September 1, 2006 12:24 PM   Subscribe

Children of Hoarders: unpacking family secrets.
posted by Falconetti (43 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
reminds me of this

something awful thread

Unfortunately the pictures are no longer online.
posted by empath at 12:55 PM on September 1, 2006

Interview with Judith Scruggs - she was prosecuted for having an extremely messy house after her 12 year old son topped himself.
posted by jack_mo at 1:02 PM on September 1, 2006

My grandmother had this medium-bad and now my mother is getting it. I think my mp3 collection is a different expression of the illness.
posted by fleetmouse at 1:04 PM on September 1, 2006

Scruggs is a piece of work: "I went to bed with two kids in the house. I got up with the assumption I still had two kids in the house,” says Scruggs, who went off to work that morning. “Unknowing that he was … he was hanging in the closet.”

She blamed bullying and her son's school for his death, but she hangs herself, in my opinion, with the one word assumption. What kind of person doesn't check on a 12-year-old before leaving for work in the morning?
posted by scratch at 1:09 PM on September 1, 2006

Many of us identify with the Traits of Adult Children of Alcoholics.

I'll give it five years before Pfizer or GSK comes out with a pill for the disease of Hoarding; complete with a Zoloft-style bouncy blob TV Spot who is chained down by a screenful of trash.
posted by prostyle at 1:10 PM on September 1, 2006

i sent that link to my dad earlier in the week. he's not that bad -- it sounds like these people's parents are mentally ill -- but it freaked us both out.

signed, i sort of do it too
posted by sdn at 1:18 PM on September 1, 2006

I found a mirror of that somthing awful thread empath mentions. URL is a little funny, hope it works.
posted by peeedro at 1:18 PM on September 1, 2006

I'll give it five years before Pfizer or GSK comes out with a pill for the disease of Hoarding; complete with a Zoloft-style bouncy blob TV Spot who is chained down by a screenful of trash.

Funny you should mention that Prostyle, SSRIs (ie, modern antidepressants) are exactly what is prescribed for hoarders; hoarding is considered a "symptom factor" of OCD.

However, the drugs are not as effective in patients with the hoarding symptom factor as they are in other types of patients with OCD; CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) works best for the hoarders (and is recommended for the other types of OCD as well).

So to round out this reply, if it turns out that enough people have "hoarding", then it will get its own brand of drug, I am sure. And I'll bet that the drug will turn out to be ALMOST AS EFFECTIVE as CBT for the poor pack rats.
posted by Mister_A at 1:29 PM on September 1, 2006

Also, see Squalor Survivors.
posted by Balisong at 1:31 PM on September 1, 2006

Somebody needs to have a visit from The Life Laundry. Dawna will hold your hand and even cry with you as you chuck it all in The Crusher.
posted by briank at 1:36 PM on September 1, 2006

Oops, forgot to make the second link for that

posted by briank at 1:37 PM on September 1, 2006

I don't know if there's enough people nationwide to make a drug for hoarding, but I can think of five hoarders that I know personally. One of theme is a neighbor, a morbidly obese woman who also can't clean her own apartment. My SO and I spent a weekend cleaning her apartment when she got threatened with eviction. It was horrific. If it had been up to me I would have cleaned her apartment with fire and a shovel, but she insisted that we show her everything we were throwing out so she could search it for irreparable treasures. Luckily she now has hired help to keep the apartment clean but she still can't resist the allure of knickknacks and figurines.
posted by lekvar at 1:44 PM on September 1, 2006

irreplaceable treasures, not irreparable treasures.
posted by lekvar at 1:45 PM on September 1, 2006

peeedro : "I found a mirror of that somthing awful thread empath mentions."

posted by Shecky at 1:52 PM on September 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

This makes me want to force my husband to clean out the garage this weekend.

I had to help my mother clean out a deceased aunt's house a few years ago. Not quite as bad as some of these examples, but pretty bad.

Christmas presents that she'd received, still wrapped and piled in corners. Really important documents mixed in with junk mail that had never been thrown out. She didn't like to throw out anything with her name and address on it. She used to cut up envelopes and letters and flush them down the toilet. I guess she got a few years behind.

She also kept bread bags and washed out yogurt pots, plastic spoons, forks etc, foil trays etc. Didn't ever use them for anything.

She had a fridge for 20 years. She didn't ever plug it in. It was full of her best china. Never had food in it.
posted by kar120c at 1:55 PM on September 1, 2006

Hoarders make me feel terribly sad for some reason. I think being trapped in your house amidst your rotting possessions and not being able to let anyone in lest they discover your horrifying and unexplanable secret functions as some sort of devastating emotional metaphor for me. Especially what I imagine is the steadily growing feeling of powerlessness and shame as the accumulation progresses, leaving a hoarder with a constant reminder of their own impotence to maintain control over their life.
posted by Falconetti at 2:15 PM on September 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm no where near as bad, but I have a problem with collecting piles of stuff and just kept keeping stuff for years -- boxes of knicknacks, old technology, files, flyers, papers, magazines, etc. all in pristine condition.

A few years ago with the help of a friend (who ruthlessly reduced all of her belongings down to about three large suitcases), I started with questioning anything that I did not touch for the past two years (she wanted a one year cutoff).

I figured that I was keeping all this floatsam because they were reminders -- souvenirs -- of events and people. Sometimes I just had to remind myself that the inventorying costs of one year are higher than any selling price or utility of an item.

I got a decent DSLR, learned some basic stuff about catalogue photography, then took sexy, detailed pictures of EVERYTHING... Big pile of crap on the left, photo set in the middle, dolly headed straight to a one ton cube van for a garage sale on the exit.

Got rid of about 700sq/ft of crap this way, and use the same picture taking method to prevent future build up.
posted by Extopalopaketle at 2:16 PM on September 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

I've always found this issue fascinating, that people are so attached to their stuff. Even if that stuff was bought off ebay many months ago and has sat around unopened since then. Not that I am immune to that (I have kept small pieces of cardboard and paper around for some possible future art project), but eventually I figured that if I hadn't used it in 6 months or a year, I didn't really need it and so got rid of it.

I clicked onto the Children of Hoarders and the Squalor Survivors a few months ago after a friend and I started talking about it. She is in nursing school and had attended a lecture about Geriatric nursing, and the lecturer had discussed this as being a serious issue. However, something he pointed out that I didn't realize is that truely bad hoarders often start hoarding in college, and it's mostly due to poor coping skills. In a way, the stuff is a physical representation of all their emotions and thoughts, because they don't know how to deal with it internally.

Wasn't there a story from the 80's, maybe early 90's about some University professor (a woman) who was a hoarder, and it spread out into her yard, and eventually she was arrested because she was getting into physical altercations with the neighbors and police about it? I think I saw the story on 20/20 or 48 hours or one of those shows.
posted by sarahnade at 2:17 PM on September 1, 2006

My aunt is a hoarder. It periodically gets so bad that my uncle sends her on vacation and he spends the entire week cleaning and throwing things out.

When I was a kid, they lived across the street from us and you'd go over to visit and the front room/living room and dining room would be completely full of Walmart bags and toys and clothes that she'd bought and not done anything with. There was a tiny little path through, but otherwise you couldn't move an inch.

Finally, when they decided to move into a bigger house, my uncle told her that she had to let him throw out as much as possible or they were getting a divorce. Years later, she still talks about what she had to get rid of. I always felt so horrible for my cousins and uncle, to have to live in that filth. When my cousin was younger, she would clean and clean so she could have friends over. However by the time she was a teenager, she refused to clean at all. She said everytime she cleaned she had to deal with her mom following her around sobbing.

It's a terrifying thing. I think I'm gonna go home and clean now.
posted by teleri025 at 2:52 PM on September 1, 2006

I sent this link to my sister as our parents were (are) compulsive hoarders.

Their house was packed with stuff, and filthy. But it got even worse when my mother grew very ill with breast cancer - shopping became her panacea.

So not only were my sister and I dealing with a dying mother and a grieving father, but also with an unsanitary, overwhelming house full of crap. The issue was not who was going to drive mom to the hospital or cook dad dinner, but who was going to clean the house. We were dealing with three ailing entities.

After my mom died, my sister and I cleaned the place again - it took weeks, hell months, but it seemed as if we had finally solved the problem.

Four years later, my father has filled up the house, his new two story garage, and all of his cars (he hoards those too). Now he's asking us to store things for him in our homes.
posted by suki at 3:08 PM on September 1, 2006

We clean out estates and I get calls to empty out houses like these all the time. (at least once a month)
And let me tell you.
There's gold in them there piles of stuff.
I &hearts hoarders.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 3:29 PM on September 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

Suki, please refuse to visit your father until he gets help.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:41 PM on September 1, 2006

I figured that I was keeping all this floatsam because they were reminders -- souvenirs -- of events and people. Sometimes I just had to remind myself that the inventorying costs of one year are higher than any selling price or utility of an item.

I do this with books, CDs, and tshirts. Honestly, I couldn't throw many of them away because I feel like they tell the story of my life. Thankfully, CDs are rather compact, and I can fit all of my books on a 10-foot long stretch of wall. Compare with the movie High Fidelity where Rob reorders all of his music in "autobiographical" order.

Nevertheless, now that I'm moving away from Cambridge after a 7.5-year stretch of time here, it's becoming clear that I've accumulated a lot of stuff, and it's going to be kind of hard to do "triage" and start deciding what to throw away. There's something endearing and eccentric about someone who has a large collection of something he's passionate about, but these horror stories of knick-knacks piled floor-to-ceiling in an entire house are really creepy.
posted by deanc at 4:01 PM on September 1, 2006

I recommend this book, an excerpt of which is found here. It's the story of the Collyer brothers, the poster boys of compulsive hoarding. It's also a wry memoir of dealing with a family member who has the condition.

My mother was just diagnosed with senile dementia, and I'm in the process of cleaning her house up so I can move in and care for her. The upstairs of her house was fine, if a bit dusty and in need of some cat-hair removal. The basement was another matter. I was stunned to find it stacked literally to the ceiling with magazines, newspapers, junk mail, and flyers. Every horizontal surface was sagging beneath the weight of the accumulated paper.

Her back yard borders a golf course. The other day I opened a basement cabinet that I hadn't seen since I moved out of the house 22 years ago. It was stacked with egg cartons. Every carton was filled with golf balls. My mom must be the wicked witch of the 12th fairway. "Hey! That old lady just stole my golf ball!" "You shouldn't have hit it into her yard."

I asked mom why she was keeping all this insect-nesting fire-feeding junk, and she said, "I might need it some day."

I sifted through a bunch of it and threw out the garbage. She didn't seem to mind, though she made excuses for not helping me sort it.

Now I find myself hesitant to continue -- I'm at a point where the stuff I'm throwing away may not have value, but it does have meaning. A stack of magazines from December, 1993: That was what was going on the month MizBOP and I got married. Here's the Newsweek article about Cobain's suicide, the local sportswriter's humorous take on Tyson chomping Holyfield's ear, a promotional foam stadium cushion from an Alabama-LSU game emblazoned with the Miller Lite logo. I've never been to an Alabama-LSU game. Did Mom and Dad go? Did their friends bring it over? Why?

Each pile of stuff gets laden with more and more history and portent the deeper I dig, and it's taking me longer and longer to accomplish this seemingly simple task. So I have enlisted a friend who does the same thing Bighappyfunhouse does to cast a critical eye over things and make sure I'm not jettisoning anything of value. He'll come down next week to help, which gives me a great excuse to spend the weekend rummaging pointlessly.

Thanks for this FPP. I needed it.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:22 PM on September 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

When I was a teenager I had a friend whose mom was a hoarder. I'd go to his house and thread my way sideways through the living room to get places. It was all neat, mind you, just packed to the ceiling.

Now I realize my whole family has this. My uncle's wife died, he moved out, but put everything from their house into a storage unit. He's got early Alzheimer's, now his kids have to deal with it. My parents, though -- they have a house, a half a duplex, a barn, and a cottage, all stuffed with stuff. It would help financially if the duplex could be rented, but the amount of work required just to move the crap out let alone fix it up is unimaginable. At least the stuff that isn't in their house is "packed" more or less, but...
posted by dhartung at 4:52 PM on September 1, 2006

Registering after 2 years because I couldn't not comment on this thread. One of my ex-in-laws is a hoarder. Her house looks like the worst pictures from that site (the memory that sticks with me is the space heaters atop piles of newspaper and pizza boxes.) Her car as well.

I visited her at work once. Much like the nurse in one of the CoH's stories, she was competent, professional, and organized- you would never believe the same person occupied her office and her house.

I'm hoping one of her kids visits the site.
posted by pernoctalian at 4:59 PM on September 1, 2006

The hoarding force runs strong in my family. My father's mother just moved to an assisted living facility and we've been cleaningn out her house so we can sell it for her. We finally had to start going over there without telling her, because she would take everything out of the trash as soon as we put it there.

The frustrating thing is how important things are mixed in with trash, so you can't just through things out willy nilly. You have to look through each and every bag of papers in case there is money, or insurance info, or family photos from the 1880s in there with the matchbooks from weddings in the 70s and old missilettes from church and Coolwhip recipie books torn out of magazines.

She has lost all sense of what is meaningful. Just last week she asked my folks to bring her some cheap plastic doll heads to crochet bodies for. Those she needs, but we found a whole box of my grandpa's letters to her during WWII just sitting in a box in the basement. I think it's been a wake-up call for my dad, who definitely has the same OCD tendencies. I found Flylady a few years ago, which helped me immesurably, but I can alredy see the tendencies in my 11 year old son.
posted by Biblio at 5:22 PM on September 1, 2006

jack_mo, I wish I hadn't clicked on your link. I wasn't familiar with the term "topped himself," and I'm going to be horrified and depressed about the whole thing for days.
posted by moira at 6:01 PM on September 1, 2006

I recently worked for a woman who had this problem.

However in her house the rooms looked fairly pristine, but in every drawer, in every closet, in every box, in every space where something could be secreted away - there was chaos.

It was definitely attached to her inability to make decisions. So hard to watch because the stuff ends up creating the problems she was trying to avoid, i.e. not being able to find something she needs, buying something she already has, worrying constantly about her possessions, worrying that people will steal from her and she won't know it.

My grandmother, as OCD as they come, has a different problem. She doesn't keep ANYTHING.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 6:41 PM on September 1, 2006

Another vote of thanks for posting this. I've forwarded it on to my partner and his three siblings.

His father is a hoarder, and his mother does everything she can to beat back the chaos. That they raised four kids in a two bedroom ranch doesn't help matters as far as "stuff" goes.

In particular the phrase Ingrained in us; "You don't let outsiders in rings with me -- my partner and I recently had a baby, and my mother was dropping me and my son off at my partner's parents house. His mother came outside to talk with my mother in the driveway, so she wouldn't come inside.

I suddenly had a flash into my partner's childhood that I had never had before....
posted by anastasiav at 7:13 PM on September 1, 2006

Clearly, the children of these people have been left with a lot of baggage.
posted by Kwine at 7:47 PM on September 1, 2006

Kwine wins the thread.
posted by pjern at 7:51 PM on September 1, 2006

It's funny until it's your family.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:17 PM on September 1, 2006

Given the tone of the thread, I almost didn't post it-it was the inveterate punner in me that just couldn't let it go. Many apologies if anyone was offended.
posted by Kwine at 8:34 PM on September 1, 2006

My parent's basement is full of boxes and old unused stuff.

However, it's my boxes and old unused stuff, so it's kind of a win/win situation, sorta... hey, in thirty years I may need my Snake Mountain playset and a portable typewriter from 1974 that they don't make ribbon for anymore!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:04 PM on September 1, 2006

Actually prostyle, before I started taking Zoloft I was very clean and neat. Fear of germs and "aphids" does that. Now I'm a filthy old slob who might have to buy a new ID case because I can't find it under all the clutter on my desk.
posted by davy at 9:05 PM on September 1, 2006

I almost didn't post a comment, because of the "don't let oustsiders in" rule.

While my house growing up was more like the house whimsicalnymph mentions, I find much in common with the CoH site. My tenth birthday party was an absolute nightmare. I wanted desperately to have a sleepover party, but I was so afraid of inviting my friends to my house that I had to work up my last ounce of nerve to ask my parents if I could have one. I remember the palpable stress of having people in our home, that weren't family. It stole a lot of joy from my birthday that year.

I too, like Biblio, found Flylady a few years back and it has helped me unlearn some of my old family patterns.

Thank you for this post. I would venture to guess has helped many more people than have commented.
posted by luminous phenomena at 10:33 PM on September 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

In reading this thread and the pages associated with it. the mirror it all provides is very uncomfortable. it makes me feel a million times better throwing away nearly everything to drive across the country in a month. it also makes me think about being evicted as a kid and my parents screaming fights at my mothers mess and piles of stuff (fast food wrappers and junk mail were her usual bandits).

also: kwine. that was a brilliant pun.
posted by nadawi at 11:18 PM on September 1, 2006

With me, it's media. Books (so many), CDs , DVDs. Although I have all of them on DVD, I have a very large number of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel VHS tapes I haven't thrown out yet because I want to compare them to the DVDs. I know they've made changes. I can pitch pretty much anything that doesn't contain information, though.
posted by adipocere at 12:01 AM on September 2, 2006

I had no idea there were people that actually did this kind of thing until I went to New Orleans this year to help gut / demo houses. And...just...ugh.
posted by allkindsoftime at 7:35 AM on September 2, 2006

We have a neighbor who is like this. Example: my daughter needed a pair of gloves to complete a Civil War outfit for school. The neighbor had three pairs of long women's gloves from her childhood. Example: Neighbor was having guests over for Thanksgiving and needed to server dinner on the dining room table. As you can imagine, the table is covered with stuff. So she simply filled her car up with the table stuff. Her backup car, of course. Not her main car. She hoards cars, too.

This woman lives alone in a three bedroom house. It's full of stuff of course. She had been an art teacher in a local school district until she went out on long-term disability. They made her clean out her art room at school since she was no longer going to be working full time. Of course, it all came home. Filled up her garage with dried up pots of paint and old markers.

The link made me wonder what her parents' house was like. They've recently moved into assisted living and had to scale down their possessions. She took all of their stuff. All of it. Of course.

I don't know if this is necessarily related but she overfeeds her two cats, which have become morbidly obese. The vet has prescribed a strict diet for them but she "feels sorry for them" and gives them extra.
posted by tommasz at 9:01 AM on September 2, 2006

One of my friends has a mother who is like this. When I knew her, she had two little dachsuns (sp?), and she would let them shit in the house. She would let it pile up for months before (marginally) cleaning it up. It was really sad, because she was a really sweet lady. She had some pretty serious problems, though.

Would this classify as hoarding, or would it be something else? I know that she exhibited some of the other behaviors found in hoarders. I definitely got the impression that the dogshit was there to ward people away from the house.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:54 AM on September 2, 2006

My mom has some mild (hahah) version of this. The problem is that as annoying as it is, she has some really neat stuff. And some newspapers from 1999. . .
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:31 AM on September 3, 2006

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