I’m a member of several Yahoo! Groups devoted to supporting individuals impacted by their own hoarding or hoarding by others. A few days ago, a fellow sent a message to one of the groups, describing his experiences after recently marrying a hoarder, and wondering if things will get better. In addition to her hoarding, his wife appears to suffer from OCD checking behaviors. The hoard is already severe enough that they are trying to keep family from visiting them and discovering their secret. I sent a response based on my experiences as a son of a hoarder, but for some reason, it isn’t getting through to the Yahoo! Group, so I am posting it here:
The time to take care of this is now, as it will only get harder to deal with once your wife is settled into a pattern with you. My mom is a hoarder, and it is amazing how creative a hoarder’s excuses and delaying tactics can be, and when the excuses and delays are accepted, the hoard grows, and the trauma of getting to a more “normal” situation grows with it. You sound like a decent guy, so it can be tempting to take the excuses and delays at face value, but that is a mistake. Hoarders have great difficulty making certain types of judgments, and even if they honestly believe their own excuses, it doesn’t change the basic pattern of behavior. I’ve seen pictures of my childhood home from when my folks were first married, and it wasn’t too bad. Within a few years, however, only a couple of rooms were presentable to family friends, and within a few more years, no one was allowed in the house at all. Try to guess what that means when the furnace breaks or you need a plumber. I’m sure that my dad never expected how bad things would get with my mom’s hoard.
As an aside, if you are planning on having children, please give serious thought to the impact that growing up in a hoarding environment can have on a child. I spent my youth hiding from people when the doorbell rang, making excuses to friends and relatives about why they couldn’t come and visit, getting teased constantly by all the other kids in the neighborhood, and a lot of things that are much worse and can echo well into adulthood. Also, hoarding parents often use the kids as excuses, e.g. “Well, it’s hard to get things cleaned up and squared away when the kids running around.” Many kids hear stuff like that, and end up thinking that the hoard is their fault and feeling guilty. I was probably twelve years old before I realized that I didn’t cause the hoard and that I wasn’t the reason we couldn’t have repairmen in the house to fix things when they broke.
The fellow indicated that his wife was not likely to see a therapist, so I sent a second message (which did get through), listing a few self-help resources:
On a cheerier note than my last email, since your wife isn’t ready to see a therapist, there is a pretty good book called Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior, by Jeffrey M. Schwartz and Beverly Beyette.
It goes into some of the “cognitive-behavioral” self-help methods for people with OCD. Even though there is some controversy over whether hoarding really is OCD or something else, the methods described in the book seem like they would be helpful in a lot of situations where someone is trying to change some difficult patterns of behavior.
The Children of Hoarders support group has a list of some other books that might be helpful over at Amazon: http://astore.amazon.com/childrenofhoa-20/105-1108927-2012454