Peer Specialist Discusses New De-cluttering Support Group

By Cassie Cramer 

Marina Colonas is a peer specialist who specializes in working with older adults to meet the challenges of clutter (sometimes known as hoarding), and now she’s partnering with the Somerville Council on Aging to launch a new de-cluttering group this spring.

A Certified Older Adult Peer Specialist, Colonas recently took a few minutes to discuss the new group and the move toward providing peer-based help:

Q: What are the distinguishing characteristics of a peer de-cluttering group?

A: The group is led by people who clutter, so everyone in the group is a peer. This often comes as relief to people, who might have worried that they would be “talked to” but instead found they were “talking with” one another. Once people have a level of comfort, they speak up. I think people are relieved to find others they can talk to who won’t judge them or call them messy.

Cassie and Marina
Marina Colonas (right) is partnering with the Cambridge and Somerville Councils on Aging to launch a new de-cluttering support group, and she recently spoke about that project with SCES caseworker Cassie Cramer (left)

Q: What type of program do your peer groups use?

A:The groups are based off Buried in Treasures (BIT): Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding. It’s scientifically based program for de-cluttering, that was developed by leading researchers in the field.

Through the group, people develop goals and skills and also learn different ways of thinking about belongings.

The BIT Group Facilitator Guide explains that ‘getting rid of stuff’ is not the hardest part of beating finding/keeping tendencies.
The “stuff” is the tip of the iceberg, and it’s what’s beneath the surface that makes overcoming this challenge so complicated.

The readings in Buried in Treasures can take people to very personal places, and they are encouraged to acknowledge the emotional and physical obstacles that are hindering their progress.

Q: Who is most likely to benefit from this program?

A: People who feel that they have a problem with clutter, and that it negatively impacts their life. Some people identify as having a hoarding condition, others prefer different language. In the group, people talk about other names we could use, such as Collectors, Archivists, or Bookworms. There is a lot of acceptance, warmth and humor in the groups.

Q: What do you like about leading peer de-cluttering groups?

A: I love how everyone in the room is empowered. The group takes a leadership role in establishing structure and what we will talk about.

We have gotten great feedback from people who have attended, many of whom continue to meet together as “Advanced Groups” at both Councils on Aging. One group member described the De-Cluttering Group as the most helpful support she ever received for the most difficult problem she ever had.

Q: Anything else?

A: The Somerville Council on Agency is hosting an informational event about their new group on April 11 from 11am-12:30pm. The group will meet on Thursdays at the Somerville Council on Aging, from April 20 to June 8, from 12:30-2pm.

The Cambridge Council on Aging is hosting a more general informational event: Handle with Care: Boosting Insight and Motivation to Reduce Clutter” on Thursday, April 6 from 1:30-3:30 p.m

Anyone interested in learning more about hoarding and ways to get help are welcome to attend.


Marina Colonas is an M. Ed, and a certified Older Adult Peer Specialist at SCES. Cassie Cramer is a Mental Health Caseworker at SCES.

For more information about de-cluttering groups in Cambridge or to register for Handle with Care: Boosting Insight and Motivation to Reduce Clutter, contact Liz Seelman: at 617-349-6048. For more information about groups in Somerville or to register for the Peer De-cluttering Group Kick off event, contact Natasha Naim at 627-625-6600.