In this episode we get to hear from Valerie Huard and how she moved from trauma to triumph when she recognized childhood trauma, how that showed up in her life, and the process she came upon to unclutter her life physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Today, she uses the tools that she gathered to help guide trauma survivors get their life back. She is a published author, speaker and expert who works with people all over the world. She brings you on a de-cluttering journey to de-clutter your stress, your mind, your space, and your time, so that you can create the life you want and free yourself from trauma.
Find out more about Valerie at https://www.dowellht.com/welcome-page1621185699935
Gail Kraft: Hey everybody, Gail Kraft here with the Empowering Process Podcast and with me today is Valerie Huard. From trauma to Triumph, Valerie has seen it all. The tools that she gathered to overcome her childhood trauma helps her guide trauma survivors, get their life back. She is a published author, speaker and expert who works with people all over the world. She brings you on a decluttering journey to declutter your stress, your mind, your space, and your time, so that you can create the life you want and free yourself from trauma. Welcome Valerie, I’m so happy that you’re joining us today.
Valerie Huard: I’m so happy to be here, Gail. Thank you so much.
Gail: This is just so fantastic. So, we’re going to talk a little bit about the childhood trauma. And then, some of the things that you tried that failed to kind of get your life together. And then how you happened upon purely by accident, the declutter process. I was thinking this morning about you, and I was thinking as within, so without. Right? I mean, it’s biblical, but it is true. So, take us on your journey.
Valerie: I like to start my journey when I was 11 years old, and I do that because it wasn’t a period where you do those babysitting courses with your friends at school. And I was introduced to a notion that I didn’t understand at that time. It was: Don’t let the parent of the kids you babysit drive you home, because something can happen. Don’t let people touch your private part. And then, when I came back home and it was the holiday, my grandfather touched my private parts.
So, it’s at that moment that I understood what was happening in my life since many, many years.
So, it really shut me down, that day. I remember going to fake being asleep in my bed, while all the extended family arrived, my cousin, and everybody. And I was just in my bed faking being asleep during all the Christmas celebration. So, that’s really the moment where it kind of bring it in my face.
Gail: Right. I have a few people that we’ve spoken to about various traumas in their life. And the thing is, as a child, you don’t know that it’s not normal. You do know it doesn’t feel right, but you don’t realize. At the time, it’s the teenage years, of course, that you start putting the pieces together and there’s the shame, there’s the guilt, there’s the confusion, there’s the anger that your family didn’t support you. All of those things anchor in and then we look for coping mechanisms that are not necessarily the best one at that time.
Valerie: No, because we are young, and we are not experienced. We just don’t note the life at that point. So, in my different coping mechanism, I completely disassociated from myself. I disassociated from emotion. I tried to protect myself as best as I can. I fell in an eating disorder. I also fell in doing a lot of little collection– those little erasers, and those little pencils, and the postcards, and the birthday cards, and all those little collections that the kids can make.
Gail: Right? So, a friend of mine has had similar issues, shall we say. and her coping mechanism is she has things, letters from her great-grandfather. And she has taken all of these letters, and they are in chronological order. The grandfather wrote to her father, the father’s response, mother’s response to that– and they still exist today.
Valerie: Yes, because we don’t know that it’s a coping mechanism. We think that it’s just keeping some memories.
Gail: It’s what you can control. Through the years, as you said, you had an eating disorder– and I’m sure many, many other disorders– and it is a form of PTSD. PTSD doesn’t happen just in the army.
This trauma carries you through your life. So, tell us a little bit about how it showed up in your marriage and then how you tried to cope with your lack of coping [chuckles].
Valerie: Yes, it’s a little before that. I’ll say when I was about 18 years old, another Christmas event with all the family, and then one person that I trusted reveal my secret in front of the extended family. So, people started taking sides. People asked me to sue him, to bring him in court. Some other people told me to stay silent, others said that I lied. So, it was kind of a mess.
And after that, I wasn’t able to go back to complete my degree in occupational therapy. So, interrupted my studies. And all the traditional symptoms of complex PTSD kind of arrived like a wave on myself, because all the dissociation cannot be done completely again. Because now, people know. We’re talking about nightmare, flashback, panic attacks, self-harming behaviors, suicidal thoughts. You know, we can name it.
That was really, really hard to live, but I had the chance to already have met the guy that is my husband today, in that time. He supported me through that process; He really helped me. We think it’s post-trauma. I had difficulty with infertility, and we think that it’s due to the trauma. We tried to go in fertility; It didn’t work, and we decided to adopt some children. Life was beautiful but hard. You have these children, and they bring love in your house, and as simple as back time was triggering me, my nightmare, and my flashbacks.
Gail: So, you were unable to really care for your children because it caused flashbacks?
Valerie: Exactly. Someone I know able to care for them, so mom and dad. My husband has to take over them, to really do it, because it was too hard. And life continued like that up until my husband joined the military. I remember one day, my mom asked me, “Wow, why do you have that much pasta? Are you cooking for an army?” Obviously, she was sarcastic. But when she left, I opened my pantry and there were like 50 pounds of pasta, 15 cans of peach and maybe 20 pounds of flour. And then I look around the house and my kids have more toys than a daycare.
It’s at that moment that I realized that I have clutter.
Gail: It may be organized, but it’s still clutter.
Valerie: Exactly. It was organized. We can circulate in the house and of course, sometimes you hide a basket of clean laundry or bedroom when your mom calls and say, “I’m coming home.”
Valerie: But other than that, it was organized a lot because my husband was cleaning a lot at the home– was doing a lot of chores. But it was organized. It was not like we see in the other’s TV show in my case and other things that I’ve seen if I’d go up to there.
Gail: Hoarding does not mean disorganized; Hoarding just means too much stuff.
Valerie: Yes, exactly. At that point, my husband came back from his training and said, “You know what, honey? We need to move.” We had the movers coming home and they said that there’s too much stuff; they cannot move us. So, that’s a big reality check because we had three months to get rid of more than half our stuff. And this by itself, if it’s done not in the proper way, can be a trauma.
Gail: Right. You’re letting go of things you’ve been hanging on to, to soothe your trauma. And now, you’re being asked to let it go.
Valerie: Yes. I did it progressively. It went pretty well, but what surprised me is when I started the decluttering process, I started feeling emotion. Why do I cry? I wasn’t crying before. I don’t know. what is this crying. Why am I angry? Why am I questioning? What are all those emotions? What is that guilt? What is that shame? Those were all things that I was disassociated from. So, I started the process and that really helped me to learn what is emotion. And at that time, I was still going in therapy, because my doctor told me to go into therapy. It helped me in a sense that I was able to go deeper in therapy, instead of having my [unintelligible 00:11:22].
Gail: What do you mean?[laughter]
Valerie: Exactly. So, I was able to go deeper at that point. And, of course, I had some relapse during the months of decluttering, re cluttering a bit, and going back to a garage sale. Because when you see those posts with a little ad on it that says, “garage sale” right there, your heartbeat starts to race and it’s kind of with surprise, “Can I find out which trailer do they hide?” So, I was re cluttering a bit, but that was tough to stop going to garage sale, even stop to do garbage day. What I mean by that is, there’s a lot of people that throw out things that are still good or things that just need to be fixed a bit. So, I was doing the garbage run before the garbage truck to pull out these things and bring them home.
Stopping that was a new behavior to learn. And things happen. We were able to declutter enough to move. Yes, we moved more stocks than we have today, at that time. We were in a new city with no family around and just me, my husband, and the kids. And I decided to become a home stager, because as a military wife, we move a lot. Why not home staging for our house first and then doing it for the other people, right? So, I learned that skill and when I was doing it, what I quickly realized is that people have more difficulty with the decluttering part before the on staging, than with putting the object at a specific place in the house.
So, I start digging, and doing some research online, and ask my clients, and all the things at that point. And that brought me on a journey of doing my professional organizer course. I realized that, I’ll say, 95% of my clients were having trauma in their life, whatever the trauma is. Could be a car accident. Could be having lost their belongings when they moved country, and or a refugee having those with the war. So, a lot of trauma, and it could be also generational trauma. Like a trauma that your parent has going at war that they bring you with that scarcity mode. So, lots and lots of trauma. And maybe because I was open to trauma, people were talking openly to me about it. So, I said, “There’s something between clutter and trauma.” And then I dig out, and my husband dig out, and we do lots of things on the internet– happy internet these days because it’s not like in the library like before. We found out some articles and studies that link trauma and clutter. In fact, they are studying, and they still have some studying, actually, to see if hoarding behavior and post-traumatic stress disorder has to mental health disorder diagnosis– I mean, if they are linked.
And the answer was yes to that question up to the study where we were. So then, I understood why I accumulated that much clutter in my life. So, it’s only starting to understand that, that I was really able to stop accumulating clutter. Because before that I was the decluttering, reaccumulating, decluttering re-accumulating, decluttering like-
Gail: When you truly declutter, what you’re doing is– I don’t have anything here to use as an example. Let’s say that this is something I don’t need, but I’ve been hanging onto. I do need it. It’s my mouse, folks, [laughs] but I will take this item and that emotion will come up. If I don’t resolve the emotion-
Valerie: It’s more than that. It’s also bringing other things in the house.
Gail: Right. But if I get rid of this without resolving the emotion-
Valerie: That’s difficult.
Gail: -I’m going to bring something else to replace this. So, you’re just going to do a swap.
Valerie: Exactly. Or buy more furniture to organize it. That’s another solution that I experienced.
So, I started doing some research and I said, “Okay, what can I do that will truly help my client decluttering?” I studied in occupational therapy, so I learned quite a bit about the brain and the physiology, all of that. So, every time that somebody touches an item, they have those memories like you said, that pain, those emotions that arrive in a wave. And people– it’s at that point, that they stop their decluttering session. They say, “Oh, too much for today. I’m doing something else. I’m not ready to do that.” So, I find a way to help people be able to pursue and do objective decision instead of being stuck with those waves of emotions. They still have emotion, they still have some memories, but they are a bit distant from it, enough to look at it like when you look from 20 feet up.
Gail: Right. That’s served with that emotion, right?
Valerie: Exactly. So, they were able to take, really, a decision on the object and do sessions that were longer, because they were able to make the decision. I searched different ways to help people like that, and at the same time, to not re clutter myself too. And that brought me on a wonderful journey– where I am today, where we wrote a book, we help people with their trauma, and all of that. But of course, there’s the decluttering, the space. Another point that I forgot to mention is another thing that make it really, really stick is when you work on the mindset, and the stress, and this time. And when I say the stress, it’s because there is a vicious circle.
That’s where I start all the time when I work with people, because the more you have clutter, it’s proven that your level of cortisol is higher. And we know that the level of cortisol that someone experiences is reflected by the level of stress that person has. So, somebody that is more stressed will have a higher level of cortisol. Normally, the cortisol is doing some wave during the day, but on people with PTSD, those waves have the tendency to stick in the top. And when you add clutter, it’s even higher. So then, the stress is bigger, more effect and symptoms of PTSD, then accumulating more stuff as coping mechanism. And then it becomes a vicious cycle.
Gail: Right. That coping mechanisms sometimes are not really coping mechanisms. They have really codependent mechanism.
Valerie: Exactly. When you acquire something new, you have that peak of hormones that suit you and make you feel good for 20 minutes [laughs] depending if you’re lucky. And then after that, you’re back to the reality. It’s even more difficult, but people [inaudible 00:20:01].
Gail: Right. So, these are also people who are shopaholics. Right? They buy things. They don’t even have tags off of the clothes. Right? If you go through their closet, they have things they have never worn, or they’ve worn once. They have dozens and dozens of shoes all in perfect condition and they’re all black [laughs]. Right?
I’ve had friends who’ve been like that. and I knew at the time even before I was a coach that they were trying to satisfy something that was lacking, and it’s satisfied them for a moment and that’s what we’re talking about. You get a momentary satisfaction and then you crash into this stress condition, right? And is the stress worse because you’re crashing?
Valerie: The stress is worse because you’re crashing. But it’s worse also because more stuff you have. When you we go on a fair, for example, or an exposition, there’s all those little booths that are yelling, and having images, and trying to get your attention. We come back from those things and were exhausted. This is because the brain is managing all the information around you even if you’re not focused on it. You will still hear the other booths, you will still see all the visual information, and it’s the same thing with clutter when you’re at home. The more clutter you have, your brain is still managing all that information at the same moment even if you’re not focused on your clutter. Like some restaurant we go or some house I’ve seen where there’s stream. It’s decorated, but their stream from the ceiling to almost the floor of pictures one next to the other. That tells a lot of information.
Gail: [inaudible 00:21:58] will tell you this amazing. This is amazing. This house is fairly new. I moved in about two years ago and it needed major, major work, and one of the things is the storage in the basement. Shelving was weak. It’s just cluttered, and it was driving me crazy. And at one point, I had a worker come in and build shelves so deep and sturdy enough to hold what it is– and everything is in bins. I felt amazing afterwards. And you’re right, that was haunting me. And my daughter was like, “Mom, we don’t have to do that right now.” And I’m like, “Yes we do.”[laughter]
We had a yard sale this weekend and whatever didn’t sell got to good will. And it’s awesome.
Valerie: It feels good after a decluttering session. It’s a relief, because you let go of so much information and stimulation for your brain, that you just feel freedom. So, I did go on the personal journey, also personal development journey where I learned many, many, many things. I realized that if we want the decluttering to stick, we need to have some not coping mechanism, but some tools to help you when you have one of your coping mechanisms that is searching or that is there.
Gail: Right. You and I had a conversation before we met, and one of the things that I mentioned is guys don’t think that you’re healed. Please. Yes, you deal with the major things, and you feel amazing, but a few months later, don’t be surprised if something sneaks up and bites you on the butt. But now you have tools. Now, you have a process. Now, you have resources that you didn’t have before. So, don’t be afraid of it, because you know how to deal with it.
Valerie: And as I told you, we just don’t have the same definition of healing. In my case, what I mean by healing is being able to have a day-to-day life, and appreciate it, and be feeling good in that life. But everybody has ups and down. Adding trauma or not, everybody has ups and downs, and had bad day some time. So, it’s not necessarily the trauma that is coming back in a wave, but your bad day. We have tendency to link them with our trauma because we had experienced a trauma so hard.
Gail: Right? And that just anchors in the trauma. You give it another definition. Well, Valerie. This is so amazing. Now, you’ve you mentioned your book. Tell me a little bit about your book and your 10-day challenge.
Valerie: So, this is my book, Put That Stuff Down.
Gail: Put That Stuff Down. We will give a little link if you want to go and purchase that.
Valerie: Yes, exactly. In that book, I highlight many of the strategies to bring people to declutter their life. So, it’s the mindset, it’s the stress, it’s the time, and it’s the space, also the belongings. So, we really go through all of that in it.
Gail: That’s fantastic. And your challenge?
Valerie: And my challenge [chuckles]– I’ll say I should do a new challenge. It was published in a magazine. I can still bring it online if people contact me, but it was like lots of 30-day challenges that we see online where one day you declutter one item and another day another item.
Gail: 30-day challenge that like day one, you’re going to declutter the kitchen closet. Day two, you’re going to declutter your makeup toy. Day three– right?
Valerie: Only problem with that is that if you don’t put in your challenge, some mindset, and some time, and some other element like that about the stress and the tools, and just do the decluttering, it will come back. It’s like when your garage is full, people do a full day or a full weekend decluttering the grass, organizing it in the fall, and in the spring first thing we know, it’s cluttered again.
Gail: That happened, right?
Valerie: Yes, or people put stuff in a box because they want to donate it. They bring it at the end of the entryway on the curb, and they look by the window if somebody comes to take some things. After a little while, you look if there’s somebody around. They go grab the box and bring them back in the garage [chuckles]. I see that often.
Gail: Right? You’ve made a very, very good point that is so important. Folks, if you go to a motivational retreat, which I used to crew– I was very involved with the motivational world– I highly suggest it. But I also highly suggest when you leave, that you better have a coach to work with because, yes, they give you tools. Yes, they get you pumped up. Yes, you’re feeling on top of the world, but you are going, within a week, to return if you don’t have a support mechanism in place.
Valerie: Totally, and when we arrived from these Retreats, if the people with who we live didn’t do that retreat, so they don’t understand what we experienced and they’re trying to have us back the way before.
Gail: And for many people that happens very, very easily. I have another podcast that I did that talks about the fear of success. It’s coming out this week, as a matter of fact. The fear of success– mine was those people, losing my friends. As I was experiencing my growth and my business bringing me in a certain direction, I knew that certain people that I related with will no longer be able to relate to me. I felt a sadness about that until I was told that that’s a fear of success, and that it’s okay to let people go. It’s not a judgment at all.
Valerie: I really see that a bit like a train. Your life is a train and at some point, there’re some people that arrive in your life and they do a period inside, and then they get out at another point. Some people it’s shorter, some people it’s longer, but everybody comes and goes.
Gail: And that’s okay. And that’s okay. Our job here is to evolve, and is to grow, and is to recognize our traumas, because we all have them. We all do. To recognize them, to own them, to say it out loud. To say it out loud is amazing, right? And connect with the people who are not part of the tribe that developed the traumas– people who are part of tribe to release the traumas. And your tribes will change because you’re going to grow. And that’s okay. Or they’re going to grow and there’s no good, or bad, or higher, or lower, or better, or not. It’s just the journey. So, Valerie, thank you so much. I love, love, love what you’re doing. How old are you? Yes.
I do want you to tell us how we get in touch with you for your book, for your coaching, your website. Just tell us more about how we can get in touch with you to work with you.
Valerie: So, the best place will be our website where I offer a free webinar, where I go a bit more in details on what we talked today.
Gail: And that’s www.dowellht.com
Valerie: Yes, and all in the bottom link, my information is there. And for my book, it’s tiny.ie/ptsd. So, that’s the best way to get in touch.
Gail: Definitely. Check her out guys. What she has going is remarkable and amazing. So, Put That Stuff Down and Put That Stuff Down right now and watch your life change. And thank you everybody for spending time with us. This is Gail Kraft from the Empowering Process Podcast. If you enjoyed this, then please let us know. Like it. Share it. If you know someone who could benefit from this, let them know about this. And absolutely subscribe, so that you know when the next podcast is coming out. You might talk to Valerie again if you want to. Thank you everybody. Have a great day. Bye.