Recognizing and Dealing With Compulsive Hoarding!
For most of us, we have watched the show "Hoarding, Buried Alive!", with a sense of morbid curiosity, outrage, disgust and even a bit of judgement. I have watched this show on numerous occasions not for entertainment value or even out of morbid curiosity. But for the simple reason of I am an only adult child of an eighty year old hoarder.
My father, has been a hoarder for as long as I can remember. In fact, when I was little and my mother was alive the minute he was deployed TDY we went to work. We had devised a system of removing his hoard in such a way that he would never notice that the bulk of it was missing. He would come home from his deployments and know instinctively that stuff had been moved but just couldn't prove it. But when my mother got sick my attention turned to her well being and helping my father with the impending death of his partner of 30 plus years not the hoard. Looking back, I realize that this is when his hoarding and control issues began to ramp up to staggering levels.
Now it is 14 years later and I have two children, moved two hours away from my dad and well, the hoarding has taken over his life, my life and the lives of my children. In the time since my mother has died his home has become inhabitable, the pipes leak, the roof is non-existent, the floors are rotted from water damage, the wall studs have ceased to exist due to excessive water damage caused by all the various leaks,and termites. But, the hoard of newspapers, junk mail, empty cans, grape containers, plastic bags, and anything else you can think of have been neatly organized and preserved, paths were made to work around the stacks of newspaper, and my childhood bedroom held ceiling high stacks of newspapers, all neatly labeled with the year and month of the newspapers.
With that being said, when compulsive hoarders reach this level the children,friends or family members of hoarders often find themselves unable to enter the home. The hoarder will make excuses to meet you somewhere, always want to host activities at some other place or even meet you outside the home. The hoarder is uncomfortable with anyone entering their home for many reasons the biggest being they are embarrassed and they are afraid their hoard will be removed from them.
This was the situation with my dad, I knew the severity of the problem yet I was helpless to do anything. I called roofers to come and check his house, he would cancel the appointments or not be there when they showed up. I called plumbers and electricians all with the same result. I offered to clean his house, take his trash to the dump, wash his clothes, bought file cabinets for his mail but to no avail. When the hoarder reaches this level of compulsion it is virtually impossible for anyone to enter in and help with the problem without outside intervention.
As in the show, outside intervention always shows up at some point. This intervention normally comes from the county, the town or the the city in which the hoarder lives. It starts with notice's to clean up the yard, or the house. In my father's case he has been fined several times for debris in his yard and not mowing his grass. As time goes by the powers that be will Evict the hoarder, this simply means that the hoarder can be in the house during daylight hours but may not stay at night until the house is brought up to all current health and building codes. If the hoarder does not meet these demands the process of condemning the home begins which can involve the actual bull dozing the home. This is the scary place where you find me and mine now.
In dealing with this "monster", I have had to come to accept that that my father suffers from an addiction much like a crack addict or an alcoholic would experience. Hoarding just like any other addiction is different as people are different and almost always starts off slow and for the most part is under the radar and controllable. But, like all addiction they quickly spiral out of control. Hoarders always say they will pick up tomorrow, get rid of the animals tomorrow, however tomorrow never comes until they hit rock bottom. Hoarding, like a lot of other addictions, is often the outward manifestation of other more complex issues such as Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or General Anxiety Disorder. The hoarder, can no more control his hoarding tendencies than any other addict in the throes of his or her addiction.
So, what are signs that a loved one is going down this very rocky path? One of the main clues to a potential problem is if any change affects them adversely and causes extreme discomfort. Change of spending is also another red flag. If they seem to be shopping more and buying extras of stuff they don't really need. Rapid adoption of animals or pets. Putting off chores or home maintenance because they just need to get caught up on housecleaning, mail, or they need to sort through things in their homes before they can have anyone come in. Reluctance to allow you into their home. If you see these signs they may be an indication that there is a potential hoarding problem emerging.
Dealing with hoarding is a whole other topic. The best advice that I can give is that when dealing with hoarders it is IMPERATIVE to remember that this is an addiction. You need to treat your loved one accordingly and remember that the addiction is in control not the person you love. This, and Lord do I know, is easier said than done but the fact is that if you don't see this for what it is it will become just as crippling as the hoarding is for the hoarder.
You also need to accept that for hoarders, they can't see why their lifestyle is an issue it isn't hurting them so why should anyone else care. Hoarders, like a lot of addicts can appear to be very selfish and act that way when they feel there hoard or lifestyle is being threatened. Oftentimes, these individuals will lash out and even get quite agitated when they feel that they are loosing control of their lives. This is probably on of the most traumatic events in a hoarders life as hoarding is an outward tangible way for them to see they still have control in their lives.
I titled this hub Recognizing and Dealing with Compulsive Hoarding and as I wrote this hub I am quickly coming to the conclusion that this may not be quite an accurate title since this topic can't be limited to such simple words as this is a very real sickness. This is more of a journey of healing and learning to deal with an addiction of a loved one.