Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Talking Points for Children of Hoarders

Picture of Sidney Patrick
Sidney Patrick (as drawn by Jim Smith)
Preface: This post has been sitting in my Drafts folder for a painfully long time. Its roots lie in a conversation I had with Sidney Patrick last October, just before her appearance on HuffPost Live to discuss "Hoarding's Harsh Reality". Although she wasn't a child of a hoarder, she was very familiar with COH experiences, and she had become an incredible advocate for the COH community.

Many COH believe that the needs and experiences of the families of hoarders are inadequately recognized by professionals (a topic for another day). Sidney wanted to convey that perspective in her HuffPost Live appearance, especially since one of the other guests was Professor Randy O. Frost, arguably the most influential academic in the field of hoarding. At Sidney's request, I tried to identify a few key points that she might raise during the segment. The points are included below.

Sid did a spectacular job on the show. Tragically, she passed away at far too young of an age just a few weeks later. She is profoundly missed.

Talking Points for Children of Hoarders

As general awareness of hoarders and hoarding increases, the impact of hoarding on individuals beyond the hoarder is slowly becoming recognized.

For several years, children of hoarders (COH) have been comparing notes and sharing perspectives in a range of forums and formats, and a few recurring themes seem particularly important, at least in my opinion. I've tried to collect a few of these themes below. Perhaps they might serve as useful "talking points" for children of hoarders who find themselves being interviewed by media or who simply want to convey to friends and associates the seriousness of hoarding's impact on families.

Please feel free to use them, to critique them, or to add to them as you see fit. (If you have additional thoughts about these points, I'd love for you to share your feedback in the comments section at the end of the post. These points already have been improved immeasurably by the input of members of the Children of Hoarders Yahoo! Group.)

COH Talking Points
  1. Many children of hoarders grow up under conditions of serious neglect, isolation, and abuse.
  2. The impact of growing up in a hoarding environment can last for years—even decades—after a COH moves out of the childhood home.
  3. While hoarding appears most dramatically to be about "stuff", to a child of a hoarder, it's really about relationships, family dynamics, shame, and self-worth: many children of hoarders have been conditioned—consciously or otherwise—to believe that they are less important than things.
  4. As victims of serious, long term neglect or other types of abuse, many COH will require—and benefit from—equally serious support and counseling. Their needs are as important as the needs of the hoarders.
  5. Children of hoarders seeking support should visit ChildrenOfHoarders.com for more information, and healthcare professionals should read Dr. Suzanne Chabaud's article in Psychiatric Times, "The Hidden Lives of Children of Hoarders".
As a final thought, children of hoarders sometimes are portrayed as being inappropriately angry, impatient, or otherwise unsupportive of family members who are undergoing treatment for hoarding. Professionals, in particular, are reminded that many children of hoarders have suffered a lifetime of neglect and abuse and are desperately in need of support. In such cases, expecting COHs to be patient and respectful participants in the treatment of hoarders may be likened to expecting victims of sexual abuse to help their abusers to get treatment, without acknowledging the damage done to the victims, much less getting treatment and support for them.

In memory of Sidney Patrick.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Sandy Hoards

I've been on a little bit of a hiatus lately, for a number of reasons, but I hope to resume reasonably regular posting very soon. In the meantime, I'd like to share a few recent news articles involving hoarding in my old home state of New Jersey, particularly in the context of last year's extremely damaging tropical storm, Sandy.

The Daily Record:
USA Today:
While I'll quibble with the headline characterizations of hoarding as an "epidemic" or as a "trend," the reporter, Lorraine Ash, did a pretty good job addressing the subject. Importantly, all of the articles include quotes from a few children of hoarders, including ChildrenOfHoarders.com spokesperson, Elizabeth Nelson. I particularly recommend the April 8th Daily Record article, which focuses on family impact.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Dr. Suzanne Chabaud to Speak at NAPO 2013

Many people recognize Suzanne Chabaud, Ph.D. from her appearances on the A&E Television Networks' program Hoarders. She is a pioneer in studying the impact of hoarding on families, particularly its impact on adult children of hoarders. In April 2013, she will be speaking about this topic at the National Association of Professional Organizers Annual Conference and Organizing Expo. Below, Dr. Chabaud offers a brief preview of the kinds of things she will be speaking about. You can also download an abstract of her presentation in PDF format.

Thank you, Dr. Chabaud, for hearing the voices of children of hoarders and for your leadership in research!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Another Comment on Interventions

Back in September, I wrote a couple of blog posts ("A Family Intervention?" and "Family Intervention Follow-Up") about a father who is married to a hoarder and was looking for advice about whether/how to have an intervention.

Earlier today, I received a comment on the original post from a family law attorney, and I think the comment is worth highlighting. Since it is written from the perspective of an attorney advocating on behalf of a family (as contrasted with advocacy for an individual hoarder), I expect that some members of the hoarding/therapy communities will disagree strongly with some of the advice. I'm comfortable with that. The vast majority of discussions about hoarders seem to focus on the hoarders themselves, while largely ignoring the impact of hoarding on the rest of the family.

Since I am not a lawyer, I won't comment on the legal issues raised by the attorney, but I will comment briefly on the moral/practical issues. In cases where children are involved, the hoarding is severe, and the family wants to give intervention a try before moving out, it can be important to have clear, well-communicated and documented objectives for improving the conditions under which the children are living. It is essential to make progress towards achieving those improved conditions with a minimum of delay. When dealing with a hoarding situation, it is very common for time to slip away, for weeks to stretch into months and years, and for a childhood to be lost. A parent's first obligation is to the children, and my commenter has laid out the steps for a fast, firm intervention as a last resort before breaking up a marriage or someone moving out of the family home.

It may be a painful approach for everyone, especially the hoarder, but doing nothing or using the "go slow" approach that seems to be favored by many hoarders' therapists can be even more painful and damaging to the rest of the family, especially to the children.

Please feel free to add your comments to the original post or to this post. For your convenience, I've quoted the attorney's full comment below.
Anonymous said...
I am a family law attorney. My advise [sic] is to:
  1. Talk to the children and find out how the hoard has affected them. Be proactive and don't wait for them to come to you because they may think you have given up.
  2. Schedule family counseling with a therapist.
  3. Write a letter to your wife about the hoard. Be very descriptive of your past efforts to clean-up as well as the negative effects on the children. Inform her about the date for family counseling. Tell her the consequences (separation) if she does not participate in counseling AND the clean-up. Give her a timeline and all the help she will need to clean up. Set a clean-up day after you have given her time to clean it up herself (which will never happen). Send the letter to her by email, registered mail (return receipt) and by process server to assure she could say you never say she didn't receive the letter.
  4. On the scheduled a clean-up day have close family and friends there to help. Pull EVERYTHING outside. Divide everything into piles to: recycle, trash, donate or keep. If she wants to donate something you know is trash, tell her you will donate it then take it to the dump. Choose your battles.
  5. Record the hoard before her clean-up, after her clean-up, before your scheduled clean-up day and after.
  6. Stick to it, through the anger, tears, threats, etc. Hold your ground. Clean it up. Keep it clean.
  7. Set rules for the house. If the rules states no clutter in the living room, don't go to bed with clutter there. Take a picture of it then move it.
  8. If all fails get a good lawyer and you should get full custody. You can put terms in the custody agreement that the children will not visit the mom over her house unless it is clean. The term "clean" will have to be defined in the agreement.
January 13, 2013 9:58:00 AM EST
I'd like to thank the anonymous attorney for making a very thought-provoking comment! I also suggest that anyone who is considering an intervention strategy should consult with both a therapist and an attorney, as everyone's situation can be different, and laws can vary widely from one community to another.

Monday, January 07, 2013

The Charm of Dribbling Orange Gloop

Via the Children of Hoarders Facebook Page, I came across a sweet little story about a daughter of a hoarder who found an unexpected obstacle blocking her efforts to be a good mother to her own baby daughter. Her story is a great example of the challenges that many children of hoarders face when trying to build normal, happy lives for themselves and their families. Be sure to check out "A Hoarder’s Daughter Yields to a (Little) Mess" in The New York Times!

PS. The author, Judy Batalion, also wrote an interesting story in Slate about finding romance with another child of a hoarder. The punch line: "after three decades, I had finally found someone I could bring home."