Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Apparently, I'm not the only one

One common theme running through the writing of children of hoarders is that we're always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Some of us are already hoarders ourselves. But those of us who aren't are often hypervigilant, waiting for something bad to happen, waiting for a switch to flip that will turn us into our hoarding parent. Some of us keep Spartan houses, throwing away anything that might even resemble clutter. Some of us live with clutter, but keep a constant watch out for signs that things are taking a turn for the worse. All of us, I would guess, have to play catch-up to learn basic housekeeping and life skills that most people learned as a child. Some things seem fairly obvious -- dishes should be washed after dinner, you sweep the kitchen after you've made a mess of the floor. Some things are more of a mystery for those of us whose parents did no housekeeping as we were growing up. How often do most people change the sheets? Are you supposed to get a new towel every time you take a shower? How messy do "normal" people let the house get during a busy week?

If my father is right, my mother's hoarding was triggered by the trauma of an interstate move forced by economic circumstances. That means the hoarding started when she was in her mid-30's. I'm 31, so I haven't quite reached the age she was when she began hoarding. I also know that the hoarding "switch" is often flipped by traumatic events in the life of the hoarder. I've had plenty of trauma in my life (less-than-idyllic childhood, death of a sister, a disastrous starter marriage) and so far have had no impulse to start collecting things to comfort myself. I have an ongoing Goodwill bin in the closet and experience a disproportionate amount of joy when it's full and I get to discard it. I'm even happy when I finish off a tube of toothpaste or a bottle of shampoo, because that means I get to throw it out. But no matter how often I remind myself that I'm not like my mother, that I don't have the same problems that she has, the fear is always there. One day, I'm afraid, I will wake up in a house where I have allowed things to rule my life, to push out relationships, to distance myself from family and friends. And I know that other children of hoarders and I are in that same place, hoping that other shoe never drops.


  1. Hi Elizabeth; I am the Daughter of a Hoarder, and today is the first day I have ever said this publicly. My Mom dies almost three years ago, but the mess lingers on, because she left it all to my Sister, who always lived with her, and is herself a Hoarder. I imagined I was just"fine, thank you very much", and had no problems with having grown up in Chaos. When I discovered the blogs by hoarders family members, I still didn't get it, until I read about characteristics of the grown children of hoarders. Your comment about being "disproportionately happy" about having a full box to give to Charity struck home with me. I do this too, as well as happily gathering stuff to throw out. Occasionally too much, like a certificate for a course I took, and then had to get a copy. This may always be a struggle for me, and I have to be careful I am not disrespectful when I clean in my daughter's room, and she keeps (in my opinion) way too much stuff, and I have to move it when I vacuum. She sort-of lives here, but not really, which sounds a bit complicated, as she lives out of town while going to school. I am grateful that you share your adventures with those of us who live with this nasty little secret. Thank you.

  2. I worry about it too! I'm 27 and still feel like I'm playing "catch up" on learning a lot of things (much better than I was when I first moved out on my own though). At the same I am so vigilant about my own behaviors and attitudes toward "things."

    Haha... it's kind of exhausting some times!

  3. I also realize that I have hoarding tendencies as the daughter of a hoarder so I think I overcompensate on a lot of things. Like you, I am happy when I get to throw things away (like the shampoo). It's hard to buy things, though, or even tell my husband what I want for Christmas because the idea of bringing stuff into the house terrifies me. I guess being aware of the fact that the flip COULD switch is a step in the right direction.

  4. A part of me is watchful that I don't get like her-- but honestly if I thought I had become a hoarder I would kill myself.

    Not. Going. To. Happen.

    Since lack of insight seems to be a part of hoarding and I've displayed high insight since childhood, I'm hoping it can't happen to me.