Today I present a guest post by Molly Nox.  Molly is an aspiring grad student in Clinical Psychology, with a keen interest in Compulsive Hoarding.


The Connection Between OCD & Hoarding

Individuals who have a hard time throwing anything away may end up with a big mess on their

hands. Even though their quality of life is impacted, their spouses object, and their children are

embarrassed to have friends over, hoarders are still unable to part with their accumulations.

Hoarders often suffer from other mood and anxiety disorders, and their clutter often reaches a

point where psychiatric intervention and professional hoarding cleanup services need to be

called in order to begin recovery from Hoarding Disorder.

What Is the Link Between Hoarding and OCD?

Obsessive compulsive disorder is a mental challenge in which the sufferer exhibits some sort of

irrational, repeated behavior and cannot seem to stop him or herself. Historically, psychologists

classified hoarding solely as a symptom of OCD; recently, after the publication of the DSM-5,

Hoarding Disorder has been recognized as a separate disorder completely.

It is true that many people who have Hoarding Disorder also suffer from OCD, but the link is not

as concrete as once believed. Approximately 18% of people who have Hoarding Disorder also

have been diagnosed with OCD. While this is a significant number, it is worth noting that a

staggering 92% of people with Hoarding Disorder also suffer from other psychiatric conditions,

with over 50% having clinical depression. It appears that Hoarding Disorder is not as closely

linked to OCD as it is with other disorders such as depression and General Anxiety Disorder.

Another aspect in which Hoarding Disorder and OCD differ is their treatment. In the past, people

who exhibited hoarding symptoms were diagnosed with OCD and treated accordingly. We now

know that people with hoarding symptoms are very unlikely to respond to traditional OCD

treatment. Hoarding Disorder is notoriously difficult to treat, but interventions targeted

specifically toward hoarding symptoms show the most promising success rates.

Why Does a Person Become a Hoarder?

While there is no clear consensus on the cause of Hoarding Disorder, there are a handful of

contributing factors to consider:

  • Genetics – Hoarding Disorder tends to run in families. Researchers have found patterns

in chromosome 14 that are unique to families with multiple hoarders.

  • Trauma – Trauma often plays a significant part in the onset or expression of hoarding

behavior. This does not necessarily mean that trauma is a cause of Hoarding Disorder; it

is, however, considered a factor that can cause a “break” in a person who is already

genetically predisposed.

  • Biology – A recent study found that individuals with Hoarding Disorder experienced

frontal brain hypoactivity. This is a condition that leads to decreased dopamine levels in

the brain and is commonly associated with addiction. Frontal brain hypoactivity is not as

common in people diagnosed with PTSD though, which is further evidence that OCD and

Hoarding Disorder are very different indeed.

Why Call a Mental Health Professional?

Hoarding Disorder is a condition that goes untreated in a worrisome 80% of cases. Many

hoarders either do not think they need treatment or think treatment will not help them.

Treatments for Hoarding Disorder have improved drastically in recent years, but public

perception has not improved with it.

If the accumulation of excessive things is negatively affecting the hoarder’s quality of life and

relationships, then psychiatric evaluation is highly recommended. Therapy can begin the process

of helping a hoarder understand their compulsions and eventually live a clutter-free life. It can

be helpful to seek a therapist who specializes in helping patients who suffer from compulsive

hoarding and its related disorders. Additionally, enlisting in professional cleaning services to

clean up the entire site can help make their home inhabitable again.


Molly Nox is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. She’s a California dreamer with a penchant for handwritten letters, the New York Times, and dark roast coffee. Follow her on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/mollynox


I was recently contacted by a producer for the TV show Divorce Court with Judge Lynn Toler.  The show is shot and produced in Los Angeles, CA.  Personally, I’ve never seen the show, but if you live in the LA area, this might interest you.

From the Producer, Sybil Curry:

We are currently looking for local couples who need an in home marital/relationship intervention as well as assistance with their compulsive hoarding. These potential couples say this problem is causing stress on their relationship. There is a substantial appearance fee as well as location fee; this will be taped in their home.  If you have any leads in California I would appreciate it.

You can reach Sybil Curry via this email address or directly at 323-762-7725.


It’s been a while.  A long while.  There’s SO much to tell you about, but we’re still in the thick of some mental messiness and I don’t even know where to begin.  Who knew compulsive hoarding could cause such havoc.

Deep Dark Depression

Back in July, my Mother called me in tears.  She had been hiding it from me, but she finally revealed she’d been sliding down a dark tunnel with her depression.  By the time she called, she was feeling suicidal.

There’s nothing to prepare you for hearing your mother express her wish to be dead.

Her sobs.  Her confusion.  Her complete and utter lack of hope.  She was overwhelmed by blackness and to her, ending it all seemed highly appealing.  I was at a loss of what to do.

With Mom’s permission, I called her doctor and was able to talk about how to support Mom at this time while living hours away.  The doctor said to just stay supportive and let her know I care.

The next few weeks were a roller coaster.  I checked in with Mom every day to see how she was doing.  There were times when she didn’t answer her phone for what felt like forever.  She would call me back sobbing, incoherent even.  She told me she was imagining all sorts of ways to kill herself.  How she didn’t have the energy to try to get better.  That the pain and loneliness was just too much to bear.

The scariest was the night she called me from a parking lot and confessed she couldn’t remember how she got there.  Her mind was erratic, and she was convinced all sorts of plots were being hatched to hurt her.  She was having black outs, she wasn’t sleepy or eating, not taking her medicine, and was spending way too much time sitting in her van roasting on hot, hot summer days.

In the meantime, I was researching a course of action.  Could I take her to the hospital?  Was there a mental health walk in clinic option?  Should I call the police to check up on her?  I talked to my employer about taking time off so I could come down and get someone to evaluate my mother before she did something serious.

911

Then, the day before I planned to head home, something happened.  Mom’s doctor tried calling my Mom, and became alarmed when she couldn’t get a hold of her.  Knowing her fragile mental state, the doctor called 911.

Mom awoke to the sound of voices in the hallway outside her bedroom door.  She had finally gotten to sleep and didn’t hear the phone ringing or people banging on the front door.  A police officer, paramedics, and a social worker were all there to make sure she was ok.  The social worker later told me it took about 20 minutes for the police to actually find my mother in her home.  Moving through the piles of stuff in her house would be difficult, indeed.

The 911 response team wanted to take Mom to the hospital for a psychiatric assessment.  She refused, and there wasn’t anything they could do to change her mind.  Apparently the paramedic used the term “hoarder” and that made her really mad.  At least the social worker was able to get Mom to agree to come chat with her the next day.

When I learned of all this, I was relieved to know I wasn’t going to have to deal with this all alone.  A team of trained professionals was now on the scene and I thought we’d finally get Mom some help.  Turns out, it’s harder than it seems, and the story continues.

I’m pretty drained at this point, so the story will come in bits and pieces as I feel up to it.  There are plenty of ups and downs to this story, and it’s not even close to over.


I said to my Mother “When you’re ready to accept my help, let me know.  Until then….”  I trailed off.  She replied, “Until then, I’m dead to you, is that it?  Well, so be it.”

Those were the last words we shared before she hung up on me.  And I can’t help but wonder if those are the last words I’ll ever hear from her.

It started off innocently enough.  The regular Sunday night phone call to catch up on the week had grown increasingly shallow over the past few years.  Mom, on her cell phone, would undoubtedly be browsing in a store somewhere, and I’d get to hear commentary about other shoppers she observed, or comparisons on various household products.  Tonight was about coloured toilet paper.  I asked for updates on doctors appointments, but specialist appointments are always “some time next month” and “no, I haven’t heard back on test results.”

Eventually, conversation turned to her house.  “Wouldn’t you know it, ANOTHER bird got into the house!  It woke me up this morning fluttering around my room.  And there were 2 raccoons in the wall behind my headboard fighting.  You wouldn’t believe the racket!”  If you’re new to reading Not Just Clutter, let me assure you my Mom is not an animated princess who can command woodland animals.  Nope.  She simply lives in a rapidly deteriorating house where raccoons and other wildlife find refuge.  This is where things start to go south.

Since Dad died 8 years ago, she hasn’t been able to keep up maintenance.  She needs to move out and sell the property (and really, it’s the property that has value, not the house).  It’s not safe or healthy.  The whole place is falling apart and is packed to the rafters with her hoard.  Clearly, somewhere has crumbled enough that all sorts of critters are finding their way in.  She’s had trouble with raccoons for years.  And that bird?  That’s the third on in as many weeks.

I’ve been trying to encourage her to make more actionable plans to move out of this house.  She really resents this though, and any time I gently mention it, she finds a way to turn things around.  Like, mentioning the doctor thinks she has a heart problem.  Or she suspects her cancer is back.

Or she’ll try to deflect and say she’s working on things slowly in her own way.  “I’m not going to worry about it, and it’ll all work out in the end” is a common refrain.  But I worry.  Knowing all her ailments, including a frozen shoulder, shortness of breath, and limited mobility, I’ve offered to go help her.  I told her “Let me be your muscle.”  I know she can’t carry much, if anything, up and down stairs, so I’d be happy to be the pack mule if she points out what to move.  But she refuses any help and has her priorities all skewed.

If I lived in a house overrun by wildlife, I’d fill a suitcase and get out.  Instead, she insists she has to organize her craft supplies first.  I can’t possibly help her with that either because I “don’t know the difference between worsted weight, cotton, polyester, or wool” yarns.  I reminded her the birds are probably pooping on it, and the ‘coons are nesting in it.  She was pretty indignant after that.

I’ve tried my hardest to be patient.  I’m the one who always tries to be diplomatic.  I just couldn’t hold it in any more tonight.  I kept calm and rational, but I laid it out honestly with her.  I called her out for making excuses and procrastinating.  I told her I can’t understand why she won’t accept my help, when all I want is for her to be in a safe, comfortable home.  She insists she wants to do it independently because if she accepts help then she’s a failure.

I said imagine if you came across a person fallen to the ground, and you put your hand out to help.  If that person reaches up to accept your help off the ground, are they a failure?  Do you judge them?  I’m just reaching out my hand.

She accused me of making her more depressed.  Then she accused me of conspiring with my sister to make her miserable.  And THEN she said maybe it was best if we just cut ties all together.

That’s when I told her to think about my offer and get back to me when she’s ready to accept the help.  I don’t know what the next step is.  I’m so torn.  She’s so stubborn she might let her pride lead her, and she won’t call me again.  If I call, then what?  Go back to the same vacuous relationship where we talk about coloured toilet paper?  Do I pretend everything is ok?  Do I ignore my nightmares of her dying in her house because she couldn’t find her way through her hoard in a fire?  Do I keep pressing her?  If I don’t call, she’s alone.  No family left.  That’s not the kind of daughter I want to be, but at some point, I have my own mental health to think of.

Either way, hearing my own mother say “I’m dead to you” is a harsh way to end a phone call.


My Mom seems to find very odd things funny.  I assume it’s related to the denial that comes from compulsive hoarding.

She recently shared a gem which leaves her laughing and me terrified.  Her house is crumbling around her, and now, it’s:

A House with No Escape

Backstory: Mom’s house is an unusual design.  It’s essentially a bungalow but on the second floor.  The first floor of the house has a small apartment, and a large double garage.  Dad used to run his business from the garage, and it has huge & heavy rolling doors.  The front door is in the middle of the apartment and garage, and to get upstairs there are 36 steps.

I know this hallway by the front door is filled with stuff.  It was 50% filled 11 years ago.  The last time Lynn saw my Mom open the door, she said it couldn’t open all the way.  So, it was already a serious situation.

The Door Won’t Budge

Mom tells me the door has been sticking.  I get that.  With changes in weather and humidity, doors tend to do that.  But Mom’s front door is sticking so much, she sometimes can’t open it.  I know she’s tried sanding it down, oiling it, and a few other tricks, and yet, there would be days she’d come home and not be able to get in the door.  She’d push, and nudge, and probably curse, but it wouldn’t push open.

That’s when my senior citizen mother would have to try to raise the heavy-duty garage doors.  And then climb over all the stuff left in the garage from Dad’s business which was never cleared away after his death.  7 years ago.

Last Straw

So, finally, Mom got tired of doing this difficult task.  After struggling with the door again, she lost her temper and kicked it.

Wouldn’t you know…it opened right up!  My Mom is SO amused by this!

And while the idea of my elderly Mother turned ninja is amusing to most, I’m cringing.

I’m cringing because not only is the door sticking when she wants IN to the house, but also when she wants OUT of the house.

That’s right.  Should there ever be a fire, and by pure Act of God my frail Mother makes it past burning walls of stuff, down 36 smoldering wooden steps, and down a smoke-filled hallway, she still won’t be able to open the damn door to get out.

How’s that for a haunting image?

Jumping out a window is not an option, as all her living space is on the second flood.  There’s a back porch, but those wooden stairs have been withering in the elements for years.  I wouldn’t trust them to hold my purse.  There’s the garage, but again, the path is cluttered, and the doors are heavy.

Ninja Mom

I expressed as much to her.  She still chuckled, and revealed she did indeed have trouble getting the door to open from the inside.  So she tried kicking it again, and yes, it opened.  But think about that.  The door swung open toward her after being kicked.  This whole set up is compromised and needs repair, but since she was able to Hi-YA it open, she considers it problem solved.

She refuses to take this seriously.  And my fear of her being caught in a fire just got deeper.

 


The thought of moving when the house is filled to the rafters is pretty daunting.  Actually, that’s a huge understatement.  Should my Mom ever decide to move, I know I’ll be paralyzed with the enormity of the task.  I DO know that not everything should get thrown away, and lots of what Mom has collected is worth at least some money.  Hopefully, I can talk her into having a sale before moving…I’ll cross my fingers on that one.  Hoarders are loath to give up their stuff, even in exchange for cash.

How to Plan a Moving Sale in Small, Easy Steps

I’ve got some suggestions for managing a moving sale: there’s a LOT to think about!!  And remember, you shouldn’t have to do this alone.  These steps work for anyone planning a move, not just compulsive hoarders.  Stay tuned in the next week or so, and I’ll have even more ideas for how to handle a move when dealing with compulsive hoarding.

Thanks to Northstar Moving for this fantastic infographic.

Managing a Moving Sale Infographic


That’s the question that plagues all of us right?  When you’re full of the urge to clean up and are standing there beside the trash can with something with “potential” in your hand…what do you do?  Put it back and keep it indefinitely?  Chuck it before you change your mind?  Put it aside to either sell or give away?  Sometimes, the options are overwhelming.  I get it.  I’ve been there, too.

Today I’m presenting a guest post from Natalie, a storage expert from London, England, while I work on decluttering my own basement.  Again.  She offers some direction for decision making as you sort through your own stuff this fall.  I especially like the 2 Month Test.  If you have any additional suggestions for making decluttering easier, please leave a comment!

Guest Post: To Keep or Not to Keep

Spacing woes plague every household. No matter how meticulously you plan your storage, you end up with stuff littered around. Add to this an obsessive-compulsive prone person, life can become a living nightmare. Stuff scattered all over the place becomes an eyesore and hampers the free movement (physical or of the eye) around the house. A messy house attracts negative energies and may make the inhabitants irritable.

A perfectly organized home is highly desirable, but an unachievable target. Especially, owing to the hoarding mentality today, the problem is even graver. We don’t want to throw away stuff and we don’t have an appropriate place for storing it. Packing up boxes and shoving them over the loft is no solution. You finally have to let go of things that are no longer required. Here are a few tips and tricks that can help you get rid of the clutter:

Bring it on

The first step to the solution of the problem is to accept the problem. Let go of procrastination and delve into the task head on. However, keep your targets realistic. Aim for a cupboard or a drawer per day. Set aside a specific time that you would solely dedicate to the de-cluttering.

Dealing with the devil

If you are a woman, you might secretly agree to the fact that it is your stuff that occupies the maximum place in the house. The infinite clothes, bags, shoes, and accessories always pose a storage problem. You cannot cramp up your bags and shoes, hence they occupy even more space. Here, you have an old formula, only until now you’ve not been sticking to it- every time you buy something new, throw away something old. This may be highly painful at times, but the key is to be strict. You weren’t going to wear that old fashioned skirt again anyway!

Sports stuff

Every home has some sort of old sports gear that keeps on eating up space, without being used, year after year. Whether it’s a board game or old baseball bats or a fishing set, it’s best to get done with them. If you have some functional sports gear you no longer use, you can donate it to a kids’ orphanage (add to your karma account). At the same time, there might be things that are no longer of use or do not function anymore. For these, call up the local recycling agency and they’d be happy to take care of it. If you have some heavy gym equipment that is no longer of much use, it is best to call a removals service to get rid of it. We don’t you to sprain your back while following our advice!

Homeless Oddities

You would find a number of things like old books, CDs, magazines, stationary, electronics etc., which have no apparent use to you, yet they stay in your house forever. Of course, some of these have an emotional value to you- some may be gifts, some may be too rare to be thrown away, but the majority of them can go to junk. Anything broken can be chucked away immediately.

Crockery

Apart from that tea set that belonged to your grandmother’s grandmother, you can do away with a lot of idle crockery in your house. Nevertheless, you never have the heart to throw away some precious glassware. Spark up your kinder side and gift them to a friend or sibling. In fact, you can get into a deal with them to share crockery. This way, you’ll have more variety without being bothered about the storage issues.

The two-month test

Even when you are done with dealing most of the above mentioned stuff, there would still be items you neither have the heart to throw away nor have the space to put them. For these, you have to be strict with yourself and let them undergo the 2-month test. Box up all such stuff, mark the date on the box, and put it away. If in two months, you don’t open the box for anything in it, you can safely chuck it away. It would be best to give away the closed box as it is. If you open it, chances are you’d come across something that will tempt you and you’ll succumb to keeping it again, re-launching the clutter cycle.

Storage Rentals

My home city, London, England is dotted with self-storage companies, but it is a better option to first manage the clutter and go to a storage facility as a last resort. It may come in helpful in a situation where you have your heart set on new type of furniture, but are not being able to sell your old one at the desired price. You can temporarily store the furniture in a storage facility.

 

 

 


Fall Cleaning

Summer is drawing to a close, and Fall brings crisp air and gentle breezes.  It’s the perfect time to open all the windows and get in a little Fall Cleaning.  Everyone seems to get the urge to do a big sweep through the house in the Spring.  That’s great, and I encourage that habit!  But don’t overlook the chance to do this again before winter.

Think of all the new things you might have brought into your home over the last season.  Different sports gear.  Beach toys.  Stuff from the cottage.  A whole new warm weather wardrobe, even!  Do you have a new collection of family reunion t-shirts, wedding bombonieres, and travel tchotchkes?  How about all the art your children made at camp from Popsicle sticks and glitter glue?

Do you have a place for it?  Can you MAKE a place for it?  Fall is the perfect time to do a big purge not only to make room for the newer stuff you want to keep, but also to make room for the inevitable onslaught this holiday season.  And if you just can’t bear to give it up, here are…

15 reasons to encourage you to declutter

15 Reasons to Declutter inforgraphic


For many of us, putting up wallpaper or repainting our walls might mean an afternoon of pulling furniture away from the wall and adding some quick colour to our room.  Minimal disruption.  Or if you’re not handy, you might be smarter to hire an expert tradesperson to help with a significant project.  What if your house is so crowded, the tradespeople have trouble doing their job?  What if piles of stuff put these people in jeopardy for falling and injury?

Working in a Hoarder’s House

This is the first in a series of posts told from the perspective of people who have been affected by compulsive hoarder, but who are not relatives.  These are the emergency response workers, police, fire fighters, trades people, service people, and case workers who must enter hoarded homes and put themselves at risk.  To start us off, I present the insights offered by a skilled house painter.  This person (who has requested anonymity in respect for past clients) has an amazing perspective of compulsive hoarding you might never have considered.  I was fascinated when this person emailed me and started to share this story.  With permission, I present it as a guest post…an inside look into what it’s like to work inside the home of a crowded mind.

A View From the Trades

by Paint N. Brush

While it’s true that many hoarders avoid allowing trade and service people into their homes, quite as many actually do.  I’ve worked in the trades for twenty years, primarily doing interior painting and wallpapering.  I would estimate that thirty percent of my clients have been hoarders.  An additional fifteen percent were clearly on their way.  I think that is a huge statistic.  My perspective is, I believe, somewhat counter to the usual notions of hoarders.  My clients have all been well-to-do, have not yet isolated themselves completely, and are for the most part quite high-functioning individuals.  They have not quite arrived at what one can foresee as their inevitable endpoint of total, quiet, desperate chaos.  I seem to catch them at the disastrous turning points of their lives.

They share very interesting commonalities:  All have been highly intelligent, driven, gifted in one or several of the arts, and began as “collectors” of things.  Many of these collections do have actual market value, as opposed to collections of paper cups or plastic margarine tubs.  But all have in fact have begun that insidious overlap from collections of dozens of vases never used, to cupboards packed with junk.  All are in variant stages of goat trails throughout their homes.  All say that if they can just get the house straightened out, if they just had a week to themselves, everything would be fine.  If I, the tradesman, could just get that wall cleaned and painted right away, the trajectory of their lives will miraculously self-correct because they then will be able to move all those boxes over there from here and they’ll have something resembling a room.  All are in various stages of serious, really severe unhappiness, which they do express via either action or word, more often through actions – compulsive spontaneous shopping,  sudden brief spurts of rage, frequent expressions of frustration usually directed at the wrong people.  They have an utter inability to experience the feeling of happiness.  I’m not talking about “being happy”.  (Nebulous phrase.)  I’m talking about an actual inability to FEEL happy, to feel even a brief moment of true delight in the course of their day.  They will say they’re happy, they’ll use the words, but there’s nothing real behind it.  All are causing deep tensions within their families, all have first-degree relatives with addictions in other forms – alcohol, food, drugs – all are successful in their careers, all are constantly frantic.  All claim to have had “perfect” childhoods.  That is the word they use.  (I don’t believe that for a minute.)

My contracts in their homes have all been either long-term or intermittent over long periods of time.  Consequently, an interesting result takes place – the tradesman becomes part of the furniture.  The household gets so used to your presence that they come, go, and play out their lives without a thought to your presence.  I’ve come to believe that it’s a comfort to them to have us there, once they know we are trustworthy.  But for us it becomes a window into hoarder worlds which can be distressing, saddening, and hopeless, no matter how much financial comfort or family presence they might enjoy.

Imagine if you’d like to rejuvenate and paint your livingroom.  To do it properly, you would like to clean, sand, and paint all your woodwork trim in that room.  That’s windows, doors, door casings, baseboard trim, sometimes ceiling trimwork too.  You would like a crisp cleanly painted ceiling.  You want to clean your walls, patch any defects, and give them new life with a new color of paint, which you will have to hand-cut in with a brush around every window and ceiling edge and doorway, then roll the walls with a roller.  TWICE.  Walls always, always have to be done twice to be done right.  Oftentimes all the trimwork must also be painted twice.  You would prefer this room to be empty of objects when you undertake this.  You would prefer dropcloths on the floor to take roller spatter.  (There is ALWAYS roller spatter, no matter how good you are at this.)  This work takes an organized mind.  You can’t cut the top walls in while the ceiling paint is wet.  You can’t do baseboard tops while the bottom wall is wet.  And so on.

Now imagine this same room, same project goals, crammed end to end and top to bottom with valuable antiques, boxes and boxes and boxes of junk, dozens of houseplants, a huge flat-screen T.V., heavy-framed paintings on the walls, enormous dust-laden cobwebs on the ceiling, pet fur, pet paraphernalia, and dirt, dirt, dirt.  Normal household dirt, but never addressed because one can’t move within the room to clean, so the dirt is really, really bad.  Paint won’t adhere to dirt.  Never has, never will.  You must clean first.  There is no place to move the stuff, nowhere to put it, because the rest of the house is packed too.  There is no floor space.  You can’t see the floor at all.

My highest injury rate has been in hoarder homes, bar none.  There is no room to move or maneuver yourself, your ladders, your paint cans, your wallpaper safely.  In twenty years I have had only one breakage of a homeowner item, which seems like a miracle to me, but I myself have experienced significant bruise, breakage and falls for the sake of those blasted items.

I’ve learned that with hoarders the job will never be done.  They always want more, and I’m retiring from the trades because of it.  I feel for them, it’s very painful stuff to see.  My hoarder clients are the personalities I’ve been most fond of in many, many ways.  They touch my heart.  But they drive me crazy,  and I must finally opt out.  In some subconscious way they look to me and other tradespeople to be the repairmen of their emotional lives – which they confuse with their physical possessions – and that is not a possible thing to do.  Sadly we can’t repair that for them, much as we might wish to.

 


Today is the 1st anniversary of Not Just Clutter!

I can’t believe it. When I first sat down to write the first post on Not Just Clutter, I never imagined what this blog would mean to me. And I REALLY never expected it to mean anything to anyone else. I wasn’t sure anyone else would want to read about compulsive hoarding disorder.

Somehow, you found me. I opened up and shared my personal life without any idea of what would happen. I actually thought I might get some backlash from people disgusted by compulsive hoarding. It’s been a whole year, and not one negative comment (touch wood). And while I don’t get a lot of comments in the posts, which I understand for your own privacy concerns, I DO get direct emails from other children and loved ones of hoarders. You confide your stories in me, and I respect your trust. I’m glad you know you’re not alone, and that there’s someone to empathize.

It’s Not Just About Me

So, once I realized I was reaching others, Not Just Clutter stopped being just about me and my Mom. It became a catalyst for conversation. For creating understanding. For stopping stigma. For generating awareness about a misunderstood and often reviled living condition. For expanding on mental illness in general.  Now, I look for ways to bring you any information I can find about compulsive hoarding, like new research, or studies looking for participants.  I get insight from other relatives of hoarders, and try to give a lighter view, too.

Year in Review

I first started this blog with a post about Mom’s phone. Or rather, her lack of a phone. I was frustrated with not being able to communicate with her because her land line phone stopped working and the clutter prevented her from finding and fixing the problem. Eventually, she got a cell phone. And then lost it. Found it, and lost it again. Then she bought a second cell phone. She still has that one so far. All this time, I thought she would have cancelled her phone service for the broken land line. I learned recently she’s still paying that bill because she hopes someday to resolve the issue. Uh huh. Wait, was that a pig flying past my window? No, just some B.S.

And wasted money.

There have been a few feeble murmurings about cleaning up. Mom has talked about packing up some stuff to take to charity. That hasn’t happened. She DOES continue to shop at a charity thrift store, weekly.

Others have noticed her hoarded van. Someone who works at the thrift store actually mentioned it to my sister, Lynn, one day. This person said to her “Your Mom is in here all the time. Wow, is her van ever packed! I hope her house isn’t like that, too!”

What does one say to that?

She keeps her house at 60 degrees all winter because the oil bill is already insanely high. Almost $900 for 3 weeks here recently.  She can’t get service or repair people to finish a job.  She takes her dirty clothes to a laundromat because she can’t get to her own washer and dryer.  She makes a lot of sacrifices for her stuff.

Mom is no closer to accepting she has a problem, but at least this blog is helping me cope.  I feel I’m able to release a great deal of stress by typing it all out.  There’s something very gratifying about hitting Publish.  Vulnerable, true, but cathartic.

With Heartfelt Thanks

I appreciate you joining me on this journey.  Maybe you’ve got a similar path to follow.  Good luck to you.  Maybe you’re just curious about compulsive hoarding.  That’s ok, too.  Don’t hesitate to ask me questions, leave your comments, or send me your emails.  We’ll see where things stand next year at this time on Not Just Clutter.  Who knows what might happen.


Bell Let’s Talk Day Recap

Thanks to everyone who might have participated in Bell Let’s Talk Day yesterday.  For those of you who follow me on Twitter, I was using #BellLetsTalk as often as I could.

Why?  Because a Canadian company (Bell Canada) is donating .5 cents to mental health research for every tweet and text using that hash tag.  My Twitter feed was alive with people sharing their support and stories!!  I loved it!  Yesterday was a big day, but we should all be committed to keeping the conversation going every day to stop the stigma of mental health.  This goes not just for compulsive hoarding, but for ANY mental disorder.

Bell Canada Let's Talk Logo

Final tallies aren’t in just yet…but the last time I checked, Bell was reporting 85, 536, 167 texts, tweets, and long distance calls that all qualified under #BellLetsTalk.  Multiple that by .5 cents each, and that’s well over 4 million dollars raised!  In ONE day!!  In ONE country!!!

I bet that will put some minds at ease, huh?  ;)

Guest Post: Squalor Holler

Today I have a guest post up at Squalor Holler.  Yep, that’s right…there are a whole bunch of fellow bloggers sharing their experience as children of compulsive hoarders.  And Sarah at Squalor Holler has a great series going on her blog sharing the stories of fellow COHs.  And today is MY day!

So scoot on over to read more about my interview, and be sure to give Sarah some love in the comments.  She’s doing her part to keep the conversation going.


I had the honour of reading a novel by Kristina Riggle, called Keepsake.  I first met Kristina via Twitter.  I noticed she had written a book about a hoarding character, and so we struck up conversation.  Kristina kindly offered to send me a copy of her novel, and I’m pleased to share my impressions of Keepsake.

Book Review: Keepsake

If you’re interested in the effects of compulsive hoarding on various relationships, look for this novel in stores.  It’s the story of a compulsive hoarder, who also happens to be divorced, and raising 2 sons.  She’s estranged from her teenage son, and after her 6 year old gets hurt in her own home, the authorities order her to clean up.  Not so easy.  This is a monumental task, so she needs the help of her minimalist, super neat sister.  Obviously, there’s stress, confusion, frustration, fear, and yet there’s still love and hope.

Cover of Keepsake, by Kristina Riggle

Cover of Keepsake, by Kristina Riggle

A Little Doubtful

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I cracked into this book.  I knew the author didn’t have a first hand experience with a hoarder, so I wondered how accurate could she possibly be.  I was pleasantly surprised…Kristina’s research did her well, so I happily present my review of Keepsake.  There were several moments in this story that I could have written myself.  Like this quote from the son of the main character, Trish, who is a compulsive hoarder.

 “You’ve cleaned before, Mom.  And know what happens?  You buy a bunch of storage bins and you decide you can’t part with anything & nothing changes. ~Drew “

I can’t tell you how many storage bins my Mom has.  Her line was always “If I just had somewhere to put all this stuff, I could finally get organized.”

I know now that this is called churning, and perfection is certainly involved, but to see such a similar truth reflected in Kristina’s book felt authentic.  Even more when I read this:

“You have no right to come charging in here telling me how crazy I am and touching things that don’t belong to you. ~Trish”

Lynn and I heard the same thing after we confessed to doing a mini-clean up 6 years ago.  And again when we wrote her a joint letter to explain we thought she is a compulsive hoarder and we wanted her to consider getting help.  She was SO mad, and nearly disowned us.

A family i can relate to

Like my real life relationship with Mom and my sister, Lynn, the family in this book is just as mixed up.  Our difference is that my Mom has no self awareness and at least the main character in Keepsake comes to terms that she DOES have unresolved issues.  The walls she built of stuff threatens to separate her from the people who love her, and she either has to deal with it or lose them all together.  I recommend you read the book to find out what happens to Trish, Drew, and the rest of her family.  And I recommend you continue to read Not Just Clutter to find out what happens to mine.

Who knows…maybe if you have a hoarder in your life, letting them “find” this novel would help open some communication.  Even if you don’t know a hoarder, this is a well-written story of a complex family dynamic in a modern world.  And who can’t relate to that?

If you’d like to know more about the author, visit her at:

http://www.kristinariggle.net/

 

Disclaimer: While Kristina did send me a free copy of her book, I was under no obligation to write a review of Keepsake, and all opinions expressed in this post are my own.  I did not receive any other compensation, nor do I expect any.


When I was about 12, I really got into making miniatures.  I’d sculpt teeny tiny plates of food, and painstakingly carve expressive characters out of FIMO.  I joined a miniatures enthusiasts club and everything.  No, it didn’t make me more popular.  I even started building a complex Victorian doll house, but I outgrew my interest before finishing the project.  I’m certain it’s still in my old room at Mom’s house, hidden behind 20 years of other hobbies and collectibles.  Imagine seeing compulsive hoarding on a miniature scale!

Barbie trashes her dreamhouse

Working From Home, 2011, Carrie M. Becker

One day, I stumbled across photos by Carrie M. Becker on Flickr.  She has a whole collection of images titled Barbie Trashes her Dreamhouse.  Here’s what she says in her profile:

I have a love of all things miniature. As a young adult, I collected small Japanese toys from a company called Rement. During the summer after completing graduate school I had some down time and decided to use my commercial photography skills to shoot my miniature collection as though it were “real”. Also during that time, I also frequently watched shows like “Hoarders” and “How Clean Is Your House?” With that in mind, this past summer I began creating the images that are presented here, though I reflect their inspiration as a mirror and not a judgement. For me, this series is about creating a small, but perfect world where the viewer cannot distinguish between what is reality and what is fiction.

When I saw her detailed work in a miniature scale, I was really blown away.  I know how long it takes to create a simple scene in miniature.  And I know what a compulsive hoard looks like.  Carrie has created these highly authentic miniature worlds of compulsive hoarding with an accuracy that’s eerie!  But brilliant!  Look at the image above…the post-it notes on the computer monitor, the cardboard boxes as attempts for organizing, and my favourite, the motivational SUCCESS poster on the wall!

Art Imitates Life

The Living Room, 2011, Carrie M. Becker

Hoard in living room

Living Room

Compare Carrie’s image above with one just under it sent from guest poster, Sue. See the barely exposed coffee table in the middle. The endless boxes. The stuffed bookshelves and curios. These are images from 2 totally different sources, but you can see how similar the theme seems to be no matter what hoarders home you’re looking at.

But at least in Carrie’s miniature world, it’s exactly that…miniature. You can see here how her scene fits on a little pedestal.
Working From Home, installation detail, 2011, Carrie M. Becker

This one just astounds me. You can practically feel the grime on the laundry set. My nose wrinkles at the thought of mildewed clothing wrapped in plastic.
The Laundry Room, 2011, Carrie M. Becker

A Miniature World

Carrie has other themed small scale sets and they don’t all depict compulsive hoarding situations. I definitely recommend looking through her Flickr sets.  She’s been featured on Huffington Post and TIME.com.  She has her own website, carriembeckerart.com, and you can also find her on Facebook.

*All photos have been shared with Carrie’s permission.  When I found her art, I contacted her through Facebook and asked if she’d mind being featured on NotJustClutter.


Is this the start of something good?

So Mom has started to talk about selling the house again.  Can you imagine having to move a compulsive hoarder?   She got her most recent property tax assessment and is delighted to learn they’ve appraised her home for a nice chunk of change.  I gently reminded her that it’s unrealistic she’d get that much.

She talks about getting a dumpster.  I don’t even know how much that costs in her city, but I know it’s going to take more than one.  I offered to help her sort through some stuff, but she’s still resisting help until she has a chance to go through things herself.

There are a lot of items she talks about wanting to keep because they’ll be great in the new house.  But then there are also items she’s identified as wanting to get rid of, like the living room sofa set.  Which is fine by me.

I am pleased to hear her talk about this, even if it’s just words.  I think maybe she’s getting glimmers of self-awareness, or she’s tired of being penned in by her hoard.  No matter what, I hope this is the start of something positive.

On the other hand

Mom tells one story to me and a different story to Lynn.  I’m not sure Mom knows that Lynn told me.  Ya follow that?  It means she’s giving me the brave face while there’s something else going on that’s actually pretty serious.  I can’t really talk about that yet.  Yes, it’s that serious.  And in this case, Mom shows no self-awareness.


Gift giving and receiving with a compulsive hoarder is complicated.

My Mother loves gifts.  I don’t blame her; who doesn’t love gifts?  I’ll tell you who.

Me.

Actually, let me clarify that.  I appreciate a well-thought out gift.  My husband Will is especially good at picking out something perfectly suited to me, and I love everything he’s given me.  He doesn’t go overboard with quantity and that’s just fine with me.

When I was a kid, any holiday involved a mountain of gifts.  When you’re little you think this is fabulous!  Windfall!!!!  Then I got older and (just a touch) wiser.  I realized though the gifts were plentiful, they were either:

  • poor quality
  • unsuited to me
  • had strings attached

Poor Quality

It was quantity over quality.  I started to fall into this trap too until one Christmas I exchanged gifts with my college boyfriend.  I wandered department stores and dollar stores, and picked out all sorts of whimsical things that made me think of him.  I gave him about a dozen little presents, and he gave me a gold promise ring.  It finally dawned on me that while the pile of presents seemed impressive, it wasn’t about the stuff and more about the emotions.  I might have spent as much as he did but while I received a symbol of our relationship, he got a pile of cheap trinkets.

Unsuited to Me

Mom & I haven’t been as tight as we used to be, so we don’t know each other as well as we should.  Her mental illness has changed her, and I’ve matured since her hoarding took over.  I know when she walks through her favourite thrift store she buys things because they make her think of me, but they’re bizarre.  Like, the country-style apple quilt wall hanging she found.  It was originally from Cracker Barrel and she told me:

“I know something like this would be worth at least $60 brand new.  I just couldn’t pass it up when I saw it for $12!”

The quilt was perfectly nice, in mint condition, and would probably look great hanging in someone’s home.  Just not mine.  I don’t have a country theme in my home decor, and I’d never expressed the desire for a quilted wall hanging.  So this was money spent on a gift for the wrong person.

Strings Attached

SO many “treasures” have been shared with me over the years.  On the surface, Mom is very generous.  But if Mom considered these items especially interesting, she’d declare the caveat “Don’t ever get rid of this.  If you don’t want it anymore give it to me.”  That tells me she really picked this out for herself, and only felt comfortable giving it away if she thought she’d get it back some day.

The Butterfly in a Jar my Mom really bought for herself but gave to me.

The Butterfly in a Jar my Mom really bought for herself but gave to me.

My birthday was recently…we won’t worry about which one it was. ;)
Mom asked me a few weeks ago what I would like for my birthday.  I told her nothing but her happy birthday wishes.  I know she’s on a tight budget, shipping is expensive, and I really don’t need anything.  Lynn & I had already discussed stopping gifts between each other and I mentioned all that to Mom.

I could tell she was hurt.  She thinks we don’t want to uphold any traditions.  That’s not true…it’s just the traditions I’m interested in don’t involve consumerism.  And I get the sense she’s upset if she doesn’t give a gift to me, I won’t give a gift to her on her birthday.

She’s right about that.  I don’t want to buy gifts for her any more.  Anything I’ve given her in the last several years hasn’t been used.  It ends up in the back of her van or in some pile at her house, never to be seen again.  I’m tired of wasting money and effort when it’s not appreciated.  And if I did want to buy her something, what would it be?  She has triplicate of everything because she’s lost the originals.  We’ve thought of buying her services, but she won’t let anyone into her house for housekeeping, repairs, etc.  We mentioned the idea of donating to charity in her name once and she was offended.

So, I’d rather not bother with the whole gift exchange thing.  I know it sounds cold, but I just can’t do it any more.  I don’t want her to buy me trinkets I’ll have to donate away or throw out, and I don’t want her to spend the few dollars she has left on a gift for me when she keeps her thermostat set to 60 in the winter to avoid a high heating bill.

What I really wish for

What I’d like from her is a memory we can share.  Perhaps go to lunch, or see a movie.  Sit down and do a craft together.  Take a drive and look at the scenery.  Too bad she lives 3 hours away.

She called me last night to sing me Happy Birthday.  And so we chatted and hearing her voice was gift enough for me.

How do you handle gifts with a Compulsive hoarder?

I’m curious as to how other children or relatives of hoarders handle gifts.  Do you still exchange?  Do you keep those things “loaned” to you…those gifts given but wanted back?  If you’ve found a solution to gift giving and receiving when a compulsive hoarder is involved, I’d love to hear about it!