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.


Isn’t it about time we end the stigma of mental illness?

One of my main goals for writing my Not Just Clutter blog is to help dispel the misconceptions of compulsive hoarding disorder.  By sharing my personal story, perhaps others will realize hoarders are not uneducated lazy slobs.  Compulsive hoarding is complicated, heart-wrenching, and utterly baffling, but by trying to understand the nuances of hoarding, we can break down the stereotypes of not just this disorder, but of all mental illness.

Stop the Stigma

1 in 5 Canadians will experience some sort of mental health illness in their lifetime.  The chances are pretty high you know someone struggling with mental health.  Maybe they’re anxious about paying the bills.  Maybe their mood swings from low to high to low before lunch time.  Maybe she’s wrestling with post-partum depression and feels guilty for not bonding with her newborn baby.  Maybe he’s new to Canada, having escaped with only the clothes on his back from his war-torn home country.

Maybe it’s you who feels like you’re barely keeping it together every single day.

And you hide it.

You hide it in shame.  You shouldn’t have to.

Chalkboard image of Stop the Stigma of Mental Illness

Teen Suicide

Last week, I was sent reeling when I learned of the death of a 16-year old girl.  This girl had been in my home several times, caring for my daughter, Maddie.  I knew her to be smart, sensible, and compassionate.  Talented and athletic.  With a broad smile you couldn’t help but reflect with her around.  She had plans, and her whole future ahead of her.  We lost touch when she moved away from town, but I always considered her to be a positive role model for Maddie.  It’s tragic enough that she died so young.  It’s unspeakable that depression got a hold of her, driving her to suicide.

As a mother, I couldn’t help but imagine my own daughters at age 16, and wonder how I’ll possibly save them from the same fate.  My heart weeps for this girls family and friends.  I only knew her a fairly short time, but it was enough to be affected by her for life.

More than One Mental Illness

Sometimes, someone might be suffering from more than one mental illness.  I know of someone with schizophrenia as well as depression & anxiety.  You might think the schizophrenia is what affects this person the most, but it’s actually well controlled by medication.  The anxiety is a daily struggle though.

A fellow child of a hoarder talks about her post-traumatic stress disorder and dysthymic disorder on her blog Hoarding Child. I didn’t even know what dysthymic disorder was until she shared it with me through Twitter.  A day later, another friend confided she also dealt with it.  I had no idea.  I respect the trust these people put in me.  If they couldn’t trust at least one person with this, would they feel alone?  Be a person other people can trust to tell, and together we’ll stop the stigma.

My Mom

My Mom has a laundry list of health problems, mental and physical.  I suspect they’re all related, and feed the compulsive hoarding.  How could one possibly deal with chronic pain for over 20 years without depression, post-traumatic stress, and other complications?  I remember one of the lows Mom went through when I was in my early Twenties.  She leaned heavy on the table, head in hands weeping.  I wrapped my arms around her without a clue of any other way of helping.  She told me she wished someone would drag her out to the field and just shoot her.

We weren’t exactly sympathetic back then either.  “Chin up.  Don’t let yourself get in a funk.”  What did we know?  I was talking about this very memory with my Mom last night.  And you know what?  She doesn’t ever remember saying that…she insists she was never so low she wished to die.  But I tell ya…that’s not something I’d dare make up, and I’m certain my ears work perfectly.  She’s either in denial (no surprise there), or her memory has gotten foggy in the last 20 years.

So there.  That’s 5 people within my inner circle who are dealing with mental illness; they’re just the first ones I thought of.  I know there are others, and I’m ok with that.  They’re not raving lunatics brandishing axes, nor are they speaking in tongues.  They’re not standing on street corners preaching about the end of the world.  They’re not homeless, own excessive amounts of cats, and I’ve never seen them go “postal.” (there’s a stigma that’s gotta go)

They’re just people dealing with a wicked twist of fate.  Imbalanced chemicals in their brains and suddenly everything changes.  No one asks for it.  No one deserves it.  Maybe it’ll be me next time.  I’m lucky to have a support system to help me.  My husband, Will, is rock solid.  I hope he knows I’ve got his back, too.

You’re Not Alone

Whatever you’re feeling, please know you’re not alone.  People love you, even people who don’t know you.  The young girl I know who commit suicide last week will never know how the community pulled together to support her family and friends.  When the mommy community in my town learned of this girls death, they immediately began an outpouring of concern and unbiased support.  People who’d never met the girl, or her family, stepped up to provide food, money, and even clothes for the parents to wear to the funeral.  Friends set up RIP Facebook pages with fond memories, smiling photos, and declarations of admiration.  There’s no mistaking this girl was deeply loved.  And she didn’t realize it when she needed it most.

What can we do?

Good question.  What can we do?  We need to be open-hearted for others to talk to us.  We need to listen when friends share their struggles with us.  Reserve your judgment and criticism, and show compassion instead.  We need to talk for ourselves when others are willing to listen.  As fellow citizens of Mankind, we all need to be supportive of one another.  When many carry the weight of a few, the weight is suddenly more manageable.  Do your best to avoid adding more weight with tasteless jokes and sweeping generalizations.  As individuals, we don’t need to have all the answers, but we DO need to persist when we have unanswered questions.

National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace

Very recently, a new voluntary standard has been released to give employers a guideline for promoting employees’ psychological health and preventing psychological harm due to workplace factors.  Brilliant!  It’s about time we started giving mental health as much attention as physical health.  They so often go hand in hand.  Bell Canada has shown its commitment to this initiative by including mental health training for all Bell managers, and implementing a return to work program for employees affected by mental illness.  Let’s see how many other corporations bring this on board.  Watch for activity on Twitter with #Bell_LetsTalk (Bell Let’s Talk Day). Using social media, Bell hopes to raise money, but more importantly, awareness for mental health research.

Bell Canada Let's Talk Logo

Continue the Conversation, Stop the Stigma of Mental Illness

This is an on-going story.  It’s being written every day, and you’re a supportive character.  And maybe, some days, you’ve a lead role.  I don’t know how the plot might twist and surprise us as we go, but there’s always hope for a happy ending.


I feel so honoured to have been given to opportunity to write a guest post for Psychology Today.  Recently, the same doctor conducting the studies about compulsive hoarders and their relationships touched base with me and we’ve been having some great conversation about the lack of resources on this topic.  Truly, people like me, the hoarders son, and other children of hoarders have limited help in sorting out our feelings and relationships with our hoarding loved ones.

Raising Awareness

Dr. Amy Przeworski, from Case Western Reserve University, wants to raise awareness…and I’m hopeful when I hear mental health experts like Amy getting involved.  I wrote a guest post about what it’s like to be on one side of the wall of stuff while my Mother exists on the other.  I hope you’ll hop over to read my post on Dr. Przeworski’s blog…and stick around to read more of her own posts.  She speaks of anxiety and other family mental health issues worth reading.

Find me on psychology today

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/dont-worry-mom/201209/outside-the-wall