Tag Archives: children of hoarders


D. is in the U.S. for the week and I am holding down the fort with S. here at home. Suddenly my head-space feels very noisy. It echoes, and not only due to the sinusy cold we’ve passed to each other (with love, of course). I’m aware that my lists are getting louder.

In my head it goes like this, “Shave legs, laundry, dishes, make lunch” or “bread, cheese, containers” (that’s my shopping list), over and over and over until I get the tasks done. I have no idea for how long I’ve been making these lists in my head but somehow they keep me on task. Otherwise I trapse up and down the stairs 20 times forgetting why I had to go into my bedroom or what I was supposed to bring up from the kitchen. My work lists tend to be written on paper, paper I never have to look at, but I need the act of writing to keep me focused.

My head is noisy today, but I wonder if other Children of Hoarders do the same to keep out of the rut of churning.

fourteen days and

Still the silence hangs in the air. My father continues to play Scrabble with me but has not texted a syllable outside of the game. I can’t articulate why it bothers me. It shouldn’t. But it’s like a constant reminder of our entire relationship, “I’m here with you, but not here for you.” I stubbornly play on but have stopped the light banter about the words played. He chooses not to speak. I don’t want to ask him why. I don’t want to know. He waits for me to ask. 

The last time I remember him not talking to me, I was in University. I had emailed him requesting examples of women ministers in the Bible for a project I was working on. It took me two months to realize he wasn’t talking to me (if that doesn’t say something…. wow). I had to ask what was wrong before he would open the floodgates and unleash the feelings I really wish he had kept to himself. He was angry that I might be considering being a minister. This time, I’m not asking. I do not want to know.

That doesn’t stop me from paranoid thoughts, though. Have they discovered this blog? If so, they are probably angry. Are they stupidly upset about our holiday plans? Who knows; they haven’t said. Not angry enough to not play Scrabble. Just manipulative enough to stop talking. Talking. As if there has been talking actually happening up to this point. 

I’m frustrated that I can see I’m a fool and still feel upset about the lack of talk. Banter. Not real voices and not real topics. Just banter. That’s all that’s gone.

If you, dear reader, are a COH, I would love to hear about your HP’s manipulation tactics. Have you received the silent treatment? Did you notice?


Although I’m committed to the goals of the Children of Hoarders support group, I sometimes look away for long periods of time. Reading the experiences of others makes me feel somehow guilty for publicly complaining about my situation when others have had it so severely worse. Then the feeling that I am entirely ungrateful for my upbringing suddenly popped into my head about two days ago. Am I only looking for yet another way to talk about the ways in which my parents failed to nurture me? Can they ever do anything right? It’s like a revolving door and I can’t step out.

My father had clear hoarding tendencies while I was growing up. I’ve also written about my paternal Grandfather, collector of treasures, my maternal Grandmother, survivor of the Depression who throws nothing useful out, and my own tendencies to cling to objects that remind me of past travels, experiences or people. But my father’s hoarding, as far as I know, has only shut off two rooms and a garage. The family can still sit on the couch, I presume. I say that, but I am not certain. Maybe they clean for days ahead of our visits to clear those coveted surfaces for us. While some children are literally trapped in horrid living conditions, my main area of suffering was from neglect. Things were and are always more important than I am, if not in word at least in deed.

A few days ago, I finally wrote to my father to tell him of our holiday travel plans and to ask if we could come by the house for a day or two. We cannot invite them to our home because it is rented to friends. However, we are renting a vacation home and I am very late at asking if they want to visit us there. Late and hesitant. I could sense the tone in their response that they (step-mother and HP) were upset they had not been made a priority. My father couldn’t even be bothered to answer me himself and has stopped talking to me during our constant Scrabble games online. I shouldn’t expect them to feel any other way: their visits are never easy for us, but I haven’t seen them in a year and a half.

Rambling back to the point: I wonder if I am ungrateful. Look at me: I’ve got problems, but I’ve turned out ok. Did they really do me wrong? The more I read other people’s stories of abuse, however, I feel more and more resentful. And they are not even doing something to me now.

Lately, I feel resentful because my husband’s parents are equally far from us and yet they have maintained a constant relationship with our daughter. She knows who they are, she visually recognizes them, she talks with them on Skype almost weekly. My own parents (both the HP and my mother) cannot bother to write an email much less learn how to Skype or pick up a telephone to talk to me or S. She asked me who Grandpa S. was the other day and I could only get her to remember by talking about his dog. His dog who is the clear #2 priority in his life.

The unclarity in my head at the moment is probably very legible here. I feel guilty for not inviting them, for feeling ungrateful. I wasn’t really that abused, just a little abused and very neglected. And I feel anger. Real anger and frustration that they expect me to be chasing after their attention when I know I will never compare to stuff.

Being less worthy than stuff was discussed in depth on the HuffPost Live webcast “Hoarding’s Harsh Reality” last week. I am grateful to those who are willing to share publicly and to Sidney for being an advocate for the victims of hoarding. We need one, especially those of us who can’t even decide how we really feel.

nbd, it’s npd

Thank you Hoarder’s Son and Children of Hoarders for your recent discussions on Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Thank you, but why must the rabbit hole go ever deeper? Probably to hide away more hoarded stuff. It seems only appropriate that our HPs have collected psychological disorders along with their junk.

Without having a proper degree to diagnose my father, I can recognize obvious displays of NPD in him. Long before the hoard, the characteristic marks of this behavior were present. He has big dreams (that happen to change rather often), believes he is someone very special (divine calling, anyone?), and treated his first and second wives and his children as extensions of himself who were meant to obey his commands and whims without resistance. Question his authority and expect a fine fit of rage.

Where things get complicated for me, or for him maybe, is that my father is a pastor of a very small church. Being a pastor and doing these things for the Lord justifies almost every behavior, every dream, every whim, everything he wants. This role began about the time when the hoarding took off and I was out of the house. And pastoring fulfilled his need to have constant admiration, attention, and control. At some point I began to wonder (shudder) if he even believed what he was preaching or if he simply enjoyed being in the position of total authority in the church body.  Whatever the inspiration, he has mellowed considerably through the years — from God or from age, I do not know.

My father can be completely charming and sweet, but any generosity or overly kind word gives me a grippingly sick feeling. His sweetness is always pointed at what he cannot control, but if you ask him, he is just winning people over to the Lord. I tense up when I hear that overly sweet tone in his voice. It happened too often in my childhood that he would be in a full-on rage about some horrible sin I’d committed (blue nail polish comes to mind) and the phone would ring. Suddenly he’d be the nicest man on earth on the phone, perhaps even brag about how great I was to his interlocutor, and the minute the conversation with the unknown person was over, the rage would continue. Turn it on, turn it off. Like a switch.

I could go on and on with this analysis of my father and the ways in which he matches this behavior profile, but things get difficult when I turn the scope on myself.

I, like many people who have posted on children of hoarders (thank you, all of you), was a mini-adult, put on display at church as the model child, had perfect grades from ninth grade to the end of my B.A. degree, and every success was attributed not only to my father, but to our heavenly father. Perfect grades? Praise the Lord. Scholarship? Praise the Lord. More than once I wanted to scream, “What about praise me?” Yet still, I endeavored to please.

I was the Golden Child, the wanted child (?), the successful child. I found my rebellion through reading subversive books in a foreign language and conducting my research in a way that is entirely incomprehensible to my father. I created my space in foreign cultures and he has not once asked or attempted to understand it. His only concern has ever been if my beliefs align with his: I am so going to Hell.

Until I met D. I had no idea what I wanted in life even though I was very clearly motivated. He’s the first person to ever ask me what I wanted. I had always had some God-plan to live by. When I stumbled off of that track, and D. asked me hard questions, I came up entirely empty. How could I answer where I was going since someone or some entity had always told me where to go and what to do?

I chose a path that brought down my father’s wrath. I was 31.

And now, seven years later and in a different countries, my father is trying to use his sweet charm on me.

NPD, maybe it’s a BFD.


an HP you can rely on

Lately I’ve been thinking about living so far away from family and what I would do if tragedy were to strike here on the other side of the world. My brain can’t help but go down all the worst possible paths just to give me some equilibrium in the present. And when confronted with the worst possible scenarios, my immediate thought is almost always, “I’d want to be close to my family.”

Then I take a deep breath and realize how ridiculous that is. The unavailable family support system is one of the many contributing factors to my ability to live almost anywhere in the world. There was almost nothing to tie me down until I met D. and started a family with him. Still, I think rather longingly, “I’d like to be close to my family.”

Throughout my early adulthood, I always had the thought that no matter how much I messed up, my dad (the HP) would be there for me. This was rather backwards on my part, since every time my thoughts did not align with his, I was treated to open judgment, silent treatments, and other signs of lack of support. When financial needs arose, he always said he wished he had the money to help me but he just didn’t have it. Something in me still clung to the thought that he was there for me, that he was always there for me, because when my mother finally left him when I was 12 or 13 (I’ve never been able to work out when it really happened), he was there and she was not. He has always been there physically, just not emotionally or psychologically. For a few years I was the one taking care of him, washing and ironing his clothes, cleaning the house, and cooking the meals.

While it’s tempting to look at the past with rose colored glasses, seeing my father was present in my life, I have to constantly remind myself that he was not a person I could rely on and he would not be reliable today. I don’t even want to think about which of my parents, HP or not, would be more present for me in an emergency. Thoughts I can’t bear to follow.

A question for you other Children of Hoarders: did (do) your parents also create the myth of being always there for you but never really reliable? How hard has it been for you to accept the reality of their availability?

surveys that take it out of you


I generally fill out surveys with a sense of duty… righteousness, even. However, over the past two weeks, I took the time to complete Dr. Suzanne Chabaud’s Adult Children of Hoarders Survey which at times made me feel like I’d rather die than continue to the next page of questions. But then, not completing tasks would be very COH of me. I trudged on, amazed at some of the questions, constantly thinking, “What the heck? Is THIS why I act like that?” In the end the only thing that compelled me to finish was my desire to reformat my hard drive: I was afraid I’d lose the 75% I’d already entered. Enter the survey at your own risk. I found it revealing and thought provoking, but not much fun.

Since joining the COH listserv, I’ve often felt that my case is so different because my father didn’t really become an evident hoarder until after I had left home. I don’t know what it’s like to have my room filled up by someone else’s junk, and I’m grateful for that. But as I read about other people’s parents, there are so many other similarities beyond the actual hoarding. The signs of a mental illness (or at least a disorder) have long been present in my father. It was just a matter of time before they manifested in his collecting.

While I felt OK answering questions about my parent, when the survey turned personal, I began to feel the hoard coming after me. I immediately emailed D. with a list of questions that appeared. Some of the highlights – rate yourself on the following:

I get distracted
I hyperfocus on tasks or details.
I struggle with completing tasks.
I struggle with making decisions.
I struggle with establishing priorities (deciding what is most important, e.g., eating is more important than going to a movie).
I have difficulty sticking to priorities – e.g., doing what is most important first.
I have trouble organizing my physical environment (putting things in reasonable or sensible places).
I have trouble maintaining my physical environment (keeping it clean and tidy).
I have trouble managing paper in my home or office (mail, school papers, newspapers, files, receipts).
I have trouble being on time.
I have trouble accomplishing tasks (e.g., getting things ready for a trip, getting chores done, getting ready for work, preparing a meal).
I have trouble managing my parental responsibilities (e.g., getting children to school and activities, preparing proper meals, and maintaining a reasonable schedule for activities such as play, sleep, bath and homework, and supervising activities).
I under-manage others (Being able to direct or supervise others in a manner that is appropriate to the relationship).
I over-manage others.
I have trouble managing my finances (paying bills on time, establishing reasonable priority for using available funds).
I overspend.
I am “tight” with money.
I give away too much (time, things or money).
I have trouble giving (time, things or money).
I have trouble taking care of my basic needs for self-care (e.g., medical, health, hygiene, rest, nourishment, and clothing).
I struggle with telling people what I need.
I have difficulty facing conflict with other people.
I blame myself more than I should.
I put myself down.
I overfocus on my flaws.

And on it went, into my issues with boundaries in personal relationships, my ability to parent, and so on. Devastating. And at the same time, D. was at a conference and I was preparing to take S. on our first international flight alone together. I was suddenly all too aware of how I was spinning instead of properly packing for the trip. Not to exaggerate: I did get it done and we made it through the flight just fine. I do finish tasks (I have a Ph.D., after all), but I find it incredibly challenging to do simpler things like get S. fed, dressed and out the door on time in the morning. If I’m dealing with only myself… well, let’s just say I sometimes forget to shave one leg or comb my hair, but I feel good enough that it just cracks me up. D. thinks I’m rigid in my schedule, but I need to stick on a schedule or I’ll forget to eat and have a meltdown.

Another point raised in the survey was whether the participant had to be the caretaker in the family. In my childhood home we fended for ourselves quite a lot and did all or most of the cooking and cleaning for several years. We quickly became autonomous, but I’m starting to angrily realize that I didn’t have a chance to see how a parent should take care of a child. I’m really just striking out on my own, perhaps over permissively and over indulgently, but I only know the way my parents did it was upsetting for me as a child.

Anger is possibly a good step, but I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more hopeless about the amount of work I have left to do as a result of this hoarding mess.

abuse and hoarding

I’ve been silent but not inactive over the past few weeks. My mind is heavily occupied, in part because I suddenly started receiving the Children of Hoarders (COH) listserv messages, even though I joined the group months ago. There are many well articulated, insightful, and blatantly painful messages shared among the members on a daily basis, and my thought process on hoarding is a bit jammed.

Recently there was an active discussion on the abusiveness of hoarding and the fear (or not) of being taken away from the hoarding parent (HP). I will be the first person to recognize that I can only acknowledge abuse when it literally hits me in the face. After some therapy I came to recognize my father as an abusive person towards me, but I hadn’t been able to do it while growing up because he was physically abusive to both my mother and brother and I was somehow spared. Now that I’m confronted with an entirely different level of possibility – that his hoarding is an abusive act – I feel on unstable ground again.

[interlude: blogpost interrupted by people seeking donations for disaster relief, and I notice they are from a certain religious group, give money, hear father’s voice screaming in my ear that this group is a cult.]

My initial reaction is to defend both my father and my situation: it wasn’t that bad, the hoarding didn’t become an issue until I left home, and so on. If anything, and my mother confirms my memory, my childhood was dictated by a stringent cleaning regimen, and my father was more obsessed with sorting and cleaning things – or at least having us do it – than he was by accumulating. He was already a compulsive spender, although I didn’t understand that as a child, and he did bring my family to dramatic financial ruin that ended in foreclosure on a home, living without electricity, and hiding from the creditors sent to repossess our car. Still, I justify him. He was trying to cope, though badly, with a divorce and single parenting, though terribly.

As I think about it as an adult, I do see his hoarding as abusive, but it is extremely hard to write that even now. He always cared for things more than for us and would constantly say he had no money to help with things that didn’t matter to him (buying us decent clothes and food? paying for college education?) but he always had money to buy things that were important to him (horses, horse trailers, guns, hunting trips). His possessions weren’t to the rafters, but he did have a problem with things. And just today we were at a fair and caught part of a horseback riding competition, and I said to D. I really wish my dad had spent time with the horses. We had them through a very large part of my childhood, but I only remember riding a few times over all those many years. If anything, he just wanted to have animals. Even today he runs a deer farm, and I believe he takes good care of the animals just as he did with the horses, but they serve almost no purpose whatsoever… they’re just there because he wants them there, eating up money and resources while he calls them a business investment.

It’s hard to label this kind of neglect as abuse for me, especially because there was real physical abuse that I witnessed and not just from him. I have trouble putting his hoarding activity on the same line as causing physical pain. Perhaps it’s equally destructive, but now far more acceptable – hell, even fashionable – to be a hoarder.

It’s a common complaint among the COH that at first really shocked me – hoarders are seen as kindly, well-meaning, creative individuals who are victims themselves. This is a cultural view as well as the perspective of many highly respected researchers. But by being the victim, the hoarders can only too easily perpetuate their abuse. We COH get angry, and the passive HP is able to turn the attention onto our bad behavior, making themselves out to be even greater martyrs, all while refusing to share and refusing to put their own children ahead of stuff.

I’m only just figuring this out as I write it. I can only imagine how insufferable it is to actually have to live in a home every single day that is so filled with crap, constantly weighing down or threatening to topple onto you as a reminder of how less significant your life is to your HP than the stuff that surrounds them.  I knew every day that my dad cared more about stuff than about me, but I didn’t have to tiptoe around the stuff that mattered more. I only had to tiptoe around him.

children of hoarders

Last week it was all the rage to talk about hoarding, and today it’s being a child of a hoarder. People have been speaking out at Hoarder’s Son, Children of Hoarders (which I just joined this week) and now in a (not terribly well-written but interesting) article in the New York Times, “Children of Hoarders on Leaving the Cluttered Nest” (Steven Kurutz, 11 May 2011).

The most resonating point of that piece explains how I feel today:

“WHATEVER balance children of hoarders manage to find in their own homes, there is still the ancestral homestead to contend with — and the knowledge that it is filling up with more junk by the day — so long as the parent with the hoarding problem is alive. After years of pleading and arguing, children of hoarders often abandon all hope that the parent will reform.”

My parents are just at the beginning of talking about their need to declutter, but until there is a real reason to change, I hold no hope that they ever will stop “collecting” stuff. I never have tried to plead or argue with them. I just don’t go there because, for this but for many other reasons, it makes me so sad to see what they’re doing to themselves and their home.