Sunday, May 30, 2010

What Would You Say to a Fifteen Year Old Child of a Hoarder?

An anonymous, fifteen year old child of a hoarder recently commented on my very first blog post. I've copied the comment and parts of my response below.

If you are a child of a hoarder (COH), and you are older than fifteen years old, what do you know now about hoarding and being a COH that you wish you knew when you were fifteen?

Here is the original comment:
I'm fifteen year old and my mom is a hoarder as well. People have no idea how hard it is to grow up like this. We have pathways to each room of the house. My room, the bathroom, and the kitchen are the only room without useless clutter. I can't have my friends over, and I haven't had a birthday party since I was seven because of all this mess. I've known my bestfriend for SIX YEARS and she's never stepped foot in my house. Never once... It's very depressing. My mom is great and I love her to death, but this has to stop. I don't know how I can get it through her head! She blames things on to me when they ARE NOT my fault. "You won't help me clean the house! That's why it's like this!" Nothing in the livingroom is mine except for probably clean laundry that I don't know is in there.. She was never like this when I was younger.. She started renting a building, she always wanted to have a store. So she'd go to yard sales, thrift stores, ect. buying needless junk. She'd say "Oh, I'm buying this for my store!" Yeah right.. She's been renting that building for about six years now, $300 a month.. Ugh. I just don't know what to do. I'm going to be a sophmore in highschool next year. I'm going to be sixteen in September. I atleast want to have the house cleaned up and be able to have friends over... Sigh, I don't know what to do...

Here is what I wrote back to her:
Everything that you wrote sounds so familiar to me, right down to the part about mom saying, "You won't help me clean the house! That's why it's like this!" My mom used to say things like, "The house would be fine, if I could only get some cooperation from you people!" To her, cooperation seemed to mean sitting next to her for hours while she picked up a stack of magazines that the cat knocked down, stopping to read every one of them (or at least as many as she could until she got tired), and then maybe putting one or two (out of a pile of hundreds) into a recycling bin, which somehow would never make it out the door. I only let a friend in my house once as a kid, and I was punished for it. I never had a friend in the house as a teenager, and now, years later, some of my old classmates still think of me as "the kid who never let anyone in his house."

When I was fifteen, I thought that I was the only person in the world who was growing up that way, and I was so ashamed of my house. On the bright side, you know that you aren't alone! While it's sad that there are a lot of us "children of hoarders," at least we can reach out and support each other!

There are a few things that I wish I knew when I was fifteen:

1) Hoarding is a psychological condition that usually is very difficult to treat. It's not a matter of a hoarder being lazy or sloppy. It's a matter of not processing information the same way that most other people process it, and it's very hard to change the way someone is "wired." Don't expect your mom to change her behavior overnight!

2) Someone on a support group for children of hoarders once said, "Remember, our parents living conditions never were, are not now, and never will be, our fault. We didn't cause it. We don't need to carry any guilt for it." So true! Since the worst of my mom's hoarding started after I was born, and I knew that when my older sisters were little, the house was messy, but it was manageable enough that they could have birthday parties and friends visit, I was convinced that the mess was my fault. It was quite a relief to learn later that it wasn't my fault! Unfortunately, even after learning that, it took me years to realize that I couldn't fix the problem by "helping" to clean up or fix up the house. Again, my mom has a psychological problem; she is not lazy or stupid.

3) You have a right to live your own life, to have your own goals, and to pursue your own happiness. Do not get caught up in trying to "fix" everything in your mom's house if there is no sign of real progress, particularly if you notice that trying to help your mom interferes with you doing important things in your life that you want to do.

4) I wish that I could say that there is a good chance of getting the house quickly to a state where your friends could visit. There probably isn't, at least not without support from others, including professionals. Also, to be successful, your mom has to want to change.
What do the rest of you think? What kind of advice would you give to an anonymous, fifteen year old child of a hoarder?

Update: After writing this post, I received a very thoughtful comment about it via email. It was so good that I decided to add a whole, new post about it!


Tiffany deSilva said...

You've offered very sound advice here. What a great resource you are for younger children of hoarders still living at home.

Thalia said...

In my case it was my father. This is what I wish I had known at your age:

It's not your fault.

You cannot change a hoarder if they do not want to change.

Their logic is not earth logic. It is not rational. So don't try to understand it. I wish I hadn't spent all that energy trying to understand my father and getting him to change. Because it was not ever going to happen. And immersing myself in his crazy world just made me feel crazy.

It is not your responsibility, either. Just as it is not your fault. I mean, of course loving children want to see their parents healthy; but if the parent cannot see there is anything wrong, and completely refuses help (which is how my dad was) then there isn't anything you can do anyway.

And it follows, that when you are an adult, you have the right to walk away from it all. Most people don't, of course, but it is an option, and you do have the right, if things are too much.

You are also not responsible for your mother's actions and behavior. Her craziness is no reflection on you or your worth as a person. You need not be ashamed for her. Nor need you take that shame for yourself. It is not yours, and you can refuse it.

The state of the house, plumbing, or yard is not a reflection on you either. It is not your responsibility as a kid.

You are normal and you have the right to your own space and your own life. You are, in fact, entitled to your own space.

But mainly, it is not your fault. It has never been your fault, it is not now your fault, and it never will be your fault.

Anonymous said...

the main idea here is that the hoarding has nothing to do with you. i've tried my whole life, it seems, to change my mother. it's been an exercise in futility. she has to be the one to want to change--it was foolish of me to think otherwise. i've sacrificed so much of my life trying to help her. please don't make the same mistake. do what you want to do and don't consider her in the least. you know she only considers herself and her things as important. i grew up with warped thinking because of my mother, but thanks to enlightenment of the past couple of years I've been digging out of the hole. i don't want my kids feeling about me the way i feel about my mother. they are way more important than any tangible objects i might possess. i used to be so afraid to upset my mother; now i just push back. she can't hurt me any worse than she already has. just remember, the mess in her house is nothing compared to the mess in her mind. i can't remember where i heard that, but it is so true. i think it's okay to tell your friends that, unfortunately, you are living like an episode of hoarders. just say you prefer to be in a comfortable space, and that space is not your home. if they are really your friends, they'll understand it's not your fault. i know, it's so trite to say that, but it's really true. truth to tell, they might make fun of your mom, but not you. at least that's been my experience. i don't mean to run on, so I'll sign off. i hope this has helped in a small way. best of luck to you!

Anonymous said...

Hey, I am in the same boat. I am 15 and my mom is a hoarder. I can`t have friends over anbd things get pretty rough. I always feel stupid when my friends are inviting me to parties at THEIR house when i cant return the favor. And I find the most uncomfortable thing is when I`m at a friends, and I`m eating at a kitchen table; its wierd...

Anonymous said...

I think your reply was on the mark. As someone that has been in that position I can relate to 99% of what's going on in that house
The old "you won't help me clean" ploy is an attempt to shift blame and not take ownership of the problem. My mom told me that when I moved out of the house everything would be cleaned and kept that way. Well that was 30 years ago and things haven't changed in her house. You can't change them.

Anonymous said...

Question: When does hoarding begin; why does it begin; how does it begin. Oh, so it is three.

Um, I'm a hoarder 69yr. I think it started about age 13 months. My tiny blanket Think on it. Being just 15 years old is not enough living to know what you may become in your future. Believe it or not, criticism has harmed and made me worse. Of course I dare not have you know me so I sign "Anonymous". Ah, life is grand, it really is. Let's not let the little things bother us so much. Okay?

Stephanie said...

Wow--this is my life. My mother can't part with anything for 'sentimental reasons', it takes her a lifetime to go through a pile of magazines, and then she won't throw any out. I couldn't have friends over and shouldered that shame for 17 years.

I am so glad that there are resources for this 15-yr-old! And that people like us can come out of the shadows and help each other now; it was so difficult growing up, only being able to talk to my sister about the situation. To now know that we are/were not alone and that there are many others who experienced the same anxieties, concerns and shame.

Good luck to you all!

Anonymous said...

to the anonymous low life hoarder who posted on here, how dare you, I am the child of a hoarder and I hope that you do not have any children so that they have not been through what we have been through. DONT come onto this website and try and reason what you do because it is not logical and it is down right ridiculous. I agree with you that a 15 year old does not know what he or she is ahead of them but i do know that the environment that they have been raised in does not foster a confident and happy child and young adult because of people like YOU. No child, teenager or living being should have to live like that, it is not her fault that her mother has trashed the house to a point where she is unable to entertain her friends or feel comfortable.

And maybe if you had listened to a few things that people had said to you over the years and dealt with the hoarding rather then letting it "harm or make you worse" there would be one more clean house and less damaged children in the world.

So shame on you for even coming onto this site let alone posting, nobody cares about your side of the story, people like you are the cause of this website and i am disgusted that you think that this is a LITTLE THING.

To the 15 year old, find your mother help, she needs professional treatment. I really feel for you, none of this is your fault, when you are ready leave your home and your mother and dont look back.

Anonymous said...

Hatred does not cease hatred; love does.

I spent my teenage years in this kind of situation. My mom was a hoarder and an alcoholic and kept my brother and I in absolute filth (dirty dishes and clothes everywhere, pots of food with maggots crawling in them). We didn't even have pathways to walk in.

I agree with the advice given in the post. Although my mom was able to get cleaned up, it was not my endless efforts that did the trick; she did it on her own. She still wants me to help with some issues but I have to stand back. If I try to get involved and fix things it will only waste my energy and make me frustrated.

If I could be fifteen again I would find any way possible to leave. Any way. I would sincerely suggest that this girl finds a way to leave that house.

If I could be fifteen again I would find a community, a special place -- a church or a Buddhist sangha or anything where I could nurture a spiritual life that would create an internal haven for myself.

I would not spend energy fretting over "finding help." A child/young adult cannot deal with the guilt of reporting on or calling in for a parental figure.

Really, to this day I regret not helping myself instead of worrying about my mom. She would have been okay -- and maybe even better.

Anonymous said...

My mother is a hoarder. I resent her...I live with her. My father passed away 6years ago. I feel like I am stuck in some sort of time warp...I can't move forward. I work full time and can't keep the house clean on my own. I'm tired of doing it all by myself. She's given up. all I can think about is moving out. I think out what it's gonna be like when she's not around anymore, how to deal with his stuff...her's overwhelming. I just want out. If I were to give advice to a 15 year would be move out at 18 far, far away and don't look back because they don't change. They are like life long alcoholics. The best way to deal with it is to not be a part of it. They will suck you dry if you let them.

Anonymous said...

My mother is a hoarder, too, and extremely paranoid to boot. We've always had a rather dysfunctional relationship where I am the mother and she is the daughter, so I spent most of my childhood trying to help her (meaning I went through her piles and asked her for each individual thing what she wanted to do with it- which she usually wanted to save for later). She always said she couldn't do it alone. While my friends went to movies or the mall or hikes, I stayed home and made my mom cleaning calendars, de-cluttering plans, and special rewards if she got an area cleaned up. It never worked. I only had one friend in my house ever, and it was because she had an unstoppable bloody nose. Even then mom got upset. The house is worse than it's ever been, and I had originally planned to spend my summer home from college helping her clean every day, but I forgot the main thing that I think non-COHs don't understand: the house itself sucks all the energy out of you. You become as depressed, lethargic and miserable as the hoarder, if not more.

So this is what I wish I had known or been told when I was 15:
-You are not alone. This is quite common, unfortunately.

-It's okay to ask for help. You don't have to be secretive and ashamed and avoid all mention of why no one can come into your house. You can tell people you trust and ask them to just listen- relatives, therapists, anybody.

-You can't fix your mom, and you can't fix your house, no matter how hard you work. It is an illness like an addiction and requires the hoarder fully admitting to the problem AND being willing to change. My mother admits she's a hoarder but then brings even more things into the house.

-Don't enable them. Compassion is one thing, but being supportive of this type of behavior is entirely another. When she apologizes for the way the house is, NEVER say "It's okay." EVER. This doesn't mean you should be cruel, but it is important that you do not accept this part of your mother, however difficult that may be, especially when living with her full time.

-Take care of yourself. Get out of there when you need to, do what makes you happy, ensure as much as possible that your own mental health is at least stable. The worst possible thing you can do is let this lifestyle take over your life and damage you permanently. Breathe deep, know that in a few years you can choose your own path, and do your best to unburden yourself of things that are not your responsibility.

Best of luck to you. In some ways we are scarred and damaged for life, but in other ways we are far more mature and stronger than other people who have not had to deal with this experience.

Anonymous said...

Its amazing how similar all of this stuff is. Im 16 and a Junior in high school, and "Hey, I am in the same boat. I am 15 and my mom is a hoarder. I can`t have friends over anbd things get pretty rough. I always feel stupid when my friends are inviting me to parties at THEIR house when i cant return the favor. And I find the most uncomfortable thing is when I`m at a friends, and I`m eating at a kitchen table; its wierd..." thats exactly how I feel. Up until high school, my Mom wouldn't do anything to clean the house up, but I was always so motivated to. Every time I could I would just sit down and try, but it was too much. Every year my mom would say, oh don't worry honey, that'll be our goal for this summer. Every summer for like 7 years. Every time I went to camp, and come back a month later I would always hope that my house would be completely changed, but it never was. Once I got into high school, I kind of just realized that whats the point, I'm gonna be gone in a couple of years so why bother? But once I stopped caring, my mom started. She finally got somebody to help her clean the house, but it's just so slow, and they may take out like 5 huge bags of trash but its just so slow, and it seems like its never going to change. I just want to invite a friend over by the time I'm done with high school, thats been my goal for forever, and unfortunately, it didn't happen for my brother but I'm still hoping for me.

Lexa Be said...

I'm eighteen, a daughter of a hoarder, and I was lucky enough to escape for six months to live with a boyfriend a few states away. When he broke up with me, I had nightmares because I didn't have the resources to live alone, and I would rather die than live with my mother again. She constantly would scream at me, and my clothes smelled like cat excrement because that's how the entire house smelled. I was horrified and clung to my ex who never actually treated me very kindly, but I didn't have much of an alternative.

I am currently living with my grandmother, and still picking up after my mother because she lives a few blocks away and can't cook in her own kitchen so she makes a mess where I am staying and everytime I confront her about it she yells at me. I am seeking therapy because I suffer from depression and what I believe is DID due to her hitting me occasionally when she thought I was doing something wrong. I have several mental disorders and I cannot escape her even now.

I first saw the Hoarders show during my senior year sociology class. I almost ran out of the room when I finally understood that my mother was a hoarder. In some senses I am glad I didn't know because whenever I bring up that she needs help she yells at me, and she would have hit me had I been younger. I cannot count the number of nights I spent walking around town to avoid being abused more than just emotionally.

I hope that children younger than me can get help, that they will have resources to access. I have been trying to find a way to get my mother help, and I was doing a google search when I stumbled across this page. Thank you for having this, as a child of a hoarder, I know how valuable it is to have support, even now.

Anonymous said...

My mom is a hoarder too. I'm 14 and i live in a mobile home in texas. She always says that it's my fault too, that i dont help her, and that i give her an attitude which is why she doesnt clean. and... i guess i do give her an attitude, which i feel bad for... but it's all because i'm sick of this mess. She has so much of it because she wants to send boxes out to the philippines full of stuff. but when she does, she buys other things at the store to send. Because of our living conditions, we cant get hot water in our shower. so we boil it. we have to turn a pipe under the house to turn the water on to flush. I dont have a room either, so i sleep on the floor on a mat with my mom. she never cleans because its either deadly hot during the summer, or too cold during the winter she's either too tired from work, or out with friends to get away from it all. I tried cleaning out my room once. I threw away a bunch of old belts that didnt fit and she screamed at me and it got physical. she said "i was going to send that to the philippines!" my dad, mom, and i argue so much, and sometimes i wish that i could get away from it all, but i cant. i start my freshman year next year... 4 more yrs.

Anonymous said...

1.Get job and make $$. Save $$$ to buy car and house. Move as far away from the "mom" as possible.
2. Establish healthy relationships and create a new family.
3.Throw your trash mommy out of your life.

Your mom collects shit because your mom is shit. You are not shit. Let her die in her shit. You deserve better. Throw the trash away.

Do whatever it takes to get out of that house and out of that womans' life. There is no point -NO POINT whatsoever in trying to "help" the woman. She cares more about trash than she does about you. She does not care about you. She will not change.

Do not believe the lies you see on tv. hoarders are evil selfish people who care nothing about people and care only 4trash. If you care about your mom, please remember she DOES NOT CARE ABOUT YOU. She cares about trash.

YOU ARE NOT TRASH so take care of yourself. Save $$$$ and get a plan together to get out and away from that evil woman as fast as you can.

Work on establishing healthy relationships. As a girl, you must be on guard against sexual predators. Use your intution, and go slowly in trying to establish friendships and finding a spouse. protect your own interests first. PROTECT your own interests at all costs.

Growing up as you did, you're an abuser magnet. You will attract abusers and losers for your relationships. Stay strong, and pay attention, establish boundaries. You will make huge mistakes in relationships due to your upbringing. Make mistakes. Don't give up, learn. you can find healthy relathionships but it will be a learning process.

look for people who have good relationships- not perfect people, but people who have evidence of caring sharing in their lives.

Your "mom" does not care about you and will let you die before she lets one piece of trash go.

Create a new family of people who care for people not trash.

Anonymous said...

This is true.