Hoarding--it's not about the STUFF

Since I've become so open with my childhood and the family secret, I am often asked why all the stuff in the house was so bad. It's easy to look at a pile of boxes and bags sliding down atop the boxes filled with craft supplies and books, and not understand why this was so difficult.

Very simply, it's not about the STUFF.

Research indicates that almost all those who suffer with hoarding compulsions have another issue--mental illness, or brain injury. Hoarding is not THE issue; it's a physically manifested symptom of an internal problem.

My take on it is simple. The stuff does one of two things:

1. The grand chaos of things is a reflection of an internal chaos in the brain. Many of our HPs have an inability to sort in a "normal" way. Instead of overgeneralizing things into groups, hoarders have a tendency toward "over-specification" (My word for everything being too unique to actually be the same as something else. I'm sure there is a more professional term, but I'm not a professional--bear with me!)

2. Things are a source of insulation, protection. For the HP who has been hurt deeply by trauma, unresolved grief, or other loss, the amassed stuff represents the mote of a castle and the stone walls that protect the kingdom within. My own mother was very unaware that she was building this fortress although it was quite obvious to me.

I do think that for hoarders who suffer from Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), it may be possible that neither of these holds true. However, I could be wrong. It might still hold true for them.

The problem with having all this stuff when you're growing up is this:

I often felt like I was the only THING in the house that didn't have value. My needs were second to desires to acquire. My wants were second to her whims. My possessions rarely belonged to me. Everything was joint property, including the spaces in my bedroom. Children developmentally need boundaries, but these are non-existent in the home of a HP.

I didn't leave because there was too much stuff, or because the house was filthy. I left because I didn't have the same value as these things, and I'd spent years being reminded of just how true that was. In a nutshell, that's it. And I knew the only way to become a whole, healthy person was to leave (although this was a subconscious understanding). Still, it would take me another 15 years to really face down the stuff and its meaning.


Donna said…
Great post CeCi.
Anonymous said…
What if you just can't leave?
Ceci G. said…
LS--That's a really tough position to be in. Whether you can't leave due to finances or age, there are some things I believe you can do to help keep your sanity in tact. First, try to find a mentor--someone who has been there and survived (remember...if you're writing a comment on this blog...YOU are a SURVIVOR TOO!)--who will help model healthy boundaries and relationships.

If you are still a teenager, this might be more difficult, but you can reach out to agencies--churches, the YMCA, even school guidance offices should have resources to help with counseling. If it's so bad that you feel unsafe, even teens can approach CPS although I know how extremely difficult it would be to do that! I dreamed of running away but was too afraid of what worse thing might happen if I did!

Remember that your value lies within you. Your value is not dependent on someone else's opinions or actions. I know that sounds cheesy and pie-in-the-sky, but it is so true! When I began to learn that I was valuable regardless of what others thought, I felt better about myself and others responded to my shift in attitude too!

And you can attend groups like Al Anon, ACOA, or Codependents Anonymous depending on age and availability.

It's not your fault; it's not your responsibility; you are not guilty of doing anything wrong. I can't stress that enough!

Thanks for commenting! Feel free to keep messaging me!
Anonymous said…
Thank you for answering me. I am the spouse of a hoarder. I own the house, so I can't leave, but I can't get him to clean up or stop hoarding either.

I will check into Codepentents Anonymous. Thank you.

Anonymous said…
I checked into Codependents Anonymous but I don't know if it's for me. I really need help but I don't know in which direction to turn. I've been to a counselor I think I need someone who specializes in dealing with OCD behaviors. Any ideas on how to get brave and deal with this head on?

Ceci G. said…
I would encourage you to give CoDA a try...for say, a month. I know it seems like you don't belong and it might not be your thing, but if you are reaching out...you might be surprised how much you need the acceptance of a group like that.

As for a therapist, if your SO doesn't think he has a problem, you can see every therapist in town to no avail. Yes, there is a possibility that finding a therapist with OCD training/specialty may mean they understand the hoarding issues, but they may not. I've heard conversations from many who say that there weren't any therapists really trained to help the family members.

So sad, but true, I fear!

My last suggestion, and the advice my family gave me for so long...PUSH. Pray Until Something Happens. You have obviously read enough of my blog to know that my faith is a huge component in my survival and healing. I truly believe that things have worked out the way they have because of my faith, because God kept His eye and hand on me, and because I kept giving it over to Him.

I know how frustrating it sounds when you're living in the mess to hear someone say, "Pray." I do! You have no idea how well I know the anger and frustration it brings!

But I don't possess a magic wand to fix people. I wish I did! I simply know and trust in the One who moves mountains, who parts the sea, who places rainbows in the sky. And I know He has an answer...

And know YOU have enough to do whatever is needed...even tough love. It's already there inside you, waiting for a chance to show itself. Believe in you. You can do the hard things.

Anonymous said…
Oh Ceci,
Thank you so much. Yes, I too believe in miracles. And, the fact that your spirit agrees with mine on the subject even reassures me once again that He is in control. Just reading your response brought me to tears. I believe the God directed my path to find your blog as He has always directed my paths. Looing back on my life, I can see the subtle hand of God at work. I do believe that He has a wonderful life ahead for me even though I live in pain now. "All things work together for the good of them that love God." Expect miracles! Thank you, Cici.

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