More about hoarding...from a COH perspective

I've been very fortunate to meet and work with some fantastic people over the last two years, including trips to the Mental Health Association-San Francisco's Hoarding and Cluttering Conference last March, and more recently the International OCD Foundation Annual Conference just last weekend in San Diego. Because of this, I've sat in on many speeches about hoarding, the most recent research, and because I grew up with a hoarder, I am an expert on my mother's hoarding.

I realize that the viewpoints on the internet are skewed horribly. It's easy to say really harsh, mean things when one is protected by an alias, avatar, and a computer screen. And yet, since I see so many inaccurate statements made about hoarding, I thought I would share what I've pieced together from the research, my experiences, and my mother's admissions.

1. Hoarding is a mental illness with low insight. That means a hoarder will likely have as realistic a view of their home as someone suffering with anorexia has of their body. They just don't see reality the way the rest of us do. This does not excuse my mother's actions; it just simply makes it not completely her fault. Now I have the choice to forgive her, or not.

2. Hoarding is not about laziness. My mother has always been active in the community, worked full-time, raised me as a single parent, and played "Mom's Taxi Service" for my activities. Although I sometimes wondered growing up if she was just being lazy, I understand now after having been a single mom to three kids for five years just how overwhelming the load can be. Add perfectionism, fear of being hurt, and a lack of time to complete tasks, my mother was paralyzed by her brain from dealing with the mess.

3. It's not about the stuff. I was not angry so much about the large quantity of stuff as I was about the things her stuff robbed me--birthday parties, slumber parties, friends over after school, a safe private place of my own, clean clothes, a clean bathroom, and a healthy childhood. The anger and frustration with the hoarder is less about the stuff than about the emotional and physical abuse/neglect that stems from this problem.

4. Hoarding almost never happens in a vacuum alone. More than 2/3 of those studied in one research study were diagnosed or reported symptoms of other mental illnesses or traumatic brain injury. No one just up and decides as a healthy person to keep everything, shop compulsively, and never discard anything. No one.

5. We can't fix our parents; it's not our responsibility; we are exhausted trying to be healthy and normal people ourselves. Just as the child of the diabetic, the smoker with lung cancer, of the child of the alcoholic cannot change their parent, the child of a hoarder is NOT at fault, responsible, or to blame for their parent's issue. And if we seem unhealthy (yes, I'm obese...I'm not blind to this fact...), consider what we are working so hard to overcome on our own before someone places more pain and guilt on us.

6. Hoarders can be sweet, loving people and they can also be mean and nasty when their things are at risk. It's a control issue. Remember that sweet bear at the zoo who freaked out when someone messed with her cubs, well that's a hoarder for you...unfortunately, they have personified their objects in the place of people. Sad, but true. But some hoarders are just plain cold and mean...

I hope this gives a little insight from the view of a COH into a disorder that is still misunderstood by most of the public. There are many resources available to find out more about hoarding, go to "Children of Hoarders" bookstore to purchase books and resources about the topic. You'll do two things--you'll get to know more about hoarding, and secondly, you'll be supporting the largest resource available at this time to COH. That's something you can feel good about!


Sidney said…
Ceci, you are NOT obese! You are darling. Your heart may be a little big which shows in all your helpful, caring work.

I'm linking to your post in My Exciting Weekend post on Sunday. I'm sure it will educate and help many people.

Good work, Ceci! Now, I'm coming over some pizza rolls...
Ceci, you are awesome and your knowledge is so valuable to other COH in need of help. I send people who needs to read your words to your blog whenever I feel they need to read what you've just written. You are a beautiful woman with a heart of gold!

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