I just read a (very old) post on Hoarder’s Son in which he encourages adult children of hoarders to take action on their parents’ hoard before it’s too late and they find their folks dead and buried under a pile.

This sounded like the oddest advice to me. I mean, can’t we just ignore what our parents are doing? It’s their problem, after all. We have no control over their collecting, piling, keeping and the ruining of their home. Am I calloused to say such a thing?

One of the most healing things I have learned over the past ten years through divorce, remarriage, and relative separation from my hoarding father, is that I cannot wrap my identity up in anyone else’s. I did that for a long time with my father and was mortified to be associated with him and devastated to never please him. Then I did the same with my first husband, desperately trying to get him to conform to my world view because I felt, through marriage, we were identified together. It caused me far too much disappointment and frustration. I do not know at what point I realized that he was not me and did not need to be me. Perhaps it came out in therapy or sometime before that. When I was living alone in Europe in 2001-2002, I realized I liked myself much better as an individual. All the anger from trying to impose myself and my identity or trying to blend my identity with someone who was nothing like me – it was suddenly gone.

And now when I think about things I don’t necessarily like in my family members, I don’t really worry about it. Their bad habits and compulsions are their own. I have my own hangups to deal with. No one can fix my problems for me and I certainly cannot control theirs.

So when I look at my parents’ hoard, I have that maybe cruel feeling of – let them die there if that’s what they want. I have no intention of clearing out their house. I’ve taken any of my own belongings that matter to me. I’ve told them clearly they can get rid of anything I’ve left there… but how could I possibly push them to let go of that mess? I have no control over it and I am not equipped to counsel or help them in any sort of lasting way.

As I’ve posted before, it’s a regular topic of conversation with my brother. Who is going to take care of the mess? They know that my step-brothers want to burn the house (à la Gilbert Grape), and although I think I could tolerate being there to sort and throw things out to prepare for an estate sale, I really don’t see a way that this could happen while they are alive. I have no desire to hear the justification for each artifact and why it matters. It just isn’t my problem right now.

I want my parents to be healthy (they are suffering from respiratory problems that I presume are related to the accumulated mold and dust in their home) and safe and happy. But they are not me, I am not them, and I’m about to move as far away as I can go. I will further extract myself from their tangled behavior of hoarding and I will not be available to help them if the clutter collapses one day on top of them.


5 responses to “separation

  1. Recovering Hoarder

    That was a loaded post! You talked about how you’ve matured over the years and experiences you’ve had. You have found a way to appreciate yourself for who you are and stand on your own two feet, and that’s great. But, do you ever wonder if you are going too far in the process, trying to detach yourself so much? You asked if you were “callous”. At the beginning of your post, I thought yes. Then your last sentence got me, it actually sounds like you’re trying to convince yourself that you don’t or won’t care anymore, and you’re actually removing yourself physically as far away as possible as if to avoid having to deal with it at all. I don’t think you’re callous, I think it might affect you just a little bit more than you might care to admit.

  2. Pingback: you can’t take it with you | hoarding memory

  3. Pingback: cleaning doesn’t help | hoarding memory

  4. Ahhh…I have been right where you are on this post. I thought that I could just distance myself from the problem and not care. In fact, I moved my family 2500 miles away thinking that I escaped it all. The thing is, once you are a child of a hoarder, you will never truly escape it all. The parent’s health will get worse and worse. One of three things will happen. You will stick them in a home and be forced to clean out the house then. The parents health will decline so much that you will be forced to take action while they are still alive; or, worse case scenerio, they will die in the hoard, and you will be forced to clean out the crap while you are hurting and grieving. I am currently dealing with a dying, hoarding mother after 10 years of completely ignoring the problem. Now it’s coming to bite my family back in the butt hard. We are looking at about $9000 in clean up bills and another 10 grand in repairs to get the house in selling condition. So, keep up the strong attitude, set boundaries, but realize, in the end, the hoarding will be there, and legally, you will be expected to clean it up.

    • I’m really sorry to hear about your struggle, Christina. I’m slowly coming to the same realizations and considering what the best approach is even though I’m far away. This has been weighing heavily on my mind over the past few days. Blog post forthcoming.

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