacceptable and paternalistic – but it does mean one can and should have compassion.

                  A former workplace of mine had an employee with hoarding tendencies and she took extended leave to deal with the anxiety she had from having to clean her workspace. That’s the kind of emotional impact the situation *could* have on Anne. Trying to mitigate that is not a bad goal. If it’s a non-issue because Anne is just quirky and won’t actually be traumatized by ridding the space of the stuff, all LW has done is err on the side of caution.

                4. fposte*

                  It just means that if somebody’s attempted suicide it’s okay to call them suicidal and consider that in your approach.

                5. Susanne*

                  Oh please. It’s perfectly appropriate to use the term hoarder to describe the behavior of someone who hoards things to this extent, regardless of whether or not they would meet any kind of clinical definition / diagnosis. This is the kind of word-policing that Alison asks us specifically not to do, because it derails the entire conversation. We can take the OP at her word that this woman hoards things even if we don’t have a letter from the doctor.

                6. Elsajeni*

                  You know, I actually think this is a fair point, at least as regards the comments about how clinical hoarding is treated and how difficult it is to treat — if someone wrote in saying that they had a coworker who had extreme mood swings that were affecting the entire office, it would be inappropriate for us to dive into a long thread about the details of treating bipolar disorder, right? I think the same is true here — the “armchair diagnosis” line is probably somewhere around “keep in mind that IF this is a case of a clinical hoarding disorder, no intervention you do in the office is likely to solve the problem long-term unless Anne seeks clinical treatment, so you may need a longer-term plan than ‘next Tuesday we throw everything out.'”

                7. Former Employee*

                  The word “hoard” predates the DSM by centuries, given that it is an Old English word (I looked it up). Using a perfectly good English word does not turn someone into an armchair diagnostician. In other words, it’s not a diagnosis, it’s an observation.

                  In this situation, the OP has indicated that the woman is filling communal space with her stuff. You could eliminate the word hoard altogether and simply say she is hogging the space and needs to stop it. he end result would be the same.

            3. fposte*

              That means “no guessing at reasons behind the behavior.” It doesn’t mean you can’t name the behavior, and hoarding was the name for the behavior before hoarding disorder was in the DSM.

              1. Susanne*

                Right. And even so, even if the LW did have reason to think that this might have fit the clinical definition, or suspected particular reasons behind it (for example, let’s say she knew this woman had a certain childhood trauma that might have led to this), so what? What is this, the Trump administration, where we can’t use certain words?

              2. Joe in Frederick*

                Exactly this. A clinical diagnosis is not required for somebody to literally have a hoard of stuff in their workspace. That’s why it’s called hoarding.

              3. Yomi*

                And also it’s important to note that just because someone isn’t clinically diagnosed as a hoarder and/or isn’t to the point of the DSM qualifications for the disorder, it doesn’t mean that the advice and issues involved really change.

                I’m not a diagnosed hoarder, I’ve never known anybody who was. But I know hoarding as a behavior, and I know a lot about the psychology of hoarding as a behavior/behavior pattern because it’s one of the manifestations of my diagnosed illness, which is anxiety. The information and advice about hoarding is incredibly useful to me, and has been very necessary for me in the past to help me break through behaviors that were not maybe clinically significant but were damaging my quality of life and my relationships.

                What’s described here meets the criteria for hoarding in most aspects, and the best course of action would be to treat it as such because the advice for dealing with hoarders is going to be useful whether she’s clinically diagnosed or not.

            4. Soon to be former fed*

              That’s not what she did. It doesn’t matter anyway. Retention of trash and purposeless dumpster diving is unacceptable in the workplace.

            5. NaoNao*

              Rules-lawyering isn’t allowed either. I’ve noticed many of your comments have a specific tone to them seen elsewhere in the internet that I look to AAM to avoid: nitpicky, defensive, hostile, bordering on #notallmen, derailing, and so on. I don’t know if others feel this way, but I personally would love for these type of snarky comments coming from you to cease.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                I’ve noticed it, too, and I find it completely not constructive and derailing 90% of the time.

              2. FD*

                Unfortunately, I have to agree with NaoNao and Princess Consuela Banana Hammock.

                I imagine you’ve noticed that your comments are mostly garnering disagreement, rather than support. If you want to continue participating in the community, it might be helpful to think about what you want to achieve, and whether your methods make sense here.

                Forgive me for putting words in your mouth, but the tone of your comments strikes me as that you think that we’re too self-righteous and yet hypocritical here. I’m not going to say you can’t think or feel that way. But if your goal is to sway others, you’re likely to be more successful if you present calm, reasoned explanations for your point of view instead of nitpicking LW’s statements. This forum tends to reward that sort of comment, and discourage the sort that you’ve been posting.

                1. Steve*

                  I do think many here are self righteous. I especially think many here are way too judgemental. Alyson gives advice to address the problem and commenters come and want people to hurt the person causing the problem. Case in point is this post. Alyson as advises to address the problem and some commenter comes and advices being sparky and trying to make problem person hurt or be uncomfortable unnessecarily.

                2. FD*

                  I understand your point. Although I don’t agree with your specific statement here, sometimes I feel frustrated as well with the way some commenters approach some questions. I think you’re coming off a bit harsher than you intend, though, and I think it’s making people less willing to hear your concerns.

                  For instance, here you said:

                  I guess the answer is that sometimes it is okay to diagnose mental illness and other times it is not.

                  If you’d phrased it more like, “I don’t think it’s fair to assume Anne’s motivations, and I don’t think that labeling it hoarding is necessarily helpful/adds to the stigma around mental health”, I think you’d have gotten a different reaction, and people are more likely to listen to you seriously (even if you both disagree in the end).

              3. Temperance*

                He’s also one of those people who resents being called homophobic but doesn’t support gay rights.

                1. Nope*

                  Anion – nothing personal about pointing out homophobia. Though you seem to agree with Steve a lot, so.

                2. Anion*

                  @Nope: I don’t recall seeing any of Steve’s comments on any gay rights issues, and this thread isn’t about them, which was why Temperance’s comment felt “personal” to me–as in, rather than discussing Steve’s comment, Temperance is discussing Steve as a person.

                  I do often agree with Steve’s thoughts (although rarely with the way he expresses them). For the record, though, I am 100% in favor of gay rights, and I find your snide little implication/accusation there rude and offensive. I don’t appreciate it one bit.

                  Just because I dislike discussing other commenters *as people* as if they are not even human and cannot see what is being said, does not mean I agree with those commenters on everything. I rarely agree with a few people here but would have made the same comment if someone had said something like, “Nope is also one of those people who condemns sexism but calls women ‘babe,'” or something like that. In general, if you’re calling a commenter “one of those people who,”when not speaking directly to them, then I think you’re probably being overly personal and impolite.

                  I’ve honestly never noticed you being particularly nasty or unpleasant before, but I will certainly remember now that you were the person who accused me of being a homophobe because I dislike dehumanizing other commenters and made a mild remark saying so.

                  I hope you have a wonderful holiday.

      2. Marley*

        There’s no “holding the line” with someone suffering from hoarding syndrome. She won’t see anything you ask to be reasonable, and the behavior will likely continue—and/or she will get angry and nasty because to her you are being cruel. And she will likely bring your trash Home.

        As a volunteer manager, you aren’t going to cure her hoarding syndrome — the only way to stop the hoarding in your office is to ask the hoarder to leave.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          But it’s okay if she brings it home (at least from the scope of the letter, maybe not in the broader sense of Anne’s overall well-being). OP just doesn’t want it in the office.

          1. fposte*

            Right. It’s tempting to want to help Anne more broadly, but relocating the problem is a more than sufficient workplace solution.

            I think people are right the workplace behaviors of collecting and storing won’t straight out stop, but it can be curbed.

          2. Temperance*

            I would argue that it’s not okay, because she has at least one child who is growing up in filth, but I get the sentiment.

            1. Yomi*

              Yeah, honestly that’s why I couldn’t recommend a solution that just moved the problem to her home.

              It is the proper way to deal with it as a workplace problem. Tell her that you don’t care what happens to it but by X day it can’t be in the office anymore, and maybe even find a way to help her take it home. But that’s enabling, and it sounds like she is pretty far down a really isolating and often dangerous path and it’s just hard to say to leave her to it.

              It is probably what needs to be done, but it’s hard to say it.

            2. Annoyed*

              It’s not ok but that really isn’t OP’s problem/issue/business.

              OP’s only concern is how the hoarding is affecting the shared space in the workplace.

              That is really the only thing she needs to address, not Anne’s home/home life.

      3. irritable vowel*

        Not only is the workspace not hers, but the organization’s, but the stuff she is collecting there also belongs to the organization. It would be a *slightly* different situation if Anne was bringing things in that she had collected from people’s trash on her walk to work, or whatever. But the organization owns all this stuff, has decided that it’s trash, and thus it just needs to be cleared out. A room filled with trash, especially a room prone to flooding, is a health and safety hazard. There is no apology or explanation required to Anne – if she gets upset about it then just let her go.

        1. John Rohan*

          In the USA at least, it’s no longer property of the company once it’s in the trash. Anyone can take it without fear of being prosecuted.

          1. Temperance*

            Except, she’s not just taking from the dumpster, she’s taking from the stash spot in the building.

      4. Turquoisecow*

        I agree. It’s not HER space, it’s not HER stuff, and the company absolutely has the right to go in and toss it all. If she complains (and she will), you can point out that a workspace is not YOUR space, and is, in fact company property. With a possible few small exceptions, nothing in that office is HERS, especially as a volunteer.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      That’s how I’m reading it, too. It sounds like people are throwing it away, but Anne is retrieving it. There’s only one way around that—do a coordinated “purge” day across departments and hire someone to collect and haul the trash the same day. Pick a day when Anne isn’t in.

      I think OP can also throw away everything in the office Anne has been using, but it won’t solve this problem in the long-term, and it might send Anne over the edge. Hoarding, in the clinical/psychological sense, is a mental illness. I can’t tell if OP’s coworkers are calling it hoarding as a colloquialism or if it’s hoarding disorder. If Anne does have hoarding disorder, the only thing way to manage it is to refer her for treatment and to make it clear that the volunteer office isn’t “her” office.

      And honestly, the Board needs to get a backbone and seriously consider terminating the volunteer relationship if Anne cannot comply with OP’s office-use policies. But if OP can’t terminate the relationship, then OP at least needs to be delegated enough power to enforce use-rules about the volunteer office.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        Okay, everyone advising that you just clear it out when she’s away is well-intentioned but giving the wrong advice. This will not solve the problem in the way you want. Please OP, talk to a professional for advice before doing anything.

        1. Ramona Flowers*

          But that is a good way to handle throwing out trash from now on, which I suspect is in fact what you meant!

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Oh whew; I thought I was losing my mind! I have written in haste before and accidentally ended up writing something that didn’t match what was in my head—I was worried that was happening here. I suspect the nesting went sideways when Alison cleaned up the repeats.

        2. Middle School Teacher*

          Agreed. Just clearing it out could be really distressing for Anne. Which is not to say that OP needs to bend over backwards to accommodate her, but just throwing the stuff away seems really cruel.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I’m so confused—I didn’t recommend throwing out Anne’s stuff. I said it’s a normal thing for someone to consider doing, but throwing out the trash in “Anne’s office” would not solve OP’s problem and could be harmful to Anne.

            Is it that I’m referring to two kinds of cleaning out, and I wasn’t clear? I’m saying that when departments clean out, they should all do it on a day Anne isn’t there and immediately remove the garbage that same day. That’s the band-aid solution to help limit how much trash Anne has access to. And that cleanup is for everything that isn’t the office Anne is using. For Anne’s office, OP is going to have to develop systems and consult professionals on how to de-hoard “Anne’s office.”

              1. The Cosmic Avenger*

                Alison wound up revising her answer based on a clarification (about the items being thrown out, not left in Anne’s workspace), and deleted a bunch of comments that had taken up that point, so it’s probably not a nesting fail on your part!

              1. MerciMe*

                I also think that if it makes other volunteers uncomfortable in the shared space they have to use to do their volunteer work, that the Board should be encouraged to broaden their thinking from “how do we retain one superstar volunteer” to “How do we support an environment that helps us attract and retain multiple great volunteers, gaining us a broad range of skills and perspectives, as well as better schedule flexibility and knowledge retention.”

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Thanks for clarifying! I was very confused. I think my confusion occurred when Alison removed some of the repeating comments last night (it created some strange nesting).

          2. Temperance*

            It’s not her stuff, though. It’s junk other departments were throwing away. Not quite the same as if these were her personal belongings.

            1. Hills to Die on*

              Right. I think a conversation re ‘not your stuff, not your space’ is in order either before or after it’s all tossed.

            2. OhNo*

              It sounds like Anne is thinking of the stuff as hers, though, which will end up causing the same problems as if it actually were. While I agree that technically it’s not, and the OP should be able to do with it what they wish, if they want to avoid souring the relationship it might be worth treating the situation as if those actually were her belongings.

              Depends on how much effort it’s worth to maintain the relationship, though.

              1. fposte*

                And how possible it is for her to relocate it. If she’s grabbed as much stuff as it sounds like and her car is full, the permission to take it home doesn’t mean it will get there.

            3. Not So NewReader*

              OP, I don’t know what she has collected up, but you may want to consider OSHA regs, organizational policies etc. Some stuff cannot be used even after being fixed. Regs say it must be tossed when it breaks. This one scares the crap out of me, if she decides to repair something that was under mandate to be tossed, there could be some serious problems.

              Additionally, you must get fire or insurance inspections where walk ways have to be clear and things have to be stored in a safe manner. (For example, on a hot day, I run to grab a box fan. I pull it off the shelf and ten other things fall on my head because there is so much crap on the shelf.)

              It seems like the lady is nice and does a good job. So in cases like this I might bluff. I might say something like, “the insurance/fire/someone inspector said this has to go or they are canceling our policy.” Usually they give a deadline so you could say, “This has to be gone by January 15.”

        3. nonegiven*

          That’s fine if it was her space and her belongings. It isn’t her space and if she wanted to keep it, she shouldn’t have put it in the office.

      2. minuteye*

        Agreed, everything I’ve read about hoarding states that doing a ‘forced clear out’ actually causes the behaviour to get worse (because it makes the anxiety that’s motivating the behaviour spike). If she has a hoarding disorder, she is not going to be able to stop because you put stronger rules in place.

        This is not an office storage space issue, this is a health issue. It needs to be approached much more like the employee who has a phobia or hypochondria. How would you approach an employee with a different mental health issue that was completely not their fault but also interfering with their work?

        I know there is a big impulse with hoarding to see it as “the stuff is the problem, therefore clearing out the stuff is the solution”, but the problem is the hoarding behaviour, not the stuff, and you won’t get anywhere until the employee deals with that.

        1. Temperance*

          You can’t really force her to deal with her mental health issues, though. That’s beyond the scope of what an org can mandate a volunteer handle. In this case, the stuff IS the problem.

          This is an office space issue and a health issue, sure. Keeping trash and pulling things out of dumpsters is unsanitary, and could be putting other employees and volunteers at risk.

            1. Cmg*

              I agree with this too although it’s likely to be very very difficult for the volunteer. Maybe offer her the opportunity to bring “her” stuff home?

              1. Temperance*

                I honestly wouldn’t feel comfortable with that knowing that she has at least one child at home, and having heard about how cluttered and filthy her house is. It’s definitely outside the scope of this blog, but I think that would just be enabling child neglect at that point.

                1. JamieG*

                  I’m having a hard time phrasing this question in a way that doesn’t sound accusatory, but please believe me that it’s not intended in that way:

                  Why is it enabling neglect to allow her to bring more stuff home, but not necessary to call CPS about the current condition?

                2. Temperance*

                  Oh I actually think they should call CPS and I’m judging the hell out of be all the people who have seen her home and did nothing.

            2. Soon to be former fed*

              Me too. And don’t enable her by letting her take the organizations’ garbage off the premises.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                I wonder if this is why some places have an organizational policy regarding removing trash from dumpsters. They found their trash came back inside. In order to stop it they made a policy that removing trash was a write-able or dismiss-able offense.

                1. JulieBulie*

                  I wonder if there might also be consequences if a company reports to the IRS that they’ve disposed of equipment, but then an audit determines that the equipment is still there.

                2. Yomi*

                  I think primarily those policies are in place for other reasons (at one place I worked at, they admitted it was because when things were “damaged” employees might take them home and then the employees would just intentionally damage things they wanted so they could take them, which I could kind of see but seems like a lot of work).

                  But they are reasonable policies, and this illustrates one reason why.

        2. Daffodil*

          “If she has a hoarding disorder, she is not going to be able to stop because you put stronger rules in place.”

          Like all other mental issues, hoarding does come in varying degrees of severity, and hoarders have varying degrees of insight into and control over their behavior. The workplace can’t keep her from being a hoarder, but it’s not impossible that if they set rules she’ll be able to abide by them. If she doesn’t quit over the clean-up (or act so inappropriately that she needs to be asked not to return), it’s worth a try.

        3. nonegiven*

          OP can’t cure Anne. What OP needs is to reclaim the organization’s space for the organizations use. That probably won’t happen without upsetting Anne. They have the right to set guidelines about what is kept in their space.

  2. Womanaroundtown*

    It sounds like the problem is that Anne is retrieving items meant to be thrown away- sometimes from the dumpster itself. I didn’t note anywhere that the departments were using her office as a pit stop, rather that she was going out of her way to find discarded items and bringing them back to her space. Did I misread? If I read correctly, then the advice is not actually applicable.

    1. AnonAndOn*

      This paragraph said that Anne’s workspace was being used for a dropoff:

      “The room is prone to flooding, so we try to keep things in there to a minimum. After the most recent flooding, it was cleared and cleaned. As time went on, however, it started to fill up with stuff that other departments had set out to be thrown out. One department cleans out their office, the unwanted goods would show up. Broken stuff, random stuff, stuff well past its prime, stuff! There have been some new things placed there by other volunteers that ARE necessary — a new piece of equipment waiting to be installed, new props, etc., but Anne complains bitterly that everyone is taking her space. Except it’s not, it’s shared.”

      But the letter also said that Anne was hoarding, so I agree that Alison’s advice about people ceasing to use that space as a place to put items to be discarded in spot on.

      1. AnonAndOn*

        To clarify, both the advice about Anne’s hoarding and people needing to stop using that space were apt.

      2. AnonAndOn*

        Ugh…sorry for the multiple replies. I realized that I misinterpreted that as people putting stuff there. Anne was taking stuff from people’s discard piles and putting it there. My mistake!

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        OP clarified—it sounds like it wasn’t being used as an interim location for dropoff.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I think we all ended up posting at once! As soon as I posted, I saw that you’d self-corrected. Apologies if I sounded chiding!

  3. fposte*

    On #2, I’m not seeing how it’s anything but Anne’s stuff—if I put something out for the trash, it’s not on me that somebody else intercepts it and takes it into her office. I think the sharing is about what’s supposed to happen with the space, not about the ownership of its contents.

  4. NotoriousMCG*

    I’m actually on the side of the coworker with the spouse in the calendar debate. Especially with google calendar it is so easy to create and share separate calendars for each person in the office (and as a former member of a four person office who used google calendar in this way, I know from experience) that I don’t really get why you only have one. I always share my personal work calendar with my husband because my days vary wildly and I get tired of the question ‘When are you coming home?’ ‘Is this a good day for (event)?’ I just tell him to look at the calendar and double check if he’s wondering about something. I’m on board that he shouldn’t see what my coworkers are up to but I think that burden is more easily put on the office

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I think the solution is for the coworker to create his own work calendar that he shares with his spouse. It doesn’t make sense to link a corporation calendar to the personal calendar of only one person.

        1. NotoriousMCG*

          That was my point. I don’t get why the org just has one when it’s so easy in google calendar for everyone to have their own and share

      1. Beckie*

        But if the corporation has set up only one calendar for the whole unit, I think the coworker would have to create a separate calendar with their own work schedule, to share with their spouse. And depending on how fluid the work schedules on, keeping the separate calendar aligned with the master work calendar would be challenging.

        The solution is really for the corporation to move to individual calendars that are shared among the coworkers.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Sure—I just think the burden of calendar creation should be on the person who wants to share it externally :)

          1. Connie-Lynne*

            I think the burden of calendar creation should be on leadership — they should switch to individual calendars (weird that they are not already), set a date for the switch to happen, and then turn off the shared calendar at that point.

            It’s odd to be using a shared calendar under Google calendar for an office of five people, because it isn’t the sort of thing that will scale gracefully, and it makes the possibility that one person will screw up others’ entries far more likely.

    2. Ramona Flowers*

      I also think having one shared calendar must make it hard for people to make effective use of their own diaries. I use mine both to let other people know when I’m in meetings, out of the office etc, and also for myself to plan tasks and keep track of stuff. It would be very frustrating if I had to share with others – I find it frustrating enough if I view a colleague’s calendar alongside mine and tend to only view one at a time. With a small company you may know who’s gone to the doctor when, but it would be nice to have some semblance of privacy I’m sure.

      1. g*

        Yes it is hard. I have to make double appointments for anything important. One personal one that can collect responses and have reminders. And a second appointment on the Office Calendar for everyone else to see I’ll be busy.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          I have the same issue, there are many times where I am in a hurry and I accidentally create an event in the shared calendar once I’m done I realize I didn’t make it in mine and thus can’t collect responses then I have to go back and create it in my personal one and copy it to the group calendar. Sometimes I make an event in my personal calendar but forget to copy it over to the shared calendar.

          I can understand why this seems like an invasion of privacy but I really doubt the coworkers spouse is that interested in everyone else’s appointments in the office. Really it is not any different than if the coworker went home every day and told the spouse “John was out for a doctors apt today, Linda had a kids dance recital etc…”
          I would bet it is because the coworker is busy and its easier on the spouse to look at the calendar to see when the coworker has events. Really once you share something with others I don’t think you can have a reasonable expectation of privacy, as the old saying goes “Two people can keep a secret, if one of them is dead.”

          1. Kyrielle*

            This. Coworker’s spouse just wants their partner’s info, and is getting all the extra – they will probably also be happy if this changes. One calendar per person, plus a group calendar. Each person should share/sync their appointments (or by category, if they have a mix of work-relevant and personal things) to the group calendar.

            I have a friend who coordinates the schedule for her family, and yeah, she uses multiple calendars and syncing because if her spouse has to work late on Thursday, and her oldest has a game, then she needs to find someone to help or give something up if her youngest has a required event added. And it’s hard to respond to changes, invitations, etc., if they’re constantly delayed by “will you be home by 5 on Thursday, or is it a late evening?”

          2. Luna*

            Nope, sorry, this is not okay. How busy the co-worker is in her personal life is irrelevant. This is not information that is voluntarily shared with anyone and everyone, if they are required to post when they will be out of the office, to a select group of people (co-workers), for work purposes, there should still be a reasonable expectation of privacy.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              Maybe other people share more details on the group calendar than I do. But on our group calendar if it is a work related event it will say “John Smith meeting with ABC corp.” and if they are out for a personal reason most people put “John Smith PTO/Vacation/ or Doc Apt.”

              I can understand not wanting others to know if people put a lot of detail in for the calendar like “John Smith out for colonoscopy or John Smith chemo session” but that might be to much detail for a work calendar. For a shared work calendar what really matters is just knowing when someone is going to be out.

              1. Luna*

                Sure, I agree that I wouldn’t add that much detail either, even on my individual work calendar (you never know what the company can see if they want to). But the LW seems to be indicating that she is uncomfortable with the spouse having access to her information at all, even if all it says is “LW-Doc appointment” and I think that is valid. The spouse has absolutely no need to know this, and should not be given access.

      2. Calacademic*

        Our office does a mix. I have my own personal calendar for my meetings and commitments. It isn’t shared. We have a separate, shared calendar for vacation and sick leave. Basically, if you’re going to be gone for the entire day, that goes on the shared calendar. That calendar is relatively public and posted on a TV monitor by the receptionist’s desk.
        Downside: you do have to do the “can you meet now?” “what about time x” dance a lot. But that would be true given our jobs anyway, so we’re just used to it.

    3. Elizabeth H.*

      My question is why the shared vacation calendar for the office has to be the same as everyone’s individual calendar. At my office we all have our own regular Outlook calendars , but we also have a shared calendar between all the office administrative personnel where we put down when we’re out for a doctor’s appointment, working at the other campus location for the day, on vacation, taking a half day etc. Given that you can have an item on your own calendar and just copy and paste or share it to the other calendar, I don’t get why everyone can’t also have their own calendars and then he can share that with his spouse if he wants.

    4. Luna*

      It sounds to me like this group calendar is so staff can see when co-workers will be out of the office. At my old job we had this (in addition to individual calendars with our own meetings). Whether or not they also decide to add individual calendars, the group calendar might still be used for this purpose.

      Whatever the reason is for only having one group calendar, it definitely should not be shared with anyone outside work. I think the LW is right to feel that this is a violation and should be changed. The co-worker shouldn’t expect LW and others in the office to give up their own privacy to make the co-worker’s personal life slightly easier. Even though that probably wasn’t what the co-worker was thinking, that’s what is happening. The calendar settings should also be changed so that no one but the owner has permissions to add people to the calendar, and it should be made clear to everyone that this is a business calendar for business purposes.

      It would also drive me crazy to have other people’s appointments on my calendar! I don’t get why the co-worker doesn’t have her own personal calendar (since it’s gmail, it’s not like the company is the only one that can create an individual calendar for people using that service), they should just create one for personal use and can put whatever appointments they want on that, and sync their own calendar with their spouse’s.

    5. Sara*

      I was a little confused as to why they’d all share one google calendar. In our office, we share one ‘time off’ calendar but everyone has individual calendar for their personal appointments. You can easily link and share with whomever.
      Also, in my experience, if your business is using the business google (like our emails have our company as but we use all google apps), when you share to a personal calendar it just shows up as a bunch of appointments and ‘busy’

      1. nonprofit director*

        Yes, we use Google Apps for nonprofits and it works the same way. Every single email account comes with its own individual calendar. Because it’s a business account, there is no expectation of personal privacy, but you can make things like doctor appointments private so it only shows as “busy” to anyone else in the organization who views your calendar. Everyone in our organization is able to view all Google Apps calendars associated with our account. This is what I sync with my personal calendar, and my husband is thus able to view this.

        We also have a single, shared “time off” calendar, which we use for known time off like vacations and full or partial days off. Most people use this calendar by inviting the “time off” calendar, so there is only one entry. We have a lot of other shared calendars for various shared resources, and I agree it is confusing that employees at the OP’s company do not have individual business calendars that they can share with their family members.

  5. BEECEE*

    Original Poster of Letter2 -and yes, you are reading it correctly, the other departments are not stashing the junk there – they are putting it in the designated “thrown out” space we put stuff before it all gets taken to dumpster. And even then, stuff has been fetched out the dumpster

    1. Defrocksyoursocks*

      Could all of that junk she has stashed in one room be one big potential hazard(fire, etc.)?

      You could use that as a guise to get it out, once and for all. But it does sound like it needs to be a day where she won’t be able to go back for it, or it’s immediately disposed of far away from the premises. And it can continue to be used as an excuse to deter future hoarding.

      1. Anne (with an "e")*

        I wonder if the Fire Department, the Health Department, or some other agency could possibly actually give the OP something in writing that states that the office must be cleared out for safety and health reasons. With an irrefutable cleanup order from the city, county, whoever, then Anne will have no choice but to clean up.

        1. fposte*

          In general, though, it’s not the lack of external authority that keeps hoarders from cleaning up, so I think it would be as effective or as ineffective as the org making her clean out.

          1. Soon to be former fed*

            But it sure can’t hurt, neither would a large sign specifically prohibiting reclaimed items from being stored in that room. The org has to do what it can.

          2. JulieBulie*

            An external order might give the organization more of a sense of urgency to take care of the problem.

            1. fposte*

              Oh, to get them on board the OP’s “deal with this” train? That’s a thought.

              I confess my concern is that I work in old buildings with all kinds of dubious compliance, and that there’d be no way to call out the fire department for one element without getting into almighty trouble elsewhere. But maybe the OP’s office is more orderly.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I kind of agree with this. It would at least provide a factual explanation for the Board. But of course, OP should be careful that it doesn’t create other enforcement consequences (e.g., fines, citations, etc.) for the organization.

    2. Aphrodite*

      I’m afraid that you are going to have to make a hard decision: do you want to keep Anne or do you want to keep an increasing amount of trash? You really have no other choice if you are dealing with a hoarder–and from your description I’d say firmly that she is one. You won’t like this, nor will your Board, but hoarders cannot be controlled or even helped most of the time.

      1. fposte*

        I worked with a hoarder who could cope with external controls on her workspace, though, so it can happen.

          1. fposte*

            Oh, absolutely, and the call is going to be different with the academic faculty of my experience than with the OP’s nonprofit volunteer. I’m just saying that “You can’t bring stuff in outside of these limits” isn’t necessarily doomed to failure; I’d probably give a single serious good faith effort with the understanding that if it failed we’d have to part ways.

            1. Yomi*

              Yes, this actually is going to be something that’s very dependent on the person, but a large number of people with hoarding problems actually don’t hoard at work. They can be incredibly neat and tidy in their work life and keep it all at home because they understand there are different rules for different places.

              It doesn’t sound like Anne is there, but it could absolutely be something worth trying if you want to keep her on.

    3. Bigglesworth*

      Is there any way you could tell her that if she wants to keep the stuff, she needs to take it home? The reason I ask is because I have gotten furniture from big trash day in the past and, although it’s a different situation, no one has claimed I didn’t have ownership over that item. With your volunteer, if she really wants to keep this junk, taking it home may clean up the office and allow her a modicum of control over what happens to the junk.

      1. You're Not My Supervisor*

        This was my thought as well. I feel there’s an easy solution that doesn’t force the OP to make Anne confront the hoarding– tell her to take it home or it gets trashed. She can decide if it’s worth the space in her own house.

        1. fposte*

          Unfortunately, throwing the stuff out is likely to result in just as much expansion at home due to the anxiety.

        2. bearing*

          This isn’t supporting her in hoarding, it’s setting an entirely reasonable boundary: “you cannot hoard HERE.”

            1. Not So NewReader*

              I agree, but that becomes an at home problem. At best, letting her take it home will post-pone decisions until later. Something will happen, she won’t be able to take a particular load home right way or she will go on vacation and leave stuff behind, etc. And then OP will be back almost at square one here.

        3. Anony*

          Forcing her to stop hoarding is not the organizations responsibility and trying to do that would be a huge overstep on their part. What they can do is tell her not to hoard in that office.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Agreed. A friend had his office “cleaned up” by office mates when he was out of work for a short bit.
            The meltdown that followed involved spending at night in MHU.

            I am a big fan of face-to-face conversations. “We have to clean this up and keep it clean or X will happen.” Put the ball in her court to decide between her clutter and her job.

        4. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

          “Supporting her in hoarding” is an interesting choice of words. OP is in no position to manage Anne’s hoarding tendencies – her only responsibility is to keep the workspace accessible for the other people who use it, and, if she can, preserve the work relationship with Anne. If she can clear the office out in a way that gives Anne some measure of control over what happens to “her” stuff, it could minimize the fallout, which would probably not be limited to the office. It’s an extremely tricky spot for OP to be in, but if there is real concern about how the hoarding affects Anne’s daughter, that’s the purview of CPS. OP is not equipped to take that on.

      2. KR*

        I agree that I think this is the way to go. OP might want to also consider getting a padlock for their dumpster.

  6. I Didn’t Kill Kenny*

    L2 – I also took it that Anne is picking through others peoples castoffs and bringing them into her workspace/office.

    Throwing out her stuff is one solution, but be prepared for her to freak out. Hoarding is a mental illness. I don’t think it is the agency’s Responsibility to fix that but they have a right to enforce a rule that says no collecting items from the trash area. If she wants to take that stuff home, that’s on her. But a general rule of no pickers allowed might help. (Yes, it goes against my grain not to recycle things that could be useful but it doesn’t sound like that’s what she’s doing). Good luck. You’re going to need it!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Eh, we don’t know for sure if Anne has a mental illness.

      There are people who respond well to a one-on-one conversation. I did that with one person at work. I launched the conversation badly so I had to explain that I recognized myself in what they were doing. I talked about my five typewriters and x-ray viewer and micro-fiche reader, etc….. I talked about how this stuff was a burden not a joy, so eventually out the door it went.

      The conversation calmed down and the person started talking about a family member who had an incredible build up of stuff and all the problems this stuff caused. They went on to say because of the problems this family member has, they have taken deliberate steps not to fall in to that pit. Later on, in a follow up conversation this person went on to say that they were teaching their children how to chose what to save and how to store it properly. I took a big chance starting that conversation but the person was VERY cool about it in spite of the bad conversation launch. For this and other reasons, I still hold this person in high regard. OP should give the volunteer an opportunity to remedy the situation with a deadline. After that OP has to think about what is best for the organization overall.

  7. Ramona Flowers*

    #2 This is a really difficult situation, but Alison is right to caution against just clearing it out without warning her. It would be a good idea to talk to some professionals who can advise on how best to handle this, both in terms of minimising distress and also trying to avoid just having the mess come back right after it’s removed.

    People who have problems with hoarding sometimes aren’t able to see that’s what’s happening, so simply raising it with them can be very unproductive – this likely isn’t a situation where you can just use your words, and you may not be able to both tackle the mess and retain her as a volunteer. There’s really not a perfect solution here sadly, however much you wish there was.

    Links to come in a reply.

    1. g*

      Throwing stuff away without warning is a roll of the dice. It could make her quit in a flood of tears or it could be fine. If you do it, make sure to follow up with lots of reassuring – focus on what Anne likes and will make her feel safe and valued.

      If she comes into work one day and all her junk is gone, she’ll feel like the floor just dropped out from under her. Likely feelings of panic, grief, frustration. She probably won’t be logical, so no use discussing how repairing X wasn’t feasible.

      On the other hand, convincing her to throw things away will be in my experience next to impossible. You may win some battles over obvious actual trash, but she’ll dig in on anything with any conceivable salvagability.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, I don’t think trying to convince her to throw stuff away is workable. I’d stick with either telling her it needs to be removed from the premises, including exterior, by [date] or we’ll need to do the removal, or just outright doing the removal.

    2. Yomi*

      “People who have problems with hoarding sometimes aren’t able to see that’s what’s happening”

      This is incredibly important to remember. I can’t remember which of Randy Frost’s books it was in, but he describes an exercise they do with patients where they have them draw a map of their home from memory. Those maps are often widely inaccurate to real life, to the point where there was at least one patient who left out an entire room from the floor plan because it had become so full of stuff they’d closed it off both physically AND mentally.

      Part of how it works is by distorting perceptions.

    3. Leenie*

      I think your point is absolutely valid, in that this could be destabilizing to Anne. But at the same time, talking with mental health professionals before you clean out an office seems like its own kind of overstep. It’s OP’s job to keep her workplace safe and reasonably clean. It isn’t really her job to manage Anne’s emotional life or potential reactions. I have mixed feelings about this.

  8. KWu*

    For #2, it might be helpful to separate out the different problems:
    1. Anne considers that office “her space” but it isn’t.
    2. The board doesn’t know that Anne’s stuff is preventing being able to taken on new volunteers and therefore isn’t making an informed decision of the tradeoff between the value of her volunteer work vs. that of new volunteers.
    3. Anne has anxieties and difficulties in her personal life.

    I imagine there are ways to learn more about hoarding behavior to be able to handle #3 kindly and compassionately, but I don’t think that’s one that you’re going to be able to fix for her. #1 and #2 are still problems though, even if the stuff in question weren’t broken and useless items, and those are the ones that hopefully you can find support to set boundaries around. Perhaps a rule like, she can’t store any stuff in there that doesn’t fit on her desk and if she tries, it’s going to be thrown out. Maybe the best strategy is to articulate to the board what the organization is missing out on because of the current condition of that space and decide whether you’re all willing to risk upsetting Anne and potentially having her quit. Maybe yes, maybe no, but it’d be with everyone’s awareness at least.

    1. BEECEE*

      Wow – those are the 3 issues and you’ve broken it down into manageable pieces – thank you.
      -OP of Letter 2

      1. KWu*

        I’m very glad if it’s helpful! It seemed like from your letter and some of your follow-up comments that the various issues were feeling really intertwined, along with people’s hesitations to address the situation out of wanting to be nice and that Anne is a lovely person. It reminded me a bit of the letter about the library employee with the son who steals from her ( and how Alison’s advice separated out addressing the potential impact to the library.

        Good luck, and I hope we’ll be able to see an update some time on how it works out.

    2. Em Too*

      I think this is very helpful, and I think #1 is the one to focus on. It really jumped out at me that Anne sees it as her space – given that it’s not surprising to me that she’s pushing back on others telling her what to do with ‘her’ space. Is there someone with authority to agree boundaries with her? How much of the space is hers to fill with junk, and can you get storage for her that she can’t exceed? How much is hers but needs to be kept clear of unnecessary things, eg a desk that must be usable for others when she’s not around? What is for others to use as storage, and what needs to be kept clear? Then you can work *with* her to help her prioritise what to keep around, but giving her final say.

      Some people do have really severe hoarding issues but I’m not seeing anything in the letter to suggest that she’s not capable of controlling hers at work. If she still can’t then #2 may need to be brought into play.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I might even suggest you do a big shuffle of space and give Anne a desk that is NOT in a room with any extra space.

        And find a way to throw stuff out that she can’t see.

    3. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      I think this is a great strategy. Right now Anne considers the entire office “her” space to do with what she wants – if you could say that the office belongs to this department and must be kept totally clear – and her personal space is limited down to just the desk space or just this closet, then you might be able to manage boundaries better. I would be careful about saying just what you can fit ON the desk – as I’m worried it would become a dangerous towering pile of junk like daffy duck is trying to climb a cliff. But maybe just what you can fit in the desk. Also – could you find somewhere else to put the stuff that currently needs to be stored in there? Just so it is easier to draw line of nothing what-so-ever being allowed to be stored in there – for flooding reasons. It will be easier to see at a glance if she has added anything and address it immediately – and then you can point all fingers to flooding concerns. No – we cannot store anything in here – even if it could be fixed – because it could flood again.

      1. Jules the Third*

        Some practical steps towards achieving these goals might be:
        1) Absolute ban on anything NEW being added to the office hoard – no more dumpster diving. Dumpster = GONE. Trash into holding area on the way to dumpster = GONE. NOTHING new into that space. Ban her from those areas, she’s not allowed to even check them. If her duties take her near them, change her duties.
        2) “Required upgrade’ to her working space: “We need to move you to this desk in a different space, but look, it has windows / people / a plaque of appreciation for all you’ve done.” The goal is to weaken her attachment to the prior space and stuff in it.
        3) Cross-training and documentation in case Anne leaves
        4) Informing the board, ‘Problem x is causing y and z, we’re doing a, b because we value her so much and because we are decent people, but also c, d just in case.’
        5) After the next flood, clear out the room of the excess stuff and the desk and emphasize that no NEW stuff can go in there. Don’t give the space back to Anne, find another use for it. Change the paint and layout.

        If Anne does not follow your requests and requirements: Ask her to take a week or a month break from your org, emphasizing that when she comes back you’ll be happy to see her if she can follow the requirements.

        Don’t put any of this as ‘for Anne’s benefit’, it’s ‘needs of the org but trying to be mindful of stakeholders’.

        Do show your appreciation of the work she’s done so far – a plaque, a brief monthly verbal thank you. Schedule 15 minutes / month to ask how her daughter is doing, or how she’s feeling. You can’t solve her problems, but you can keep the response ‘soft’, up to a point. It does help to know people still value you. (grandchild of hoarders, OCD myself, I know the anxiety thing way too well)

        1. fposte*

          I’m with other people upthread about that, though–that’s an awful lot of work for a volunteer, and it seems to be reshaping the org around this one’s needs.

          1. Soon to be former fed*

            I agree. I’ve suffered flooding before. The aftermath is a mold-ridden, nasty, hazardous mess that requires professional, thorough clean up to mitigate future issues. Also, unless the flood risk has been eliminated, nothing should be stored in there. The issues go beyond the volunteer.

    4. Liane*

      These are good, but I see a fourth part. Safety. It’s not safe for others to work in or around this area, as several people have mentioned. It is also dangerous for Anne. The OP states Anne takes the trash not just from the holding/staging point, but *out of the dumpster.* Anne is very likely to get hurt doing this. Pointing that out as well should get the board’s attention, since the organization is likely to be blamed.

      1. Alex*

        Very good point. Also, if the organization permits Anne to take these things home do they have some liability if she is injured by one of the broken items? If she takes it without permission that’s one thing, but if they ‘give’ it to her by allowing her to take things they know are faulty, broken or out of date that’s very different.

        1. Jules the Third*

          She can’t go in the dumpster.
          The org wouldn’t be liable for anything she takes as long as they have a history of saying, ‘Anne, that’s trash, leave it in the trash.’ They’re not liable if Anne goes against direct, stated, repeated policy. The things she’s stored after retrieving them from the trash – they should not offer to let her take them home, just leave them there until the next flood.

      2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        Ugh – It just occurred to me what else could be hitchhiking out of the dumpster with whatever she retrieves. This is asking to start a rat problem. Or bugs. Double Ugh. We have mouse issues in our office – once they start to breed it is so hard to get them out.

        1. Meyers and Briggs were not real doctors*

          This just occurred to me too! Some dumpsters look cleanish but we dont have microscopic eyes! All sorts of invisible germs from the previous dumpster renter will touch anything in there, and then she brings it back into the office…yea that’s a biological hazard for sure…

    5. blackcat*

      Yes, and there’s a subpoint to 1: Anne has been told that the space isn’t hers and STILL insists that it is. I think this is what enables the hoarding–it’s HER space, darnit, and she’s going to use it however she wants!

      This would be a problem in the absence of 2 and 3. I can imagine a worker/volunteer being super territorial about a “shared” office that no one else is assigned to for a long time. I wonder if treating it as though that were the primary problem would help (though I don’t have particular advice for that problem…).

      1. Anony*

        I wonder if there is another shared space she can be moved to that she can’t become as territorial of or that doesn’t have space to fill with junk. She wouldn’t like being moved but it may fix the problem or at least put her somewhere that they will be able to catch the hoarding quickly.

        1. HappySnoopy*

          I was thinking the same. The new environment may help reboot Anne’s possessiveness about the space and can help limit or control fresh overflow.

          Overall agree with KWu above too.

    6. Jules the Third*

      Nicely stated.

      OP2, make sure that whatever Anne does for your org is documented and someone else is trained on it.

      You *might* be able to address the problem by making it so that Anne doesn’t see the office as ‘her’ space anymore, but she may at any time find that she no longer wants to volunteer. You will need to make sure you have a contingency plan in place for that.

      Good luck, this is not an easy situation.

    7. Anony Today*

      I was coming to state this as well. My husband’s mom is a hoarder (clinically diagnosed) and I wondered how she could keep a job. Husband said that she only hoarded at home or other places that she felt were hers, like her room at her parent’s house. Her workspaces were always immaculate and clean.
      Once it is understood that the shared office does not belong to her, that should clear up the problem (fingers crossed). She will know to bring items home or to her car.
      Clearing out the space will be an emotional situation even if she isn’t there. I’ve witnessed this situation with my mother-in-law and she wasn’t even able to understand the idea of moving/disturbing her stash. But once things were cleared out (just one room) she was able to adapt to the change. It’s not the same for everyone, but this may give you some confidence that the situation is salvageable and your volunteer will be able to recover and move forward.

      1. Jules the Third*

        Yeah, but it’s *such* a variable thing that OP2 should not count on it.

        Sometimes cleaning up feels ‘good’ enough that the person doesn’t want to spoil it. Sometimes the underlying anxiety resolves – medical issues are addressed, or she gets used to the daughter being gone. And sometimes it just gets worse.

        And OP2 *can’t do anything about that*. Even doing more than a chat, ‘how are you doing?’ would be boundary crossing. If Anne *asks* for help or recommendations, maybe a little talking, but otherwise Nope Nope Nope. BEECEE can only deal with the part of it that affects her domain.

    8. Emilitron*

      I’d add to that list that Anne considers the discarded items to be “her stuff” but they’re not. In some contexts, items that are in company inventory have to be destroyed/thrown out to be officially non-existent, and if they stay in the building, that messes up tracking.

    9. Former Prof*

      Great comment. Can I just add one insight about hoarding? It is basically anxiety, but also, some people hoard because they can’t stand the thought of wasting something; i.e., surely it has some use, or needs to go to the exactly right person. For example, I have some lovely old photography books, which I don’t need; I don’t want them to just languish (in my vivid imagination) at a thrift store, so I “must” take them to the library, where the library might actually use some of them (really nice photography books), but the library only takes donations on certain days (not enough space). So, what about one of our nearby public schools? Well then I’d have to call the principal, which intimidates me. But they MUST go to a good home! Thus, they’ve been in my car for several months now. I know I will eventually manage to part with them–and in fact I’ve hired an assistant in the past to simply take them where they need to go. But I have just enough of this issue to understand it a little better.

      So, for example, when I had to deal with my brother, who is much more like Anne, collects broken-down VCR’s, etc– I had to force him to dump tons of stuff he’d left at my mom’s house after she passed away (and I had to sell the house)– I was able to have a lot of success by understanding this “need to be useful.” I would point out to him that old books and toys were just sitting in a closet while a needy child would love to have them; or that old equipment would be welcomed by Goodwill who would give a needy person a job to fix them up, etc etc. His eyes lit up with the pleasure of it and we were able to get rid of tons.

      I also gave him absolutely firm deadlines–but when he wept with distress over one of them, I gave him a few more days. In other words: I’d create clear boundaries for Anne, just as Kwu suggests–crystal clear, so it becomes “a new rule,” nothing you’re saying personally: i.e., “you can keep stuff in this filing cabinet but nowhere else” (as someone else suggested); have some compassion about how difficult it is at first. You might, as others have suggested, give her a specific designated space (a filing cabinet, a storage box that she can keep under the desk, or whatever works for your space), but tell her anything else will “need to be removed.”

      But if she’s a super-valuable volunteer, you could also perhaps head off the problem for the future by trying to create conduits for her to satisfy her need for things to be “not wasted,” i.e., give her guidelines for places she can bring things to (a homeless shelter, a nearby thrift store). She sounds like someone who enjoys “giving,” and perhaps you can channel this compulsion into that same area. I know it helps me to “offload” things when I think warmly of someone being able to use them–and I know it gets out of control sometimes–but even so, I feel so much better when it’s GONE! Keep in mind that on some level she really doesn’t like all the junk, and with some gentle guidance, you’re actually helping her feel better in the end.

      Thanks again, Kwu, for the good, simple, compassionate advice.

  9. BEECEE*

    OP of Letter 2 – some people have seen Anne’s house and it IS hoarded, and her card is hoarded, so I’m pretty sure it’s a “clinical” case of hoarding, which is why I’m finding this so hard to deal with. When I originally confronted her about this, I did not understand the extent or severity of it. And with her daughter going to college, graduating HS this May, I foresee even more hoarding. A lot of people who kinda know what is going on have started taking the stuff they want to discard home, to throw away there, but we shouldn’t have to. And I suspect that then she would bring stuff-that-might-be-useful-someday from the outside. And here’s the thing – other than this hoarding, she’s a lovely person. So ………….. rock and hard place.

    1. fposte*

      Ohh, this is really hard, and I think Ramona Flowers is right that you might not be able to get rid of the hoard without losing Anne. I like KWu’s ideas for an approach, and I think ultimately it’s not helping Anne to give her more hoarding space—it’s just not likely to be easy to take it away, either, and you will probably always have to police crap creep even if she agrees to the limitations.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yeah, I agree. Hoarding disorder is extremely difficult to work around, and oftentimes solutions that would be fine for a non-hoarder are triggering/destructive for a hoarder. So that means you have to approach it as a mental health issue (with all that entails), and not as though it were a bad habit.

        I think KWu has the best framework for how to break down the problem and approach. But this sounds like it’s going to be a situation where OP has to decide if they want Anne or they want the mess. Right now it sounds like her hoarding is unmanaged, and it would likely be an overstep/inappropriate to try to condition her volunteering on getting treatment for the disorder.

        A third (but imperfect) option could be to keep her as a volunteer but change the nature of her volunteering so that she doesn’t need to be on-site or in an office space in order to do it. OP would still have to do the hard work of figuring out how to have this conversation with Anne without triggering her, but I can’t see an immediate solution where OP keeps Anne and gets rid of Anne’s hoard.

        1. fposte*

          And unfortunately it may be necessary for work reasons—safety, especially—to take steps that may seriously upset Anne. While obviously they want to act with tact and kindness, not upsetting Anne really can’t be the main goal.

          1. Anion*

            Yes. I don’t in any way mean to make light of hoarding or mental health issues in general, but Anne can’t be allowed to create a dangerous, extremely uncomfortable, and/or unsanitary workspace for others (think of the things they sometimes find in hoarders’ homes–bugs and rats, etc.). If Anne was suffering from severe depression to the point where she wasn’t bathing or cleaning herself, one’s foot would have to go down at some point, wouldn’t it, because you can’t have a volunteer who smells or is filthy.

            Anne can do what she likes in her own home, but shared office space is not her home. I agree on getting professional advice and being as kind as possible, but who know, it may even be helpful to Anne to be told as gently as possible that all those things simply cannot stay in that office, and while she is valued and cared about and everyone understands that it’s hard for her, and no one wants to see her leave, the extra stuff has to go because it’s a safety issue–it may even (IANAA/Tax Expert here and this is a long shot) be a tax issue if those items are being written off as no longer working and the IRS stops in and finds them all there. (Which is another potential angle, possibly.)

            1. Marcy Marketer*

              This! The office is not her home.

              Even full time employees are often required to keep neat and tidy workspaces. Employees do not “own” their work space and can’t just do whatever they want within those spaces.

              BEECEEE, it’s not clear to me if you manage Anne or if there’s another volunteer coordinator. Whoever manages Anne should say, “Anne, we’ve previously discussed keeping the shared office space clean and uncluttered so that others can use the space. I see that you have put more items in that room. You will need to remove those items by X date or I will remove them. Can you commit to that?”

              If she says “it’s my space,” or any variation of an argument, just say “The X organization owns the office and we are committed to maintaining a clean and safe environment. Can you commit to removing the items?” If she starts to get worked up, say, “I can tell you’re getting upset. My intention is not to argue with you, since this is a non-negotiable, so I’ll step away while you process this information.”

              I also suggest getting a key for the door and keeping it locked unless someone is working in the space.

              1. I'll come up with a clever name later.*

                Yes. I think BEECEEE needs to reestablish who owns the space. I use the desk /computer here at the office but while I refer to them as mine they are owned by my company. Anne needs to be firmly reminded that she does not own any part of the space she uses while at work and that her hoarding habits should not enter the work space. My only tweak to the above script would be: “The X organization owns the office and we are committed to maintaining a clean and safe environment. The items in the office you use while you are here will need to be removed.” I think that if Anne is offered a question to as to whether she can commit her answer will be no and start a conversation that will go off in a direction that will leave BEECEEE unable to use the next part of the script listed above. Anne is going to be upset. There’s no getting around that. She just needs to be told that her habits are not able to extend to a shared workspace.

            2. Worker anonymous*

              I was thinking of this too. We are a state institution and have very specific protocols on deaccessioning certain types of items and I’m sure if they were then found in the premises, it would not go well.

              1. Anion*

                Lol, it’s kind of awful that my first thought on reading this was, “Yay! I didn’t make a wild wrong supposition! I IS smart sometimes!”

                But seriously, I know that when I work out my tax deductions I could get in trouble if I say something is gone and it turns out it isn’t, so I wondered if it might be the same thing in this case. Thanks for the information!

    2. Seal*

      From your description, Anne has taken over a space that’s not hers, filled it with junk from the trash to the point that others have to take things home to throw away, and starts to freak out and/or melt down when asked to stop stashing stuff. This doesn’t sound like a lovely person to me. At the very least, she’s refusing to follow instructions – focus on that.

      1. blackcat*

        Yes, I’m thinking that separating out the issues (as someone suggested above) will be helpful in moving forward.

        OP has an employee who 1) insists a space is hers despite being told otherwise and 2) blatantly disregards what she has been told to do.

        If this had nothing to do with hoarding, how would you deal with a volunteer who was insubordinate in these ways, who has refused/been unable to change? My guess is you’d fire them.

      2. Morning Glory*

        It sounds like a very sick person to me. That may not change what the final outcome will be, which is most likely that Anne will no longer be able to continue as a volunteer – but it does impact the level of kindness that the OP should take to get to that last step.

        You are blaming a person for exhibiting symptoms of the mental illness that they are suffering from.

    3. Todd Chrisley Knows Best*

      Would your office be willing to bring in a professional to work with Anne on the hoarding issue? I understand it’s not a cost every office can and will take on, and to some it could seem a little intrusive, but if Anne is a valued enough volunteer and is willing to be helped, I think it would be nice for the organization to do so, as both sides would win in a sense. Anne gets help, and the office doesn’t have to tiptoe around the trash making sure it truly goes out. (On another note, this probably wouldn’t help much either, but if Anne is saving things to be fixed, could the office switch to recycling or donating as much as possible instead of simply trashing the items? (Bonus points since that would also be better for the environment.))

      1. fposte*

        Unfortunately, the stuff hoarders think can be fixed is often not stuff that anybody wants as a donation.

        1. Meyers and Briggs were not real doctors*

          Agreed, saying it can be fixed or “I can use that later for X thing” is just another excuse to keep more stuff. Just like any other mental illness gone untreated, denial and making excuses is part of it, no matter how unrealistic those reasons are.

      2. Bartlet for President*

        The idea of bringing someone in to work with Anne seems like it would cause more problems than it would solve (not to mention wildly boundary violating). For example:

        – There are different theories/strategies for handling various mental health issues, and some professionals/therapists utilize particular ones – is the OP’s employer in a position to make the determination about what kind of treatment is best suited for Anne?
        – The OP’s employer just made themselves a part of Anne’s treatment, and that seems wildly over the line for an employer (volunteer or paid). Since they are paying for it, do they get access to the medical records or treatment evaluations? Does the professional have an obligation to provide them with status updates?
        – Since it is a nonprofit, funds are almost certainly limited and likely have requirements. If I was a major donor of a nonprofit and heard that they were using money to provide treatment for a volunteer’s mental health issue, I might question how well the nonprofit was using their funds in general.
        – What if Anne is resistant to treatment? Would it be forced upon her?

        Consider if Anne had an eating disorder, and this was making lunch meetings with donors incredibly difficult – including, complaints or comments from donors. The forum has had a strong adverse reaction (rightly so!) to an employer or boss making any remarks about someone’s eating issues – so, I can’t see it being considered good advice for an employer to involve themselves in someone’s treatment.

        1. Jules the Third*


          The org should not be mediating a volunteer’s mental health care. The org and people in it can recommend resources for Anne and express concern and support, but that’s the limit.

          1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

            Yep. Even that can get sticky, but ultimately it’s Anne’s decision whether or not to avail herself of any such resources. Being sensitive and compassionate towards mental health issues is one thing; trying to solve them is another.

      3. Temperance*

        Besides the fact that that sort of help is very expensive, and this seems to be a nonprofit, this is wildly inappropriate and wouldn’t help the org. I watch Hoarders every so often, and it’s very focused on the hoarder and not so much other people in their lives. So the help wouldn’t cure the immediate, disgusting issue.

    4. LNZ*

      Allison mentioned maybe tossing everything without warning, just be aware this might make her go into melt down mode with you. I’m not saying don’t do it, but hoarders do not react well to this. Its actually advised against by experts because it can be so triggering when trying to treat hoarding.

      1. Susanne*

        What is the point at which hoarders “hit bottom” and recognize that they need to get treatment? Genuinely asking, since I don’t know. I would have a low tolerance for this, though. Having an office full of junk is not a reasonable accommodation to her issues.

        1. Morning Glory*

          Hoarding usually does not have a ‘rock bottom’ that spurs people to get treatment, and then they get better. It is more like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
          Plenty of people recognize they are hoarders without being able to stop – and treatment is often thousands of dollars and not covered by insurance.

          My mother is a hoarder, and it is so frustrating for everyone, including her. Her house in uninhabitable and I would never want to work with someone like her, or have that in my workspace. I think the OP’s best course of action will result in Anne no longer volunteering at the organization. But, the idea that this may be a rock bottom that helps Anne seek treatment is misguided – that’s just not how hoarding works.

          1. Anony Today*

            Yep. Mother-in-law is a hoarder and there really isn’t a cure. She realizes she has a “quirk” but not that it impacts her life in a negative way. She has gotten to a point where she will keep two rooms clean from clutter and that is probably the most she will achieve. It is a way of thinking/ how the brain is hard wired. If you picked her up and put her in a new environment on a tropical island where all her needs were taken care of and she had exciting and meaningful activities everyday and she wanted for nothing, she would still stash coconuts under her hammock.

          2. fposte*

            And if you have enough money and space you’re a collector, societally speaking, not a hoarder, even though the impulses may be very similar.

            1. Daffodil*

              One of the litmus tests I’ve seen for hoarding vs. collecting is whether the collection is maintained in a state where it can be seen and appreciated by other people, and whether the owner is proud of it and enjoys showing it off. Not a perfect test, and the lines are hella blurry in real life (and money has a lot to do with it), but conceptually at least they’re different things.

              1. Kate 2*

                Agreed, I’ve seen that too. Another commonly used one, that I understand is also used to help decide whether someone has an addiction or other disorder, is if it is significantly negatively impacting their life. For instance, if you gamble a lot or gamble a lot and are in debt because of it. Or whether you collect stamps or whether you lost your house because you used the mortgage money to buy more.

          3. Soon to be former fed*

            I’ve seen on the tv shows where the prospect of losing custody of children, or eviction, has been a hit bottom moment for some. Not others. It varies.

        2. JulieBulie*

          It’s a good question. Every once in a while you’ll see someone on the local news who was living in filth with 300 cats, many of them dead, with junk piled from floor to ceiling in every room.

          Local news being what it is, there is not always a follow-up story; but in the cases I’ve been aware of, the person was charged with something and/or sent for evaluation, and the municipality had the house cleaned up to local health code standards (at the owner’s and/or offender’s expense). Or in one notable recent local case, they destroyed the house because it was beyond redemption.

          I imagine that’s about as rock bottom as you can get, but I still wouldn’t count on that leading to a treatment that actually sticks. I would imagine that an experience like that would make someone feel even more insecure about keeping their possessions.

    5. Meyers and Briggs were not real doctors*

      Is there an outside spot that employees can stack “Anne’s stuff” (or garbage she retrieved that she wants to keep for her own future/personal use) in that office for her to pickup herself? Time limit half a day or something, to allow her to get a friend or family member with a pickup truck or something to bring “her stuff” to a place that isnt the office? even a pile near the dumpster with a tarp that is labeled Anne’s stuff to be disposed up promptly at Xpm? If she wants the retrieved garbage so bad she needs to take it off site. Will the office employees help clean out her stuff to this pile outside?

      Plus if it’s outdoors, it may force her hand a bit more to deal with it when it becomes an eyesore on the company, and she may have fears people will rifle thru and take “Anne’s broken stuff,” hence her actually taking her crap that she wants on site to her residence or wherever, as long as it isn’t on company property.

      I took in a roomate that I found out was a hoarder, and I worked with her for months before evicting her…the room she occupied barely had a a pathway. It was a fire hazard…she made progress when I helped or made a firm boundary (have to see the hardwood floor) so she was able to understand that how she lives will definitely affect *where* she lives. Hoarders arent stupid or oblivious to rules and needing to comply without consequences.

      All I really have to add beyond that is boundaries – set them and keep them firmly. It’s not the OPs job to handle Anne’s mental illness if it is (finally advanced to the point of) affecting her work environment.

    6. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      Could you move her to a different space? In a more open concept area – or a shared office? That way it might be easier to limit her space. Tell her this will be her new desk and she can only keep items in her desk or file paperwork in that filing cabinet. Then be strict and consistent about booting anything that is not in her desk.

      1. Anony*

        It seems like that could fix the work issue. If she doesn’t have a space to store stuff she can’t hoard at work.

    7. Not So NewReader*

      Being nice is a huge stumbling block for many problems.

      If this nice person was throwing the organization’s money out the window to passersby below, I think someone would figure out how to stop that.

      Nice people can make poor choices and still remain nice people. (If this is not a true statement, then I am toast here.)
      I think what is happening, OP, is that you have gotten so involved in the fact that a larger issue maybe driving the behavior that the focus on the immediate problem is diluted or lost. You might find it easier to talk with her if you just let go of the information about her car and her home. You can just focus on work and what is for the good of the organization.

      It sounds like she needs to be told (again?) that she is sharing space with others. You can let her know that in the future even more folks will be using that office space, if you see that one on the horizon. Keep reminding yourself that it’s not up to you to fix at-home issues also.

  10. Ramona Flowers*

    #4 It’s great that you’ve been such a self-starter, but the problem with these sorts of courses (if you mean things like MOOCs) is that you often can’t tell how much you engaged with the course – with some you could just click through and not complete half the activities. Rightly or wrongly, they’re perhaps not going to carry the same weight as some other types of learning so I would be wary of over-emphasising them.

    However one thing you can do is use them to demonstrate interest in a particular area eg if you are applying for a job that asks for someone who’s really passionate about feeding llamas, you can mention your online learning about llama diets and the psychology of llama feeding times as a way of demonstrating that.

    1. Natasha*

      And depending on the type of skill, you might be able to create a demo project to post on your personal website.

    2. Reba*

      Yes, it’s part of your narrative about your interest in the field, not part of your qualifications (unless there are projects you can show, which still probably don’t carry the same weight as a work project).

      Good luck with your search, #4!

  11. kas*

    1. I would feel the same way if I got a smaller gift than everyone else. For example, if everyone got wine and I got a mug I’d definitely wonder what I did to the person for them to give me something so different. I get the same gift for everyone on my team (except for my manager, I get my manager a different gift). The rest of my team does the same. I understand why you feel this way, I would question it too.

    1. MK*

      I agree completely. When gift-giving to a group the most thoughtful thing you can do is get either the same or very similar gifts for everyone.

    2. Anion*

      Yes, when I saw the headline, I was like, “NO, a polite person does not notice or comment that their gift is ‘smaller’ than the others.”

      But in the actual letter it’s clear that the issue isn’t the value or even the items themselves, it’s the thought; it seems care was taken with the others and the OP just got some stuff thrown into a bag without even a note. That would be hurtful to me, and I can see it being hurtful for the OP.

      Unfortunately, though, there’s nothing you can do or say. Just try to think that maybe the giver wanted to do something extra special for you but ran out of time, or something fell through, or even that maybe since she relies on you she thinks it would be suck-up-y to get you something extra special? I dunno. Just try to not let it hurt you, and continue being helpful and friendly. And she did think of you, at least.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        Yeah, I I don’t care if my coworkers don’t give me gifts at Christmas, but I think this is one of those instances where sometimes the gift is or is almost more hurtful than no gift. A gift that says “I feel obligated to get you a gift but this is how little I think of you” is hurtful. And that’s probably not what’s going on here. Maybe the gift-giver here is just closer to the other people, or they’ve done her extra favors over the year? Or she’s known them a lot longer? Or she’s close enough to them to know what kind of gifts they would like, but not the OP? But even when there’s a legitimate, non-hurtful explanation, if you don’t know that explanation, a gift that seems like it shows no thought, or shows that the gift-giver thinks little of you, can be hurtful, even if you wouldn’t be hurt by not getting a gift at all.

        1. Anne (with an "e")*

          I think that if you have a closer relationship with certain coworkers than with others, then you should give them their gifts in separate venues or at different times. If I am particularly close to Monica and Rachel and not very close to Phoebe, then I will not give all of them their gifts together at the same time right in front of each other. There are ways of handling this in a much more sensitive manner. If I were OP 1 I would feel slighted, however, I think the gift-giver could have avoided this by being more discrete.

    3. Myrin*

      Yeah, I agree, and I’m not actually someone who puts too much importance on things like this. I wouldn’t dwell on it hugely but it would sting a little, although I’d certainly take into consideration whether this was a one-off kind of thing or if I felt unappreciated and undervalued in general.

      I do have one question, though – was it really everyone else but OP who got thoughtful and bigger gifts? OP says “[a gift] that was considerably less than others on my team” and “I get a few items thrown into a bag, where others on my team are receiving bigger bags”. That doesn’t actually sound to me like OP was literally the only person not receiving a personalised gift, just that there were some who did and some who didn’t. I’m asking because I do think my reaction would be different between one scenario (where I’m the sole recipient of a lackluster gift) and the other (where five people get something nice and thoughtful and five others, including me, get generic stuff). That said, I work professionally with texts and their meanings, so I might just be putting to much stock into the phrasing where there actually isn’t any, though.

      1. fposte*

        I’m also wondering how long the OP has been there compared to the other staff—it sounded like this was her first Christmas there so she may be the new kid.

        1. BPT*

          Or maybe even the people who got nicer gifts had actually given the coworker presents, and she was returning the favor. And if OP hadn’t given the coworker a gift, she might actually think she was being overly fair (giving reciprocal gifts to the ones who had gifted her, and then getting something for the OP even though OP hadn’t gotten her anything).

          Or maybe she new that some other coworkers were going through a hard time and needed a little something extra.

          There are a lot of possibilities that don’t necessarily convey the coworker actively leaving OP out.

      2. MK*

        Hmm. On rereading the letter, is the OP even sure others got better gifts? A bigger bag just means the item was more bulky, not necessarily more thoughtful, expensive, etc.

        1. Myrin*

          I think it’s more about the fact that in her case, the bag was the only “wrapping”, whereas the other gifts were indeed individually wrapped and had a handwritten card with them and appeared more thoughtful in general instead of random like OP’s.

          1. Hills to Die on*

            Yes, it appears that she thought of that already but she did get a smaller present.

            I don’t know that is, but I can
            Understand your feeling hurt. I probably would also. There have been instances in my life (and most people’s lives) where you really like someone but they just don’t like you back. At least not as much. And that’s okay. I think your coworker was a bit thoughtless, but she did get you something and so she does care about you. Just continue to be kind and put this out of your mind. It may be that she chose for you exactly what she thought you’d appreciate the most.

            I try to pretend that people have done something I don’t understand with the best, kindest intentions.

        2. Colette*

          It could even mean that the bag was bigger but the contents were the same x there’s be no way to know if they didn’t open them there.

          (I could totally see me wrapping gifts like that if I had bags/wrapping at home and didn’t want to go buy more.)

          1. Anion*

            I could see myself doing the same, heh, but in my case I’d say something: “Sorry, Colette, dumb old me ran out of wrapping paper, so I couldn’t wrap yours the way I wanted to!” and laugh, to try to make clear that it wasn’t a deliberate thing.

            But that’s why I’m hoping the OP can think maybe that was the issue, and it’s not an actual slight.

    4. sheworkshardforthemoney*

      This is another reason I hate gift giving at the office. At an OldJob the manager walked through the office placing gifts on some desks and not others. It was favouritism and it was blatant. The gifted persons felt awful and singled out and not in a good way.

      1. GG Two shoes*

        When my grandboss left a few years ago, at his retirement party he gave everyone a little gift that was joke-y and personalized. It was cute, but for an office of 35 with some only having been there a few months and others being there for 40 years the gifts were fairly lopsided. It was a nice idea, but the in-person explanations made things weird. I actually got two gifts (we were close) but that made it even more awkward.

        Morale of the story: No gifts unless they are all equally thoughtful.

      2. SallytooShort*

        My friend started a new job last January. Earlier this month a co-worker told her that everyone in the department gets each other presents. Basically, so she knew to buy presents for everyone (including their manager.) It’s not that small a department.

        That seems insane to me! Never mind the gifting up issue. To have to pick out presents for like almost a dozen more people?

        I am actually for moderate festivities in the office! We do a Yankee Swap here. I’ve done Secret Santas elsewhere. But this seems nuts.

        1. fposte*

          That is why we went to a Secret Santa-type gift exchange–to keep people from feeling they had to buy everybody a present.

    5. Bea*

      I agree. I grew to loath Christmas because my paternal grandmother made a show out of getting my cousins, who are one year older and one year younger than I am thoughtful gifts each year. Then I was given socks and blankets. This is exactly my burning personal issue with Christmas so if I were #1 I would get icy towards the person.

      Whereas not gifting me anything wouldn’t even ping on my radar. It feels like an “oh and you too I guess” obligated thoughtless thing to give everyone a card and skip the most personalized part in this case.

      Granted my experience made me more thoughtful in the end. So I hope the OP uses this to her advantage down the road with gift giving. But yeah wow I know that sting.

      1. Gingerblue*

        Yeah, this. I’ve had some similar moments with family, and there are plenty of gifts that wind up saying “this is what I think of you” which are far worse than no gift. I mean, I don’t care if someone doesn’t give me something, but I do care if they actively insult me.

    6. Lehigh*

      I don’t want to dismiss OP’s feelings – of course that could be hurtful, and especially the lack of card IMO – but I will say that this letter & similar ideas/thoughts/situations are why I heartily dislike gift-giving holidays in general. I so rarely find things that are equal in price/size/thoughtfulness/personalization for people in my life in the “same tier” and it is a source of much anxiety.

      I am pretty sure one of my nieces is not going to like my gift as much as her siblings will and I am so upset about it already. I tried really hard, but my idea didn’t work out and my second idea was probably too “young” and I thought my third idea was brilliant but now I think I may have mis-guessed. I adore her. But I’m not good at gifts.

      All of which to say, OP, your coworker might be slighting you. It’s possible. But she might have also failed to find something great for you and sort of panicked.

      1. nonegiven*

        I finally gave up and gave my sister some cash and a list of people, her husband, her kids, etc.
        Coming up with ideas at Christmas is so hard and I don’t even get all my household shopping done because of distance, time, and pain. I did go over there and wrap the stuff she bought.

      2. Former Employee*

        It sounds as if your niece is fairly young, so if you are there when she opens the present you’ll be able to tell by the look on her face if it worked out or not. If not, just tell her the truth and ask her what she really wants that no one has gotten her. Hoping you can return what you got her if you need to do something different.

  12. Ramona Flowers*

    #1 This does sound a bit odd. It’s hard to know, without knowing the people involved, if she meant it to come across like this. But you’re human and it’s understandable to not be thrilled here.

    However, I wonder if it would help to remember why you do your job? You mentioned that it’s a doctor’s office – so really you are there for the patients. And while you might feel more negatively about this person, your job doesn’t end with them and I’m sure you wouldn’t want patients to receive a poorer quality service.

    So if it grates on you to help her now, try to remember / remind yourself that you’re not doing it for her but for the patients.

    And if she did do it on purpose, how utterly weird and petty of her. I’d feel sorry for her and privately think of her as a very strange, pitiable specimen from an alien species.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Great stuff, RF, right on.

      Looking at the big picture can definitely help get through the current circumstance.

      I have also found it helpful to look at worse case scenario. Let’s say this woman hates your guts, OP, and you find out this is the truth. What is your bottom line here? The answer is be your professional self. Treat her in the same manner you treat everyone else, because this is the way you want to present professionally. Never let anyone’s actions allow you to become less than the person or the professional you want to be.

      If it were me, depending on how well I could shake this off, I might consider going to the bosses and asking them to implement a no gifts policy. Tell them when gifts are not balanced/equivalent then people can feel snubbed or upset. This could interfere with their ability to work with each other in the long run. I would also point out that buying ten gifts is NOT cheap, no one should feel compelled to do this.

  13. Mad Baggins*

    #1– “Comparisons are toxic” so maybe it will help you to think about how you would feel if you received your gift, and never saw what anyone else got? Would you be happy to receive your things in a bag or whatever you were given? Go with that feeling and don’t compare yourself–or your gifts–to others. There’s no good that can come of it!

    1. MK*

      This might be true in theory, but in cases like these the comparison is inevitable. I might not expect a gift at all from someone and I might have been pleased to receive a cute ornament, but if this person hands around bohemian crystal to everyone else and the ornament to me, it’s impossible not to feel slighted. They say it’s the thought that counts wit presents; well, in this case the thought was shitty, even if it is only mere thoughtlessness.

      1. JulieBulie*

        TO me, it was the handwritten notes that the other people got and OP didn’t. That’s the most hurtful thing. How hard is it to scribble “thanks for all your hard work supporting my efforts this year!”?

  14. Catarina*

    LW #2 My husband’s sibling is a hoarder, and I strongly agree with other commenters that you need to set boundaries and rules with Anne. A hoarder left unchecked in both personal and professional life can develop the idea that she has the right to enforce her hoarding on others.

    My husband’s family is fractured due to the hoarding sibling dumpster diving in the middle of the night outside a cousin’s house during an extensive renovation, then banging on the door and screaming at cousin for throwing away the old hardwood/crown molding/etc. Extended family finally had enough of the BS and cut contact.

    If Anne isn’t brought under control at work, it’s possible (not certain, but possible) that she will escalate to policing the disposal habits of others.

    1. Meyers and Briggs were not real doctors*

      THIS: A hoarder left unchecked in both personal and professional life can develop the idea that she has the right to enforce her hoarding on others.

      I agree that is what’s already happening and OP needs firm timeline for cleanup, and apparently very firm rules of what’s allowed in there of “personal stuff” in the future.

      The other concern I have is Anne’s hygiene. Understandably it becomes hard for hoarders to access their own bathroom and shower and laundry facilities…and poor hygiene is absolutely not acceptable in the workplace, period. This wasn’t in the letter but I wonder if clients with a super sense of smell (I’m one!:) have been put off by this – maybe Anne isn’t as well liked by clients as OP thinks because of her hair/clothes/body smell. Just another related hoarding topic that spills over to the workplace.

      1. fposte*

        The hygiene thing is mostly at the really extreme levels, though; most hoarders maintain decent plumbing access.

        1. Soon to be former fed*

          I’ve seen just the opposite on the shows. Showers, sinks, etc. were not exempt from being filled with garbage and never cleaned. The saddest thing was when children could not practice adequate hygiene and were ostracized because of it. One episode had piles of used adult diapers, which were being worn because the toilet was unusable. Some of the filth made me gag and turn away from the program.

          That said, not all hoarders are physically repellent. Some shower at health clubs or other facilities. You can’t tell by looking or smelling if someone is a hoarder.

          1. fposte*

            Because the ones chosen to be featured on reality shows are extreme cases–otherwise they wouldn’t make good television. It’s not a portrayal of the average disorder.

          2. Yomi*

            The TV shows about hoarding are incredibly inaccurate and actually can sometimes be damaging to public perception of the disorder. And at least one of them has been accused of staging to exaggerate a problem for ratings.

            Hoarding can often come with germ-phobias and other aspects of OCD since the two are often linked (last I read they hadn’t fully explored that link yet). Those people aren’t going to be covering up their sinks.

            Animal hoarding is a related but technically a different disorder IIRC, and that does frequently involve major sanitation problems.

            1. anon for this*

              All this. My mother is a hoarder, and a clean freak. She compares herself to the “filthy hoard” types and as a result she doesn’t believe she has a problem, because everything in the piles of stuff is neatly folded.
              It is an *extremely* difficult mental disorder to treat unfortunately. :(

      2. AJ*

        You are adding details that are not in the letter. Just because she has a lot of stuff/has a hoard/is probaly a hoarder does NOT mean she has poor hygiene or will develop poor hygiene.

    2. boop the first*

      This is true, and why it needs to be cleared ASAP! It sounds like she’s already claiming a communal space as hers and hers only. A family member of mine who hoards has gotten to the point where she’s slowly picking away at her grown children to let her hoard items at their homes. First it’s random coins/jars, next it’s entire pieces of furniture. Don’t even take a single first coin! They will never magically start paying rent!

  15. Jennifer*

    This reminds me of how my ex’s family dealt with a food hoarding grandma (who once served up pasta with weevils because she thought it was just fine to pick them out): they had to dispose of the food in the middle of the night FAR AWAY so she couldn’t find it in the nearest dumpster to save it again. This might have to be the case with Anne.

    1. Goya de la Mancha*

      How horrible! Definitely see hoarding tendencies come out in the older populations (in the US at least) though. The ones who lived through the depression, war time rationing, large/poor families, etc. They couldn’t afford to throw things away, and always made do or did without. So unfortunately, pasta with weevils would have just meant extra protein to her family back then :( and old habits die hard. I swear my mother would wash and re-use paper plates if she could figure out a way to do it. As it is, she brings home plastic silverware with her from restaurants and the sauce packets that she didn’t use (and will not use at home). Mom’s not a hoarder – but she definitely has some tendencies.

      1. Meyers and Briggs were not real doctors*

        I had a grandparent who discussed the Collyers and basically rationalized how that could happen in that era. The Depression really gave folks complexes – we also found $10k on cash because my great grandparents didnt trust banks.

        I wonder if the Hoarder show, or when extreme cases make the news (which are usually animal hoarding which is a whole ‘nuther ball game of the disorder) that it makes people not want to get help…

        However there was a lady in my hometown that finally got busted, had a sick bedbound husband at home and sick cats with brains exposed… She got the help and there was a followup on the local paper where she had gotten help, made a 100% turnaround and was speaking of her experience. Now those are the news stories I’d like to see more of!

        But again stuff hoarding and animal hoarding are related, however one usually involves criminal charges or abate orders. When i worked for an animal shelter I got to know the names of folks who were banned by law from owning animals -one man got so bad he lived in his car because his farm was condemned and just kept 5 illegal dogs with him…and to me that man belongs in jail so he doesnt neglect any more animals. They are so blinded by “love” and they think no one will care for their animals like they do…

        Sorry it’s off topic but I hope Anne doesn’t have pets… :/

  16. Woodswoman*

    For letter writer #4 who asked about listing free courses on a resume, this can be helpful as long as the list is concise and specifically addresses the job you’re applying for. A commitment to ongoing learning is appealing to employers. When I was job-hunting, my resume had a short section labeled Professional Development. This heading distinguishes your coursework from classes you may have taken years ago in college. You could lead this with “Selected workshops/classes/choose-your-noun include…” and then list three or four topics that show you’re committed to ongoing professional growth and skill-building. Like all resumes, you want to tailor it to the specific position you’re applying for, so you might want to switch which courses you took depending on where you’re applying.

    1. AeroEngineer*

      Wow, thanks for this advice! I am not the OP, but I have recently in the last days had the exact same question pop up a couple of times, as I have followed a couple of workshops as well as plan on taking some online courses in the next months and had no idea how to list them, especially since they are not directly related to my day to day job.

  17. Callie*

    #2 – we had a similar problem where I worked in a previous job, except it was the tiny staff room that was filling up with stuff left there by a part-time employee. The organisation did the occasional (think monthly) event with kids and this staff member used to hold onto every colouring sheet – even used, useless ones – and we couldn’t go into the staff room or sit down without tripping over stuffed animals. Eventually a big boss had to come in from another site and said nothing was allowed to be stored in the room and it would all be thrown away in 2 weeks. That solved the problem to the extent it was affecting the workplace (though not the root of the hoarding issue). The key is to provide advance warning that stuff WILL be thrown away unless removed.

  18. nep*

    #2 —
    This is such a simple yet profoundly useful way to flip things — in this case but also in countless others I’m sure.

  19. Janet*

    #4- This is an excellent reason to create a LinkedIn profile and add the address to your resume.

    That way you can have a section listing ALL of your skills or classes without wasting space on your resume.

    1. Antilles*

      One caveat: Putting stuff on your LinkedIn profile should *only* be done for skills that aren’t specifically job-relevant.
      Remember that during initial resume screens, hiring managers spend something like 90 seconds reading a resume. They’re not going to spend time checking your LinkedIn profile (especially since like 75% of profiles include the same basic name/degree/work history information that’s already on the resume I’m holding!)…so if there’s an important job skill you bring to the table or a class that really strengthens your candidacy, that information really needs to be on the resume itself rather than buried on your LinkedIn page.

    2. Studying Hard*

      This is what I came here to ask – should I put every useful class I take under my LinkedIn certifications? I don’t want my more important ones to get buried, but I guess most of those will come with letters after my name, so maybe it’s all okay.

      Most of mine will end up being specializations, so once I’m done with them I guess I can list the specialization only and drop the individual classes.

      If I were getting a grad degree, I wouldn’t list every individual class. But as it is they’re so diverse (but still hopefully building to a useful set of skills for my chosen career!). I don’t want to underrepresent the knowledge and the hard work I’m doing.

  20. NYC Weez*

    Re #1: When I was pregnant with my son, my boss was invited to a private baby shower for me, hosted by my best friend (who was also a coworker). Her “gift” to me was one clearly re-gifted onesie from when her daughter was born a few months earlier. Zero thought, zero effort, zero cost. The party was for close, personal friends, although my pal made sure no one from work felt excluded if they wanted to come. My boss, however, decided that meant it was my official “work shower”, so she wouldn’t allow anyone to throw me the standard cake social with a group gift. For example, my male coworker’s wife was expecting their 3rd kid, and was given a $125 gift card. Four workplaces later, my “baby” is looking at colleges, yet it still makes me salty to think about the discrepancies between what she gave me vs. what she gave to my coworker, especially as the office would pay for the gift cards so giving me one involved zero personal expense on her part.

    Having experienced it myself, I don’t think it’s possible to just drop the hurt feelings, but I think the advice to compartmentalize it into “coworker is closer to other people and that is OK” is the healthiest approach. Chances are that in a department of 10 people, there are 1-2 that you probably don’t click with as much as the others, so it should also be fine if someone isn’t particularly close to you. In my case, every time I started to dredge up the mental pity party, I remember the younger coworkers who put a ton of thought into some really sweet and clever gifts for me. They didn’t do anything like that for my other coworker, and it definitely makes me smile to think of the love they were showing me!

  21. MuseumChick*

    Op #2, having worked with volunteers for many years, I think your organization is falling into a very common trap. First I recommend you read this article called When Volunteers Go Rogue:

    Which is, outside of whatever other issues she is having, what you are dealing with. 2) plan with your supervisors what you will say to this volunteer the next time you meet with her. She will get upset. She may threaten to quit. You have to hold firm, “we certainly don’t want you to quit. You are a valued member of our time. But going forward the room must be kept neat and clean. Is that something you will be able to do?” Then if she doesn’t follow through on that you will have to consider firing her or transitioning her to a different volunteer position where she cannot access that room.

  22. Mazzy*

    #5 – limit what you put on resumes, it’s a huge turnoff for me when I see someone listing everything on their resume including tons of computer programs. My assumption is that they never became proficient in any one of them, especially when they are two years out of school but listing twenty programs.

    #1 – not sure of your exact situation but I know for myself, even having and making decent money, Christmas is still a financial burden, when I explain it to friends they are always surprised at how many people I have to give presents to and then realize that yeah it’s super expensive and I can’t give everyone huge things at once everyone year. For example most people don’t realize I have a parking attendant or that I go to the doctor so much that I give something to the desk workers (gift cards not cookies). Or that I have four family birthdays right after Christmas.

    1. WellRed*

      You do not *have* to give anyone a gift, but certainly not gift cards to the desk workers at the doctor’s office. I have never heard of such a thing.

      1. bearing*

        Still, it’s her prerogative if she chooses to think of her circle as broad and if she wishes to give small gifts to a large number of people instead of bigger gifts to a small number of people.

        Maybe she meant not “people I am obligated to give gifts to” but “people I have in my life that I plan to give gifts to”?

          1. Susanne*

            No one is obligated to give all these gifts to receptionists, postal workers, baristas, and the like. That’s a *choice* that some people make, and then they complain about how expensive the holidays are and how they’re broke.

        1. Mazzy*

          Yeah it’s probably weird for someone to see my gifting a doctor’s receptionist, but she’s done a heck of alot more for me than some of my coworkers, so it makes sense when you live it!

      2. Enough*

        Agree. I practically lived at the dentist when my children had braces. When one was finishing up the next one was starting. I was there every month for about 9 years. Many of the people are more than acquaintances but not quite friends and it never occurred to me to give them gifts.

    2. Susanne*

      “For example most people don’t realize I have a parking attendant or that I go to the doctor so much that I give something to the desk workers (gift cards not cookies). ”

      I’ve worked in a doctor’s office. Honestly? The job of the front-office staff is to schedule your appointments, check you in when you arrive, handle your payment, and so forth. That’s what they get paid for. A gift really isn’t necessary unless they have gone EXTREMELY out of the way for you in some regard. But geesh, they changed your appointment from Monday at 9:30 am to Tuesday at 3:30 pm and did so cheerfully? That’s their job.

  23. Lynn Marie*

    re #1’s specific situation, I’d say let it go and stop thinking about it- what someone gives you and others is not under your control. The more you think about it the more it will bother you, so stop thinking about it! Which sounds glib, but when I learned this was a thing I could do, it made an enormous difference in my ability to be in charge of my emotions and attitude.

    More generally, this is yet another reason I do not care for the whole idea of adults giving gifts in the workplace — just one more darned thing some people insist on doing that’s fraught with opportunities to give and take offence.

  24. fun fact*

    #2 You cannot cure Anne’s hoarding or have her feel okay about you not letting her hoard. All you can do is take back the organisation’s workspace for the purposes of the organisation.

    1. Lynca*

      I think this is the most important thing to remember. While it is wonderful to be sympathetic to Anne’s issue, it’s easy to lose focus on what needs to be done in order for the organization to thrive.

  25. MuseumChick*

    OP #2, looked up an article called “When Volunteers Go Rogue” by Tobi Voigt.

    I disagree with Alison that you should say “I want to make sure you’ll sign off on that.” in your discussion with her. That gives her the opportunity to say no.

    Instead, I think you need to come to term with that fact that no matter what you do, she is going to be upset. And that is ok. With volunteers we often fall into the trap of thinking that we cannot in anyway manage them in a similar way to staff members and try to keep them happy no matter what.

    First, plan your discussion with this volunteer and bring your supervisor and other staff members in the loop if needed. Second, plan for her to be upset. What I would say is something like “Jane, I want to swing back to a discussion we had about (room). Going forward, it needs to be kept clean for X reasons. That means we cannot keep things like Y and Z. Is that something you can commit to?

    *Que Volunteer to get upset and threaten to quit*

    “We certainly don’t want you to quit. You are a valued part of our team. But this is what we need to see going forward.”

    1. Natalie*

      I disagree with Alison that you should say “I want to make sure you’ll sign off on that.” in your discussion with her.

      I believe Alison is suggesting this wording for the board or whomever can enforce the rules re: junk in the office: “If you don’t feel you have the authority to do this on your own, talk to whoever can okay it, not for the volunteer.

      1. MuseumChick*

        Ah! I see. I must have misread that. I thought Alison was saying to say that to the volunteer.

        I feel bad for the OP, I have been in the situation where no one wants to be the “bad guy” even though there are such clear problems with a volunteer. Its a hard position be in.

        1. WellRed*

          It’s great that the LW is being so compassionate, but ultimately she shouldn’t have to deal with this. I mean, if Anne was a nicotine addict or an alcoholic she still wouldn’t be allowed to smoke in the office or get drunk on the job.

          1. MuseumChick*

            I completely agree. But for some reason volunteer management in the non-profit world can be incrediably weird.

            Things I have seen:

            1) Volunteer with a chronic, progressive illness was in charge of a database that she didn’t know how to use and refused to be trained on. No one on the board would listen to me or the director about how something needed to be done about this volunteer because they didn’t want to be “mean” to her.

            2) A male volunteer who took a little to much interest when high school groups would come for tours. He was talked to once but continued to be weird and inappropriate wit female volunteers and staff.

            3) An elderly volunteer who was having progressively worse memory issues, anytime he was in a staff member would have to be with him at all time no matter that it cut into our own work.

            4) Just generally, any volunteer with a friend on the board is pretty impossible to remove or even really discipline.

            It’s not how it should be but its the reality for a lot of non-profits.

            1. Grits McGee*

              I worked at a museum that had a volunteer in her late 90s working at an information desk. They had to assign a second volunteer to talk directly into her hearing aid whenever a visitor had a question, and then repeat she said back to the volunteer.

              1. Grits McGee*

                Sorry, back to the visitor, not volunteer.

                Anyway, point is, free labor often comes with strings. You always end up paying for work; sometimes it’s just not with money.

            2. Pine cones huddle*

              I had a volunteer who came in once a week for half a day. He was demanding and needed to be fed and have a fresh pot of coffee or he would complain. I didn’t even need the work he was doing. I’d started inputting his work into a spreadsheet in about 10 minutes per month. But still they insisted I not tell him. So he came in for about 4 hours every week and handed me a handwritten spreadsheet when he left that I just put in a folder and never looked at again. They wouldn’t even let me ask him to put the info in the spreadsheet instead of handwriting it onto this grid he’d made with an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper and a ruler.

  26. mAd Woman*

    My grandmother is a hoarder, in the clinical sense. You can’t ask them for permission or to sign off on clean up because you’ll never get it – you’ll just get into negotiations about how long they can keep it. The only way I can see for op is to give the deadline for the volunteer to remove the items she wants, and then throw the rest away on a day she’s not there. It will likely still trigger her anxiety to work in a clean space that used to be hoarded at you also might want to move her to a different desk (preferably without an office) so she has a complete change of pace.
    Even still, this is going to require long term boundary enforcement now that she’s seen the workplace as a place she can hoard. So explicit rules and consistent enforcement will be needed.

    1. Liane*

      The “I want to make sure you can sign off on this” script is for the *organization board,* when OP talks with them to make sure they will support the new cleaning rules. It isn’t intended to be used when speaking *to Anne. *
      Your advice sounds solid.

    2. nonegiven*

      She isn’t just hoarding the stuff, she is hoarding the space. Filling it up so it can’t be used by anyone else.

  27. AdAgencyChick*

    OP4, why not mention this sort of thing in a cover letter when appropriate? Not in laundry-list fashion, but if you’re applying for a job where llama ranching skills are beneficial, you can mention that you’ve always been interested in llama ranching and have even taken three classes on it in the last year.

  28. I Work I Breathe*

    Regarding the hoarder…she may need counseling. I don’t know if the LW is in the position to suggest that, but having lived with a hoarder, she got a lot better with therapy and some medication.

    1. Lizabeth*

      Can the OP make getting counseling a condition of her continuing to volunteer or is that going down a bad rabbit hole?

  29. boop the first*

    1. I’m pretty sure you can’t control feelings. It’s okay to feel however you do.

    2. The first reaction is always “well wait until they leave and then empty their space.” But hoarders aren’t messy children, they won’t get over it ever. Since she does not own this space, you can give a deadline for her to take what she “needs”, and THEN go ahead and clear it. After all, businesses clear abandoned belongings regularly so it’s not like you’re discriminating. But they usually DO give a posted warning first.

    After that, as inconvenient as it may be, it might be a good idea to lock the trash bins and assign the key to a responsible party so no one can rummage. Leaving junk in a pre-toss gathering place will just continue the problem. You can’t control this one volunteer, and she can’t control herself, but you can try to control the methods to which people remove their broken junk, so I would start there.

    You guys are so lucky that you are just coworkers and not family members (-_-)

    1. JulieBulie*

      My BIL’s uncle was a hoarder. Long story short: if you have a family member who is a hoarder, and then they die, you will have to deal with the mess somehow. At least they won’t be able to protest. But it’s an exhausting experience. It ate up our whole summer, it was extremely unsanitary, and the cost of dealing with it vs the value of items we recovered (ebay plus four weekends of yard sales) we barely broke even.

      So yeah, be glad she’s not a family member. It sucks.

  30. Anonymous for this*

    OP1, when I had a massive milestone in my academic program, I did so on the same day as one of my friends. A mentor to us both came to our party–only that mentor and I had…stopped getting along so well a few months before. The mentor gave us both gifts. My friend got a beautiful, waist-length, necklace retailing between $80 and $110, depending on the store. I got a gag gift, centered around bodily functions. Wrapped in fancy paper detailing skeletal anatomy. The skeleton was to my taste, the actual gift…decidedly not.

    I said thank you, took it home, and immediately donated it to a local Goodwill, and hung the skeleton paper on my wall. When asked about the gift, I idly said that it was around my apartment *somewhere* but I couldn’t put my hands on it at the moment. It now stands in my memory as a leopard completely not being able to change its spots, even a little bit. I can smile at that.

  31. paul*

    Calendar OP: Do you have any IT department or decent IT person? There’s settings in Outlook they can change so this doesn’t happen again.

    I know I accidentally synced our public calendar and my personal one to my phone and vice versa and I’m still trying to fix it (our IT contractors don’t support our personal devices) but I couldn’t do so with the personal calendars because how IT has them set up.

    That said if you’re just sharing your personal calendar to the public office calendar that wouldn’t fix it because, well, th ey’d still get however much detail you put into it.

  32. Mrs B*

    Regarding #1, There could be many reasons why OP’s gift was not like the others! It could have been a hail mary last minute thrown together because the something else got damaged, wasn’t delivered in time, or some other mistake happened. She could have simply forgotten not because she doesn’t like this person, but because her gift got lost in the shuffle. This seemed to happen to me when I used to buy gifts for my co-workers, I’d be getting them ready to take in when I realized that I forgot someone, or I should have brought so and so’s in the other day because they are out on vacationn until the new year etc. Or I forgot that this person has has an allergy to the thing I picked out for her….This is why I stopped giving individual gifts at the office and just buy things for the office that anyone can use or not use, Coffee, Tea, Snacks etc.

    1. BadPlanning*

      I was thinking the same — that there was a dog incident and coworker had to make up a new gift (but was embarrassed to say, Oh the dog mauled your first gift).

      Or the items picked out for OP were carefully considered, just missed the boat. Sometimes I think, “Oh this is a perfect gift for Friend A.” Then realize what I’m getting for Friend B and C is enough different that it could cause some unexpected comparison of cost/effort/etc. Not that my friends aren’t great, but like OP, sometimes you compare/contrast.

      1. Samata*

        I had this thought, too. Maybe a weird circumstance? The lack of wrapping seems weird, but then again I’ve been known to give co-workers gifts of caramel popcorn to the person who likes treats, a locally crafted soap to a person that loves scented soaps, and a pound of coffee to the caffeine addict…all in the same year. Very different sizes and the popcorn just had a bow slapped on it…because i don’t know how to wrap popcorn and putting it in a bag didn’t occur to me.

  33. Goya de la Mancha*

    #3 – that is just plain weird/wrong. We use Google for our mail/calendars/etc. at work as well. There is no reason on earth that you can’t all have your own calendar and share it with each other. I have 10 calendars of my own! Plus access to my supervisor’s. I have NO idea why the wife would even need access, unless her spouse does not communicate their work schedule to her…and again, that’s their issue, not the co-workers. I would definitely push for separate calendars that your co-workers have access to view (and edit if that’s your deal).

    1. I totally don't know anything about this*

      Yeah, I don’t get why they aren’t using the individual calendars that they have and then using a shared one for shared things. My team has a couple of shared calendars and one of them is for the vacation/out-of-office type things. We simply put our vacations on that and invite ourselves.

    2. k.k*

      We use google calendar, and everyone has their own individual calendar. Google specifically makes it really easy to share your calendar with others. I usually keep mine pulled up at all times, as well as my supervisor’s. But if I want to, I can look at almost all of my coworkers’ calendars to see if they’re in the office. A benefit of each having your own is that you can put things on there and set to private so that only you can see them. I use that when I’m marking down reminders and deadlines that don’t effect anyone else.

  34. Double Showcase Overbid*

    Be extremely prepared to lose this volunteer. Have a detailed plan in place for who will be picking up the slack, from the instant of her departure. I hope you do not lose her, you obviously are hoping you don’t lose her, the board obviously doesn’t want to lose her, she obviously does not want to have to leave. Despite literally everybody being on the same page with the same goal here, the unfortunate most likely outcome is going to be her departure, one way or the other.

    1. Double Showcase Overbid*

      I’m sorry, I should have clarified that I was responding to #2, about the volunteer presenting hoarding symptoms.

    2. sunshyne84*

      Yes, hoarders don’t seem to want to face reality. It’s not her space and they are not her things to keep.

  35. Sue Wilson*

    #1: Okay, I might get a lot of disagreement, but: I think you are asking less about whether you can feel a certain way, and more about if you can act on those feelings, i.e. stop going above and beyond in a way that doesn’t serve you professionally. I say yes.

    I honestly think you should really only be going above and beyond for roughly 4 reasons of any combinations: 1) you, as a professional, think that that is the way the job should be done or want to be viewed as having done a great job, even though your organization’s professional standards are lower, 2) it will show up in your reviews, 3) you are trying to maintain a key relationship, which can sometimes affect 2) anyway, and/or 4) you are receiving in kind treatment. I think it’s good that people are telling you that there may be other reasons why you got a different gift, and I think it’s human nature to want to do things for people on a spectrum of their closeness to you, but as a professional, you should be doing your job for professional reasons, gift or no, and at least try to leave your personal emotional investment into these relationships out of it for exactly this gifty reason.

  36. Sue Wilson*

    #3: You should definitely only mention the ones which help your candidacy, but also I would only list free courses that don’t usually have a necessary certification or which don’t need a degree and/or are easily provable. Only list Spanish courses, if you’re prepared to have a full conversation with Spanish. Don’t list economy classes you’re taking for instance. Do mention your courses in like Microsoft Office. That sort of thing.

    1. Language Student*

      Thanks, I don’t have much experience and like doing these free online courses so this is a really useful metric for me.

  37. WillyNilly*

    #3 It seems you are all using Google calendar wrong. You should each have your own calendars, synced together. This would function exactly the same as one group calendar, but would allow each team member to personally sync with their personal calenars, or spouses, or whomever.
    My husband and I each use Google calendar. I have my personal calendar, as does he, which are totally synced so we see each others personal appointments. But then I also have two one-way sync’d work Google calendars – my husband does not see my work calendars, nor does my work calendar see my personal calendar. And he has his band Google calendar, which I don’t see, and while he sees the band calendar in his personal the band cannot see his personal.

  38. STG*

    1. This would send me into fits of anxiety. I’d be internalizing and over analyzing previous interactions with this person to figure out whether I did something that led to this. For a bit, every time I interacted with this person, I’d be thinking of it and trying to smooth over a perceived issue that I may have created in my own head.

    1. sunshyne84*

      Same. I wouldn’t blame you for pulling back. Even if they just didn’t know what to give you, they could have asked someone else for ideas. Obviously you’re going to notice.

      1. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

        Peoples actions toward others are usually a reflection of themselves, not the others. Just saying–give yourself more credit.

  39. Squeegee Beckenheim*

    I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a gift-giving situation at work that wasn’t unequal in some way or another. This year in my department one manager gave his reports a gift card and nobody gave him anything. We as a group gave our department head a gift (sigh) and he didn’t give us anything. Meanwhile we also got our old department head something (double sigh) and he gave his new reports something, but not us. It’s so dumb and I’d be much happier to do away with gifts at work entirely, but I’m such a loudmouth about other things that are more important to me that I go along with this anyway.

    1. Meyers and Briggs were not real doctors*

      The key is to find another loudmouth in the office that feels the same way :) I’ve been that person. I think gifts at work are overall unacceptable and make me uncomfy for all teh reasons!!

      A card, sure. Flowers or a plant, maybe. (Food for the office? Sure if it’s out for everyone in the cafe to pick thru if they choose, like cookies, or a table of free “stuff that needs a home” of small trinkets and whatnot also went well at two jobs.)

      So I have no problem speaking up that gifting “upwards” is a problem or that gifting breeds so much resentment.

      Hope that changes for you!

  40. ZK*

    The space is definitely not “her” space, it belongs to the organization, as such you need to be firm about the rules. This kind of clutter is bad for health (she’s pulling junk out of the dumpster!) and safety. It’s a breeding ground for pests and if a lot of the things she’s “rescued” came from flooded areas, you’re also risking mold. It’s also very possibly a fire hazard. For those reasons alone, I think you need to get the board behind you. Sadly, I don’t think cleaning it while she is gone is the answer. A hoarder will just start again.

    You may have to balance her value as a volunteer vs. being fair to everyone else in the building.

  41. Soon to be former fed*

    Have the fire department come in and declare the room hazardous. Make sure hoarder volunteer is present.

    I appreciate that hoarders have mental health issues. But they can be so manipulative and there is no place for that in a common work environment.

    And don’t fall into the trap of overvaluing her. She can be replaced.

    Good luck.

    1. Morning Glory*

      It’s a panic/anxiety mechanism, not deliberate manipulation: Anne did not start to get upset as a calculated move to get the OP to back off. They will say anything to save their things the way a healthy person would say anything to save their child. I have been on the receiving end of this a lot and know that it still feel like manipulation. But it’s helped me to deal with it to think of it as an involuntary symptom of their mental illness.

      I do agree that this is horrible for a work environment, and likely harming the organization more than Anne’s good points could possibly benefit it.

      1. Soon to be former fed*

        On the many hoarder shows I have watched, the hoarder appeared to be manipulating family members, many of whom were directly affected by the hoarding. The hoarder could rarely if ever see the impact their hoarding had on others. It could be troublesome family dynamics outside of just the hoarding. In any case, manipulative behavior doesn’t have to be intentional to have that impact.

        1. Morning Glory*

          It sounds like you are only basing this on reality tv shows, from this and your comment above. A lot of reality tv is semi-scripted, or else carefully edited to show the narrative the producers want. I have never watched Hoarders, so this may be an exception to the rule?

          I understand that my experience is limited to only one person with the disease and it may vary by person – but I have still witnessed this from a very close perspective. I was a teenager at one point, living in the hoarder house, sobbing, screaming, begging my mother to let me throw away X or Y, while feeling humiliated, claustrophobic, ashamed. It was my inescapable reality for several years, rather than a tv show. My current position of understanding and empathy has been hard-won, and based on research that I have done about the problem.

          I agree that the impact on the family may be the same as if a person is deliberately being manipulative – but whether it is intentional or not is important for how you should see or treat that person. I believe Anne was not intentionally trying to manipulate the OP when she got emotional. If she were, that would change how the OP ought to go about ending the professional relationship. It still needs to be done, but with kindness, not with the anger that stems from thinking you have been manipulated.

  42. Kyrielle*

    OP5 – are we talking things like Coursera courses? In general I’d say they don’t belong on your resume – but I do put them on my LinkedIn (which is mentioned on my resume). They demonstrate interest, and a commitment to learning, and a small level of knowledge, but they’re really not a sufficient base themselves, I don’t think.

  43. fenchurch827*

    LW #2 – For what it’s worth, I used to work in an government agency that had a hoarder employee, Fergus. Fergus had been there for over twenty years and management had come to an understanding with him. Fergus was allowed a small, designated space for his treasures, and anything outside of it would be thrown away. When the cupboard was full, Fergus’ supervisor would notify him of the date it would be emptied. Fergus then usually took the emptying day off. They cycle repeated about once a year.

    I realize this might not be a practical solution for your organization (it required a fair amount of boundary setting and enforcing), but it’s an example of how another workplace has handled this scenario.

    1. fposte*

      That’s akin to how it worked with my colleague, too. He also really wanted overflow to find loving homes, so a lot of us just always accepted anything given and then threw it out.

      1. Yomi*

        That’s actually one of the ways I deal with my tendencies. I gather stuff up and give it to someone and tell them point blank “you can throw this straight into the trash, and I think you really should if it’s not going to be directly useful to you, DO NOT KEEP IT if you don’t want it. But I can’t throw it away, you have to do it when I won’t see.”

    2. Meyers and Briggs were not real doctors*

      A whole day off to clean out a cupboard? was it big enuf to fit multiple people or something? I’m trying to picture this and Im just dumbfounded.

      1. fposte*

        I thought she meant Fergus planned to be out of the office when other people tossed the stuff out, so he didn’t have to witness it and wasn’t tempted to pull stuff back.

  44. Secretary*

    Alison, how would your advice change if she was a paid employee and/or this was NOT a shared space? Would it be no big deal until it was impacting her work? Or would a manager want to step in before it becomes a problem?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No difference if she was a paid employee. If it wasn’t a shared space, you can allow some clutter … but you still need to hold the person to reasonable standards of cleanliness/organization — if she’s gone one day and someone needs something from her office, they need to be able to find it, and the space needs to not scare people off/feel hazardous. So basically the same thing, but maybe with a bit more leeway on a bit more clutter than if it’s shared.

  45. Izzy*

    No 1: Many years ago, in my first job after school, I worked in an office with five clerks, including my supervisor. Birthdays were celebrated by taking up a collection and sending someone out for a cake, which we all ate together in the afternoon. There were a couple of birthdays before mine and there was always a cake big enough that the birthday person got a slice or two to take home. Then my birthday came and there were cupcakes – exactly five cupcakes, so no extra cake for me. I was a little disappointed (I liked cake!) but I wasn’t upset about it. The next year passed and there was cake every time – until my birthday. Cupcakes again!

    I got along well with everyone, as far as I knew, and didn’t feel like the office pariah or anything. But it was just mind boggling to my 19 year old self that it happened twice. By the time my birthday rolled around the next year (after cake for everybody else again) I had given notice and was starting a new job shortly after my birthday. Nothing to do with the cake issue, just getting a much better job. As far as I can recall, I got no birthday acknowledgment at all for my third birthday there. At this point many years later just a silly memory, but I still wonder about it whenever I hear a story like this.

    1. Luna*

      So strange! Maybe they just thought you really liked cupcakes?

      Office birthdays are so weird. At my current job there is always at least a card that everyone signs, and sometimes there is some sort of surprise breakfast or afternoon snacks, but it seems very haphazard. For my one coworker’s birthday, they forgot initially and gave her a card a month later. For my birthday (this is my first year here, but I’m pretty sure they have everyone’s birthday details) they did nothing! A month later and still not even a card. And on my actual birthday the manager come to my office and gave me a card to sign for another co-worker’s birthday that was the following week.
      Oh well.

      1. nonegiven*

        Why? Izzy didn’t even get a cupcake.

        I think I would have snatched up all 5 and ate them unless they were already eating them when I walked in.

  46. Roz*

    For LW #3, I agree with the previous posters that there should not be one shared Google calendar for work, but if you can’t convince your office to go to a system of separate calendars + 1 shared calendar, I would suggest cutting off access for the spouse and telling the coworker to forward event invitations as needed (as long as those invitations aren’t coming from clients/don’t contain confidential info). For example, if there’s a conference that is going to run past business hours or make the coworker unavailable during the day, the coworker would forward the entry for the conference to his/her spouse.

  47. NaoNao*

    As other commenters have chimed in, I will too. I worry *a lot* about becoming a hoarder. My mom, sister, and I all have strong “collector/completeist” tendencies and love “stuff”. Almost all of it is genuinely useful, but I do things like ask my BF to keep the glass jars that Hello Fresh sends with mayo in them (they’re like, 3 oz at most) and feel a panicky sensation when I have to throw out something I feel I should repair, recycle, or donate.
    I don’t know where this came from. My family was comfortably middle class and I haven’t suffered any huge traumas in my life. I just struggle with not acquiring “all” of something (series of books I love, a limited edition whatever, all possible spices (heh), enough towels/sheets/ linens to outfit the navy, etc etc). I also tend to watch shows all the way to the end and read all the books in a series, all to the end unless it’s terrible.
    I do think it’s just how I’m wired.
    My BF teased me the other day (kindly) when I saw a headboard on the curb and wanted to grab it “I don’t think you can tell the difference between “free” and “useful”.” (We don’t need a headboard and he was 100% right on that score.)

    1. Yomi*

      I’m not sure if I can send links in the comments, but if you are worried (and being worried is a good sign actually) then I highly recommend the work of Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee. They wrote “Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things” and “Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring , Saving, and Hoarding.”

      I was very similar to what you describe, and I come from a line of hoarders, and these books literally changed my life. They actually tackle the psychology and the workbook especially is good for giving concrete steps to think about things differently and break habits.

      I also would recommend the books to the letter writer, Buried in Treasures is written from the perspective of writing to someone with a hoarding problem but it includes information and sections about helping a loved one who is hoarding.

    2. FD*

      Pop culture tends to assume that all mental health concerns come from some issue in your life, but sometimes, you just get unlucky in the genetic makeup lottery. It’s actually something I think is sort of unhelpful in the way we talk about illness in general–as if every single health problem needs to be blamed on something. It’s sort of like how a person who smokes is much more likely to get lung cancer, but some people who never smoke a single cigarette get lung cancer as well.

  48. Yomi*

    To Letter Writer #2: As somebody with hoarding tendencies who has done research on the topic, please do a little bit of research on hoarding as a psychological disorder before you take action.

    I’m not saying this because this should be your burden, it shouldn’t, you shouldn’t be having to deal with this and I’m sorry that you are.

    I’m saying this because a forced clean-out and/or throwing things from that space away when she’s not there (with or without warning) can actually be very psychologically damaging and could blow back and become far worse than the original problem.

    Hoarding is not a problem that is solved like they show on TV shows or in popular culture, and it’s difficult and thorny. And you are well within your rights as the person in charge of the space to put your foot down and insist on a certain way to use or exist in the space. But it sounds like your volunteer is clearly struggling with a mental health problem, and one that is very misunderstood and misrepresented. It’s also something that most people who haven’t dealt with this personally have very little context for and it can be _really_ hard to sort of empathize with and figure out what to do.

    This is a problem, a big one, and you have all of my sympathy as you deal with this. But I just want to say please be careful about taking action or advice on actions with this that doesn’t come from people who specialize in either hoarding or anxiety disorders, because a lot of armchair psychologists love to say what should be done with hoarders, and most of that advice is really bad, and very damaging for everybody involved.

    (Please note, I’m not saying Allison’s advice is like this, it’s quite good and she mentions you should look up resources, she handled it well. I’m just trying to advocate in case of things that could pop up in the comments or that you could run across while looking around online or talking to well-meaning friends).

    Good luck. I know how frustrating it can be to deal with hoarders (in my case it’s basically genetic) but I also know how frustrating it can to be on the other side. There’s not any easy roads here, but there are ways out.

  49. Roguey*

    RE: OP2
    In OldJob, we were throwing things out that HAD to be thrown out/destroyed/etc for legal reasons. If someone had been kidnapping the old HDDs or PCs or something and hoarding them, the ramifications could have been very large.

  50. LilySparrow*

    #3: You can also set up a personal Google calendar for your appointments, vacation, etc and limit the sync settings to the group calendar so that it only shows a time block as “out of office.” You will still see all the details you need, but other users will not.
    This is a potential workaround if your office refuses to change the group calendar access. I don’t even want my co-workers having all my appointment and travel details, much less their spouses!

  51. Narise*

    OP 2 Is it possible to move the employee to a cubicle or other area that would prevent hoarding? If her urge is to fill up the space and/or reuse items moving her out of the office into a cubicle would make it more difficult for her to horde. It would also make it more noticeable to others. Also make sure there are no fire code violations in her office such as blocking exits or vents.

  52. Sarah G*

    OP # 2 – I apologize if I am repeating something other commenters have said, but I am a mental health professional, and have experience working with hoarders. The worst thing you can do is throw everything away behind her back without warning! Please do NOT do this — it will be extremely upsetting and unsettling to Anne, potentially even traumatic, and will be viewed as a huge betrayal.
    Of course you have every right to remove all the junk, and by all means you should, but not without warning. Give her a heads up and a clear deadline and enough time to clear out some of the items if she chooses, and after that you can throw it all out.
    Alison does mention to read about best practices for dealing with hoarders, which is a great idea, but most of what you will find will not be applicable to this specific type of situation. You do need to set boundaries, and Anne needs to face the consequences of her behavior, but please let her know before you throw anything away.

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