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In-Common: Our Parents, Ourselves & Common Questions

Our most common question:

“The house is as bad as I have ever seen it. I can’t barely get in the front door and it’s dangerous! I would love to get her/him help, but they don’t think they have a problem! Does anyone have an suggestions as how to get help for someone who doesn’t want it but desperately needs it?”

Our most common answer:

“Sadly, we don’t have any magic answers to fix our parents, but we can share things we’ve tried, in hopes that something might be of help. In the wise words of AA, “you have to put the oxygen mask on yourself, first.”

From our Group Discussions collect over 5+ years…

A Few of The Things Some of Our Parents Seem To Have In Common

•Alternate Reality Mindsets
•Artistic, musically, or creatively inclined
•Attention Deficit Disorder (A.D.D.)
•Buying duplicates of something they give away, so they have “a copy.”
•Buying inappropriate gifts for our children that they’ve been asked them not to or age inappropriate, but they did because they liked it.
•Chronic Lateness
•Conversations often turned and focused on them.
•Crank up volume on TV so they won’t miss a word
•Crisis and not wanting EMTs inside
•Decision-making difficulties
•Desire to be seen as “thrifty,” but money is then wasted in many other ways due to avoidance of house maintenance, car maintenance, storage fees, etc.
•Don’t have many close friends
•Don’t like to take medicines choose “natural remedies”
•Dug through our trash when we were children and picked things out
•Get angry when you bring up hoarding topic. Blame others for situation.
•Health Issues i.e.-Chronic Fatigue/Fibromyalgia
•High education levels, many went to Ivy-league schools
•History of depression
•Hoard angels and dolls
•Hoard in their cars, trunks
•Hypochondria or one-upping illnesses so they are “sicker one”
•Love Readers Digest
•Not using the “good stuff” they have to preserve it;I.e.-using thread-bare towels, etc.
•Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD)
•Perfectionists (i.e.-Did NOT want the wrapping paper ripped, had to save bows)
•Recording television
•Repetitive and/or Overly Inclusive Speech Repetitive speech-no short stories.
•Resenting, or giving the impression of resenting, those who are organized and keep a clean house.
•Tax time agony-a huge crisis to find the paperwork they need each year and get it done in time
•Television very important to them-talk about like “real people/family” (QVC hosts too) -Volume cranked all the way up so a word won’t be missed.
•The hoarding got worse when we left home or their spouse died
•Will get around to things SOMEday. Have “fantasy thinking”

An opinion from a Group Member:

I’ve been thinking off and on for the last couple of days about the non-mess-related behavior problems of our hoarder parents. We’ve gotten a lot of new members, particularly from the Reader’s Digest article, and I remember the relief and shock I experienced to discover how much in-common our parents had/have. Since we’re all just beginning to understand how everything fits together, the new-comers may also be amazed to discover other parents share some of these attributes, so I thought I’d list some we’ve discussed… that way, they can search the group archives for the threads or pipe up about their own experiences. I’m sure this list isn’t complete, but off the top of my head:

  • Control: the hoarder has to stay in control of their family, their stuff, their version of events, everything.
  • Self-centeredness: Everything is always about THEM, at all times (like when my late mother’s first reaction to 9/11 was wondering whether her upcoming trip to Pakistan would be affected). They also always have to be the center of attention.
  • Always right: The hoarder is always right and can’t admit fault. Everything is interpreted as some kind of attack.
  • Wonderful strangers: without recapping our definition and many, many discussions about them, these are the people the hoarder listens to instead of his/her children.
  • Black and white: The hoarder perceives things as totally one way or the other. You’re on their side, or you’re totally against them.
  • Their needs above others’: we discussed this again a few days ago, but what I want to add here is that it includes both actual and perceived needs. The hoarder perceives his/her needs in a way that can be ompletely unrelated to reality (usually much greater in perception) and also others’ needs completely apart from the actual situation (usually much smaller in perception). Their needs about something that can be very small are much more important to them than others’ needs about something that can be very big–i.e., their 15 minutes are worth infinitely more to them than somebody else’s 15 days.
  • It’s all THEIRS: as my dog’s human dad once said about my dog’s adopted brother, a dog hoarder of rawhides and chewies: everything’s all right as long as *everybody* recognizes that *everything* is *always* Figg’s.
  • Rapid drop-off of memory, when it’s about others: Don’t expect the hoarder to re-member the last names of children’s friends, or many details of children’s jobs, child-ren’s in-laws, etc. Or even adult children’s illnesses, physical conditions, and some-times even grandchildren’s names.
  • No memory of repetition, when it’s about them: Don’t expect the hoarder to avoid repeating stories or details about themselves.
  • Disproportionate scale of importance: no detail about THEM is too small to go on at great length (the monologues); no detail about children’s lives is big enough to really absorb them for long periods of time.
  • No teamwork: Can’t instill or understand the idea of family as a team who can work together.
  • Blame the kids: Usually for not getting the house clean, but also for a variety of other things.
  • Disseminating and clinging to legends: Can be either about possessions or events in family history.
  • Tantrums and saying hurtful things: no sense of proportion, no realization they’re over-reacting. My mother had a tantrum, the summer I lived with her eight years ago, about bread slices that were still frozen.

As soon as I send this, I’ll probably remember other things we’ve talked about, but this is a start.

Wonderful Strangers

Some posts from members with their definitions:

A person, usually of the opposite sex, often works in sales, who flatters or otherwise gives attention in a way that makes the hoarder think the wonderful stranger is the nicest, most decent person in the world. They are considered to have the best advice (that trumps anything that family would say), and they are the only person who really gets the hoarder, according to the hoarder. This is typically all in the hoarders head, and based purely on surface conversation.

They frequently have been known less than a year (if not less than a week). Once they are known better, they cease to be wonderful strangers and frequently there is a rift.

Example: My mother decided one year that my brother and I should have the exact same plaid shirt from the Gap, because a nice young man from a house-painting company that made a sales call had the same shirt and he was cute. I did not like the shirt and neither did my brother.

Personal banker is another one I can think of that my mother tells all about her personal life. Does not seem to get that this person (and other wonderful strangers) are trying to make money off of her, which is why they listen and smile. In fact, she may be on to this fact, but does not want to admit it to herself.

The Wonderful Strangers are the ones who know nothing about the hoarder’s behavior in his/her own home, know nothing about the physical environment the hoarder has forced on family members, and know nothing about the hoarder’s problems in close family relationships. In short, the Wonderful Stranger knows nothing at all, but the hoarder recognizes that this lack of knowledge gives the WS a very special perspective, unbiased and unprejudiced.

The WS is like a plane hover-ing high in the sky, not close enough to see any details, so every house and car on the ground look about the same. The WS is a big comfort to hoarders, who some-times wish that everyone was so far away and distant that they couldn’t see the mess, couldn’t see how troubled the hoarder really is. The thoughts and opinions of close family members can never compete with those of a WS… the WS can be trusted much more than the close family members (who are too obsessed with and distracted by the hoarding problem to have any valid ideas)

A non family member of a Hoarder whose opinions, advice and suggestions are valued above the family. WS’s can have very limited contact with the Hoarder, but they way they are described by Hoarder they sound like close, personal, loving friends. WS’s are not allowed to see the ugly side of the Hoarding life, only what the Hoarder chooses to present to them and have them believe. WS’s can =bank tellers, grocery store clerks, lunch ladies who are never invited in and couldn’t tell you Hoarder’s favorite color or where Hoarder grew up, school chums from 60 years ago that have never even sent a Christmas card, etc-.

I’d change “ugly side of the Hoarding life” to something like ‘a balanced view of, or real story behind, the hoarder’s life, living conditions or family relationships’ because the problem isn’t just seeing the hoard itself, it’s that the hoarder turns these wonderful strangers into enablers who support the hoarder in his/her misinterpretation of reality.

I’d also put in that the problem may be worst with the ones who get paid-accountants, lawyers, insurance agents–which can create amazingly difficult situations, both because of the confidential nature of that kind of transaction, and the real-world implications of the hoarder getting advice that is either inept or based solely on the distorted reality the hoarder

“Wonderful Strangers” can be benign, but they can also be predatory. I am tired of the salesperson at the flower shop who obviously has endeared themselves to my MIL so she is spending hundreds on fresh flowers each month because she wants them around. Never mind that she cannot even come close to affording them. I am tired of the insurance agent who has called us twice in the last 24 hours feigning a service mentality when in reality he hasn’t been in touch for eons and only now sees an opportunity to get some more of her business. I’m sure she “loves” him. She was crushed
when she learned her auto insurance agency had been purchased by another company and the agents were all let go. She couldn’t believe the agent never contacted her because “she loves me.” Riiiiiiight.

And I’m REALLY tired of predatory telemarketers who continue to get my MIL to buy hundreds of bucks of stuff she doesn’t need (who the heck needs thirty 7-year lightbulbs for $200-plus in a two room apartment?). I’m sure the telemarketers put on their best friendly chatty tone with her. What kills me is she won’t answer the phone when we call, by and large, but she is obviously taking these telemarketing calls. WSs either don’t know and interact with the hoarder, or know and have to hide it in order to make money off of the hoarder. If a WS ever becomes more than just a business relationship, they may get to know what is really going on, confront the hoarder, and get the boot from the hoarder’s life. That has happened to my MIL on several occasions.

A Wonderful Stranger is a person who needs help. The hoarder can help him/her and seem like a martyr, spending all her free time on the w.s., not on herself. Little does the w.s. know that he/she is being used as an excuse
for the squalor to in-crease due to neglect. The w.s. will never see the home and and is often disabled or house-bound.

It helps if the w.s. has an emotional problem and feels bad about themselves and would never guess that the hoarder has bigger problems.

This is what drove me nuts about my mother. God forbid if some stranger who doesn’t even know you says something nice. But nevermind your family all stressed out about the way you live because we love you and want better for you. We are just STRESSING YOU OUT.

My mom’s Wonderful Strangers are mostly bus drivers, a few baristas, Safeway clerks and book and record store owners–a mostly male captive audience with whom she gets to chat in short installments. Of the ones I’ve met, they do seem like good, kind, decent people. People who are patient with her monologues and her obses-sions with cats and music and too polite to put her off. (One of these people is a friend of my brother’s and he said to her “Well, Mom may be crazy, but she hides it pretty well.”

silence and a shake of the head. “Maybe a little?” “Nope.” “Can she hide it at all?” “Nope, she’s definitely crazy.”) I would not call any of these people “friends”. Yet she gushes about them in way I’ve never heard her do with her own family. Some of them really are lonely and appreciate the attention Mom gives them. If you have a “theme”, such as “cats” or “trains” or “The Beatles”, she will buy you things relating to that theme. Yet she cannot fathom what members of her own family might like as gifts (because we are assertive enough to say when we don’t like something, which makes us ungrateful).

She is prepared to sell her house to one of these people, without checking in with her family, and I suspect he may be taking advantage of her. She has given my phone number to one of these people, whom she had just met, because he said he was looking for a girlfriend. (This is the same mother who was convinced we would be axe-murdered at summer camp or snatched by a stranger with candy off the street.) So, to sum up: Nice, polite people who haven’t yet crossed her mental, emotional or physical boundaries, and who may know she’s a little “off” but don’t know just how squalid her living conditions are. People who may believe all the negative things she says about her family, and whose advice she trusts without question. Helpful if handsome and male, though there is no romantic fantasy in-olved. Her family should be prepared to hear the entire life story of various WS’s, tales about their children and pets, career highlights, etc. while at the same time the hoarder will not be able to remember the family member’s favorite color, names of best friends, college major, etc.

For my mom, a wonderful stranger is someone who knows her only superficially, but they validate her self-worth. I don’t know how many times I heard of the people at the nursing care facility, “They JUST LOVE me here.”

The opinions of wonderful strangers are more highly valued than those of real authorities, if it is something my mom would prefer to hear. i.e. “The nurse said I don’t have to use my walker all the time, as long as I’m careful,” when the physical therapist has said *always* use the walker.

Nursing and Caregiving:

Here are just a few Group Member quotes about this profession that many of our parents seem to have in common…

Apr 13, 2006
My brother and I received a call on Sunday March, 26th that they found our Mother dead in her home. AND MY MOM WAS A NURSE! No one knew, the people at work would say she would show up to work clean, she didn’t stink and her hair and ma-keup were always done.

My mom was a nurse and before my grandma died recently she visited her 3 times a week, and she visits other “little old ladies” (this is cute since Mom is 71), makes music tapes for people, buys them things, and hands out candy
to everyone she meets. (Though her level of interest and involvement in me or my life is not nearly so high, I might add.
I notice the same tendency in myself. I can make order out of chaos in any situation, but I tend to not be able to do it for myself nearly so well. I don’t know if that’s nature or nurture.

About all these patterns of behavior we observe:  Some of them are probably quite real, can are probably tide in to certain biochemical predispositions, but some of them are probably not really patterns at all.
One of the hardest things about being a scientist or researcher, is that the human brain is predisposed to identify patterns, whether or not they are actually there. A good scientist has to work very hard to ensure that his/her biases for particular pat-terns do not influence experiments or conclusions, and we’re not always successful at that. When you hear about some crazy scientist spending a lot of money proving something that is “obvious”, what you are really seeing is someone who is being honest and trying to make sure that our intuitions are not misleading us, because our intuitions often do exactly that.

I’m not sure education has anything to do with it-In the case of our mom I think it is more of a need to be needed and to have a “role”, along that darn compulsion to AVOID things.

Apr  18, 2006
While my family weren’t nurses, they sure tried to take care of too many people . It’s now hard for me to find the balance between being a stooge for someone or just being a good neighbor or friend.

My mom has a huge need to be needed. So much so that she neglected us for others when we were kids. I think she likes being the center of attention and feeling important.

My wife is a nurse and her mother was a nurse! Both hoarders.

Nov 1, 2006
My mom is a nurse too! How weird!

Mar 26, 2006
I agree that my mom is MOST like the woman in the Paula Zahn -Now (divorced nurse with mostly grown children who piles up thrift-store purchased books, videos and holiday supplies)

2/ 20/ 2008
I want to let Tracy know that I understand. My mother—a nurse –also died squalor, at the age of 61.

I remember as a kid, a neighbor down the street was a hoarder. She was our school nurse – an extremely nice woman.

Subject:  [COH] New Story Sent In, 10/31/06-Daughter
I too, suffer from panic anxiety when my doorbell rings, but my house doesn’t look like that. I have wanted to help her for years and understand it.

I feel like if we did an intervention she would end up in the Looney Bin. Most people who don’t know her personally would not believe that my mother has been a nurse for over 40 years.

Apr 18, 2006
I have noticed that too about the number of nurses who have this and always wondered if anyone else picked up on that.  Maybe the Nurses Assn. of America should get some info. on this. Perhaps it has something to do with the caretaker role, and when the patient gets better their role/ID entity is over, the are no longer needed…and things ALWAYS need you? My mom is not a nurse, but has been taking care of elderly people her whole life.

Jan 24, 2008
My mom was a candy stripper and nursing assistant before she had kids. She often talks about how she wishes she had gotten her nursing degree.  She also fancies herself an amateur therapist. She’s always taking on the “hard luck” people at work, dropping EVERYTHING to listen to their problems, lending them money, letting them call her at all hours for a sympathetic ear, etc.
Yet, she has almost no real friends.

My mother’s behavior has been getting worse with each passing year; she’s combative, hostile and bitter. She rarely says anything positive. She worked as a registered nurse most of her life

1/ 28/ 2008
My MIL, father, and grandmother…big hoarders…ALL of them partially completed nursing school. They later made it their mission to care for elderly relatives to the detriment of their own families.

Nov 1, 2006
I’m amazed at the NUMBER of nurses  who have this hoarding/filth problem!

Other jobs are probably as demanding as nursing….what’s the deal?!
Nurses (yes, my Mom is a nurse) take care of people and make the other people’s lives better and then come home to live in a garbage dump…shaking head and sighing [My mom didn’t have a filth problem due to the fact that she was a germa-phobe or  whatever people are called that like to keep the germs/yuck off  stuff–but she has TOO much stuff!!!]

My mom works in this profession. She also is a “Visiting Angel” which is a caregiver group she works for taking care of senior citizens. Before that, she was a teacher.  Taking care of people from one extreme age to another. I would be interested in how this all plays into the hoarding brain.

I’m unsure of the relevance, but my mother was an RN for 25 years.

My mom is a NURSE!!!!

My mom was a nurse, and she visits other “little old ladies”, makes music tapes for people, buys them things, and hands out candy to everyone she meets. (Though her level of interest and involvement in me or my life is not nearly so high, I might add.

My Aunt, the worst hoarder in the family, IS an LPN.

Apr 18, 2006
Something else occurs to me as I read posts here and at Friends Of Hoarders: It seems that an awful lot of the hoarders are nurses. Has anyone else noticed that? My mom, too, was once a nurse.
She still considers herself one and tries to counsel everyone around her on health issues.

RE: Channel 4 Albuquerque
I nearly passed out when I saw on the news what they entitled “FILTHY HOUSE” I swear you guys this was my mothers house (it  wasn’t but looked like it could have been) Then while showing pictures of the house…they are saying AND YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHO LIVES THERE? It was a 51 year old nurse. She said she just got completely overwhelmed and lost total control.

My mom is not always punctual, but not consistently late, and very reliable for important stuff (she’s a nurse, so I guess it’s been trained into her).

My mom is real busy besides the mess. She is a full time nurse and going to school to get her Bachelors degree. She has always had excuses even when she has no other extra-responsibilities.

I think in my mom’s case, it also has to do with her avoiding her own life and responsibilities. If she’s out of state “taking care of” her mother, then she doesn’t have to deal with her job or her mess, or her bills.

Recap of Dr. Keith Ablow Show on Hoarding, “Inside The Lives of Women Who Hoard”
“Kathleen  is a nurse and mother of three children who can’t bear to throw any-thing away….”

Interview with owner of DisasterMasters, cleaning service in  NY
Who is most likely to be a compulsive hoarder?

Alford says that through his work he has noticed that “the people who suffer the most from compulsive hoarding are people in the health care industry.”

Health care worker, nurses, social workers, and even psychiatrists are among his clients. He says this is because some health care workers are so focused on helping others that they never get around to learning how to take care of themselves. The second largest group of compulsive hoarders consists of schoolteachers and professors, says Alford.

The hoarder I know was a nurse too, and she’s caring and giving, in fact so very caring, sometimes it’s over the top because people feel obligated due to her insistence.

Experiences Shared by Many COH In Childhood

•Blamed for state of house
•Alternate Realities at home
•The Blinds Being Drawn-in daytime-so people can’t see in.
•Covert/Emotional Incest
•Doorbell Dread-hiding at the sound of knock at door
•Disportionate Power in Family
•Acquisition Trips: Going to thrift stores or craft fairs, or other acquisition-friendly thing rather than kid-friendly function.
•Feeling responsible to help “keep secret” -Elephant in Living Room
•Being made fun of at school (for smelly clothes/bad hygiene)
•Driving around with parent in car looking at how “nice other people’s houses are/they live.”
•Trying to clean up and getting yelled at, instead of being thanked for efforts.
•Christmas trees sticking around forever, some until next season or in tree graveyard in backyard.

Some posts from Group Members…

Posted: Jan 30th, 2007
I remember for a few years it never came down at all. Me and my brother took it down one time after school was started, maybe around August, she went koo koo for co co puffs and put the damn thing right back up, and it stayed up for that Christmas and the following one. That tree was so depressing, Christmas is great and all but all that tree did was remind me of all of our problems that we couldn’t fix. One good thing was that it was a fake tree and was less likely to start a fire…

Jan 31st, 2007
What a good question!! We always had a real tree and I remember one year, it was up until APRIL! Another year, my mom had such trouble parting with it (imagining ‘uses’ for it) she dragged it out of the house and left it in the backyard “for the bird to build nests in”. Umm… don’t try this at home– birds did NOT build nests in it, but MICE started living in it (!!). I think the tree FINALLY disappeared in the summer along with the trimmings from mowing the lawn. How nuts is that in a four-season climate– the Xmas tree goes out when you start mowing the LAWN??

Posted: Feb 4th, 2007
Ha, this is funny. My mother “collected” Christmas ornaments (and music boxes), supposedly all for me. I proclaimed no interest in that, but she kept “collecting” them anyway. They were kept very organized, one of the few well-kept and well-organized things-we had, so it was a serious pain to remove each one from its individual box and then return it to the same box after Christmas. We are talking about hundreds of ornaments, more than would reasonably fit on a tree.
The ordeal of putting the tree up and taking it down eventually led to us abandoning Christmas decorations altogether. There was no joy in it for me and I still don’t decorate for Christmas even now. As my mother’s house is packed to the gills with “stuff” at this point, she really can’t decorate, either.

Feb 5th, 2007
Yep, same here. Originally it was a huge ordeal but it was eventually abandoned and no one bothered with a tree. I’m not big on Christmas either, probably for the same reason. For me it-represented stress and chaos. My mom invariably would have a meltdown because she couldn’t pull it all together, even just getting all the gifts wrapped. Or she would lose some of them. Eventually she just stopped wrap-ping them and put them in plastic WalMart bags. Now some years she does get them wrapped, some years not.

Trips Down Childhood Memory Lane


  • Curdled Milk!
  • Numerous half filled bottles…of ketchup/mustard/pickles <insert food item of choice, half filled> crammed into refrigerator haphazardly, with brand new ones crammed in there too
  • Fleas-Flea infestations that can’t be remedied because there are too many flea eggs/larvae hidden in the stuff!
  • Fly Strips Hanging down, slapping you on side of face (Guess where flies come from?)
  • Fruitflies-Almost as annoying as houseflies
  • Scabies-And being introduced to “quelling solution”
  • Maggots-Really don’t need a description–often found under the 15 year old sack of rotten pototoes, in the bottom of a pile
  • Filled freezers and fridges
  • Ovens used for storage, forgetting/not-knowing stuff in there, pre-heating the oven and having a “meltdown.”
  • Broken Refrigerators Used For Storage-Repairmen don’t come in, so they stay broken and become…storage containers! Hopefully food was removed, but often not, so they become……really STINKY storage containers and you pray the seal is a good one and keeps the bugs out and the smell in.
  • When refrigerator not working & repairmen can’t come in and fix it, food/drinks put out on porch/other creative method to keep cold
  • Meal Moths-Taking a spoonful of <insert food of choice>…and finding a meal moth in it!…Pouring the cereal…<getting into crackers-flour-insert dried food of choice> and finding meal moths in it! (Because they lay their eggs in the boxes)
  • Mold-Making a nice tasty sandwich…take a bite…then you look at the sandwich in your hands and there is mold on the bread! <insert same scenario for cheese…juice…donuts, etc.> GAG!
  • Loading up the extension cords and power strips
  • Bedbugs
  • No Running Water-Having to lug buckets of water to flush…-Bathing at the kitchen sink
  • Ironing Boards-The ironing  board(s) used for teetering multi-storage
  • Clothes hanging on the shower rod, on top of door frames
  • On Christmas and birthdays…Being told when opening (trying to open) gifts with childhood wonderment: “Don’t rip the wrapping paper!” “Save it, it’s still good!!” “DON’T WRINKLE IT-I can reuse it!!” “DON’T WRECK IT!” “Save that bow!”
  • Lots and lots of cleaning supplies-hoarded and not used
  • Micromanagement …of what we are doing, especially when trying to help them. Standing over us or pulling up a chair to sit there and watch…while criticizing..
  • Piles upon piles of coupons and newspapers (for the obituaries)”to be looked at later”

Some Adult Traits & Other Issues Many COH Have In-Common


•Low Self-Esteem
•Anxiety at sound of doorbell, not comfortable having people in our homes as adults-feel “judged/not perfect enough”  (“Doorbell Dread”)
•Guilt (also include “Survivor Guilt”)
•Social Avoidance/Isolation
•Scared of turning into parent: periodically throw things out (purge) or are minimilists, super organized to prove “not like parent”
•Urgent Need to “Succeed” When Moved Out
•Crisis Cleaning Mindsets
•Don’t feel entitled to “good things/use or have good stuff”
•Have OCD
•Have ADD
•Resentment and worry about being responsible for cleaning it up-financially and EMOTIONALLY.
•Getting a Rush From Throwing Things Away or using things up
•Having Children Of Our Own Doubts on rearing them properly-Fear of/Don’t want to “emotionally mess up own children”
•Staying in a hotel vs parents house when visiting (especially with grandchildren if unsafe)
•No Dishes Soaking in Sink or Wet Rags in *own* homes
•Not buying nice things for ourselves/Feel like “not entitled”
•Phone Phobia
•Difficulty establishing household routines and sticking to them
•Making healthy boundaries with hoarding parent and sticking to them
•Overcoming Learned Helplessness
•Wonder about pursuing different types of Power of Attorney
•Having Parent Declared Incompetent-right thing to do? How done?  If their house condemned, will they have to move in with me?
•What involved in having legal guardianship of parent?
•Documents To Have On Your Parent (checklist of things to locate in the hoard)

What to do if a parent dies and leaves you a hoarded house?
Not being able to mourn them because to much chaos to handle when they die, overcoming guilt associated with throwing out their “important things” when parent dies
Crisis cleaning tips, personal protection-legal & health, getting rid of items (hazardous waste, large quantities of prescription drugs, etc.)
Emotional Numbing/Disassociation
What Kind of Gifts Do You Give A Hoarder?
Gifts parent gives COH, with strings attached, so not really a “gift”
Family Dynamics:Different Stances on Necessary Action With Parent, favored children (who don’t confront about hoarding), playing siblings against each other to benefit the hoarding, non-hoarding parent passive or enabling

Post Intervention Stress Syndrome: Refers to the emotions felt, similar to PTSD, after an intervention or clean-out, whether successful or not.

Difficulty Remembering our Bill of Rights:

1. I have numerous choices in my life beyond mere survival.

2. I have a right to discover and know my Child Within.

3. I have a right to grieve over what I didn’t get that I needed or what I got that I didn’t need or want.

4. I have a right to follow my own values and standards.

5. I have a right to recognize and accept my own value system as appropriate.

6. I have a right to say NO to anything when I feel I am not ready, it is unsafe or violates my values.

7. I have a right to dignity and respect.

8. I have a right to make decisions.

9. I have a right to determine and honor my own priorities.

10. I have a right to have my needs and wants respected by others.

11. I have the right to terminate conversations with people who make me feel put down and humiliated.

12. I have the right NOT to be responsible for others’ behavior, actions, feelings or problems.

13. I have a right to make mistakes and not have to be perfect.

14. I have a right to expect honesty from others.

15. I have a right to all of my feelings.

16. I have a right to be angry at someone I love.

17. I have a right to be uniquely me, without feeling I’m not good enough.

18. I have a right to feel scared and to say “I”m afraid.”

19. I have the right to experience and then let go of fear, guilt and shame.

20. I have a right to make decisions based on MY feelings, my judgment or any reason I chose.
21. I have a right to change my mind at any time.

22. I have the right to be happy.

23. I have a right to stability–i.e. “roots” and stable healthy relationships of my choice.

24. I have the right to my own personal space and time needs.

25. There is no need to smile when I cry.

26. It is OK to be relaxed, playful and frivolous
27. I have the right to be flexible and be comfortable with doing so.

28. I have the right to change and grow.

29. I have the right to be open to improve communications skills so that I may be understood.

30. I have a right to make friends and be comfortable around people.

31. I have a right to be in a non-abusive environment.

32. I can be healthier than those around me.

33. I can take care of myself, no matter what.

34. I have the right to grieve over actual or threatened losses.

35. I have the right to trust others who earn my trust.

36. I have the right to forgive others and forgive myself.

37. I have the right to give and receive unconditional love.

Humor In The Group

When you can’t cry anymore, some COH choose to laugh, as our coping mechanism.

In our Group Member experiences, we’ve had…

  • Our parents found dead in the hoarded home-and, medics come for our sick parents who can’t fit a gurney through pathways
  • Parents sue their children for cleaning up and getting rid of ‘things” while they were in a coma-because storage fees couldn’t be afforded
  • We’ve had parents disown their children for interfering with their “stuff”
  • We’ve had siblings cut each other off due to disagreements on how to handle the hoarding situation with parent
  • We’ve had parents die without any relationship or peace with their children, because the stuff got_in_the_way.

Yes, sometimes humor and levity is a very needed thing.

Post from a member:

“Honestly, I think this might be the most important dynamic of the COH

group, in reassuring us that YES! Your view is NOT crazy, this IS unhealthy and

the hoarder’s avoidance/blame is just a coping mechanism or aspect of the

illness because it is NOT just the hoarder’s reaction to YOU and all the other

family members who ‘don’t understand.’

Truly, I have been able to let go of so much anger and frustration knowing

that this IS a disorder and that others experience it in the same way.What

has been healthy for me in the short time I have been here is to finally laugh

about some of things my mom does. Some of it is sooooo crazy and I never

had anyone to share it with. Let alone anyone who identified with what I

talking about.

Now I can look at some of this and say yes it is crazy & even find some

humor in the craziness! For example, shortly after I joined I asked about if

anyone else had a parent who used a little notebook to keep track of who

knows what. I received several humorous replies from others who knew

exactly what I was talking about. It is good to finally laugh about some of

this. So much of what we deal with is serious & can be just down-right

depressing, but the interjections of humor help to keep things in perspective,

at least for me!”

To the tune of Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer

Grandma got plowed over by some rain gear
Walking down the Goodwill clearance aisle
People say there’s no good stuff at Goodwill
As for hoarding Grandma there’s a pile

Grandma got plowed over by some stale beer
Pulling it out of her weighed-down trunk
It lived there for oh, so many long years
As for hoarding Grandma, she got drunk

Grandma got plowed over by a bull steer
A plastic head that was on sale today
“I’m gonna use it as a flower planter”
She bragged, while she was in the line to pay

Grandma gets plowed over every odd year
Grabbing stuff off of the marked-down rack
The signs say there’s no such thing as full priced
That, for hoarding grandma, it is crack

Grandma got plowed over by her worst fear
Going through the trash bags Christmas Day
She found lots of crushed bows and ripped paper
That some naughty grandchild threw away

“It’s not a house problem, but a people problem.  You can treat the house, but that doesn’t treat the problem.”
-David Tolin, Ph.D.

Permanent link to this article: http://childrenofhoarders.com/wordpress/?page_id=2610

  • StessedCOH

    Wow. I read those traits of COH’s and that’s me. I can[t believe it. I have so much noise and anxiety in my head, especially now that I have kids. My last purge was yesterday. I am thrifty, but also somewhat minimalist. I spend weeks deciding on a product sometimes, and then it takes me a loooong time to buy it. I hate buying the wrong thing. My husband says I obsess over the simplest purchases. I hate having extra stuff to clutter my home, the only exception being my kids’ toys, and even those get purged every now and then. I think I have a tendency to go the “other way” with it, getting rid of things I truly might still use, and organizing and baby proofing the heck out of my house. I never feel it’s safe enough. I have irrational worries about house fires, particularly kitchen related. I almost feel as if my organized, clean home is a living monster that might awake from its sleep to eat my babies. There is closet downstairs that hasn’t been organized yet (we moved a few months ago), and it terrifies me. I don’t feel in control of anything. I feel as if I’m constantly in danger of being disliked, even though most people like me if I give them a chance. I find it extremely difficult to talk to my mom, because there is always drama and she is always blaming someone else for it. I can’t take my kids to their grandparents house because it is absolutely unsafe. I can’t leave my babies with the grandparents because my mom is careless, distracted, and lacks judgement. I can identify 100% with the “wonderful stranger” idea….my mom is queen of that. I was also yelled and screamed at a lot for not helping enough,even on days I had spent hours helping. I was home schooled, so this vastly affected my self esteem, as I was around my mom ALL the time, with rarely another adult to validate me. I am so scared for any of her tendencies to come out in me. I want to be a good wife and a good mother. I want that more than a anything. I want to be patient and calm, organized and structured, wise and of a sound mind. I love my little family so much. Sometimes, I just wish I could say my piece to my mom, then she’d cut me off (it’s happened before) and I could move on.

    • Hi StressedCOH-would love to have you be a part of and join our Yahoo support group!

    • Help

      Yes. I can still clearly remember the Sunday morning I was in my teens and so proud to have cleaned off the kitchen table which was piled with magazines and random papers, bills only to get screamed at by my mom ( divorced) looking for things I might have thrown out…that was the last time I think I did that but I felt helpless living in a cluttered house fearing being screamed at for even disagreeing with living like that. Today I am happily married with four kids in a different country. I’m not a perfectionist but definitely a minimalist with very low self esteem. My main problem is that my mother doesn’t work, my father has passed, she wants to come visit me but just makes a mess of my house that I have to clean. Complains If I ask her to clean, help fold laundry, take kids for walk, she hoards roof. I’m trying to diet and she brings tons of sweets . She herself is obese. I’ve tried to stop caring as she takes none of my advice but she makes me unhappy which I take out on my husband and kids. I refrain from confrontation cuz as past has taught me it doesn’t help. She has tantrums. She really has no home. Goes back and forth between me and brother in differen countries based on if a friend is getting married for example or to her home to pay the bills…..
      She never finished her nursing degree..I am a rn

  • Ralla

    I have been reading all of these In-Commons with tears in my eyes. I can regocnize so many of them! I am glad I finally googled on children of hoarders, I never did before because it almost feels like betrayal to look up information. My mother is a hoarder, but desperately denies it. However, reading all of these features hoarders have in common, it is almost like reading a description of my mom!
    I’d wish there were more forum-like discussions on helping-our-parents-strategies, though. I am 27 and still live at home; I am not going anywhere to leave mum and dad to fend for themselves. Every few months or so I try a different approach to convince mom to get rid of some of her stuff. Some are succesfull, some …. aren’t =P
    I would love to share them and hear other strategies. I cannot just walk away. Truth be told I do have some hoarding tendencies myself! So it saddens me there is no guide on how-to help… If our parents have so much in common, there should be a common key to help them, right?
    Nevertheless, I think there is one thing we COH’s have in common that no non-COH could ever understand: we have the best family quotes!

    Brother: “Where are the batteries?”
    Me: “In the most-right refrigerator in the cellar. Do mind the potatoes on the stairs, though” — and this being an actual normal conversation.

    “I know we don’t have that game. I am just saying, if we happen to buy it and it has no play manual, this WILL come in handy.”

    “I do not have too many things!!! I just do not have enough space in my cupboards.”

  • 175460

    Is Gaslighting common? I was always told that my “idea of clean” was unrealistic and because of that I was mentally ill. I was dragged to dr after dr and put on medication after medication because of the stories my mom would tell. No one knew that I was living in a house with 30 plus non-potty trained animals. No one asked why I always smelled of urine. I began to think I was “crazy” until I moved out of the house. Mom would play my sister and I off of each other, telling my sister that I was “crazy” and out of control when I dared to clean a surface. Mom even threatened to call the police on me for folding clothing.

  • ScaredCOH

    StressedCOH, I know how you feel. I also feel as though I am running in the opposite direction of my hoarder mother. I am disgusted that I have let our spare bedroom become a “catch all” for things I have not sorted and gotten rid of or found a place for. The thought of going through the room (even though it isnt that bad, everything is neatly in boxes, still, from when I moved into my own place) gives me such anxiety. It seems like an insurmountable task. The rest of my home is neat and organized. We clean every week. I obsess over purchases, also, often regretting a purchase immediately after I make it. I feel like I am unnecessarily filling my home with things and that I should be so much more minimalistic. I am just terrified of becoming my mother.

  • Lena

    I had been researching all I could about hoarding, trying to understand/help my HP. (Unfortunately, I have come to the realization that she is so far gone, I don’t think she will ever change, be willing to get or accept help…or even admit she has a problem. Guess I’m a COHWHAMMIE.) This website has been a big help!!! It not only has been informative about hoarding, but in reading about other COHs struggles I now know I’m not alone; that has been a huge comfort and support to me. I’d always heard that hoarders were supposed to be recluses; but my HP is very social, at least on a superficial level. When I read the stuff on “Wonderful Strangers” I cried. They were describing my HP perfectly. She is also a nurse, and has 14 out of 14 of the traits mentioned in the “opinion from a Group Member.

    It has me wondering if some of her other personality quirks are common in hoarders. For example: She has an extraordinary difficult time accepting anything that doesn’t go the way she wants it to….even very small things. She will exclaim, “Oh my!” and feign childlike innocence. She then continues on as if she didn’t happen or she didn’t hear what she was told. This can happen numerous times about the same thing. She will continue in her delusional state until she gets her way, or until what she doesn’t want to happen, takes place. I have good reason to believe that she understands a lot more than she pretends to. She also uses her “Oh my!” innocent act when she has done something bad to others so they don’t get mad at her. Acting childlike and innocent has served her very well as a manipulation tool. It is important to her that people think she is sweet, wonderful, and innocent; most people who meet her think she is……as long as she gets everything goes the way she wants.

    She likes to do things for people when others will know and she is told “Oh you’re so nice”. She will give large amounts of money to charities when she will get recognition for it. Of course this makes her easy prey for con artists. However she will balk at, or not pay her bills, taxes, the person who mows her lawn, or reimburse someone she owes money to. In those situations she isn’t told how wonderful and generous she is, so they don’t matter to her. Often the money that she gives away, doesn’t really belong to her. (Such as, giving money out of an account that was in trust for a grandchild’s college education.)

    Do either of these things sound familiar to other COHs about their hoarding parent? Or are these dysfunctional traits just part of my HP’s personality?

    • VAL

      When I saw this website my prayers had been answered. I didn’t know how to handle my emotions until now. My HP tells WS all sorts of things about our family, very negative things to make her seem like a victim. She gets sympathy from them and then she makes us seem like the abusers. I have been so embarrassed when I find out people think we ignore my mother. She describes my father in negative ways too. When WS get closer to her and learn more they get cut off quickly. The house if full to the ceiling in three rooms with the basement on the way. It is not safe grandkids don’t come. I still visit and sleep on the couch. Mom shows a different face to WS and church members. She looks for people that she can control, once questioned there is a problem. She always has to be right and will get angry if challenged. Never admits to wrongness of any kind and avoids confrontation if exposed. She pits her friends against each other so they stop calling. She tries to pit me and my brother against each other but we live too far apart to maintain. She shares all of her illnesses down to the detail and adds more if someone else had the illness. She had a real fight with my 4 year old granddaughter and told everyone she was a brat. Now my granddaughter is afraid of her but my mom ignores her now. She engages WS in family secrets that only she knows about. I want to scream, glad I have a place to vent.

  • Cynthia Santos

    My grandson has chronic asthma plus a seriuos sinus infection lasting for over 1 yr.
    My daughter lived in her motherinlaws home wen the chikd was born she a horder the house is unbareable filthy. My grandson dont live there my daughter has her own home. My question is because her husband makes her go to check occastionaly on his mother whom had a stroke 2 yrs ago could he hav a illness due to visitbthe filty horded home he been ill not eatting he gags could it be the other grandmas house i and my daughter a very much clean freaks please let me knw

  • Cynthia Santos

    She refuses to throw away expired food her son is in ways like her wen it comes to food she keeps food in the frezzer for 8 yrs