As I work my way through material on hoarding, family members trying to convince the hoarder to change his or her ways is a recurrent theme. I’m starting to wonder if I should feel guilty for not saying something to my dad. My relationship to my parents has long been one of, “you’re grown ups, it’s your life, you will do what you want.” As long as it doesn’t affect my living situation, I’m not very concerned about it.
What scares me more, though, is my uncertainty of their own awareness. I don’t think they know they have a hoarding problem or to what extent it affects them. Frost and Steketee in Stuff have written that the hoarder will go to great lengths to hide their overrun homes from others, which demonstrates a certain level of awareness, but when they are challenged on discarding individual items, they are not able to see that they have a problem. (Ironically, it is exactly this confrontation with individual items that made me realize how susceptible I am to hoarding.)
The two researchers rightfully point out that their work is based on individuals who have volunteered for study. On some level, these people already know they have an issue that needs to be dealt with. On the other hand, public health and social workers encounter hoarders regularly – people who have been reported to them and who are unwilling to change what they do not see. They have a certain blindness to their clutter or squalor.
My dad and step-mom make small remarks about wanting to get rid of things so they can sell their home, or that they need to clean up the house before anyone can visit, or even saying once, “I think you know we aren’t very good about getting rid of things,” when I mentioned they could donate all of my things left in the house. But I’m not sure they realize that they have two bedrooms that are unusable, a garage that hasn’t seen a car inside it since the 1990s when my brother cleaned it out, at least four non-functioning grills around the outside of the home, I do not know how many storage units full of collectibles, and so on. They still have livable space. So far.
It terrifies me to think, however, what my father will become if my step-mother dies before him. My only solution up to this point has been to move far away. But that doesn’t help these adults who are old enough to take care of themselves and not too old yet not to.