Sunday, November 04, 2012

More COH-Oriented Research

I recently heard from Jennifer Park, M.A., that she is performing research into the "Impact of Hoarding on Parent-Adult Child Relationships and Family Functioning" as part of her doctoral dissertation in Psychology at the University of South Florida under the supervision of Professor Eric A. Storch.
As I write this post, she is trying to recruit up to five hundred adult children of hoarders to complete a confidential, anonymous online survey focusing on (1) parent/caretaker’s hoarding behaviors, (2) relationships within the family and with the hoarding parent/caretaker, and (3) impairment associated with the hoarding behaviors.

If you are interested in participating in Ms. Park's research, please visit for more information and for access to the online questionnaire. Thanks!

UPDATE: The research survey has been completed.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

On Point on Perfectionism

On Point®, Trustees of Boston University. 
Many children of hoarders report that their hoarder parents display extreme perfectionism, at least in certain aspects of their lives. In my own family, this is very much the case. My mother was an extreme hoarder, and she was also an extreme perfectionist. For example, she would often have an internal vision of how a room "should" look or how a repair "should" be done, and I think that contributed significantly to her hoarding. She might start to organize a room, but if she didn't have "enough" time, she'd get anxious, stop, and put it off, waiting for a day (that never came) when she would have the time to get the room "just right." There was no such thing as "tidying up" in my childhood home: it was either, "we'll get to it later," or "Stop everything! We have to spend the next three days doing nothing except getting this room organized if we're going to be able to get the furnace fixed!" Of course, we generally never came close to getting the room organized, and any progress that might have been made would rapidly succumb to the laws of entropy.

With that as a preamble, I learned via twitter that Professor Amy Przeworski and psychologist Thomas S. Greenspon recently discussed "The Science and Psychology of Perfectionism" on NPR's On Point with Tom Ashbrook. While the potential role of perfectionism in hoarding was not discussed, the segment was very interesting and engaging. If you're interested in understanding perfectionism a little better, the segment is worth a listen.

PS. You can also download the NPR segment as a 22 MB MP3 file suitable for listening via iPod, iTunes, Windows Media Player, etc.

PPS. Not long ago, Professor Przeworski also blogged about perfectionism over at Psychology Today.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

HuffPo on Hoarding's Harsh Reality

On October 8, 2012, HuffPost Live, the new video streaming network from The Huffington Post, produced a segment on "Hoarding's Harsh Reality." Hosted by Alicia Menendez, the segment featured Frances Boudreaux (author and daughter of a hoarder), Sidney Patrick (blogger and advocate for children of hoarders), and Randy O. Frost (professor of psychology and hoarding researcher).

While the segment began with a general description of hoarding as a disorder, most of the discussion centered around the impact of hoarding on families and children. I think many children of hoarders will find both Ms. Boudreaux and Ms. Patrick to be refreshing and empowering voices. They really did a terrific job of conveying the challenges faced by children of hoarders and other family members.

Other children of hoarders contributed interesting thoughts in the segment's comments section, but, as is typical for internet comment sections, one or two miscreants shared their ignorance, showing that much more work needs to be done to increase awareness of the impact of hoarding on families.

To see the segment, visit "Hoarding's Harsh Reality."

PS. You can buy Frances Boudreaux's book, Where the Sun Don't Shine and the Shadows Don't Play, through Amazon and other booksellers, and you can read Sidney Patrick's blog at My Mother In Law is Still Sitting Between Us.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

COH Brochure

There is a house in my neighborhood that is an obvious hoard house.

Now and then, I see a girl, probably around thirteen years old, riding a Razor® scooter up and down the driveway, over and over. I've never seen her ride it on the sidewalk or in the street. She always has such a forlorn look on her face.

I haven't stopped to say hello to her (cue visions of breathless reports on the evening news about a 40-something year old stranger approaching a 13 year old girl in her driveway), but every time I see her, I want to tell her that she isn't alone and that things can get better.

I think I'm going to print out a Children Of Hoarders, Inc. flyer (downloadable as a 470 kB PDF file) and put it in the family's mailbox. Better yet, I should just print up a few to carry in my car, and when I see a kid in such a situation, I shouldn't be afraid to get out of the car, hand a flyer to the kid, and tell them that they are not alone.

Then again, the flyer is written more for an adult than for a teenager. Thoughts?

Click on image to download 470 kB PDF version of COH flyer.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Dust Bunnies


I'm guessing that if I ever sign up for an online dating site, this line won't exactly reel 'em in:

"I'm in my forties, I'm fairly accomplished, and, deep inside, I still struggle with feeling like I'm worth less than a dust bunny."

There. I said it.

Tonight, I found myself writing the "dust bunny" sentence in response to a remark someone made about the deep, lasting impact of growing up in an environment where parents appear to value stuff—even stuff that belongs in a biohazard container—more than they value the psychological and physical needs of their children.

I know that I am worth more than a dust bunny.

I just don't always believe it.

After all, I spent just under half of my life surrounded by evidence that I wasn't.

A big part of the struggle is recognizing that the scar is real, that it is significant, and that I am not being a weak, whiny little kid by acknowledging that the sustained conditions of my first eighteen or so years will naturally echo across the decades.

At the same time, a part of me tells me that I'm in my forties, and it's weak and whiny to blame things that happened more than twenty years ago for how I feel today.

Meanwhile, another part of me insists that I grew up surrounded by cobwebs and cat feces, and that I have a hell of a lot of nerve to think that I deserve better than that. If there is anything truly evil in my life, it is that voice, and I speak with it every day.

PS. Before anyone gets too concerned about schizophrenia, I don't actually "hear voices," or anything like that. I just tend to have melodramatic internal dialogues. :)

Friday, September 28, 2012

A Christmas Conflagration

I'm always excited to hear that another child of a hoarder has started to blog, but I was downright giddy to learn that a friend, Lisabeth Grey, has started blogging over at Not My Hoarding Mother. To welcome Ms. Grey to the blogosphere, another friend of mine, Sidney, from the fabulous My Mother-in-Law is Still Sitting Between Us blog, and I are both featuring excerpts from Not My Hoarding Mother on our blogs this week.

Over at Sidney's blog, you can read the tale of "The Derecho and the Elderly Hoarder." (A "derecho" is a powerful, straight-line wind storm that can leave as much damage in its wake as a tornado.) Here, I'm happy to share Lisabeth's all-too-true story about a fire at a hoarder's neighbor's house (as opposed to the more typical fire at a hoarder's house). The setting is Christmas Eve, but instead of calling the story A Christmas Carol, let's call this, "A Christmas Conflagration."

Without further adieu, I yield the soapbox to Ms. Lisabeth Grey:
I called [my hoarding mother] the evening of Christmas Day (which is her birthday as well) to wish her a Merry Xmas and Happy Birthday. She received my cards, and our conversation was normal for us. A little background... I took the geographical solution after high school, and since moving out of state in 1999, I have only been home two times, and to the same town maybe three times. Our contact is now limited to phone for my self preservation. Anyway, I hear this loud pounding noise [through the phone] and she whispers, "Did you hear that? What is that?"

Like I know!?!?

Long story short, it is her neighbors, trying to kick her front door in, since her next door neighbor's house is on fire, vehicle gas tanks are exploding, ammunition is going off, and her grass is on fire. Now, her property has had no mowing for months, no raking, and her fence is locked, double storms over the windows, the water hose is shut off from inside, and she disconnected the doorbell because it scares the cats—11 nearly feral cats inside—and the front door is completely blocked off, goat paths only and stuff piled at least waist high to ceiling high EVERYWHERE. The neighbors are stomping fire in the yard, throwing stuff on her roof to put out burning leaves, and desperately trying to get her attention and get her out.

She opens the side door and sees the neighbors house, and I can hear her reaction, and she finally tells me what is happening. I tell her to "Call 9-1-1! NOW! NOW! NOW!", to turn on the water hose, and then I hang up. She lives in a rural Appalachia, no fire hydrants, on a dirt road, etc. The closest fire stations are four miles and seven miles respectively. The Cliff's Notes on the situation: the folks next door had just sat down to holiday dinner when the homeowner heard something, opened the garage door, and saw fire. He got his wife, two daughters, and three grandkids out. Barefoot, no purses, no wallets, they lost all vehicles, including those in the driveway... And the house is a total loss. Burnt flat. Several houses nearby have fire/heat damage, and the grass in my mother's yard is burned within ten feet of her house. She has siding and roof damage, but her roof was already trashed from hail a few months ago...that she has been delaying repairing.

In the two days since... This is where my angst comes in...
  1. It has become all about HER and her INCONVENIENCE of it all, and her fear and drama
  2. She is obsessing on it, yet does not acknowledge the level of danger that was incurred by her HOARDING and paranoia
  3. She is now firmly ensconced in the museum of petty grudges, as she and the neighbors who lost their home have not spoken for nearly 40 years (and guess who initiated THAT???)
I have posted on my FB about it, and when I find out who is collecting for her neighbors, I plan to send a donation and post that too since many of my FB friends are in that area. My HP is against this and has:
  • pointed out they don't speak and it was their fault
  • criticized their child rearing
  • criticized the woman's decision to be a stay at home mom
  • criticized the woman's pride in her yard
  • criticized the woman's choice to color her hair at 60 something years old
  • pointedly stated that they did not contribute to the flower collection for my father when he passed in 1989 (she nastily, and in the most ugly way ever, REFUSED IT anyway!)
The list goes on and on. I informed her that none of that matters, and they could be the worst people ever, but they LOST EVERYTHING, and I am doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do. Now in every conversation, I can almost hear her mind working, trying to figure out how to control my donating cash to them.

My heart breaks for the neighbors' family. They raised their kids and are helping raise their grandchildren. Just nice folks.

Narcissism sucks. Hoarding sucks. And I am flatly just sick of it.

—Excerpted (with minor edits) from "My Worst Fear Was Almost A Reality", by Lisabeth Grey.
Thanks for sharing your story, Lisabeth, and welcome to the blogosphere!

I hope that all of my readers will pay Lisabeth a visit at Not My Hoarding Mother, and I invite any other COH bloggers to get in touch with me if they would like to be a guest author here at my little corner of the neighborhood.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Family Intervention Follow-Up

My last post, "A Family Intervention?", centered on a request for advice from a man who is the father of several children and who is married to a hoarder. "Jim" wanted advice on how/whether to have an intervention to help the family, what might happen if it failed, and, in the last resort, how likely he would be to get custody of the kids in the event of a separation.

Before I posted his story on my blog, I outlined Jim's situation in general terms to the participants of the COH Chat held on Sunday, September 9, 2012. I've summarized the resulting comments from that chat session here:

  • First, there was wide agreement that Jim should start documenting the family's living conditions and his attempts to address the situation immediately, if he hasn't already started to do so. He should be taking pictures of the home, and he should be keeping a diary of his efforts to maintain the home for the children. He should also document his attempts to work with his wife to provide a safe, healthy environment.
  • There also was a consensus that if the basic physical necessities were not being delivered, then the children should be removed from the home immediately. For example, if the house is a fire trap, with exits blocked, etc., then the situation must be addressed without delay. Additionally, if the situation has deteriorated to the point where there are chronic problems with plumbing, heating, or electricity, then the children should be removed from the situation immediately. (Note: it was not clear from Jim's emails that physical conditions in the house had gotten quite as bad as that. My sense was that they hadn't reached that point yet, but that they were on their way.)
  • Whether or not there is an intervention, and whether or not Jim leaves (with or without the kids), most people believed that getting counseling for the kids would be important.
  • Several people recommended having a family discussion, or at least discussing their home lives with the kids. Chat participants mentioned their own confusion when they were children about living in a hoard house and how those feelings of confusion and isolation impacted their development. Of course, if Jim speaks with the kids, it is hard to imagine doing it without his wife being involved somehow, so it is probably best to do it as a group or with a trained counselor to guide things along. One idea was to have members of the family judge where rooms in the house might fit into the International OCD Foundation's Clutter Image Rating (PDF file).
  • Regarding custody of the children in the event of a separation, the chat participants thought it would be very unlikely that the hoarding parent would get full custody, unless the non-hoarding parent had some serious personal issue that he didn't disclose. The consensus was that the non-hoarding parent would get at least shared custody, if not full custody. As one person put it, "Better that the kids live at least part time in a normal home [than in the current hoarding environment]." Another chimed in with, "I would think any sort of stability in dad's home would be better than living with hoarder mom 100% of the time."
  • At the same time, courts do solicit the opinions of the children in custody cases, and it is hard to predict the results of that process. Thinking back to when I was a kid, I desperately wanted a different situation, but I wouldn't have wanted to "abandon" my mom (the hoarder). In retrospect, I know that it would have been far better for me to have been removed from the hoard house, but "younger me" would have wanted to stay to try to fix things, at least in part because mom was such a disaster, and dad seemed to be able to take care of himself. In other words, as a kid, I thought that the slim chance that I could help mom was greater than the damage she was inflicting on me. I was mistaken, but I'm not sure I could have been convinced otherwise when I was a kid. Who knows how that would have played out if I were questioned about it in court? Bottom line: without dad in the house to shield us, mom's problem would have been 100x worse, and I shudder to imagine being a teenager in my mom's hoard without dad in the picture.
  • Another comment from a chat participant: "It is not just her living there, there are SEVERAL other people in the house. I think that is why they need to act. Even if makes no impact with her, it makes impact with them." 
  • Finally, although I said in my original post that a parent's first obligation is to his/her children (and I absolutely stand by that advice!), that doesn't mean that the father should ignore his own needs for a clean, safe, healthy environment. As one of the participants said, "It's not healthy for the dad to keep living with mom and sacrifice all his happiness, too!" Yes, very true. I have often wondered about the kind of life my dad might have led outside of the hoard. He was a terrific fellow, and he died too young to find out, in part, I think, because of the stress of living in the hoard and shielding his kids from the worst of my mom's psychological issues.
Many thanks to the folks in the chat who shared their thoughtful advice!

A Family Intervention?

I've recently been trading some emails with a fellow who is the father of several kids and is the husband of a hoarder. Jim (not his real name) is looking for advice on how/whether to have an "intervention" to help the family. He also wants to understand what might happen if the intervention fails.

I've included an edited version of our conversation below. If you'd like to offer some advice to Jim, please do so in the comment section. Alternately, please send it to me via email, and I'll relay your advice to him.
"I'm in my 40s, married almost twenty years to a hoarder, and we have several pre-teen kids. I've only just begun to understand this disorder.
I've thought of joining the Children of Hoarders support group, but the site says it's only for the kids. The Friends of Hoarders group is mainly for folks who know some hoarder down the street, but not really for the people living with them. Sorry to dump on you, but I found your blog, and I'd love some help. 
I've kept our house livable mainly because of the simple fact that I have a good job, so it is a big house. I'm starting to lose the battle, though. For most of our marriage the hoarding was less severe, but over the past year, it has been accelerating, and I can't keep up with the mess anymore. The closets are full, and so is the garage. I love my wife, but now her hoarding is starting to affect the kids. Or maybe it has affected them all along, and I haven't been paying attention to the right things. 
  1. I've managed to keep the downstairs of our house pretty decent...Not great, but livable. The upstairs, where the bedrooms are, is a no man's land, though. The beds are accessible, but you are basically walking on clothes for the rest. We rarely have guests, because we are embarrassed by the mess. I'm afraid that this is stunting the kids socially. Is that what others experienced, or did they manage to come through?
  2. My oldest kids (almost teenagers) are both struggling in school with things like finishing assignments and organization. I think it is related.
  3. I really do love my wife, and I'm sure that she loves the kids. I'm just not sure whether she loves us enough to give up the stuff.
  4. I'm working with my pastor, and we are planning an intervention. He has done several with alcoholics, but neither of us have done one with a hoarder. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Has anyone done this? How did it go? What lessons were learned?
  5. Lastly, if this all fails, and we get nowhere with the intervention, and we have to go to court, does anyone have any idea how likely my wife is to receive full custody of the children? There's no point in separating from her to protect the kiddos if they'll just be stuck with her without me around to buffer things a bit.
How do you know when it's time to give up? If a good lawyer says I'd get custody of the kids, should I separate? I'd love some advice, or even a suggestion of where to go. 
Sorry to get so personal with someone I've never met, but there it is... In a way it's safer, since I don't know your real name and you don't know mine."
Here is some of what I wrote back to Jim:
"I wish that there were an easy answer. The best that I can come up with is the advice that I've given in the past to people in difficult family situations, whether hoarding was involved or not: a parent's first obligation is to his/her children
In practical terms, your children need safe, clean places to eat, sleep, study, bathe, etc. Particularly as they get a little older, children also need space that they control; space that is free from someone else's clutter. If you and your spouse are unable to achieve that together, then I think that a separation can definitely make sense, even though it is likely to be painful. 
From the things that people have posted in the Children of Hoarders group, and also from some of the recent research on children of hoarders, growing up in a hoarding environment can affect a child in ways that last well into adulthood. A lot of children of hoarders report serious issues with self-esteem, a feeling of being different (in a bad way) from everyone else, an inability to form close, healthy relationships with others, etc., and a lot of C.O.H. say that they were socially marginalized or bullied in school because of their living conditions. 
While you are considering your options, I do suggest that you keep in mind that changing a hoarder's behavior often takes a long time. For an adult, that might not be a very big deal, but for a child, it can be an enormous problem. Kids quickly go through a lot of stages when they grow up, and going through those stages while feeling very insecure or socially isolated can be devastating. As adults, you and your spouse may not have changed a lot in the last five years, say, but think of the transitions that a kid makes between five and ten years of age, or between ten and fifteen, etc., and then think of the burden posed by passing through those transitions with a feeling that things are more important than themselves, that they need to hide the way they live, that they may be getting bullied, etc. 
You might want to take a look at the Friends and Families of Hoarders and Clutterers group on Yahoo. It's not quite as active as the COH group, but it does seem like it might be a good fit. I'm a member there, and I know a few other COHs are, too. 
There are also monthly online chats at that you might want to check out. You can participate anonymously, and it could be a great opportunity to ask for advice. 
No matter what, good luck and best wishes!"
If anyone has any other advice to give to Jim, or if you think that my advice is not on target, please share your comments on this post below or feel free to send me an email. Thanks!

Update #1 (September 10, 2012): Before I posted this story on my blog, I outlined Jim's situation in general terms to the participants of the COH Chat held on Sunday, September 9, 2012. I've summarized the resulting comments from that chat session in another blog post, "Family Intervention Follow-Up."

Update #2 (January 13, 2013): Thanks to the anonymous family law attorney for the interesting comment below about steps to take in preparation for an intervention! I've elaborated on it a little bit in a new post.

Update #3 (January 13, 2013): Thank you, "Escaped the Hoard," for your very kind post about my site and for linking to this post!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Research Into Hoarder/OCD Relationships

Dr. Amy Przeworski, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Case Western Reserve University, and her group are conducting two online studies regarding the relationships of individuals impacted directly or indirectly by OCD or hoarding.

The first study aims "to gain information about the relationships of individuals who have OCD and/or hoard."

The second study aims "to gain information about the relationships of individuals who have OCD and/or hoard from the perspectives of their romantic relationship partners and adult children."

For more information, please visit Professor Przeworski's study site or follow the link in the twitter message below. (By the way, the professor has an interesting and entertaining blog of her own at Psychology Today, and you also can find her on twitter at @AmyPrzeworski.)

The surveys close on September 14, 2012, so hurry up, and get those answers in!

UPDATE (October 9, 2012): The survey period has been extended, and the links have been reactivated, so if you wanted to participate but couldn't earlier, now is your chance!

Awkward Party Questions

Here's the scene: I was at a small party a week or two ago, and everyone was having a great time. Awesome food, a glass of wine or two, in a lovely, lovely home. People were laughing, telling jokes, sharing stories, and maybe even exchanging a little gossip here and there. A perfect Sunday afternoon.

I was having a nice chat with several of my fellow party goers. A couple of other people were engaged in conversation just a few feet away. Without warning, someone in that other conversation - a smart, beautiful, charming woman who had recently published a book - jumped into our conversation. She asked me, with a big smile and loudly enough for all to hear,

"Hey, Joe! You had fleas when you were a kid, right?"

Everyone laughed...

...including me! This was not a horrifying moment of humiliation, but a moment of friendship and bonding. In fact, amidst the laughter, I enthusiastically replied, "That's right! You guys had fleas, too?"

You see, this wasn't just any old party. Everyone there was a child of a hoarder. Every one of them understood.

Rather than being something straight out of a childhood nightmare of exposure and ridicule, this was a moment of shared experience, a moment where survival in the face of abuse and neglect was something to be celebrated.

Instead of feeling like a freak, I knew that I was surrounded by people who had endured the kind of experiences that I had endured as the child of a severe hoarder. Even though these experiences at various times threatened me and others in the room with destruction, somehow, we were all standing there: people who were enjoying themselves, people who were worthy of love, people who had accomplished much in life, people who went on to build happy homes with their spouses and their children, people with interesting and exciting careers...people who, despite some deep, invisible scars, were normal. Maybe even superlative. Maybe that means that I can be okay, too.

If you are a child of a hoarder (COH), I encourage you to connect with other children of hoarders, either online or in person. A great way to get started is to visit the Children of Hoarders website, its Yahoo Group, or its Facebook page. Over the last couple of years, several members of the online community have started meeting face-to-face with other COH, and many have said that meeting other COH in person can be an overwhelmingly positive experience. I agree. It's hard to describe what it feels like to realize that, without knowing it, you've dropped a lifetime of defense mechanisms and are enjoying yourself without worry or reservation. It is remarkable to see other COH also shed the burdens that they have been carrying for so long, even if it's only for a little while.

Before I wrap up this post, however, there was one question at the party that was a little bit awkward for me to answer. The conversation had turned to our parents' choices of professions. While no formal studies have been carried out to substantiate their observation, members of the COH online community have long suspected that an unusually high percentage of parents who hoard work in the helping professions, particularly nursing. Unsurprisingly, several of the party goers remarked that they had a hoarder parent who was a nurse. When I was asked about my mother's profession, I said, "Housewife," since that is what she would have said herself. However, "Housewife" didn't really sound right, for any number of reasons, so then I started to say, "Homemaker." That was even worse. Frankly, our house was anything but a home. Mom probably was more of a "homewrecker," and I felt like most of the people in the room knew enough of my story to realize it. Awkward. Indeed, the only awkward moment of the afternoon. (I emphasize the awkwardness was entirely from me examining how my mom defined herself. My friends could not have been more supportive.)

Strange, isn't it? At a regular, non-COH party, I would have had the exact opposite reactions to the question about the fleas and the question about mom's profession. I would have answered, "Housewife," without a concern or a second thought. On the other hand, I would have been mortified if I had been asked about fleas. Eventually, I'm sure that I will be confident enough to answer either question in the same way, forthrightly, under any circumstance. Not yet, but someday. Someday soon. The work continues.

PS. For those of you who haven't guessed, the "smart, beautiful, charming woman who had recently published a book" is none other than Barbara Allen, author of Nice Children Stolen From Car, available in paperback or Kindle format at Amazon. For a quick preview of her excellent writing, check out an excerpt from her book over on her blog. Yes, the excerpt is about fleas.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Hoarding Awareness Month

Via the COH Facebook page and the Hoarding Project, I hear that Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has proclaimed September 2012 as "Hoarding Awareness Month."

By itself, a proclamation doesn't change things very much, but it demonstrates that awareness of an issue is rising, which suggests that more effective change might be on the way.

Thank you, Governor Dayton!

One state down. Forty-nine to go.


WHEREAS: Hoarding is behavior characterized by three criteria: the acquisition of, and failure to discard, a large number of possessions; clutter that precludes activities for which living spaces were designed; and significant distress and impairment as a result of the hoarding; and

WHEREAS: Hoarding is a mental health concern found to be related to genetic vulnerability, mental health, cognitive deficits, trauma, or loss; and

WHEREAS: It is estimated that between two and five percent of people in the United States hoard. When the effect upon family and community members is taken into account, the problem becomes even greater; and

WHEREAS: Treatment for hoarding is often ineffective, possibly due to a lack of understanding of hoarding behaviors in the public and professional sectors; and

WHEREAS: Studies show homes that took ten years to become "hoarded" will likely become "re-hoarded" within three to six months of the clean-out. Clean-outs done without accompanying therapeutic intervention can pose a tremendous financial burden on individuals, families, government agencies, and communities; and

WHEREAS: Increasing public awareness of hoarding will benefit local government agencies, individuals and families affected by hoarding behavior, and communities across Minnesota.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, MARK DAYTON, Governor of Minnesota, do hereby proclaim the month of September, 2012 as:
HOARDING AWARENESS MONTH in the State of Minnesota.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Great Seal of the State of Minnesota to be affixed at the State Capitol this 31st day of July.

(Signatures: Mark Dayton, Governor, and Mark Ritchie, Secretary of State)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sweet Potatoes, Narcissism, and Parents Who Hoard

"Sweet Potatoes, Narcissism, and Parents Who Hoard." That sounds like the title of an academic paper, no?

In my previous post, I described a ritual that took place at almost all of my childhood family's holiday dinners: my mom would insist that I loved something that she had repeatedly been told (by me and others) that I had always disliked.

A friend of mine from read my post, and she forwarded a quote to me from a page about parents with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) :
Narcissistic Parents must be in control. No matter what. A Narcissistic Parent controls his or her children by dictating how these children should feel, should act, and the decisions to be made. This can lead to adult children of Narcissistic Parents being unsure of what they, themselves, like and want out of life. These Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents never learn to be autonomous and make his or her own decisions.
I've heard other children of hoarders discussing the possibility of hoarding being intertwined with NPD, at least in some cases. I recognized that there might be some validity to their assertions, but I hadn't given it a lot of thought. Along comes the quote mentioned above, and I feel like I've been hit on the head with a Clue-by-Four!

While I am definitely autonomous (perhaps to a fault) and can make my own decisions, the rest of that paragraph is right on target, both in terms of how my mom behaved and the question of knowing what I want out of my own life. I used to think I knew what I liked and what I wanted, but I've come to realize how much of "me" has been about fulfilling other people's expectations of those things, rather than developing my own expectations.

Since realizing this (probably only around a year ago), discovering what I "like and want out of life" has been my greatest objective and my greatest challenge. I wish that I could say that I feel like I have been making progress. I think it would be more accurate to say that I have been, and continue to be, developmentally disabled in this area. I'm in my forties.

Anyway, the article that my friend sent to me, the somewhat awkwardly titled "Adult Children of Narcissistic Parents Resources", is well worth reading. I think that around 90% of it is directly applicable to the dynamics in my family.

Mom was a hoarder, and she almost certainly suffered from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. She wasn't the only one who suffered.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Hey, Sweet Potato!

(The following is adapted from a post I made earlier today on the Children of Hoarders Yahoo! support group. The context was a comment about parents thinking they know more about their kids than their kids know about themselves. Sure, in some respects, that's true, but in other respects? Well, read on...)

Holiday dinners were the only time that we would have sweet potatoes when I was a kid. My sisters liked them, and when we grew up and started having holiday dinners at my sisters' houses, sweet potatoes stayed on the menu.

At every such dinner, the sweet potatoes would be passed around the table, they would reach me, and I would politely pass the bowl to the next person without taking any sweet potatoes for myself.

I don't like sweet potatoes.

I don't actually hate sweet potatoes, but they are pretty darned close to the bottom of the list of foods that I am willing to eat. Starvation situations only. Zombie attacks. Nuclear winter. Your basic apocalypses. Like I said, it's not really hate.

Every time, every year, my mom (who was a severe hoarder) would be upset that I did not take any sweet potatoes. More than upset; shocked and stunned, really.
Mom: "But Joe! You love sweet potatoes!"
Joe: "No. I don't like sweet potatoes."
Mom: "But you always eat them!"
Joe: "I don't remember ever liking sweet potatoes, and I don't 'always' eat them. We go through this every year. We've done this for at least thirty years. I might have had a spoonful of them once in the past, just to humor you, but I do not like sweet potatoes."
Mom (with feeling!): "You're terrible!"
Sisters: "Really, mom? Do we have to start this again?"
Mom: "I don't know what's wrong with you people!"
This wasn't some fun little tradition that families joke about. Mom was serious about this. Sometimes the sweet potatoes would be the start of the holiday arguments; sometimes they were just a preamble. (I didn't hate sweet potatoes, but I did learn to hate holidays. Holidays were a time for drama in my family. I'm more of a comedian. A topic for another day, I think.)

I know, I know. You're asking, "Why not just skip serving sweet potatoes entirely? Just serve something else!" We tried that one year, and my mom thought we were just terrible for doing so. "Everyone has sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving! It's not Thanksgiving without sweet potatoes!"

The thing is, mom was an extremely intelligent woman with an amazing memory. I really think that she wasn't kidding: she deeply and truly believed that I loved sweet potatoes and that I had loved them throughout my entire life. It's as though she simply refused to let any evidence to the contrary take root her brain, since she knew that I loved sweet potatoes. I think she finally started to accept the truth around the time I turned 40.

I don't know how much (if any) of my mom's fixation on her son's very special relationship with sweet potatoes might have been tied to cognitive patterns related to her hoarding behavior, how much might have been related to some other psychological issue, or how much was a simple exaggeration of any parent's mistaken memory of their child. What I do know is that once an idea became planted in my mom's mind, it was almost impossible to dislodge it, no matter the evidence against it.

I realize that the sweet potato story sounds like, well, small potatoes, and it's possible that it has nothing to do with hoarding behavior. Nonetheless, countless stories like those, over issues large and small, day after day, presented a major challenge in the relationships between my mother and her family.

Update: Shortly after writing this post, a friend sent me a quote from an article about Narcissistic Personality Disorder that might relate to my mom's focus on my relationship with sweet potatoes. I wrote a new blog post to explore that subject: "Sweet Potatoes, Narcissism, and Parents Who Hoard".

Tuesday, June 05, 2012


Few things have made a bigger difference in my life than discovering the Children of Hoarders support group over at Yahoo! groups. I joined the group in March 2006, and a few days later, a fellow who uses the pen name, "norse", also joined. Although he called himself the "class clown" of the COH group, norse was known as much for his profound insights and his capacity to support other children of hoarders as he was known for his good humor. He took a little vacation from the group a couple of years ago, but he is back now, and he is posting up a storm.

Norse's return seems like a good time to revisit something he said almost exactly six years ago, a comforting message that has been included in the footer of every message sent to the Yahoo group for the past few years, something that became an important part of the story of Children of Hoarders Inc. ever since. Here it is:
Our parents' living conditions never were, are not now, and never will be our fault. We don't bear any responsibility for this. We don't need to carry any guilt for it. 
~norse, July 18, 2006
(Note: Messages and content posted to the Children of Hoarders Yahoo! group are confidential. Norse was kind enough to grant permission to Children of Hoarders Inc. and others to use his quote outside of the Yahoo! group.)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Nice Children Stolen from Car

Awesome news! My friend and fellow child of a hoarder, Barbara Allen, author of the Nice Children Stolen from Car blog, has written a book with the same title, and it is now available from Amazon!

Here's a little blurb from Amazon's book description:
Humorous yet heart-wrenching, Barbara Allen's memoir, "Nice Children Stolen From Car," tells the story of her teenage years in the chaotic household of her father, a compulsive hoarder. Through a series of stand-alone vignettes, Allen shares, from a young adult perspective, what it was like for her and her siblings to be raised in a house where nothing was ever thrown away, where no visitors were welcome, where basic necessities like food and running water were not always available. Excerpts from Allen's book have been posted on her blog by the same name and have generated a number of responses like this one: "[Allen] has a true gift... the stories and style remind me a bit of Augusten Burroughs' work..."
Barbara is as wonderful and witty as they come, and I hope that you will consider buying her book!

Update: Now there is a Kindle version of Barbara's book, too!

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Siblings: Foster Children and Children of Hoarders?

I've been a fan of David Hoffman's documentaries for a few years, and he recently did a series of short interviews with foster children for the city of Santa Cruz. While being a foster child and being a COH are obviously different experiences, I was struck by the similarities in the language used in this interview with the language used by many COH to describe their own experiences.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Hello, Edinburgh!

It has been pretty exciting to watch the number of hoarding-related support groups, task forces, and other resources go from roughly zero to, well, a bunch, over the past few years. Many of them are mentioned at places like the Children of Hoarders Inc. site and at the International Exchange on Hoarding. My own blog has been around since the summer of 2006, and I still get excited whenever I find out that someone likes something I've written, particularly when that someone is an ocean away.

A friend of mine just forwarded to me the March 2012 newsletter (815 KB PDF file) from the Compulsive Hoarding Action Group Edinburgh, a “self-help support group for individuals suffering from compulsive hoarding”, and I was absolutely tickled to learn that someone in that great city mentioned my blog:
“Hoarder’s Son” blog – hoarding from a relative’s perspective
This month we discovered a blog written by Joe, the son of a compulsive hoarder. On his site, Joe shares his personal experiences, as well as providing links to blogs written by other children of compulsive hoarders, and general hoarding information. Readers are welcome to comment on blog posts and offer support and advice to other users. “Hoarder’s Son”, and the other blogs linked provide a poignant first-hand view of life with a compulsive hoarder, and display a profound understanding of a much misunderstood problem. You can find the blog at .
Thank you for those very kind words!

The CHAnGE website has links to a range of support resources, presentations, videos, etc., and, quite aside from mentioning my blog, their newsletters have lots of good information about the latest hoarding research, interviews with support specialists, etc. You can also find CHAnGE on Facebook and twitter. I encourage all of my readers to have a look!

Note: CHAnGE’s March newsletter is not online yet; I'll share the link when it becomes available.
Update: DONE!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Secret Dragon Hoard

A new addition to the blogroll: The Secret Dragon Hoard.

From the "About Me" section of the blog:
In the middle of everything including an unholy mess. Mid thirties. Depressed. Living with my mother. Who is a major hoarder. This blog is here to document my attempts to CLEAN SHIT UP. And gently try and encourage my mother to try and do the same before we are buried in here.
Stay strong! You are not alone!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

San Diego TV Interview: Children of Hoarders

Via Sidney at My Mother In Law Is Still Sitting Between Us comes word that two adult children of hoarders were recently interviewed for an NBC San Diego Special Report segment. Great job, Greg and Alison!

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Lessons Learned by a Child of a Hoarder

Recently, one of the members of the Friends and Families of Hoarders and Clutterers group on Yahoo! wrote a truly spectacular note about what she had learned over the years about hoarding, getting help for a hoarder, and the impact of hoarding on the hoarder’s family and friends. It was as fine of a summary of the experiences of many children of hoarders as anything I have ever seen. I wish I had been able to read something like this twenty years ago.

The note, written in memory of the author’s mother, deserves a wide audience. With the author’s kind permission, it’s my privilege to share it here:
Hi, Everybody,

My mom passed away last month at age 87. She’d been having a lot of pain that was hard to manage, advancing dementia, etc. and it was her time and her passing was a blessing, but still, I miss her so much. She was one of the kindest people I’ve ever known. She always thought the best of people; saw the good in them.

I want to share what I feel that I have learned through this group over the years. This is my own personal slant, garnered from years of personal experience and years of reading other people’s posts.

1. Hoarding is a brain disorder. Loved ones cannot change it. It isn’t merely a behavior; there is something wrong with the brain. We can’t expect hoarders to simply change their behavior, but we can and should expect them to seek the help that they need to make serious changes. There are treatment options, but the hoarder has to want to be treated. It is exceedingly rare for a hoarder to want treatment or to be willing to change.

2. Hoarding is a disorder, not a character defect. The hoarder can’t help it, there is something wrong with their brain and it is simply impossible for them to make well-reasoned decisions. However, character does play an important role. In order to make changes, the hoarder has to have the fortitude of character to admit that they have a problem, feel remorse about how their problem is affecting others, and earnestly seek change.

3. Don’t assume that medical professionals, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, Child Protective Services, Adult Protective Services, or other professionals truly understand this disorder or that they can or will take appropriate action to protect vulnerable children, elders, or adults or the hoarder him or herself. Hoarding is a disease or disorder that is in the early stages of research and effective treatment. Treatment/help is available, but you have to do your own research or reach out to this group or others like it and find a professional that truly understands that this is a disorder and not simply a character defect.

4. Protecting the children is the #1 priority. Over the years, many, many survivor/victims of childhood hoarding households have written in to tell how the hoarding has negatively and permanently damaged them. Also, children live what they learn, and many children who grow up in hoarding households grow up to be hoarders themselves. It is very important to find a knowledgeable professional that is willing to help the non-hoarding parent to ease the children into a healthy living situation, while maintaining regular or intermittent contact with the hoarding parent, if possible.

5. People who love the hoarder have to realize that it is nothing personal, but for every true hoarder the hoard will always be #1. You can’t live with a hoarder and be a happy person unless you are willing to consciously and willingly accept that you will always be #2. The hoarder’s children will always be #2 as well, even if #1—the hoard—is exceedingly unhealthy and physically and emotionally damaging to the children. Even if you, the loved one, had the looks of Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie, and the charms of the most amazing TV cook/crafter/housekeeper/handyman, etc., the hoarder would still make you #2 and the hoard would be #1. If forced to choose between you and the hoard, or their child and the hoard, they will always choose the hoard. I think that for many of them, if they were forced to give up the hoard or die, they would choose death. Indeed, sometimes hoarders are killed by their hoards, literally being crushed under a mound of useless stuff, and this after years of warnings. If your loved one is a hoarder and you think that he or she is different, then you simply haven’t come the full cycle yet.

6. Loving a hoarder is much like loving an alcoholic. The principles of Al-Anon are very helpful and applicable to the hoarder-lover. The principles of codependency are 100% applicable. In trying to find healthy ways for us and our children to live, we would do well to turn to the writings of Al-Anon and various on-line and library resources from alcohol and drug treatment groups that offer information to family members on how to draw boundaries with love.

7. In order to get healthy, friends and family of hoarders have to be brave. We should be loving, but draw lines in the sand and declare that there are certain unhealthy living choices that we simply will not tolerate. When we do this, we have to be willing and able to stand behind the threat. Sometimes, the hoarder will refuse to get treatment, or to make healthy changes. This means that we may have to leave them in order to find a healthy life for ourselves and/or our children. We may lose everything and have to start all over from scratch.

I want to thank all of you for being my support in these last years as we moved mom out of my parents’ home of 50+ years, moved her into independent living and then into assisted living. Fortunately, she’d been a clean hoarder; in fact, she had a little touch of germ phobia. As her dementia progressed, we were able to exercise more and more control over her life. We managed to move her into an independent living apartment with the promise that she could move back to her home (and her hoard) if she felt that she needed to. Interestingly, this transition was made easier for her because being free of all of that junk and starting out in a clean, tidy apartment was very comfortable and liberating for her. She lived only a block or so away from a dollar store, but as her dementia progressed, one of us would take her downstairs to the dining room while the other daughter did a quick purge of junk from her apartment. Her dementia saved us—she didn’t seem to notice that her precious things were missing. After about a year, we three daughters spent nearly every weekend over a whole summer emptying out her house, and then we finally were able to sell it.

This group helped me so much as we processed the emotional impact of her hoarding. Before dementia set in and we were able to take some control, there were many years of hurt as she consistently chose the hoard over us, her family. In fact, she never really developed a relationship with my now teenage daughter, her last grandchild, because of the hoarding. She’d become so annoyed and afraid that I’d try to get rid of one or more things when I came over that she essentially forbid me from entering her house—politely, always with an excuse. She didn’t want to drive the 40 miles to my home, and I think that her increasing isolation was part of the hoarding behavior, too. I couldn’t go visit her and she wouldn’t come visit me and my family. We’ll never be able to reclaim those lost years, but it helps me enormously to have had this group, which has helped me over the years to understand that it wasn’t that her love for me or my daughter had lessened, but that her love for her stuff just continued to grow and grow, that it was a sort of brain disorder and a disease, and at some point it just overtook her and crowded everything else out of her life.

Thank you so much for writing this, Jeanne, and thank you for letting me republish it here. I am sure that it will help many people to gain a better understanding of hoarding and the impact of hoarding on the friends and families of hoarders. Please accept my condolences on your mother’s passing.