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Overcoming Doorbell Dread

Advice from other COH on Guest Anxiety & Entertaining

Lots of COH seem to have anxiety about having guests in their homes. Some COH may have not seen much (or any) entertaining in their homes as children and are responsible for hosting events and entertaining now that they are out on their own. Below you will find some advice from other COH from our Yahoo support group:

1. Remember, everything doesn’t have to be perfect. Your guests probably won’t remember if your toilet paper was folded in a point like a hotel, but they will never forget how you made them FEEL. Did they feel welcome? Did you find them utterly fascinating? Did you take an interest in their life? THAT is the stuff they will remember!

2. Think about homes you have been in. Did you feel more comfortable in the ones that were hospital clean, or the ones that were a little lived in? Having some things out is not a crime. You LIVE there.

3. Try saying *out loud* (like you mean it) “I am SO looking forward to so and so coming over” every time you think “I am SO dreading this!”

On Not freaking out:

  • — First and foremost: have a trusted COH buddy you can freak out to and get it out of your system. You can also run last minute questions by this person. Be a buddy to another COH and learn from their experiences.
  • — Don’t discuss your dinner party plans with your hoarder if you will fall into a guilt spiral because they can’t have parties…OR. ..if you predict they will start to say things like, “oh, be SURE to get out the special plastic cheese serving tray with the little mouse-handled spreading knives I gave you three Christmases past,” (again more guilt because you had promptly donated said cheese set).

Another good reason to not tell your hoarder is if he or she is a known perfectionist and/or a criticizer. The conversation will fill your mind with all the truly unnecessary things you have to do to make it perfect and/or question why you ever thought *you* could even attempt such a feat. Remember they are speaking out of their own fear or illness, not because they have knowledge of what YOU CAN ACCOMPLISH.

  • You have the ability to do this. You have already accomplished many great things and you can do this too. You have all that it takes and you can do a GREAT job — your guests are going to love you!
  • — Make a list of absolute essential things, which you negotiate with yourself to feel comfortable. Instead of saying “Bathroom must be perfect”…say I need to scrub the toilet, wipe down the counters, and clean the mirrors. Otherwise you’re liable to find yourself scrubbing the waterhose to the toilet with a toothbrush when you haven’t even finished shopping for the menu. (all about balance…negotiate with yourself on what’s acceptable and reasonable — more on this below). Try to pick activities that give you the most bang for your buck. Mopping cleans the floor and makes the whole house smell good…but wiping fan blades in a room they are unlikely to spend any time in does not add as much to the overall ambiance. Remember, once all essentials are done, you can always come back to the non-essestials if you have time.
  • — In your early days of entertaining, if you can, splurge a little to make sure you have enough interesting food that you don’t have worry about making…buy some good-quality, pre-made appetizers, dip, interesting sparkling waters, or something like that.
  • — Be sure to plan a menu that doesn’t stress you out. If you’re really stressed out make it “Pizza Night.” Order pizzas, and make a great salad and make or buy a delicious desert. For me, I like the activity of making the food. Having that to do, makes me feel bettter, but I like to have as much of it done in advance as possible, so I don’t have zillions of dirty dishes when they get there.
  • — Have music all picked out. Assign meaning to the music…for example when I hear “such and such song” I’ll take a deep breath and remember to relax. I’m usually so wired, I like to play relaxing instrumentals. helps me to relax and it tones down animated guests! Another bonus is that if the guests get sleepy, they might go home sooner : ) : ) : ) You can always turn it up a notch for future parties!!! On the other hand, if you play lively music, you won’t be on the spot for as much conversation. Know yourself and your guests and decide what’s right.
  • — If you have some areas of your home that you don’t feel are *perfect* and it worries you, dim the lights and put a candle there.
  • — Practice on “easy” guests before you have larger parties or guests that are more intimidating.



  • — It’s a balance. You have to have it clean enough that you’re not obsesssing that they’ll see something particularly bad. And, you have to remember that they won’t feel welcomed if you’re ignoring them due to obsessing . Same is true if you’re totally spent, in pain, grouchy, and/or out of it from non-essential cleaning marathons. They won’t know why you’re being irritated/not present.
  • — Spend some time beforehand thinking about the person(s) to remember things about them, maybe even writing a little list for yourself. These are things that you can use in conversation and to make them feel welcome/cared about. “How are those jazz dance lessons going that you signed up for last year…are you still taking dance lessons?” While you’re cleaning you could be generating the list.
  • — Ask them if they’re alergic to anything when you invite them.
  • — Listen carefully to the things your guests say and respond accordingly (active listening, but don’t over do it).
  • — Figure out a way to engage your guests in an activity…but make it seem breezy and impromptu when they get there…for example if your dessert requires chopped chocolate… you could have everything else pre-prepared, ready to go…then after dinner, ask them to chop up the chocolate bar (which is already sitting on the cutting board w/ a knife) giving you a chance to clean up the dishes…and not worry about them…as well as preventing them from clamoring to help wash the dishes and potentially *seeing* under your sink or in your cabinets. If they do insist on helping, be gracious and don’t get freaked out.
  • — Make a mental note of whatever they brought…if it’s food for the meal, make over it when you eat it (praise, praise, praise)…and then be sure to mention it again when they leave. You could also use it to stretch out the conversation as in: “yum….is this a family recipe?” If it’s a gift like a candle or flowers…be sure to mention it again when they leave. Praise them for picking out the perfect thing.
  • — For me it’s easy to start to see guests as a burden, because it is all so incredibly difficult for me. I’ve got to get myself in the mindset that they are a “gift” not a guest. I also have a difficult time going to other people’s houses. Who knows? Maybe they feel the same way. Do everything you can to treat them as if they are scared to be there and you want to make them feel comfortable (but don’t overdo it of course!!! This is just a mental trick for you).

More on not freezing up with nothing to say:

  • — Instead of cleaning light switches out with a toothpick or scrubbing the inside of your medicine cabinent with a toothbrush…spend some time on news sites skimming for interesting things to talk about. Local news is really safe and another is Yahoo’s “Odd News” section. There’s always a funny conversation starter in there. You could also think of connections between what you see and your guests…if they are amature nature photographers and you see an add for a nature photography show…you could bring that up. Oh, I happened to see the add for the opening of so and so downtown…and I thought of you and your fantastic bear photos…are you familiar with that work?
  • — Think about your own interests/hobbies and make a mental note of a few things you might like to say about that. If you don’t have a hobby think about something you would LIKE to do in the future and talk about that.
  • — If you have the time and interest, try to make at least one unusual recipe that can be used for conversation.

You did it!

Whatever happens, reward yourself when its over. Congratulate yourself. Have more of your terrific food. Give your buddy a report!!!!! If you DID do a marathon cleaning…luxuriate in your fresh, clean home. Then sleep soundly. After all your bed is probably perfectly made with fresh sheets! Now you can enjoy it! Try NOT re- live the night moment-by-moment, beating yourself up over everything.

If something DID go wrong, turn it into a tip and post it below!

If you are a COH who experiences anxiety having guests in your home, do you have any tips on how you handle it? On entertaining? Please post your tips to share with others!


Remember,our parents living conditions are not our fault.
We don’t need to carry any guilt for it.

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  • Roo Miller

    I found this really helpful. I’m in my mid-30s and I have my own place, but I lived with a hoarding parent and suffered the hoard for about 20 years. I still have anxiety about having people over, especially people who have never been to my place before. I feel as if my “hoarding gene” will express itself to them if everyone isn’t perfect. I look at a room and I see clutter, not clean, even if the clutter is one small receipt on a table. Being aware that my reaction to my childhood with a hoard is not abnormal has helped.

    • Krojas

      I of coarse have all these issues, but we should also use this venue to find ways of dealing with this disorder.
      First of all: if I really examine myself, I am also critical of people whose homes are dirty, as a matter of fact yesterday i was in a dirty home and I found myself being judgemental about the owner.
      We assume the way “we think” is the way we others think…so because cleanliness and filthiness are big issues in our minds we focus on that….so we assume everyone else does, and many many people don’t!
       I think we need to realize that first! Not everyone has our issues.
      Second when I find someone I like…. I kinda like it if they are a little messy, it takes the pressure off of me! I prefer messy people! Its the clean freaks that drive me crazy and that I am uncomfortable with… and so it may be the case with everyone else! If we are preceived as a neat freak people may not take the time to really appreciate us as the great person we are. It has been my experience that people that were raised as we were… are fantastic humans. We have great empathy and understanding, ready to help, because we know what its like to have a live in way that we had no control over.
      We have established this dialoge in our heads that spins us into a frenzy…when someone knocks on our door we should concentrate on thier needs and make our brains stop the negative dialoge that we have carried around in our heads all our lives…

      • Krojas

        LOL I wrote the above …then I started to make new curtains cause I have company coming and the old ones arent good enough…LOLOLOL….Oh well I try

  • Jess

    This is me!!! I have a clean house. And that is a lovely thing to be able to say. But I avoid having people over. I even keep the shades down. It is crazy because my house is actually pretty and comfortable but I get extremely stressed at the thought of guests. And when I must have them I clean obsessively. It is exhausting. I couldn’t figure it out until now. My Mom was a hoarder. I just saw it as a dirty house. Now I see what it was, hoarding! I have no close relationships other than my husband and child. I just can’t reach out to others. And yes, a knock on the door will make my heart stop. These social issues have been one of the biggest struggles of my life and I think I can now trace them right back to being the child of a hoarder. 

  • Orangebehne

    Thank you for all of the tips!!

  • Melrat10

    i find this so sad. i am not a hoarder nor was i raised by one. i just came here out of curiosity and realizing that these children were never even taught simple social skills breaks my heart. thank goodness for a website like this!

  • Still Buried

    I’m so glad I just read this! It explains so much. My mother was a hoarder – stuff and animals. I knew I had emotional issues left over from the experience of growing up that way, but it’s so good to hear that it isn’t just me. I have a beautiful, clean, uncluttered home, but my heart still stops if my doorbell rings. I don’t ever entertain. Having never had anyone over when I was growing up, I just don’t know how it’s done and the thought of having people in my home can be completely overwhelming. On the occasions that we’ve had company, I’m a disaster by the time people get here. I am that person in the article who stays up all night cleaning the fan blades and painting the insides of the medicine cabinets before company comes. Then, once people are here, not only am I completely exhausted, but I can’t relax for fear they’ll notice something that will give my past away.
    I’m in my 40’s and still can’t shake the feeling that I’m always observing people to learn how “normal” people do things. I know it’s not rational, but living in those conditions, I just didn’t learn how to do any of the everyday things most kids learn growing up – how to take care of yourself (hygeine, grooming, etc,), basic house cleaning skills, furnishing and decorating a home, basic organization skills, table setting, meal service, greeting people, interacting with people. You just learn to watch other kids and try to figure out how the people in normal households do those things.
    Like Jess, I don’t have any close relationships other than my husband and children. I know that’s not healthy for me or my family, but I just don’t know how to get close to people. I have hundreds of aquaintances, but no close friendships. Growing up taunted by kids (and more than a couple of cruel adults) for having smelly clothes and a trashy house has made it nearly impossible for me to let people get close to me. I moved almost 1,000 miles from “home” to start over 22 years ago, but still haven’t succeeded in leaving behind all of the insecurities that I grew up with.
    To my aquaintances, I think I appear to be an attractive, smart, completely normal person. But, there’s always this underlying fear that if I let people get close to me, they’ll figure out that I’m not really what I appear. That under the well groomed facade, the nice clothes, and the nice house is that smelly girl with the crazy mother whose been faking normal all along by studying and copying them. Sounds weird when I put it out there in writing, but I think that’s what brews under the surface for someone who grew up trying to figure out ways to hide the issues and cover for their family for so many years.
    I think that reading the article and comments above has helped me to stop and finally examine why I do what I do and feel the way I feel. I appreciate the tips in the article above and the comments from Roo and Jess. My son is having a large group teenagers over next weekend and I had already started my usual freak out cleaning and gardening spree and am well into all of the anxiety that goes with that. I think I’ll stop and take a deep breath, try to appreciate what I have, and focus on making sure the kids have a good time rather than worrying about what their parents will think when they drop them off. My house is beautiful to anyone who isn’t looking for that one speck of dust or who doesn’t see offensive clutter in the one out of place receipt on the table that Roo mentions above.

    • My2222

      The comments here pull at my heart strings. I hope it is reassuring to be reminded that there is no ‘normal’ human being. There is something about the bodies, minds, and experiences of every person on the planet that renders him/her ‘abnormal’. We are ALL figuring it out as we go along.


      I feel the SAME WAY!!! Ever since elementary school I have always studied how all my normal friends do things– at school, at sleepovers, whenever I went over to their houses… Whenever their parents tell them things like “let your guest go first” or “did you ask your guest what THEY want to eat?” I make a mental note that I’m supposed to do that someday, when I’m ready to have guests at my own place. It’s intimidating and it makes me wonder what else I should know but don’t. Also things like what time my friends brush their teeth at night (like at sleepovers and camps) or if they wear the same pajamas two nights in a row…. Little things like that have always been details I paid close attention to because I don’t know how healthy people do it. I still pay attention to those things today. I thought I just haven’t outgrown the way little kids copy everything adults do… I thought I was being childish and acting like a little kid… But now I see that I copy other people like that because I’m still trying to learn what’s healthy and normal. That is such a huge relief!

  • Still Buried

    Wow. Stumbling upon this site earlier today has opened up an amazing door for me.  I’ve heard of those hoarding shows that are on now, but don’t watch much tv and, if i did, shows about hoarders would be the last thing I’d want to watch.  I wouldn’t have the stomach to relive that nightmare.  But, since I stumbled upon this site and posted the paragraphs above a few hours ago, I did start wandering around some of the blogs and web sites by and about the children of hoarders.
    I truly had no idea that there were other people out there with the same emotional issues I’ve been dealing with for all these years.  It has been amazing to read other people describe the feeling of watching or “researching” to see what normal people do.  Or the lengths we’ve all gone through to cover for our families and to try to appear normal to the outside world.  Thank you to all of the brave people who’ve posted stories and helpful articles.  it has been a real miracle for me to read about other people’s experiences and find that I haven’t really been alone and crazy all this time. 

  • Emanna_03

    Wow, until I found this site, I had no idea that the anxiety and obession I felt over having guests over was a result of growing up with my hoarding mother.  My husband has always enjoyed having guests over, but I tend to freak out about the whole situation.  I have noticed, however, that while my knee jerk reaction is to clean my house completly from top to bottom, I tend to exert all my energy into the party itself.  Take this summer, for instance.  My daughter wanted a garden tea party for her third birthday.  I spent hours and hours working on food for the party, setting up the back yard just right, searching for the perfect decorations, trying to think of everything, and it got to the point where my husband would make me stop and take a break long enough to sleep for the night.  I didn’t sleep, I would lay in bed and obcess about everything that still needed done. An hour before the party, I realized I had spent 50 hours in “party frenzy mode” and hadn’t cleaned my house since I started.  I shut up the house completely, only letting my mom or myself go in for things needed once the party had started and apoligized profusely for the messy house to the one guest who had to go in to use the bathroom.  To this day, I still don’t know what anyone actually thought of the party.  I’m afraid to find out.

  • Krojas

    Oh my goodness…….all of you are me!!!
    I cannot invite people over because I work myself to the point of being sick!
    I am a Interior designer, I have a cleaning lady and still my house is never good enough! I thought I was crazy! But now I understand! I always wanted to know why I hate the doorbell, i still hide in the closet when i hear it ring ..if there are dishes in the sink or the pillows aren’t arranged perfectly on the sofas. I have stopped having people over …its too hard.

  • Healing

    Like everyone else… This is ME! Not that I want anyone else to have experienced what I did just because, it is comforting to know that I am not crazy. That the anxiety I feel when having to entertain, the feeling of not getting my house clean enough, or even worse when my mom visits, is not isolated. I always thought that I should have become a hoarder too, but I am inordinately clean, in fact, I find myself throwing probably good things/ things that could be donated away just to clear my space. I am more traumatized than I knew.

  • Krojas

    I completely understand…. My house is clean, but inorder to have guests it has to be spotless! And the fact that I may have someone over whose house I consider cleaner than mine makes me crazy… and dont you know I am always surrounded by clean freaks….. its exhausting. So I have taken to not have anyone over and not answer the doorbell …as a matter of fact I may disconnect the damn thing. I literally would like to have a locked gate so no one can enter!
    And a sign that says ” If you werent invited cont bother to knock”

  • Thank you for all the good advice… I’m sure this is useful for anybody, not only hoarders or their family.  Wonderful tips.

  • teacher friend

    I am proud of everyone on this site for sharing their experiences and their triumphs.  I am a teacher of a COH and I wanted to learn more about how I can support their healing as their home had to be cleaned out by the city because it was so filthy.  Thank you for shedding more light on what my student is experienceing.

  • Phoenix2008

    I completely agree with Krojas.  In fact, my doorbell to the kitchen (the door anyone who comes over uses) has been broken for over a year and I really dont care to have it working again because of the doorbell dread thing. The crazy thing is, it bothers me to have something broken at my door because it makes me feel like my house is trashy even though it is not.

  • Guest

    OMG I have to agree  with burried alive.
    I lived with my hoarding mom but I cant really blame her for hoarding or not raising us properly because when she was very small she and her siblings had to live with an aunt who was mentally unstable and never got rid of anything.
    When she was 13 she had to live by herself and raise her two younger siblings without supervision of adults I know. Crazy right. But anyways the thing is my mom never really had an upbringing and because she hadnt so did I.
    The things that bothers me the most is the feeling that al my peers (22) have all this internal information ( wich is considered normal) and I dont ?? I have to play the same game in this competitive world but somehow I didnt get the same text book with the rules that everyone seemed to have gotten.
    Like Burried allive I dint get tought proper hygiene and grooming. I was teased in highschool because I smelled and I wore clothes that were not in style. Eventually i did have friends but I didnt know how to maintain those relatschionships and I couldnt have anyone over 1) because my mom didnt want too 2) because we lived in a poor area that was far away(and although I had a great education I was one of the few from a lower economic class)

    In short I always felt embarressed. I just moved out the home I gave up on trying to get my mother to throw things away I gave up on trying to get her to invite people. Im sick of the holidays when no one comes or the birthdays I just want to be happy I dont care about normal. I just want to feel like life is worth living.

    And when I talk to people they dont understand how diffuclt it is. There like your lazy this is easy to do. I really dont think they understand it of course its easy when you have a structured blueprint in your mind on how to live. Anyways I need help.

  • Sheila A

    Its strange seeing the recent TV programmes on hoarding as I always felt as if I was the only one, trying to survive this kind of environment with a hoarder mother who was also abusive. Its only now that I can acknowledge how hard it was and the stress of trying to be normal. I just feel as if I will never get it, Im just never going to be like other people and Im now tired of trying. Its not just about having an untidy house, you’re kept away from life and other people. 

    • TC

      Keep visiting this site and reading the stories of the COH who have figured out a way to live that makes them happy and comfortable with their lives. You don’t need to give up! Watch and observe other people, find someone to talk to online or in your real life who can be your guide to a different life. It is not too late.

      • Sheila A

        Thank you for taking the time to reply to me. I’ve yet to figure out how to find a balance. i can either spends hours cleaning or be so overcome with all I have to do that it leaves me incapable of doing anything. The website has brought me comfort, the feeling of understanding is a relief. My closet childhood friends still have no idea of how we lived and even now I could never tell them, the feeling of shame is very much with me. I still feel grotty, never quite good enough and its exhausting, that no matter how hard you try you can’t escape. 

  • Lucysmama2005

    I’m 41, married with a daughter and although my home is not filthy it will never be clean enough. I can remember coming home from the hospital after having a C section and cleaning all night, scrubbing the floors and every flat surface because my husband forgot to tell me his relatives were coming to see the baby until late in the evening. So while he and the baby slept I scrubbed, then hid in my bedroom while he showed off our baby to his family the next day. Not because I was too exhausted to visit because I was paniced the whole time they were there. I still can’t figure out how to arrange the furniture and pictures so they look like what a normal livingroom or diningroom should look. Its rare when friends come over that I can enjoy their visits as I’m counting down to when they are going to leave. Its a shame really. Right now my house looks more like my hoarding Grandmother’s house than my home, she passed away at 90 a couple months ago and there are several boxes of my Mother’s belongings here-when Mom moved out of Grandma’s, Grandma held my Mother’s belongings for randsome for almost 30 years. Now were going thru Mom’s belongings, Grandma’s crap and I have started purging my own household out of panic of ever ever becoming like Grandma. Its a sick time in my life. I’m so depressed. I don’t want stuff to rule our lives anymore. I had neve seen a more beautiful house as our house when we first moved in and it was empty. Sometimes this makes me feel crazy. Its such a blessing to read posts from other people and know I’m not the only one.

    • Sheila A

      Lucy, I can understand completely. Its so difficult to know where to draw the line in regards to looking after the house and I always have that feeling that I will never get on top of it, I just always see all that still needs to be done. I worry so much about wanting to appear normal that I get so stressed and then appear as if i am a complete nervous wreck! You do need to be careful that you also look after yourself. I was very ill during my pregnancy and as a result suffered from severe depression. Looking back on the experience now it was all about being physically unable to clean the house enough that lead me into believing that I was turning into my mother and losing control of everything. I kept away from everyone and life lost all meaning. I have found that being with friends really helps and I remind myself that they want to see me and accept me for who I am, they are not going to judge me on whether my coffee table is gleaming, just as you would not judge them. Its a daily struggle though. 

  • jim

    i remember the doorbell ring too. And i would run down in the dark musty basement and just hide. I would wait so long and listen to hear whether it all passed. The basement was a sanctuary. And when a friend came over to pick me up i would be by the door for a half hour waiting so i could rush out fast and they never stepped inside. And noone ever got inside. My parents told me every day that they loved me and i was so great. I got straight A grades and was perfect, but their actions told another story -into completely indifferent to my feelings. No shame for them, ungodly fear and shame and isolation for me. I moved far away from this prison in college and succeeded at many things. But the doorbell still leaves me uneasy. And nobody really gets in. Ever. I am a neat guy and not a hoarder. I have a healthy attitude about life. But i guess i will always be somewhat isolated. I am very social and gregarious but i will always run to the basement one way or another. And my love towards my parents will forever be tarnished by the feeling that they put their sick needs before me. In reality, this was abuse. No child should ever go through this.

  • jim

    I don’t feel guilty for what my parents did. I. always just felt anger. I always just felt they wanted to drag me down, though verbally they were building me up. How freaking confusing is this? I exceeded all their expectations and provide a heap of shame. I ended up marrying a girl who had problems, probably subconciously trying to fix things. But you nwver can. It just ends in tragedy. I have acceptance of the world as it is and the understanding that none of this has any reflection on me -and it is just one of the accidents which occurs in life. All of the messed up people do alot of damage. I hope the Lord will grant me the insight to be able ro find healthy people to love me.

  • Freegirl

    Perfection is an illusion that I no longer strive for. Comfort is what I strive for now.  It is still very difficult for me to have people over and I know that part of it is due to the fact that I grew up in a home where hoarding consumed our lives. 

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  • laura

    It took me about 3 years after I moved away from the hoarding nest around 25yrs old to get over the unexpected visitor anxiety. I bet my husband wishes he had a dollar for everytime he has told me relax our home is great, dont care what everyone thinks.

    finnally after 9 years of marriage I started to believe him. who cares what people think of where I came from. IM NOT MY PARENTS, I REFUSE TO LIVE LIKE THAT. I WOULD RATHER LIVE IN A BOX.