Thursday, August 18, 2011

Wait, how is this my fault?

The comment OneWeeSpark left about this article on children of hoarders got me thinking. A line in the article states that "There are no easy answers to this, which is why so many families of hoarders give up trying to change them." Reading this shot me right down memory lane, back into one of the less-than-delightful aspects of being the child of a hoarder.

Growing up, most people didn't know much about my mother's hoarding. Those that did, while well-intentioned, clearly didn't understand what was going on. There's such a misperception that hoarders are just lazy, disorganized slobs who should get up off their couches (if they can still find room on the couch next to all the piles of newspapers) and just start throwing things away. When someone new actually would see the inside of our house, which didn't happen much, they would typically ask (understandably), "How can you live like this?" This question was often followed by some form of disappointment that we kids weren't helping our mother enough, or the expectation that we should just dive in and start throwing things away, or another insinuation that we were somehow responsible for what was happening.

"...Which is why so many families of hoarders give up trying to change them." It took me years -- decades, really -- to come the the conclusion that (brace yourself!) it is not, in fact, my job to cure my mother. I cannot solve the problem by riding in on a white horse (or a white Dumpster, maybe) and throwing everything out. Hoarding has such deep psychological roots that, typically, if a house it cleared out against the hoarder's will, he or she will just fill it back up again.

Besides that, when did it become the child's job to care for and change the parent? Would someone ask the child of an alcoholic to help Mommy quit drinking? The child of a schizophrenic to help Daddy cut down on his pesky paranoid delusions? Blaming the children of hoarders for "allowing" our parents to live the way they do not only misses the mark, but also deepens our sense of shame around an issue we don't need to be ashamed of.


  1. This is such a needed post. After cleaning out multiple houses for my hoarder father, watching him ruin another house, repeating the process over and over, and feeling responsible for it the entire time, I thank you for this post. It has taken 20 years for me to realize that I am not responsible for fixing this issue, nor could I even if I wanted to any more. My advice to all COH's is to start living your life for you and not be controlled by this for one second longer.

  2. Thank you for your insights. It all reads like something I could have written myself.

  3. I agree.

    I spent a good 12 years of my adulthood going in and bailing my mother out (of mostly the squalid garbage stuff, not even the collections) almost every month. 12 years! I never expected her to change, I was just concerned about the health and safety issues.

    Eventually, my mother found a way to keep me out. She complained to her relatives (who should have known better) that I was STEALING from her. At that point I realized: unless the law allows me to totally take over her life, I can't even keep her safe-- I walked away. Now her relatives can deal with it if she sets the house on fire or gets buried or gets sick.