Thanks to the Kings College London Institute of Psychiatry (the same people doing the Hoarding Study I recently participated in), I’ve learned compulsive hoarding is likely to be included as a new mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders or DSM-5. DSM-5 is due to be published in 2013.  I’m hoping this means more research and attention being devoted to treating compulsive hoarding.  I also hope it means less people thinking hoarders are just lazy deadbeats who just need to throw a garage sale.  There’s something about this being made “official” that gives me some hope.

Below are the proposed diagnostic criteria for Hoarding Disorder. All criteria A-F must be met to qualify for the diagnosis.

A. Persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value.

B. This difficulty is due to a perceived need to save the items and distress associated with discarding them.

C. The symptoms result in the accumulation of possessions that congest and clutter active living areas and substantially compromise their intended use. If living areas are uncluttered, it is only because of the interventions of third parties (e.g., family members, cleaners, authorities).

D. The hoarding causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (including maintaining a safe environment for self and others).

E. The hoarding is not attributable to another medical condition (e.g., brain injury, cerebrovascular disease, Prader-Willi Syndrome).

F. The hoarding is not better accounted for by the symptoms of another DSM-5 disorder (e.g., hoarding due to obsessions in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, decreased energy in Major Depressive Disorder, delusions in Schizophrenia or another Psychotic Disorder, cognitive deficits in Dementia, restricted interests in Autism Spectrum Disorder).

For people meeting all diagnostic criteria A-F, the following ‘specifiers’ can be noted as well:

Specify if:

With Excessive AcquisitionIf symptoms are accompanied by excessive collecting or buying or stealing of items that are not needed or for which there is no available space.

Indicate whether hoarding beliefs and behaviors are currently characterized by:

Good or fair insight: The individual recognizes that hoarding-related beliefs and behaviors (pertaining to difficulty discarding items, clutter, or excessive acquisition) are problematic.

Poor insightThe individual is mostly convinced that hoarding-related beliefs and behaviors (pertaining to difficulty discarding items, clutter, or excessive acquisition) are not problematic despite evidence to the contrary.

*I believe this is where my Mother is, leaning towards Absent insight.

Absent insight (i.e. delusional beliefs about hoarding): The individual is completely convinced that hoarding-related beliefs and behaviors (pertaining to difficulty discarding items, clutter, or excessive acquisition) are not problematic despite evidence to the contrary.

You can find more information in the DSM-5 website.


It’s been a few weeks since Mom told me she was getting a cell phone.  I was excited at first, but that wore off as day after day passed and still no call from her “new phone.”

I’m guessing she has procrastinated and has found other things to do instead.  Compulsive hoarders have a tendency to delay making decisions out of fear of making the wrong decision.  I’ve seen it time and time again with Mom.

She has a pile of boxes heavy with papers under the desk…the very same boxes she needed to move to check the phone jack on the wall.  She was attempting to go through these boxes paper by paper in case there was something important in there she shouldn’t throw away.  This meant ALL the papers got kept when only a handful should have been filed and the rest recycled (or shredded for privacy, which is another way of delaying because, um, she doesn’t have a shredder.)  The result of her dithering is a desk still jammed with paper boxes and no way to access the phone jack.  She’s still paying for the phone service, by the way, and because she wanted to keep the same phone number has maintained a more costly business line they had for my Dad.  The phone company also requires 30-60 days written notice of cancellation, so we’re looking at a loss of about $400 since November.

When I began this post, I thought about my own trouble making decisions.  My husband and I do research for a long time before making most decisions.  It’s a good thing to know what you’re getting into, but eventually you have to s*** and get off the pot (sorry for the crudeness).  My husband and I planned to get a new front door for over 18 months.  We had contractors come give us quotes.  We drove around the neighbourhood looking at other people’s front doors.  I visited several door & window stores looking at options.  If Pinterest had been around then, I’m sure I’d still be pinning to a “Front Door” board!  There were SO many options, we couldn’t pick just one.

Then, one day, Lowes had a sale on doors.  We walked in, pointed at one we both liked, and it was installed a week later.  We loved it!  It brighten the face of our house, is more energy efficient, and has better ventilation.  Why hadn’t we just done that from the beginning?  We make life too complicated sometimes.

Just Make Up Your Mind!

I want to be better at making decisions.  I think it could be a learned skill, and I want to model decisiveness for my daughters.  So I Googled “how to make decisions” or something like that, and saw a wealth of information out there.  It seems there are some common factors why people can’t make up their minds:

  • Too many advisors
  • Too many choices
  • Fear of worst case scenarios
  • Analysis paralysis
  • Talking yourself out of a decision

But there are some things you can do to help yourself.

  • Set a deadline for making the decision
  • Accept you might make a bad decision, be ok with it, and learn from the failure
  • Manage your emotions

It seems people make decisions with their hearts more than their heads.  Emotions aren’t rational and can confuse you from making a good decision.  If you struggle with a bossy heart, consider these:

  • Imagine a blank slate in your head.  Don’t allow any other thoughts or feelings and start from scratch.  (I’ve seen this work…I mean, it works for a character in the Pokemon graphic novels I’ve been reading with my 6 year old, Maddie, so surely…..)
  • What’s your body telling you?  Take a breath, calm your nerves, and still your movements to focus.
  • Visualize the outcome of your decision, and evaluate what would work and what wouldn’t.  Is it really so bad either way?
  • Ask do you need it, or just want it?  This is especially important for hoarders, or compulsive shoppers.  If it’s a basic need, it’s easy enough for your brain to make that decision.  But if you want it, well, that’s desire.  Desire is an emotion.  Emotions colour our thinking with all sorts of confliction, and we find we’ve talked ourselves into buying/eating/bringing home something we really didn’t need.  It could lead us to a temporary high, and then the all-too-familiar emotion, remorse.  And that…is just a bad decision.
  • Practice makes perfect.  Apply these methods often to get better at them.  Decision-making opportunities come up daily…sometimes, several times an hour!

You might find other useful ideas online.

I’m going to have to give these ideas a try.  Let me know if they work for you.  And remember, not all decisions are life or death.  What to have for lunch, what colour socks to wear (I choose black almost always), what route to drive to work…these are examples of ordinary low-risk decisions.  I want to get really good at making up my mind in these situations, and I’ll be better prepared for bigger, higher-risk decisions.   No more dithering or waffling.  No more sweating the details while missing the bigger picture.  No more fretting over beautiful, energy efficient front doors while the old ugly one lets in drafts.

In the meantime, I realize I can’t fault my Mom her indecision.  I recognize it’s part of who she is.  It’s part of her illness.  And perhaps she was never taught the skill of quick decision making.  I know she didn’t teach it to me.  I’ll find the patience next time I’m waiting for Maddie to choose between Raisin Bran & Cheerios at breakfast time.  We’ll work on the wants vs needs issues if they arise.  I’m sure they will.

While I can’t control the choices of others, I am in full control of my own choices. Knowing that is empowering.


It’s shocking.  And appalling, terrifying, heartbreaking, dangerous, and irrational.  And you probably know someone affected by it.  I’m talking about compulsive hoarding.

What is compulsive hoarding?

According to The Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, it’s defined as:

a disorder characterized by difficulty discarding items that appear to most people to have little or no value. This leads to an accumulation of clutter such that living and workspaces cannot be used for their intended purposes. The clutter can result in serious threats to the health and safety of the sufferer and those who live nearby. Often people with compulsive hoarding also acquire too many items – either free or purchased.

Essentially, a hoarder just can’t bear to throw or give anything away because they perceive it as having value, even if no one else thinks it’s worth it.  For instance, most people would have no trouble throwing away a lone sock with a hole in it, or empty takeout food containers.  But a hoarder finds all sorts of excuses to keep those items.  That sock could be used for dusting!  They’ll find the other one the day after tossing the first one!  Or that salad clam shell container could store spare clothespins, spools of ribbon, spare socks with holes in them!  The possibilities are endless!  But rarely does the re-purposing ever happen.  Instead, those items remain in a pile of other items.

This is my Mom.  She lives like this, surrounded by a house FULL of stuff.  It’s a mass collection of vintage sewing & crafting patterns, unused gifts, bolts of fabric, porcelain doll parts and molds, lace, and other ‘useful’ craft supplies.  It’s all my deceased fathers belongings…he’s been gone 6 years.  It’s all the toys I didn’t take with me when I moved away from home.  It’s the chemicals and materials my father left behind with his home statuary business.  It’s a deep freeze full of meat with freezer burn.  And so on.

I identified her as a hoarder after seeing an exposé on the Oprah Winfrey Show about 8 years ago.  Seeing the video on her show had me riveted.  I learned there was a name for Mom’s excessive clutter.  I was stunned it wasn’t unique to her!  Mom wasn’t just messy; she has a mental disorder!

Mom won’t admit it though.  Or even if she does recognize it deep deep down somewhere, she’s not willing or able to do anything about it.

And so here we are.

Time For A Decision

I’ve started this blog to deal with my emotions on this situation.  I am a happily married woman, with 2 beautiful daughters, and great career.  I live 3 hours away from my Mom, and feel totally incapable of helping her.  I also have a sister, Lynn, who also struggles in her relationship with Mom.  Lynn works in the mental health field, but it’s so different when you’re on the other side of the desk.  She’s afraid people will judge her for not doing more to help Mom deal with her mental illness…but how exactly do you do that?

We’re quickly reaching a fork in the road.  If we go left, it means continuing to sit back while we watch our Mother bury herself with her belongings, slowly eroding any personal connection we still have with her.  When she’s deceased, we’ll have the heartache of the cleanup of her 3000 sq ft house.  If we go right, we arrange to have an official visit her house, likely resulting in a condemnation.  She’d be so angry she would most definitely sever all ties to us, but hopefully it’ll save her life.

Either way, I’m losing my Mother.

Why Get So Personal?

I’ll be posting lots of back story on my life as a hoarders daughter, and also writing about the on-going saga.  Lots of personal reflection, and hopefully I’ll get some guest posters, too.  I also hope to post organizing tips, for those of us who want room in our lives for people instead of stuff.  I promise to always be honest…I’m making a big leap to put all this information out there.  Names have been changed to protect those involved.

I hope this helps bring some public awareness and understanding of Compulsive Hoarding.  I hope it connects with others in similar situations who feel overwhelmed and alone.  I hope by getting all this off my chest I can find peace and clarity.

Thanks for coming along on my journey.