Hello.  It’s been a while.

I took a breather from Not Just Clutter to sweep some clutter from my own mind.  I felt a little too wrapped up in worrying about mental illness and any hit of clutter, that I stepped back for a while.  It was a good thing for me.  I was able to focus on happier things for a while, and put my energy into other areas of my life.

But if you’ve been reading this blog from the beginning, you might be familiar with a series of posts called Case of the Silent Phone.  That’s what’s prompted me to write again.

It’s been 4 weeks since I’ve heard from my mother.  If you’re new to Not Just Clutter, my Mom only has a cell phone.  No land line, just a cell.  And for a while after getting it, Mom frequently lost her cell phone.  In fact, I think she’s had 3 phones in the last 18 months and it’s NOT because she’s always on the cutting edge of technology.

I call my Mom every Sunday.  3 weeks ago, my call went to voice mail.  I assumed she would call back within a few minutes.

2 weeks ago, I got voice mail again.  I thought maybe she lost the phone, or it’s not charged up.

And tonight, voice mail.  I’ve left messages every time.  I just don’t know what to think.

It could be that she’s lost the phone or the charger.  Or she’s feeling depressed and is refusing to answer any calls.  Or maybe….I don’t know.  My mind goes a million places.


How do you say “let’s not exchange this year?”

A little while ago, Lynn & I discussed not exchanging gifts for Christmas amongst the adults.  She and I are capable of buying anything we need and want, and we just can’t swallow buying gifts for a compulsive hoarder anymore.  There are budgets to consider, and we thought this might be best for everyone.  But then Mom learned of this, and thus began the guilt.

The Gifts

I know I’ve written a lot about gifts on notjustclutter.com already, but this is an ongoing issue in my family.  Mom firmly believes that Christmas and other family traditions are deeply routed in gift giving and receiving.  I would rather our traditions be experiential, and memory-forming.  For instance, I love that we sit as a family and decorate gingerbread men and houses on Boxing Day.  We chat, we share, we praise each others creativity despite clumsy icing bags, and it’s good fun for the kids.  I remember that more than what I unwrapped, or even what I gave to others.  I don’t want to see the art of gift giving turn into obligation.  I don’t want to see anyone feel left out around the tree on Christmas morning, either, while the kids tear into their brightly wrapped boxes.

The truth is that if Mom wasn’t a compulsive hoarder, I would want to guy her gifts.  I like to put thought into presents and she has so many interests, I usually had a good time looking for something to suit her.  But she is a hoarder, and has so much stuff that anything I give gets lost in the mountain.  Like a large canvas family portrait I gave her a few years ago…did that actually make it up on the wall?  Don’t think so.  How about the new computer desk chair she asked for and Lynn gave her?  It’s still at Lynn’s, in the box, 3 years later.  And that Kobo we bought her for Mother’s Day 2 years ago?  She tells us she’s still working her way through the books we loaded on it for her, and sometimes she still just loves a paperback.  But she’d admitted to another friend that she lost it, and now I know my own Mother lies to me.

The Guilt

After Lynn told her what she and I had decided about exchanging, Mom called ME to vent.  She’s unhappy we want to just give up that tradition, and she’s mad she wasn’t included in the decision making.  She wasn’t included mainly because when we DO try to discuss it with her, she shuts down and gets defensive…like she is now.  I’m a peace maker, and always end up trying to please everyone.  I empathize with both Lynn and Mom, but I’m the one who tries the hardest to compromise.  I hate seeing Mom upset, even when I can logically tell this is a guilt trip.  I try suggesting we draw names so we’re just buying for one adult and still respecting budgets, etc.  She didn’t like that idea either.  Essentially, she claimed:

“You and Lynn have already decided on this, so fine, have it your way.  But just know that it won’t feel like Christmas to me.”

Well, that’s great, Mom.  Thanks for announcing so far in advance that you plan on being a lead balloon during our family togetherness time.  You stomp your foot and cross your arms with a pout, and the rest of us will decorate gingerbread men.

Is there a solution?

If there is a way to better deal with gifts and guilt with hoarders, I’d love to hear it.  I’m at my wits end.  I want to be glad I have my loved ones around me, and we’re all healthy and happy.  That’s what I really want for Christmas.  Forget the stuff.  Forget the wrapping, ribbons, and bows.  Forget the generic greeting cards, and the over-packaged plastic toys, batteries not included.  I’m asking Santa for family unity.


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!


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

 


There are 2 new studies about compulsive hoarders you might not know about.  They’re being conducted by researchers at Case Western Reserve University.  These online surveys explore the relationship between someone with OCD or Hoarding tendencies and their relatives or loved ones.  Researchers hope the information gathered from these surveys will help improve therapies for OCD and hoarding (Goodness knows we need that!), and to also create an awareness of the complexities of the relationships surrounding those with these disorders.  You must be at least 18 years old to participate.  The bonus (other than science learning more about hoarding) is that entries are eligible for a draw for a Target gift card. You can choose to remain anonymous, and the site outlines their privacy procedures right up front.

I was approached by Dr. Amy Przeworski, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychological Sciences at Case Western Reserve University.  She reached out hoping to bring more attention to her studies, and I’m so glad she did.  Currently, there’s no formal information out there about the effects of compulsive hoarding on relationships, and she seeks to change that.  Our goals are aligned, as that’s what I’m trying to do with this blog.  I sometimes compare having a relative with hoarding to having a relative who’s an alcoholic.  I don’t dispute alcoholism is terribly serious and harmful, but the stigma isn’t as severe as it is for hoarders, and there are WAY more social supports in place from rehab to 12 step recovery to groups like AA, Al-anon, and Alateen.  Other than the Children of Hoarders website and blogs like mine, relatives of hoarders are still mostly on their own,

Two Studies, Different Approaches

The 2 studies have different veins…one is for the relative or loved one of a hoarder.  I completed this one, and encourage anyone in similar shoes to do so.  It didn’t take very long, although I found some of the questions about OCD unrelated to my situation.  You can skip anything not relevant to you, but your personal experience is valid!!

The other survey is for people who hoard or those with OCD to complete.  You can imagine how difficult it is to get enough people for this one…most hoarders have a lack of insight.  They don’t see themselves as having a hoarding problem, and so simply wouldn’t even attempt to answer this survey.  I know the researchers need at least 40 more entries to get a solid base for their research, so I ask if anyone reading Not Just Clutter who IS a hoarder and are stuggling with getting better to reach out and complete this survey.

Study Links

For individuals with OCD and/or hoarding: http://psychology.case.edu/research/fear_lab/participate.html

For relatives and significant others of those with OCD and/or hoarding: http://psychology.case.edu/research/fear_lab/participate.html