Sunday, May 30, 2010

Advice to a Fifteen Year Old Child of a Hoarder

One of the members of the Yahoo Group for Adult Children of Hoarders just sent me an email with a comment on my previous post.

The comment had so much good advice that I think it deserves a post of its own. Here it is (posted with permission from the original author):
Advice to a Fifteen Year Old Child of a Hoarder

I could have very well written that post some 39 years ago when I was 15. Augh! How is that EVEN possible that much time has slipped away! I probably did write something like that in the form of a journal entry when I was 15. Although, at that time there was nobody to read it (or so I thought). At that age, I thought that NOBODY could have possibly understood.

It is so good that you are reaching out at this age to others, though! Life is so short and I SO wish I had been able to speak out earlier on in my life and started shedding light on a subject that kept me TRULY in the dark for far too long.

You are at a GREAT advantage of having the Internet to talk to such a wide group of people and to know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Seriously, I used to think I was a mutant – a secretive hoard dweller who lived a duel life. I was always the guardian of THE SECRET and, man, was that DRAINING! I mean, it’s hard enough to just BE a teenager and deal with all of the crap those years throw your way, let alone having to essentially BE the adult in your interactions with your mom. Sigh.. and there was always that nagging fear that, somehow genetically destined to become my mother. As much as I loved my mom, I truly did not want to BECOME her, you know?

I hear your “wise beyond your years” voice clearly in your message. I can tell that, although you are suffering, ashamed and frustrated beyond belief, you have a good head on your shoulders. As such, I feel that I can talk straight to you and not sugar coat the facts too much. Please, if you get NOTHING else from my words, please read, re-read and try to TRULY “get” this first morsel of hard-earned wisdom:

1. In life, the ONLY person you ever have any control over is yourself.

You can choose to let your mom’s condition define you and always live in the shadow of her mountain of crap or you can become the absolute happiest and healthiest person YOU can be in spite of it all... You cannot change your mom. You can’t. That is up to her and ONLY her. You have a bit longer to live there and I know that environment is pretty awful. There IS a wonderful, clutter-free life possible out there waiting for you.

2. Your mom isn’t doing this to make your life miserable.

Folks are still debating about the details of this, but I think we can all safely say that NOBODY (in their right mind, that is) would choose to live like this. She’s sick. I know it’s hard, but please remember that.

3. It sucks to be a child of a hoarder.

Life isn’t fair sometimes. It simply SUCKS to be a COH. You are the daughter. She is the mom. Yet, part of you has never truly gotten to be a kid for very long I suspect? You never get the benefit of being “taken care of” in every sense of the word. Life is full of such secrecy, shame and a whole bunch of other emotional landmines when you’re a COH. Later on, society is gonna tell you it’s your duty to take care of your mom. That sucks too! HOW can you take care of someone who doesn’t acknowledge there is even a problem? HOW can you clear their homes when they fill it up as quickly as you clean it up? HOW can you reason with someone who is NOT reasonable? HOW can you make sense of the senseless? Man, it just sucks — pure and NOT so simply! Sad chuckle. I guess that doesn’t make you feel better, but it SURE does feel good to say out loud that it sucks. Try it. Write it! Say it out to a friend. Move OUT of the shadows and put some light on that truth, hon.

4. You are MORE than a COH.

So, I’ve given you all of this “it sucks” stuff and you probably are well aware of that already. The good news, though, is that you TRULY have the possibility for a great life ahead of you. You can move beyond your childhood home. For now, it may only be in your mind. That’s what I did. I wrote and drew during those late teen years and got in touch with all of the emotions I was experiencing. I SO wish I had other folks to talk to at that time. I studied like hell, got a college degree and found a niche for myself beyond my childhood home. Now, people come to my home and say I should charge for the sanctuary they experience here. I mean, how COOL is that?! I am JUST NOW beginning to reach out to others via my writing, though, after SOOOOOOOOO many years of hiding. I can’t tell you how happy I get when someone says that something I have written brings them joy or a bit of “ah-ha”. That is BEYOND COOL.

Perhaps I’m delusional (a distinct possibility), but I do believe that fellow COH are some of the most articulate and truly smart people I have met. Many COH seem to truly “get” that it is the “small things in life” and the people that we love that bring the greatest joy. Things do NOT replace people. That is NO minor truth, you know? Yes, our empathy meters tend to run on the high side sometimes. However, when I look at how so many people bump about life like emotional zombies, I think that might not be such a bad thing…

Find your passion and grow it! Don’t hide in the shadows, afraid of what someone else will think. You are WORTHY of being seen, loved and appreciated.

5.True friends won’t judge you.

I know this whole secret seems like the HUGEST, darkest, ugliest thing in the world that you are keeping from friends. And, my journal from when I was a teenager reminds me that at your age, EVERYTHING seems (and IS) intense. Trust me, EVERYONE has secrets. Everyone has a family member (or in my case, the whole tree) who is a tad nuts. If someone is a true friend, they won’t judge you. Oh, they MAY roll their eyes and they might keep their distance (at first as their brains try to wrap around the idea), but true friends won’t dump you because your mom is a hoarder. More people are getting familiar with the concept of hoarding, in great part to the whole current trend of reality tv. It’s not like she collects body parts in her freezer, right? She doesn’t have small children caged in your basement?

That’s NOT to diminish what you are going through, though. No, not at all. It IS a bad situation – without a doubt. But you do have to keep it all into perspective. I know that’s hard. There ARE worse things than being a hoarder. It does sound like you have a reasonable relationship with your mom and that’s a good thing. You have something positive to hang on to and to build on.

Most of us COH are JUST NOW (or very recently) stepping out of the shadows and finding light on this matter. You are SO ahead of the rest of us by asking for advice at 15.

Sending you a cyber hug and a wee song from Lady Gaga that speaks to my heart. Maybe you might find a bit of solace in it too. The video kinda sucks for this song, but I do so love the lyrics.

Don’t give up - Virginia

Virginia, thank you for sharing your thoughts!


CJ Omololu said...

Both posts are just awesome! I hope all of the teens that need to see this find their way here.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this, it makes me feel a little bit more hopeful.( I am just turning 15). It is hard not to feel ashamed,and alone with a big secret .I don't think I have had friends over since kindergarten,I always feel distanced.

N said...

wow, thanks for this post. i am 22, i have just finished university and i am now living at home for 6 months before i take a gap year. anyways, my dad is a hoarder, always has been since i was a child. i remember our house was always more cluttered and full of useless things, compared to my friends beautiful sparse cosy 'show' homes. hum. anyways this has totally become worse, and my house now is atrocious. i would never invite people round, becuase the house does NOT represent myself at all. whenever i try to tidy or throw things out, my dad goes crazy. he goes through the bin and doesnt like to throw away food, old books, anything. its crazy. anyways, i just wanted to say this post really helped me to realise, i am adult now and my life is in my hands. this doesnt represent who i am, the house is an ugly mess and i think when you live in an area which is unaethetically pleasing and full of stuff, clutter, which is not your own, of course it affects you. my sanctuary is my own bedroom which is tidy, sparse and organised. i also like the post about recognising the important things in life. friends. family. people ~! things are nothing. when i die, i will not take any of these things to the grave, but simply my memories of the great people in my life, and experiences. material things are nice, in moderation. for me, when i get my own place, its gonna be very white, very sparse, with only the necessities. i just need food, clothes, shampoo. lol. anyways. thanks for the post, its amazing i havent even considered to look up 'hoarding' online before, but i now realise i am not alone ~! so thank you.

Ima Hoarder said...

Great post. I would add that being a cheerleader if your parent attempts recovery. I doubt anyone wants to make their child suffer and many just don't realize how bad it is. I'm a hoarder myself (2 months into recovery) and am appalled at the condition of my brother's house. He's far from a hoarder but he also has a three-year-old and doesn't care that there is trash and clutter everywhere. I know what my reality is and I can't tell if that's the road he and his wife are going down. I do know my niece deserves better. I don't want her to have to join the club you all are in.

Anonymous said...

This is perfect... just perfect

Victoria said...

Hi I came across your blog about a week ago. I am an 18 year old "COH" with a younger sibling of 10, also "COH." Our single mother is a hoarder and always has been. Growing up, I thought everything was normal until middle school when I realized otherwise. I too, do not have friends other, nor does my younger sibling. I feel terrible for her, as she is young and does not understand. Any advice for that? Our mother hoards EVERYTHING, from food to cars to magazines to beads. I was away for college and when I returned, I thought I would do the family a favor and clean out the fridge..BAD idea. I caught h*ll for that. But my younger sister has already mentioned to me things like, "Mom says I don't help her clean the house." Devistating. Also from growing up with a hoarder, I have developed my own little obsessive compulsive behaviors about neatness and food. It has actually caused me a lot of issues growing up. However, this blog is really a savior. Thank you so much for posting it, and please keep it up. It's what I come to when I am upset by my mom or worried about my sister. You are brilliant for making this. Thanks so much.

Anonymous said...

This is very well said. I wish I'd had someone to tell me this when I was 15, and thought that it was just my family that could never have visitors or had to have "the warning about my house" with the few friends I trusted enough to bring over. At 31 now, as disturbing as some of the shows on TV can be, they felt too familiar and made me realize that I was not alone, and there are people out there who understand the feelings that come from growing up like this. I mean, I actually thought I was also just messy until I moved out and was amazed at how easy it was to keep my place clean. Any young people out there, just realize this isn't deliberate or that your parent doesn't care. Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

I lived in squalor until it was unbearable and I left home at 17 (no hot water, no heat, no refrigerator...too embarrassing to bring in repairmen)
The comments above would have been a Godsend when I was a teen.
If I could go back and advise someone like me I would urge them to:
1. Don't buy into the guilt trips- its not your fault, yes it abnormal and accept that the perfect time when order will be restored will never come.
2. Focus on counting the days when you will leave- GO TO COLLEGE! Do not let the dysfunction throw you off track in life like it did for me. Let go of the hours of cleaning and frustration- live life to the fullest as best you can instead.
3. That being said, safeguard your personal identification papers before they get lost in the hoard and you need them when you are 18. Get them now and get them out of the house, into a safe place like a relative's home. I was set back for nearly two years trying to get my
identity in my hands when I left.
4. You can learn to live 'normally' once you get out. The anxiety will fade. After establishing some habits, you will no longer be perpetually unkempt, unprepared and late to appointments. This does NOT have to be 'genetic.'

Like the last poster said, you can't change them- but you will survive.
Not only that, you will gain control in your life and be happy

Your goal is to love and respect yourself first, and then love and respect your parents - at a healthy distance.

Practical Parsimony said...

Hoarding Literally Killed My Best Friend.
Maybe someone can understand my friend's problem. People who hoard sometimes don't mean to hoard. But, like my friend, might end up dead as a consequence

Anonymous said...

No one really discusses what can be done legally. Is it not an option for a relative to seek legal action to get a child out of this situation? Should I call social services to try to get something done? I have a 13 yr. old niece and nephew who are living in a terrible hoarding situation. It is as bad or worse than anything on reality t.v. We tried to clean it some this past summer and threw out 40 contractor bags of trash- complete with 5 dead mice.

Julia said...

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Julia said...

Thank you for linking to our new blog! We will return the favor soon. :-) Julia from "Behind the Door."

S said...

Hi there --

I'm so glad and somewhat relieved to have found your blog, and especially those post. At 15, I had no idea what to call whatever "all of that" in my house was. My mother was and still is a hoarder (magazines, floppy disks, peanut jars, obsolete food containers and loads and loads of broken, old shoes). I didn't think much of it as a child, but when you're seven and growing up with other kids, briefly visiting for a popsicle, who say "Why is your house so messy?" -- it's kind of hard to ignore it. I always just figured that my mother was too busy to clean, or that she was too tired or too lazy, or that we had just moved in -- too many excuses, too many lies to keep the wolves at bay.

Now, at 21 and in my final year of university, I kind of have an idea as to what's going on. It would have been nice to know earlier, but I'm glad I know now. Its really removed a giant boulder of my shoulders to know I'm not alone. I have felt all the shame of being a COH, constantly offering to hang out at pubs or coffee shops or wherever else wasn't home. Just to get away from home. Just to get out of whatever "all of that" was and feel, if for a moment, normal and alive and not suffocated or smothered by magazines from '94 or boxes of floppy disks. So, just stumbling across your blog and reading this post... It's given me something to hold onto and some perspective. It's given me something to look forward to -- I'm too young to feel holed up and helpless.

Thank you so much for your blog.

Take care.

Dez Crawford said...

A note to all the teens: I'm so glad you found your way here. You will always have the support of others!

When I was a teen I dreamed of my own place and when I finally got it, it was tidy and clean. If you're 14, 18 seems like a lifetime away, but you can start by saving money from part-time jobs or babysitting, read about living on your ow. Learn how to balance a checkbook, clean a house properly,manage a budget on a shoestring, etc. The Flylady ( has a great website for budgeting, cleaning and menu planning on a budget. Start out on your own when you are legally able by looking for students who are looking for an extra roommate, so you can just move in without needing a lot of stuff. When you show up to look at their apartment (when you are considering moving in), when you are considering moving in, show up early and see how they really live.

Anonymous said...

Hiya take a look at the old, Kat Bush and Peter Gabriel version of " Don't Give Up! Think you might like it! My Mum is a hoarder, which is getting much worse as she is getting older! But all this information and help that is atarting to surface is really helping and helping me to curb any tendancies towards hoarding that surface. So thanks everyone. "

Anonymous said...

I'm 19 and I haven't lived with my mother, the hoarder, since I was a baby. My parents split as a result of the hoarding so I've never known some of the experiences mentioned above. However I have had similar stresses dealing with a hoarding parent but the distance gives me some peace of mind to deal with it. The first thing I recommend is to ask for some space to yourself, asking the parent to recognize that their actions affect everyone in the house. Also, congratulations for finding help on your own, life is better when you see hoarding only from a distance!

Anonymous said...

While I am glad I stumbled across this blog which lets me know there are other COH's out there I am still left with all the emotional baggage from my childhood. One comment mentioned the "social isolation" that lingers into adulthood - how do you overcome this?
Due to my COH experience I never learned how to develop friendships since I could never reciprocate in fear of revealing my family secret. My sister and I told many lies to prevent people from coming over. Eventually I stopped receiving invitations b/c I couldn't open my home to friends.
Now,as an adult, I still have problems getting past the acquaintance stage with people b/c of my awkwardness with the flow of friendship. If someone happens to stop by unannounced I experience anxiety if my home is not in complete order. (I am glad to say that I did not inherit the hoarding tendency)
I do agree with previous posts that therapy for the whole family is important. My mother doesn't have any clue of the effects of her hoarding on our family then and now. Since I am now her caretaker l am still emotionally involved in her hoarding which is exhausting.

Anonymous said...

I'm 15 and I live in the same conditions
Although my mom doesn't hold sentimental value to any of the trash however she does buy tons of jewelry and stuff like that online. The only bathroom we have that us useable we have to flush with a coat hanger because it broke and we can't have a plumber come in. There is mold covering most of the bathtub. I attempted to clean a counter to see what would happen and it was SPOTLESS and less than a few months later it looked the same as before and when I told her to stop messing it up she got mad and said to leave her alone because her job makes her so tired. I always have to make up excuses on why people can't come in my house. A few people know about it. I am being put in therapy if my dad decides he will help pay but I am afraid to tell about my house in case I put in CPS. I have been up UNTILL 2013 optimistic about the situation UNTILL this past freshman year. High school hit me hard. On top of that I was put on heavy medication for epilepsy. I went into depression and started self harming.