↑ Return to Being a COH

Print this Page

How Hoarding Affects Family

From the New England Hoarding Consortium Spring 2007 Newsletter:

To help us learn more about how hoarding affects loved ones, 793 family members and friends of people who hoard provided us with information.

Of these participants, the largest portion, 44% were children of people who hoard; 21% were spouses or partners, 12% were siblings, 4% were parents, and 20% had other relationships (friend, grandchild, other). On average, family members in this study rated the person who hoards as having limited insight into the severity of their hoarding, and more than half described the person as either having poor or no insight. People who lived with a person who hoards during their childhood years reported being significantly more embarrassed about their home, having fewer visitors, experiencing more strain in their relationship with their parents, and having a more unhappy childhood than did people who did not grow up in a hoarding home. Most family members reported arguing with the person who hoards about the problem at least somewhat. We also studied family attitudes toward the person who hoards.

Scores on a measure of family frustration equaled or exceeded those found for family members of hospitalized patients with schizophrenia in previous studies. Not surprisingly, more family frustration was significantly associated with poorer insight on the part of the person who hoards. These results show us that living with hoarding has adverse effects on the quality of the family relationships.

What the old OCF Hoarding website had posted for at least the last 4 years about the effect of hoarding on families:

How Compulsive Hoarding Affects Families
Fugen Neziroglu, Ph.D, ABBP and Jerome Bubrick, Ph.D
Bio-Behavioral Institute
Great Neck, NY

Living with someone who compulsively hoards often can be as stressful of a lifestyle as it is to actually be a compulsive hoarder. Unlike people with other OC Spectrum Disorders, hoarders are essentially unable to hide their symptomatology from others, especially family members who live in the same house. This can often make all aspects of living difficult for everyone involved and causes more extreme friction than living with someone who has another OC Spectrum Disorder.

Clutter is one of the biggest contributors to family tension with regards to homes with hoarders. The loss of or elimination of functional living space as the result of clutter is one of the biggest bones of contention for families who live with hoarders. Having functional living space means that you are able to use your furniture, appliances, countertops, etc., in their intended manner. Living spaces filled with clutter is not functional.

Obviously, this lack of functional living space makes it impossible for families to be able to enjoy their own homes. Decreased or eliminated functional living space may mean that families are not able to use their kitchens to cook food and may, therefore, be dependent on ordering take out regularly. This can often lead to increased financial strain and obesity, because they are spending more money and taking in more calories than they would if they were grocery shopping and cooking.

Often, families decide to acquire additional storage facilities (chests, lockers, garages, sheds, etc.) with the hope of regaining some functional living space. Ironically, what usually happens is that in the beginning those facilities are useful but they too eventually become overrun with clutter and no longer serve their intended function.

The issues brought up so far typically result in family members feeling frustrated, overwhelmed and resentful. However, there are other effects of compulsive hoarding that can actually affect the safety and well-being of families. For instance, compulsive hoarders and their families often experience headaches, respiratory problems (asthma, etc.) and allergies, all due to having excessive clutter.

As clutter develops and is maintained, it becomes impossible to remove the accumulated dust from the spaces effected primarily because people are not able to vacuum or dust their homes, sometimes for years. Additionally, the spilling of liquids, such as, soda, juice and water are often not cleaned up and cause mildew or fungus. Combined with the high levels of dust being inhaled, this mildew and fungus can significantly complicate the health of the family of the compulsive hoarder.

Excess clutter causes significant safety issues. In fact, there are several safety issues that families of hoarders face every single day. First, it is fairly common to have such excessive clutter that pathways need to be constructed through the clutter in order to navigate through the home. It is commonplace for these pathways to become obstructed by fallen clutter or new clutter, which can result in people tripping and injuring themselves. Also, if clutter is on stairwells, there is a significant risk of slipping and falling downstairs. Clutter causes fire hazards, including the inability to leave the home quickly in case of fire or other emergencies. The inability to locate a fire extinguisher when needed and blocked doorways is dangerous.

The structural integrity of the floors can be compromised by the weight of excessive clutter. Items that are commonly hoarded are written materials, including newspapers and magazines. Although a single newspaper or magazine may weigh very little, hundreds or thousands of them can weigh several hundred pounds. Other items that are compulsively saved include clothing, boxes, additional appliances (extra televisions, stereos, etc.) and even heavy machinery. The combined weight of all the clutter plus the potential water damage from spilled liquids, broken and/or clogged pipes and appliances put a tremendous amount of pressure on floorboards and can cause them to decay.

There are additional dangers in the homes that have pets. Sometimes cats are not able to find or enter litter boxes, or dogs are unable to “hold it” long enough for owners to maneuver through clutter. Both situations result in the animals urinating or defecating inside the home, sometimes unknown to the family. This combined with the mildew and possible fungus that results from spilled liquids and possibly decaying floorboards often attract rats, cockroaches and other uninvited guests.

Certainly, the health and safety concerns associated with clutter can have tremendous affects on families. Embarrassment, frustration, resentfulness and hopelessness are just some of the emotions that family members feel with regards to hoarders. Often, they feel as though their home is not really their home. They are ashamed of the clutter, but often have little control over cleaning it and are essentially forced to live amidst chaos. Commonly, family members will get so frustrated with clutter that they will attempt to clean or organize without the consent of the hoarder, which invariably results in arguments and fights.

Children are often too embarrassed to have friends come over, or are not allowed to because of the hoarder’s embarrassment. This often leads to increased social isolation and resentment of the hoarder. Spouses often consider divorce or separation because of the extreme impairment in functioning.

Spouses often wonder what their responsibilities are to the children involved. The children feel torn between the parent who is the hoarder, and the parent who is not. They tend to keep the hoarding a family secret but feel depressed and angry and do not know what to do with their emotions. If the non-hoarding parent decides to ask for a divorce, a custody battle may ensue. Often pictures of the home are taken to court to convince the court that the home environment is not suitable for bringing up a child. The sufferer of hoarding is not only embarrassed but feels tremendous resentment which usually interferes with bringing up the child jointly.

Sometimes, a neighbor who becomes aware of the home situation may call child protective services. Under these circumstances, an investigation may be started. This may result in the possible removal of the children from the home unless one of the parents makes alternative living arrangements. Whether the child lives in clutter or is removed from the home, the end result is devastating. Unfortunately given all the negative consequences of living in clutter, the hoarder is usually very reluctant to seek treatment although effective treatment strategies are available.

The following are some suggestions for family members who are trying to persuade their reluctant hoarder to enter treatment: You must make sure to tell your family member that those clinicians who are familiar with the problem are not going to go into the house and start throwing things out. They are not going to take control of the possessions. Well-trained clinicians will teach a method and work side by side with your loved ones. If the compulsive hoarder does not want the therapist to go into the house initially, that is okay. It is a very gradual process. If your family member does not want to even go for an initial consultation, it is suggested you go to the therapist several times yourself to learn how to get him or her into treatment. There is hope so take advantage of it.

http://www.ocfoundation.info/hoarding/effects-family-society/how-compulsive-hoarding-affects-families.php

 

 

 

What the new (I)OC(D)F Hoarding Center website now posts:
4/2010.
Awareness on effect on family increases…

How Compulsive Hoarding Affects Families
by Fugen Neziroglu, Ph.D, ABBP, Jill Slavin, Ph.D., Katharine Donnelly, M.A.
Bio-Behavioral Institute
Great Neck, NY

Living with a compulsive hoarder is an immensely stressful endeavor. Unlike people with certain other OC Spectrum Disorders, such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), hoarders directly impose their disorder on individuals in the home. With regard to OCD and BDD, behaviors certainly affect family members emotionally and at times, physically or practically, however, the effect is generally indirect. In other words, family members of most OCD spectrum disorders may be able to avoid the symptoms of the disorder. For example, if a young girl is a compulsive hand washer, due to contamination, and spends much time in a specific bathroom, her parents and siblings are able to use the other bathrooms in the home with no difficulty or impact, besides experiencing inconvenience. With regard to compulsive hoarding, often times, all of the bathrooms in the home may be non-functioning or so cluttered, that it is impossible to reach the shower, toilet or sink. As a consequence, hygiene may become a problem. In addition, malfunctioning of utilities in the home is often unaddressed due to shame that a hoarder may feel when having a handyman come in to fix the problem. Below, we will address many of the direct effects of hoarding on the individual who hoards and the family members living with him/her in the home. We will also explore the significant emotional impact that hoarding may have on the wellbeing of peripheral family members, or family members who no longer live in the home.

For those family members who live with a hoarder, such as a wife, husband, child, or older dependent parent, it is impossible to live amongst clutter while avoiding the harmful physical and emotional trauma. Not only the clutter, but the hoarder’s need to control all items and areas of the home causes extreme friction and tension. Hoarders often attach a sentimental, instrumental, or aesthetic value to items. Instrumental value is also referred to as the “just in case” phenomenon. The hoarder keeps the item “just in case” they may need it at a later time. Ironically, when the hoarder may need that item, they may be unable to find or access it due to the clutter.

A primary area of contention is that clutter often results in a loss of once functional living space, even in communal areas (e.g. kitchen, living room, etc.). Functional living space relates to furniture, appliances, countertops, etc., being used in their intended manner. For example, families are frequently unable to use their kitchens to cook food and may, therefore, be dependent on ordering take-out daily. This may lead to increased financial strain and obesity, because they are spending more money and consuming more calories than they would if they were able to prepare their own meals. Financial strain also results from compulsive acquisition associated with hoarding, and the need to acquire additional storage facilities (chests, lockers, garages, sheds, etc.). Often, the acquisition of this extra storage is agreed upon with the hope of regaining some functional living space. Ironically, at the beginning these facilities are useful but if compulsive hoarding behaviors are not addressed, it is likely that functional living space will once again become over-run with yet even more clutter. Compulsive acquisition, or compulsive shopping, is also a major source or friction. It can lead to debt; purchases are often not discussed; credit cards may be “maxed out”, and money therefore cannot be allocated to purchases that other family members may desire or require.

Not only do hoarders often claim areas within regions of the home that are reserved for other family members, but the control of how that space is used or what items should be discarded is frequently at the hoarders discretion. Family members lack control in decision making, which leads to feelings that family members are living in someone else’s home, causing discomfort and disrespect. They no longer have the ability to decide the fashion in which they would like to live and their power is stripped from them, leaving them feeling vulnerable and unstable. Essentially, family members are forced to live amidst chaos. Commonly, family members will get so frustrated with clutter that they will attempt to clean or organize without the consent of the hoarder, which invariably results in additional arguments and fights. In addition, behaviors may be exacerbated due to this “deception.” Hoarders may feel violated and therefore lose trust in family members, become more paranoid and protective of their items. This often leads to an increase in checking behaviors (e.g. check the garbage cans to make sure something important was not discarded).

Children of hoarders, are often unable to avoid living within the clutter, and therefore, are significantly affected, socially. Children are often too embarrassed to have friends come over, or are not allowed to, due to the hoarder’s embarrassment. This may lead to social isolation, helplessness, and resentment. Spouses often consider divorce or separation because of the extreme impairment in functioning, and may also ruminate about responsibilities to the children that are not being met. The children feel torn between the parent who hoards, and the parent who does not. Children tend to be very secretive about the hoarding problem, but feel depressed and angry due to the sacrifices that they are expected to make on account of compulsive hoarding. If the non-hoarding parent decides to ask for a divorce, a custody battle may ensue. Often pictures of the home are taken to court to convince the court that the home environment is not suitable for bringing up a child. The individual who hoards is not only embarrassed but feels tremendous resentment, interfering with the ability to bring up the child jointly. Further legal issues may arise should a neighbor become aware of the home situation and call child protective services (CPS). Under these circumstances, an investigation may ensue. This may result in the possible removal of the children from the home unless one of the parents makes alternative living arrangements. Whether the child lives in clutter or is removed from the home, the end result is devastating, and the effect of these events often serves to increase the person’s hoarding, as a source of comfort.

Adult children of hoarders often maintain a very strained relationship with their hoarding parent. As adult children move out of the home, they may become estranged from their hoarding relative due to disagreements about how hoarding should be handled. Adult children may also be resentful of the parent for the condition in which they were forced to live as a child. As these children marry and have children of their own, they are most likely resistant to ever bringing their children over to their parent’s home, as they are embarrassed and would not like their children to model hoarding behavior observed. Therefore, grandparents may be isolated from their grandchildren as hoarding may be perceived as adversely influencing. Not only does this distance a family, but the hoarder becomes further socially isolated. Adult children often copy or oppose the behavior that they witnessed as they grew. Either hoarding behaviors are learned and repeated, despite living separately, or the adult child, embarrassed and disgusted at how they lived, become minimalists. For example, if a daughter has observed her mother’s hoarding early in life, and subsequently moves out, she may be likely to be more vulnerable to developing her own hoarding problem as a result of vicarious learning. In addition, if a divorce resulted due to the hoarding, adult children may blame the break up of their family on the hoarder. They may have been taken away from their parent, resulting in feelings of abandonment, as though inanimate objects meant more to their parents than they did. This causes significant psychological distress and often impacts their future relationship behaviors.

Not only do the affected family members suffer the physical and emotional consequences of hoarding, but also the hoarder him/herself is adversely affected by these relationships. For example, the hoarder may become resentful of peripheral loved ones who offer advice, but little help; hoarders who live independently may become resentful of family members who distance themselves; or peripheral family members may experience shame related to the hoarding problem in the family, thereby isolating the hoarder from the rest of the family. In addition, a neglected area of investigation is how hoarding may prevent hoarders from marrying and having families. If a hoarder is single, how are they able to date if they are unable to bring the person over to their home? Additionally, finding a partner who will tolerate hoarding behaviors in a long-term context may be difficult. Prospective partners would be making a conscious decision to approve of the sacrifices associated with this lifestyle. Further, efforts to avoid possible rejection may completely prevent hoarders from pursuing romantic relationships, leading to further isolation. Besides potential romantic partners, even family members are not often invited over, due to shame and a lack of space to entertain. The hoarder can meet family members/friends outside of the home, at others’ homes, or restaurants; however the secrecy associated with hoarding and the refusal to invite significant others to his/her home, often leads to strained relations.

According to Grisham, Steketee, and Frost (2008), hoarders often have poor insight and therefore display a disorganized, tangential, or detached style of interaction, having difficulty with perspective-taking. They have an impaired sensitivity to both others’ and their own emotions, but an excessive attachment to possessions, making it difficult to maintain interpersonal relationships. This possible social impairment may also be due to a high association with Axis II (personality) disorders. In fact, they may be compensating for problematic social skills, but attaching to possessions rather than to people.

The above concerns typically result in familial frustration, resentment, and conflict; however, compulsive hoarding can also significantly affect the safety and health of individuals living in the home. For instance, compulsive hoarders and their families often experience headaches, respiratory problems (asthma, etc.), and allergies, due to living conditions associated with a hoarder’s lifestyle. As clutter develops and is maintained, it becomes impossible to remove accumulated dust from spaces that are most effected primarily because people are not able to vacuum or dust their homes, sometimes for years. Additionally, spilled liquids, such as, soda, juice, and water are often not cleaned up causing mildew, fungus or infestations. Health-related effects of hoarding reach all members of the household, not merely the hoarder, him/herself.

Excess clutter may cause other issues related to safety. It is common to have such excessive clutter that pathways need to be constructed through the clutter in order to navigate through the home. These pathways may become obstructed by fallen or new clutter, which can result in people tripping, slipping and falling. Not only is this an impact on those that are physically able, but may impose an even greater threat for an older dependent parent that is living in the home and that may lack mobility. The older parent may not be able to navigate around the home, being isolated in one or two rooms, and may be unable to help him/herself if clutter tumbles onto them. In addition, clutter may interfere with a speedy departure from the home and cause a significant fire hazard. Furthermore, if clutter blocks entryways or access to fire extinguishers, members of the household will not be able to take action, should a fire start. Hoarded materials also increase a building’s fire load (amount of combustible materials contained within the building relative to the size of the structure). Additionally, during a fire, burning materials may fall, creating a trapping hazard, interfering with firefighters being able to save the people from the home and increasing their chances of danger. Furthermore, toxic fumes emitted from the flammable materials may create further health problems for all those who are exposed.

Structural integrity of the floors can also be compromised by the weight of excessive clutter. Hoarders often acquire written materials, including newspapers and magazines. Although a single newspaper or magazine may weigh very little, hundreds or thousands of them can weigh several hundred pounds. Other items that are compulsively saved include clothing, boxes, additional appliances (extra televisions, stereos, etc.) and even heavy machinery. The combined weight of all the clutter plus the potential water damage from spilled liquids, broken and/or clogged pipes and appliances put a tremendous amount of pressure on floorboards and can cause them to decay.

There are additional dangers in the homes that have pets. Sometimes cats are not able to find or enter litter boxes, or dogs are unable to “hold it” long enough for owners to maneuver through clutter. Both situations result in the animals urinating or defecating inside the home, sometimes unknown to the family. This combined with the mildew and possible fungus that results from spilled liquids and possibly decaying floorboards often attract rats, cockroaches and other unwanted pests. Certainly, the health and safety concerns associated with clutter can have tremendous affects on families.

Unfortunately, despite the negative consequences associated with living in clutter, the hoarder is usually very reluctant to seek treatment. However, effective treatment strategies are available. The following are some suggestions for family members who are trying to persuade their reluctant hoarder to enter treatment:

* Make sure to tell your family member that clinicians who are familiar with the problem are not going to go into the house and start throwing things out. They are not going to take control of the possessions. Well-trained clinicians will teach a method and work side by side with your loved ones. If the compulsive hoarder does not want the therapist to go into the house initially, that is okay. It is a very gradual process.

* If your family member refuses to go for an initial consultation, it is suggested you go to the therapist several times individually to learn how to get him or her into treatment.

* If increasing resistance is observed, family members should be advised to form an empathic united front, confronting their loved one in a systematic, deliberate manner, following recommendations of an experienced overseeing clinician. Intervention strategies are frequently used by family members in order to communicate to their loved one the seriousness of his/her problematic behaviors.

* Once consent to participate in psychotherapy has been attained, it is of critical importance that the clinician bolsters the convenience and palatability of therapy. Hoarders tend to be extremely secretive about or dismissive of hoarding behaviors, avoiding visitors and glossing over problematic behaviors during clinical dialogue. Therefore, initial trust-enhancing efforts are extremely important.

Permanent link to this article: http://childrenofhoarders.com/wordpress/?page_id=1266

  • http://www.childrenofhoarders.com Children of Hoarders, Inc.

    Journal of Clinical Psychology

    Working with families of people who hoard: A harm reduction approach

    Michael A. Tompkins/Article first published online: 28 FEB 2011/
    DOI: 10.1002/jclp.20797

    Abstract

    Approximately, 3%–5% of the U.S. population suffers from compulsive hoarding but others suffer as well, in particular, the family members who care about them.

    This article describes the manifold ways family members suffer because of their loved one’s hoarding behavior, including the frustration and hopelessness many family members experience in the face of their loved one’s steadfast refusal to accept help for their hoarding problem. The article presents harm reduction as a way for family members to help a loved one who is unwilling to accept treatment of the hoarding problem. The article then presents two clinical examples—a private hoarding situation and a public hoarding situation—to illustrate the application of harm reduction to hoarding.
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jclp.20797/full

  • beth

    both my parents are hoarders. is this common? This has been going on
    nearly 60 years.

  • Amber

    I’m just trying to read through this site slowly. My mom is a hoarder and it has, like so many, deeply affected me. So much to the degree that i chose to stop talking to my mom and my dad several years ago. There were other issues but they were all exacerbated by the hoarding. My dad’s rage, my mom’s constant tiredness. I have at times expressed a great deal of fear that I will become my mom. At times i find myself just lost within myself. I have few orgazational skills. when i am able to organize something well i feel like it came from somewhere other than myself. I’m great at keeping a clean space clean but virtually clueless as to how to make order out of clutter. i have created certain systems to help myself get rid of stuff because of my tendency to over think stuff… i.e. a black trash bag. once its in the bag it stays in the bag…

    im unlike many of the stories here because i chose to separate myself. who out there has chosen to separate yourselves and how has it affectd you and your life? I think about reuniting but every time i do i just cry and cry… its so emotional and i dont know what i would be doing that for? i feel like my mom is incapable of having any type of relationship with anybody…. im at an emotinal standstill with this….

    • Queen

      Hello Amber. I sympathize with your situation. I too have a hoarder-mom and have recently distanced myself from her. I understand the frustration of this difficult relationship. I feel compelled to be protective and speak the truth to mom for her own safety and well being but she resents me for it. I cannot and will not turn a blind eye to the blaringly obvious and dangerous living conditions she has created. It would be selfish on my part and enable her to continue her self destructive behavior. I said what needed to be said… I was gentle but firm but she took a defensive stance as always. She turned my siblings against me by telling them I yelled at her. So now I really don’t have a family member that I speak to. It’s very sad and troubling to me. But I know what I said helped her…she got a plumber to fix and clean up the raw sewage in the home. Keep your chin up. You didn’t ask to be raised in squalor.!! As an adult you have the ability to distance yourself from unhealthy environments and you chose to do what is best for yourself.

  • JSilver

    My mom and grandmother are both severe hoarders. All throughout my childhood I only let one person into our house because I was so embarrassed. I am 23 now, and wondering if any other hoarder children have a few behaviors that I am experiencing. I can’t have clutter or mess of any kind, everything HAS to be clean or I freak out, to the point I’ve lost friends and roommates and have constant arguments with my spouse. Everything also has to match. Furniture, towels everything. Is this a consequence of living with hoarders?

    • JD

      I am 25 and we also never had anyone over our house as kids. We tore our house down a few years ago, and then my Mom (the hoarder) passed away, but I realized when we were tearing the house down that I actually had never even been to half the rooms in our house (including the kitchen) because it was so bad.

      And yes, I am an INSANE clean freak now. In college, in my first apartment, and now – everything has to be super organized. I am obsessed with it, with keeping things clean and with having everything a specific way – and put away. I know this a consequence of living with hoarders, but I don’t know how to just “be cool” with a middle ground. My ex-boyfriend hated this, but my boyfriend now appreciates me keeping the place so clean. We do fight sometimes when I get irritated about just even one sock he leaves out, but he understands and we usually talk it out and I come to terms that it’s okay to leave one sock out sometimes. I take anti-anxiety medicine and that seems to help, and I try to stay out of the house as much as possible.

      Keep your head up – you’re stronger than most twenty-somethings. It’s so comforting to know there are others like us out there.

    • katie

      I’m 23 and could have written your post myself. It was humiliating to explain to my roommates why food being left out on the counter made me lose my shit. I definitely think it’s a response to the way we were brought up: I need a nice, clean, bright living space to feel calm.

    • restless and resenting

      This is totally, imo, attributed to being a CHO. I speak from experience. I’m sorry to hear about your mother’s passing. I’m still struggling with the enormous amount of resentment I feel for my mother. There is this empty space that comes from being a COH. It’s not something that anyone can understand unless they have been there. I fear for the day when my parents pass and the insurmountable task that will be before me.

  • Guest

    I’m researching children living in hoarding situations. I don’t yet have much background knowledge on the subject other than watching the television program occassionally. On television the people often look clean, but their bathroom look unfuctional. Can anyone share how they kept clean as a child of a hoarding situation?

    • COHwhoescaped

      Hah! That’s TV. I grew up with moth larvae in my underwear and wearing dirty clothing all the time because no one taught me how to wash clothes. I doubt all COHers are clean.

  • Theresa

    I am researching children of hoarders. I’ve just begun my research, so I have little background knowledge other than watching an occassional episode of the television program. On the program, the people usually look neat and clean, but their bathrooms look nonfunctional. I’m wondering how children living in hoardieng situations manage to stay clean.

    • http://www.hoardersson.com/ Joe Hoarder’sSon

      Basic hygiene can be a real challenge for children in some hoarding environments, especially when there are problems with plumbing, laundry, etc. Some children of hoarders have described being bullied because they went to school wearing dirty clothes or smelling badly. Some children of hoarders have described joining school sports teams or swim clubs so that they could have access to warm showers. As for myself, there were several periods in my childhood when there was no hot water, and we could not invite a repairman into the house, so bathing was accomplished by heating pots of water on the stove and using a sponge.

      • COHwhoescaped

        I wish I had figured that out… Join a sports team and be able to take a shower! Smart. One thing I’ll say about being a COHer is that it makes you very resourceful and an expert problem solver. We never had fresh food so I learned to cobble together meals out of old diet soda, condiments and whatever I got from a vending machine that day. Today I adore farmer’s markets :)

    • Grace32

      I am a child of two hoarding parents. Now 51 , still struggling with the after effects emotionally, socially of growing up in that environment. It hit its peak when I was in my teenage years, the manifestation of hoarding behavior in both parents, but looking back the patterns were there years before. I was one of the lucky ones, so to speak, because it was at its worst when I was a teenager, I could take my clothes to the laudromat and I kept the kitchen and bathrooms and main hallways clean, even though my mother protested, she wasn’t willing to do the cleaning herself and secretly I think she appreciated that I did it, though she outwardly was angry at me touching her stuff, her territory, her home, to do it. It has helped me alot to know that the hoarding behavior was triggered by many severe losses and traumas in both my parents lives and although the clutter is the first thing people focus on as the problem, really it is the deep wounding in the hoarder that should be focused on and healed. The TV shows so sensationalize the “Mess” and the behavior of hoarder, they miss the real root to the problem. Just as they miss the years of abuse and emotional damage done to the family members of the hoarders, often blaming them for not stopping the hoarder. You can’t give, what you don’t have, and they are just as wounded as the hoarder. You are often not taught the usual skills of keeping a house clean and organized, and what ever you do is self taught learned piece meal from observation of others if available, hopefully good examples. But your attempts to clean and organize are not encouraged or rewarded by hoarding parents…. so if you can’t learn the skill of encouraging yourself, you flounder terribly through life. Children adjust and cope the best way they can in such environments, keeping clean whatever they can and are enabled to, often that means tuning out the clutter to survive and not go mental from the stress of it all, isolating to protect themselves from rejection and judgement and keep some form of peace in the home, by not bringing strangers home. Because one is taught that inanimate objects are more important than you, and you are belittled and often verbally abused if you try to exercise any attempts to keep the house clean, there is severe low self esteem issues in a child of a hoarder. Your in the fight of your life to gain self esteem back and society is often just as much the victimizer of you as the hoarding parent, because of their lack of understanding of the whole situation.
      But the social isolation, a coping mechanism, also bites you in the back end so to speak, when you are older and don’t have the social skills to easily and comfortably relate to others who have so called grown up in “Normal” homes. So there is a strong pull to isolate even as an adult now-for it is less stressful that trying to socialize without the normal skills most have and take for granted. Free , but not free from the effects of the hoarding home!
      That which has helped me most in all of this, is knowing who I am in Christ, for God looks at the heart of man, not the outward man as the world does. He is patient and longsuffering as I heal and learn the skills I lacked as a child. It puts it all into perspective when you truly have a relationship with Christ and not just a religious form of legalism. When you see yourself through His Eyes and not the hoarding parents eyes or the world’s eyes. No amount of psychology can understand you better or heal you better than the one who created you. Psychologists may be a tool in His hands to help you, but they can’t replace Him. Just as Doctors may be a tool in his hands to heal you of physical wounds. But God doesn’t only use Doctors and Psychologists/Counselors to heal. Psychologists and Doctors, they both see only a part of a whole, a glimpse, they are human and fallible.
      Anyway that is just a little snipit of my my take on it all.

  • NotQuiteAngel

    Here are a few strategies for COHs and the big clean up I’ve learned over the years:

    1) A partner or partners help enormously: Your siblings, spouses, life-long friends and in-laws are the best candidates. They know and love you; understand the situation.

    2) Conquer your shame and your pain. This is the tough part. You may be inclined to lash out as you clean — don’t do it. Argument and anger creates more obstacles and may lead you to quit.

    3) You must learn to IGNORE the hoarder’s protests and hysteria. Still, come with love, be gentle and turn the other cheek. Your parent has a mental illness. It’s not her fault, so she needs you to be the strong one. Very likely she will thank you when you’re done. Remember that.

    4) Take breaks and go for a beer, or, better, exercise afterward to decompress. Don’t try to get it all done in a day or in one big stretch (unless you can afford to hire 10-20 people).

    5) Most important: Cleaning is the beginning. A counselor is a huge component of success in the long term. Mom and/or Dad need to see someone regularly. Contact a psychologist. Find one who will do house calls. If you can afford maid service, get it. Explain the illness to the maid. Don’t be ashamed.

    6) Accept that your parent will still hoard. Put together a schedule for yourself — say, every 6 months — where you can come by and box items up for “storage”. You can’t let it linger! Work with your siblings and remain positive.

    7) Focus on the good things about your parent and not on his or her hoarding. Remember, we all have faults. Love is the best antidote to negative feelings and experiences. Replace your anger and pain with happy experiences and love.

  • Elizabeth

    This is a bit too much… many of us have stories of receiving no thanks and only venom from the hoarder. It is much more likely that the hoarder will be angry…at any rate, to expect or look forward to gratitude is going to ad a lot disappointment and heartache to an already difficult situation. This is like dealing with a child, they may never offer you gratitude, but in some situations it’s unavoidable to protect them from themselves.

  • Kimberly

    I sold my home in s.c. and moved closer to my cousins in indiana. I am currently living with my male cousin. I was told that I could live with him to save up and buy another home nearby. They said that he had a 4 bedroom house with 3 bathrooms. That I had a bathroom of my own. And that there was plenty of room for me.
    What they DID NOT TELL ME was that his home is filthy, holes in the walls. NO BATHROOM…. because he tore the sink and toilet away from the wall and left it sitting on the floor. The pipes ripped out from the walls…. ceiling tiles taken out on the ceiling.
    Paneling separated from the walls 3 to 4 inches all around the room. Dog hair everywhere inches thick. Electric plugs that do not work, no covers either. The bedroom that I have has no insulation in the walls, floor concrete, half carpeted in outdoor carpeting which was soaked from years of cat urine. Have to go outside to go in the front door to get to the one working shared bathroom. Room for my things?! NOT!!! There is so much clutter I was lucky to get boxes in one spare bedroom. And I left it packed! I trip all the time when walking! Stove (gas) does not work right. Gas heater has a small leak. Showed it to him because I smell the gas, it’s right by my room! He said that the leak was not serious enough to Fix….. he is a functioning alcoholic. House smells like beer all the time. It is so hard to go to work and come back to this awful place!!! I can not even begin to tell you how this effects me… it’s unbearable….
    My cousin who forgot to let me know about any of this acts like nothing is wrong! I spoke to her about how awful it is being in this squalor…. she changes the subject.
    I will be moving out as soon as I find work in s.c. I would rather die than to be stuck in this miserable place for another winter….. I will not make it….

  • Hate Humidity

    A hoarder should get 3 strikes and your out.
    I have spent a lifetime cleaning up after one.

    Now that I look back at it I am warning people to stop after trying so many times.
    No child should live in a mess where they cannot even do homework let alone the thousand of other things that go with it.
    But when you effect your family by losing precious time and living in discomfort 24/7 you should go to jail. As if life isn’t challenging enough.

    If you don’t want to be around a slob then get away from it. It does not go away.