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.