Friday, July 22, 2011

The gift that keeps on giving

I realized this week that, no matter how much time and effort I've put into sorting through the psychological detritus of growing up in a home with a hoarder, being a hoarder's child really is a gift that keeps on giving. And not the beautifully wrapped, lying-under-the-tree-and-waiting-for-Christmas-morning kind of gift. Really, it's more the unpleasant, coal-in-your-stocking variety.

There were two conversations that precipitated this realization. The first was my brother who, like me, can't handle watching A&E's show Hoarders. Well, to be more precise, even watching the commercials causes me such anxiety that I have to change the channel. He, braver soul that he is, told me that he actually attempted to watch the show with a friend. That experience apparently culminated with his getting more and more irritable until she asked, "Wait. Why are you mad at ME?" To which he, chagrined, replied that he was sorry and he wasn't mad at her. It just hit too close to home.

The second conversation was with a friend who happened to catch a segment about adult children of hoarders on NPR's show Here and Now. They talked about the lasting ramifications of growing up with a hoarding parent, some of which are simply not learning some basic life skills (say, organizing and, um, cleaning your house). While I'm OK at organizing (although I will definitely never be the type with all my shoes ensconced in plastic boxes decorated with a photo of each pair), housekeeping has always been a Sisyphean task that I just cannot seem to manage. (Note to former roommates and my husband: Very sorry. Still working on this.) I always chalked this up to a personal character flaw, but that conversation started me thinking. It's not that much of a stretch to realize that growing up in a household where housework just wasn't done might lead to challenges with keeping my house tidy as an adult. But if that's the case, what other gifts from my hoarding heritage are still with me?


  1. My mother would either just go totally silent and hostile when we made any minimal efforts at cleaning, or she would make sarcastic comments that made us feel like what we were doing to improve our home was stupid and futile. I'm hearing her a lot these days.

    Recently, I can hardly clean my own house with anyone in it. Wierd.

  2. I can't watch 'Hoarders' either. I don't know if its anxiety, or anger, or despair-- or a combo of all three. It just brings up bad memories. I married a man who taught me how to clean (luckily he was a bit of a neat-nik) and we've been together 20 years. It took at least a decade for me to really be comfortable knowing how to do what should be normal, routine cleaning. I'm always inordinately proud every time I develop a new cleaning habit!

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this blog. I am in tears as I type this. I have spent all evening reading "children of hoarders" blogs and felt that I couldn't relate as so many of them sound like they have spartan and immaculately tidy houses. I am not a hoarder, but my house is always cluttered/messy and I am constantly stressed about it. I was a successful student/professional so I don't know why I am so wretchedly bad at keeping house now that I am a stay-at-home mom. I guess I just don't know where to start. I have two young kids and am wracked with guilt on a daily basis about not giving them the perfect, serene, uncluttered home they deserve. You have helped me see that yes, maybe I am bad at this because I never learned how!! I do have the tendencies towards perfectionism/procrastination that you mentioned in another post. I also scored pretty darn high on that adult children of alcoholics quiz. My parents did not drink, but our family was nothing if not dysfunctional. I have so much more to say but feel as though I am rambling and had better stop. Seriously, I am in tears of gratitude for everything you have written. It all resonated with me and I think that in one session of reading your blog you have helped me make major strides towards dealing with my own issues and maybe (maybe?) moving forward to be a better mother/housekeeper for my own kids. THANK YOU. And, to Anonymous, I cried more tears of sad recognition about the sarcastic comments re: any attempts at cleaning. Lucretia Heart, thank you for being honest about how long it took you to feel comfortable with "normal" cleaning routines. It really helps to hear that.