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Still Living In It?

Are You Living In It Right Now?

Did you have an Elephant in the Livingroom?

The information below was adapted from material developed
to help children of alcoholics with the permission of the
National Association for Children of Alcoholics.

This is what they tell kids who are growing up in an alcoholics home to help them. Maybe it will help you too?   They call them the 7 C’s:

1.  I didn’t Cause it.

2.  I can’t Cure it.

3.  I can’t Control it.

4.  I can Care for myself by Communicating my feelings

5.  Making healthy Choices, and…

6. By Celebrating myself

Here’s a good place for kids to go: Kids Page, Children of Alcoholics. If alcoholism is also a problem in your family, you can find help at Alateen.

Ask your teacher or someone you trust at school, your family doctor or family friend where to find some support for those who live with a hoarder if you feel you need someone to talk to about it.

What can kids do?

Here are a few suggestions for you:

DO talk about how you feel.  You can talk with a safe person in your life-maybe a close friend, relative, school counselor, teacher, minister or others.  Maybe your school has a private group for kids to talk about things going on their homes (privately)?  Ask your teacher about it.  Sharing your feelings is not being mean to your family.  Talking to someone about your feelings can help you feel less alone.

DO try to get involved doing enjoyable things at school or near where you live-the school band, softball, Boy or Girl Scouts, or others (ask your teacher how to have a “Big Brother or Big Sister”).  Doing these types of activities can help you forget about the problems at home, and you could learn new things about yourself and about how other people live their lives.

DO remember that feeling confused is a normal way to feel when you live with a parent that hoards.  It’s confusing to be embarrassed and mad at the “mess”  at the same time that you love your parent who hoards things.

DO remember to have FUN!  Sometimes children who live in a messy home worry so much that they forget how to be “just a kid.”  If things are bad at home, don’t let that stop you.  Find a way to let yourself have fun.


Your parent is not a bad person; he or she has a problem that makes him or her keep things and not throw them out.  Maybe this problem makes them do mean things sometimes or get mad at you. It’s not about you, even though it might seem that way at times.

You can’t control your parent’s hoarding.  It is not your fault.  Don’t try to throw things away or clean up to make things better.  It may only make them angrier.  Don’t try to be perfect; you can’t do anything about your parent’s hoarding.  You are not the reason why your parent can’t throw anything away.  You did not cause the mess.

You are not alone.  There are lots of kids just like you.  I’ll bet there are some in your school…kids you would never think of might have a parent who can’t throw things away like yours.  In fact, we know that there are almost two million homes in our country that are overwhelmed with “things”.  If you live in a very, very messy house, you really aren’t alone.

You CAN talk about the problem.  Find someone you trust who will talk to you.  It could be a teacher or a student assistance counselor if you have a student assistance program at your school.  Your teacher can help you find someone who can help.  You could also talk to a friend’s parent, a big brother or sister.  These are the ‘safe people’ in your life.

Remember these 4 Facts!

Don’t forget to take care of yourself! Check out this cool site to help you do that!

Get a pen pal here!

Play some games!

This letter did not come from the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, but from a grown up daughter of a hoarder:


Hi!  Living in a house that was such a mess all the time made me feel angry at my mom a lot.  I didn’t know why she couldn’t just keep it clean like my friend’s mom’s!  It was so embarrassing!  When I cleaned up, my mom would yell at me like I did something bad.  I used to cry a lot or be mad.  I was usually more mad.  I was just trying to be good.

My dad was always mad about the mess.  There were so many arguments.  I thought if I just cleaned the house up, everything would be good and everyone would be happy.

I didn’t know it back then, but my mom had a problem they call “Hoarding”.  There was nothing I could do to change it, she had to see a doctor to get help.

When my mom would pick through the trash and get mad at me for throwing something away that was broken or not any good, I thought I really did something wrong and felt guilty all the time.  But I shouldn’t have.  It is because of my mom’s hoarding problem that she got mad, I wasn’t really doing anything bad.

So when your mom or dad gets mad at you, remember, it is because he or she has a disorder.  It doesn’t make them bad people.  It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t love them as much as possible!  But remember,  it’s not your fault they have this problem.

A grown up daughter of a Hoarder

Links On-line

A fellowship of young Al-Anon members, usually teenagers, whose lives have been affected by someone else’s drinking.  The can help those that live in a messy house with a hoarder, too.

DHHS Kids Page
The Federal Department of Health and Human Services has all kinds of information about children’s health and well being.  This site includes puzzles and games as well as serious information about health and illness, the environments, sports and fitness, and the harm caused by smoking and using drugs.


Take this list to the library and ask the librarian if they have any of them.  Remember, the books about alcoholism can also apply to hoarding, just change the word in your mind as you are reading:

An Elephant in the Living Room, The Children’s Book, M.H. Typo and J.M. Hastings Minneapolis, MN: Compcare Publications, 1984.  A program designed to help children from seven years to early adolescence cope with the problems of living with a problem drinking or drug-abusing parent or sibling.

My Dad loves Me, My Dad has a Disease.by Claudia Black  Bainbridge Island, WA:  M.A.C. Printing, 1979.  Is a “must” book for children ages 5 – 14 from addictive families. Written originally for children of alcoholics, this 3rd edition is revised to reflect other drug addiction as well.

This is an illustrated workbook that explains and portrays addiction from the viewpoint of children who have at least one addicted parent.

Something’s Wrong In My House. Katherine Leiner.  New York:  Franklin Watts, 1988.  About domestic violence and alcoholism and how it affects children.  Acknowledges the universal feelings of fear, anger, and hopelessness, and looks for ways to cope.

Think of Wind. Catherine Mercury.  Rochester, NY:  One Big Press.  A simply stated story about how alcoholism impacts families.  An excellent resource for teachers and parents to use with young children, and older children to read on their own.

Watch this little movie so you remember to laugh!

What Would You Say to a Fifteen Year Old Child of a Hoarder?

Permanent link to this article: http://childrenofhoarders.com/wordpress/?page_id=1708

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

    From a member of the Yahoo Group for COH, posted here with permission:

    Every family situation is unique—but I wanted to share some thoughts
    from my set of shoes as an adult daughter of a hoarder-who grew up this way-
    Just a few of the things I wish I was told earlier.   They might not apply to your situation, so feel free to skim over any and all that don’t apply.

    To those of you who are still living at home with your HP:

    Parent asks for your help in cleaning/churning?

    Don’t waste your summer—if things are basically safe and
    functional at home…please, please don’t do what I have done and waste so much of your time and energy lugging stuff here and there for your HP (if they ask for your help like mine does.)

    Don’t waste time hovering idly next to them waiting for “orders,” while they slowly go through every piece of paper, pinecone and photograph in a box…while your friends are at the beach or the movies, or…

    Don’t turn down social invitations with friends so you can stay behind to “help.”  I know you might want to at times…it might sound so hopeful that *this* time it will be different and you probably really want things to be better at home…but I implore you- Live your life and be young and have fun! You might regret those passed up invites one day. No guilt allowed. 
    Enjoy outside interests and figure out what it is you really like to do,
    with friends-don’t isolate, focus on learning something new, on having
    *fun*—focus on YOU. 

    Not on churning stuff around. 

    It’s not your duty to do that because your parent is a person who hoards.



    Trust yourself, trust your thoughts.

    If something doesn’t sound quite right to you…it’s probably not,
    so don’t second guess yourself for a second and wonder if *you* are the one with the problem! (Don’t J.A.D.E.!)


    Catastrophic Thinking

    If your HP is like mine, the worst, negative, horrific injustice possibility is the default way of thinking. It doesn’t have to be yours too. 

    I find myself working really hard not to “catch” the “everything is a hopeless crisis,” “everything just plain sucks” bug, when around this all the time.  

    I don’t have a lot of great advice for this, other than to recognize the constant negativity is likely a symptom of a paranoid disorder that you can’t fix, and probably comes from lots of fear.  I find when I try reasoning with my HP about it, it just fuels the argument and opens the door to provide further proof of how the miserable thing will really come or is, true. Save your breath. Try thinking about something positive/positive mantra to distract yourself if you can.

    If your parent is a perfectionist, you can’t live up to that

    Walking on eggshells around them?
    Every little move you make criticized?  
    Yelled at for any perceived “harm” to an object/or other injustice you’ve allegedly committed?
    Any slight thing done wrong/imperfect pointed out to you?  

    NOBODY is perfect.

    But, YOU are perfect, just_the_way_you_are.  

    All that other stuff is just noise.


    You have the right to be spoken to kindly

    Yes, you do.  Just because someone is *family* does not give them the right to not extend the common courtesies a stranger on the street would receive. 

    “Please” and “thank you?”
    –you should hear them if you deserve them. It’s ok to remind someone.

    Being spoken to in a mean, rude or agitated tone all the time when
    you’ve done nothing to deserve it?  

    You are allowed to stick up for yourself and say; “I don’t appreciate the way
    you are talking to me,” and simply walk away. 

    Yes, it might shut down the program for the day if your HP gets all bent out of shape over loss of mind control, but standing up for yourself to take care of the mental health of #1 is important. You deserve better. 

    You weren’t put on this earth to be a disrespected servant
    to anyone,(and especially to thankless objects & possessions that don’t
    love you back.)

    Hope this all doesn’t come across as a big negative rant-wasn’t
    my intent-just wanted to share some thoughts from similar shoes in the trenches (been pretty much staying with my mom the last year-) that might help others living with their HP’s cope a little bit?

  • Quozl-luver

    My hoarder didn’t hold on to shoes.  She didn’t hold on to clothes.  She held on to memories.  Photos galore! I am a pack rat’s daughter, she died and left it all to me.  I have many items to sell on line, but no way to sell them, I am old. Many try to sell for me, but I know the value of my stuff. They are fired.  I have a plate  worth 300.00, just by being recognized.   LOL,  I have crap, she saved, I am about to remove.  She died 12 years ago.  I sleep in a recliner, giving her crap a whole bedroom, while I sleep in the living room.  I am not a hoarder, just the product of one.  I remember asking friends to allow a pillow case over their heads to go to the bathroom.  I remember, the newspaper photo taken, after we moved out of the home on Crown. There was a photo showing an unforgiving amount of crap left behind.  I am still after all these years, unable to face this. Can My Sisters?”

    Obviously not since I have all her memories.
    No one has showed up to claim her treasures.

    Anyone, where do I go from here?

  • The_Funktasm

    Yeah, this is all wonderful for kids but how do you /GET OUT/?

    • ConcernedMom

      Do you have other family or friends nearby that you could live with? I know that this gets suggested a lot, but this lets you continue to go to school, etc without completely disrupting your life. I know so many people (my own HP included) who have taken in kids who need a different environment to live in, all with different back stories, but in the end, the kids needed to be somewhere better than they were before. My feeling is that it depends on how old you are – if you are close to 18, maybe you could stick it out and finish high school, then get a job, and find a place to live with someone to share the rent (or board with a family). If you are younger, if you cannot find a place to go with people you know, and the situation is unbearable or dangerous, talk to a social worker about your options. You may in the end decide to stay, and if that happens, use the advice on this page – live your own life, have friendships and a social life, remember that this is not your problem, and don’t feel guilty about trying to live normally.

      • The_Funktasm

        I’m going to respond to this in points to make it easier for me.

        My options are pretty limited on where to go, essentially either to move in with an uncle or aunt I don’t really like(they might not like certain things about me) or my (one) friend I have a somewhat awkward relationship with and his mom(both drink, and while it’s certainly a better spot than here, I’m not sure).

        I’m 20, but I don’t think I have enough of the skills required to just /leave/ yet. It doesn’t help that we live in the middle of nowhere, at least six miles from “town” and over twenty to anywhere of importance.

        Thanks for any input.

        • ConcernedMom

          My feeling is that if you keep thinking about this, you will find a way to accomplish your two needs: move out and get skills. Maybe you could even get them both at the same time, like by finding a job that takes you away and gives you a place to stay as well – around here young people will head to the oilfields, for example. I know one 18 year old who just moved to do that. His skills were from farming and working on his car, so it’s not like he had to be a technician to get the job, just willing to work hard. Even a short time away can give you some perspective on how much better life can be when you have more control. I think you have more skills than you realize.

          • The_Funktasm

            I decided to move in with that friend and so far I feel a lot better. I haven’t been getting any of those skills yet, but I feel like I have a lot better chance here.

            • ConcernedMom

              I’m proud that you are standing up for yourself and doing what you need to do to give yourself a good life. Some of those skills will come to you after hard work, and some will suddenly appear, as if they were there all along – either way, you’ll feel amazed at your own ability. Keep letting us all know how you are doing.

        • Sylvia

          Check out JOb Corp. They provide education for various careers and life skills. They also provide a place to live and your meals.Best wishes to you.

  • finally@college

    Im 18 and I recently went away to college for a year. I have been a COH (abusive mother) my whole life and all throughout there was threat that my mom would lose me- which scared me because my father was an alcoholic and very abusive and I didn’t want to end up with him. Anyway, I always thought I was alone. And still to this day,I  do not have courage to tell anyone and it scares me that I never will have the courage to share my hardships with the ones closest to me. Knowing that there are others does make me feel better because DHR (Distribution of Human Resources- Alabama’s Child Services) neglected to ever tell me that and made my case seem so rare. This only made me feel more alone. I have been suicidal growing up, because with adamant parents, you feel very trapped.
    Anyway, I really LOVE this cause. Awareness of this disease, but more importantly, the lives of the children and how they are affected. It needs to be more known for sure.

    • finally@college

      and that was the first time ive ever admitted (even written) that my parent was a hoarder. see, this place is working wonders already

  • Trapped in Miami

    I am a COH. But I’m trapped. I also have a disability, I’ve lost all my hearing completely in one ear. At 22 years old, all of my friends still live with their parents. My sister (who managed to escape with the unfortunate side effect of having to win a drunken driving case that caused her many physical and emotional injuries) cannot support me as well inside her 1 bedroom apartment. Being completely deaf in one ear has caused enough hardship for me emotionally because it was the cause of a stupidity from a bully in high school (think foghorn inches from the ear) but along side that, I’ve always had the dream of being able to get a job and get out. That dream has been put on hold while I try to tackle the difficulties of loss of hearing when it is so vitally important in our society. Having have worked with kids, I am no longer allowed to do so because I cannot tell what direction a noise is coming from. So with no new skills and with an economy having the highest percentage of jobs looking for employees but we still have the highest unemployment rate, how can I acquire new skills that would enable me to get a job. I’ve also had to deal with the hardships of attending lecture classes at school. Nothing says difficult than trying to learn what a person is talking about when you cannot hear. My doctor speaks of getting a hearing disability dog, but I would have to get it as a puppy and raise it up alongside of me. I dont feel like it is healthy to bring an animal into this environment. But just sometimes, in the darkest recess of my mind, I’ve considered living homeless might just be a better option that living in this house.

    I guess what it comes down to is how can I get out. or how can I encourage my mother to throw away all the stuff she’s been saving for a “garage sale” and get her assistance in making the house safe to live in again. free from rotting wood and insects that crawl over all the eating surfaces.

    • Trapped in Miami

      For an idea of what I’m going through, I’ve recently migrated my sleeping accommodations from my bedroom (because the stuff has taken over when I went to visit my grandmother in kentucky)  to the downstairs couch. With no car and my the only relative within the state is my sister, how do I tackle getting out!

  • Starlettt1

    Dear TIM:
    I’m also in my 20s and trapped in Miami, living with my mother. Dealing with her hoardering has been a complete nightmare. You are not alone in your battle to want to get out of the troubling situation, you find yourself in. Hopefully things will get better for you in the near future. You are in my prayers. I’m a member of the Yahoo Group, if you would like to talk, I’m available.

  • Capril

    I wish you all the best in trying to get out of these situations. Being the Adult Child of a Hoarder and now living on my own, I wish I had good advice to offer you. 

    I couldn’t handle the situation when I was younger and tried to commit suicide multiple times from 10 – 15. Well that landed me in the hospital and from there I just refused to go home. I lived with my aunt for a while until a bed became available in a group home. From there I was on my own until at 18 I moved in with my grandparents to finish high school. 

    I would recommend trying to live with a relative if you can and offer to help out with house work or watching their kids. If you don’t have a relative that you can live with try and be out of the house as much as possible, maybe through a job, where you can hopefully save up enough money to get an apartment to share with someone. 

    You are all in my thoughts and prayers as I continue my journey to alleviate the enduring pain of having lived through the hell that is living with a hoarder.   

  • Feeling Closed-In and Alone

    I recently came back from my first year at university for the summer and am living with my single parent hoarder mother. Growing up, I became used to the increasing piles of junk and constantly felt guilty due to the fact my mother blamed me for the mess. Only recently I realized it was not my fault because she won’t even let me try to clean. But having returned from university, the house has only gotten messier, and I find I’m drowning in it. It no longer feels like “home” to me, more of a project or a stressor. My mom has made countless promises to me in the past, that she would clean up and give me a beautiful house where I could have friends over, but she never follows through. There are papers, garbage and objects she hasn’t used in years on every surface top and on most of the floors. The food in our pantry and fridge is completed expired, yet they are packed with old food. There usually isn’t much that is still edible. This is her first year of retirement, and she’s promised now she’ll be able to make cleaning the house her full time job, yet on two occasions I’ve tried to donate my old clothes collecting dust in my closet, however she won’t let me get rid of it, saying she can use it or find somewhere else for it, threatening to cut off my tuition if I donate it myself. Even my room is havoc because she won’t let me get rid of my own stuff because she claims that she paid for it all and can decide what happens to it. She gets very angry when I bring up the subject, usually resulting in hurtful screaming matches between the two of us, and most of my time home has been fighting and I’ve been feeling extremely depressed. When I broach the subject that she may be a compulsive hoarder she gets verbally and sometimes physically abusive with me, it is a very touchy subject.

    This year in university I also met a lovely boy and we decided to become long distance over the summer, and I dread when he comes to visit me because looking at my family and this house I am too ashamed to bring anyone here and feel as though I’m damaged goods. I have not had the courage to tell anyone in my life of my mother’s problem (however my mother threatens me not to tell anyone she’s a “hoarder”). Living with my father or other family members are out of the question. It’s only been a few weeks and I fear what will happen to my emotional health if I live in this situation all summer. How do I go about seeking help? More importantly, how do I share my pain with the people who I care about?

  • As

    I’m a 23 year old COH. My mom has been a hoarder for as long as I can remember. Growing up, our house was disgusting. My mom collected everything and anything. She is very sentimental and everything has a background story to it which is why she has to save it. house was a mess and smelled really bad. From an early age, I learned that friends couldn’t come over. My mom would always make excuses about why I couldn’t have a friend over to our house. And my friends would catch on that I was always by their house and they were never by mine. I lost so many friends that way. I learned to make up excuses and became very creative with lying. But they eventually caught on. But I’m so scared now. I see a pattern in myself. I’ve become antisocial. I’d much rather hang out by myself reading books than hang out with friends. My friends are always calling me and initiating to me to hang out. I am never the one who wants to. Part of me feels like maybe I’m subconscously avoiding a situation I don’t feel comfortable with. I never really had much practice in social settings. I feel like i don’t know social protocol, even though my friends really like me. I just feel like I can’t get close to anyone because then they’re going to want to come over, and the whole cycle repeats again, and I lose yet another friend. I know, you guys will tell me to move out. But at this point, I can’t financially. I’m in college and I can barely afford tuition, let alone rent. I’m just so nervous about this house falling apart. And I’m also nervous that I’m becoming too comfortable by myself and I’m concerned about my lack of desire for close friends.

    • alex

      I’m also 23, well 24 now my birthday jsut passed.

      I graduated from college with a B.A. in Psychology. Woopdy freakin doo.

      anyways, I’m so happy I saw your message. it’s exactly what I’m going through. Feeling ashamed to the point that you neglect your social opportunities, and really obligations.

      This past fall, I was attracted to a female at my past job. She was attracted to me, she even voiced why I don’t ask her to do something. I just told her I had personal issues. But really it was because I was ashamed at my living situation. 23, with a hoarder mother, in the projects. I was in graduate school though, so I felt a bit better about myself. But still that incident really made me realize how suffocating it is. how limited my life is, when I know deep down I deserve more.

      Recently I have stopped pursuing an M.A., because it didn’t seem fiscally and morally sound. I just managed to get a job doing something menial. But I am happier now. Because I feel like I’m pursuing a life that I want to live. Yes I’m still here in this home, with these things. But I know that I am taking the first step int he right direction.

      Believe in yourself, set goals, break those goals down into smaller ones. Accomplish each goal, step by step, and you will find yourself in a new life. That’s the one most important lesson I learned in school.

      Success is a serious of day to day choices. It is not a magic potion, or trick of perception.

      You can do this!! I believe in you! I believe in myself!

  • Karl

    The pen pal and DHHS links don’t work.

  • laura

    Make an excape plan. Get out. Join the military, get one way bus ticket to where ever, get a job, get out.

  • laura

    Think of it this way. It is the responsiblity of an adult parent to take care of their child, not the other way around. I would never expect my 2 adult child to take care of me thats my responisbility.

  • Qwerty

    My family seems to have problems more with excessive buying than inability to get rid of things. I haven’t seen the dining room table in years. My parents keep acquiring “great deals” – inexpensive flooring for upstairs, storage and organization items (oh the irony), a new desk for my mom, shelving, new kitchen cabinet doors, power tools, clothing… the list goes on. Honestly, I fell into the hoarding mindset for a while when I was younger. My dad would threaten to throw away all my toys if I didn’t put them away. My brother and I would make tunnels in the laundry mountain. I could never really invite friends over, so I’ve had a hard time socializing. I’ve felt isolated for a very long time, so toys became my friends.

    Cleaning efforts only happen if something is broken, or if I have an emotional breakdown. Every time I make my feelings known about the clutter, my parents promise they will deal with it. They promise that they will finally take care of the problem, but the problem is, they never do. The four of us frequently argue over the stuff, whether it’s the acquisition of new unneeded items, the latest thing we’ve tripped on, or how to go about cleaning. I frequently find unwanted guests, including roaches, ants, spiders, mice, moths, pill bugs, and the occasional centipede. There are dead leaves on the floor, brought in stuck on people’s shoes. The roof leaks, the drywall is falling off in places, mold appears in certain places, and I know of two holes where something as large as a squirrel could get in. Those holes were patched with spray foam. One night I found a spider hanging above me in bed. That would be ordinary for me, except it had caught a roach that was still alive and struggling to free itself. The pests and clutter that bother me most of my waking hours follow me into my nightmares.

    As much of a struggle it is at home, it’s worse around other people. I always have to keep it hidden, and people always think I’m a neat freak away from home. People call me OCD because I insist upon a clean environment in classrooms. I get very territorial with my space outside my home. I’ve had to fight against a constant inflow of stuff to have even a corner of a table to eat on. I am extremely bothered when someone steals a pencil of mine, or breaks something they’ve borrowed from me, or when they try to put something on a classroom shelf that I’ve claimed. Even worse, my “friends”, which really tend to be more like acquaintances, often joke about hoarders being crazy cat ladies, or they make fun of the people who are living in squalor. They say such hurtful things, not knowing how serious a problem this is. No one ever jokes about depression or drug addiction, but they are constantly laughing at people who are OCD or hoarders.

    Living in a hoarded home is a nightmare, and people need to develop a better understanding of it. People who live outside this problem need to stop joking and stop shaming the people who are stuck in it. People need to take this seriously, so both hoarders and their loved ones will feel safe enough to let the secret out and seek help. So many hoarders are afraid- of eviction, of having their children taken away, of the criticism, embarrassment, and social isolation that will come if anyone finds out about their problem.