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Feel Like a Hoarder? Cleaning Out Your Hoard Is Possible

Updated on June 17, 2015
Nightcat profile image

Nightcat is a Jane of all trades and likes to pass on tips she’s found useful around the home.

I'd like to share my story.

Before we get started, I am not a psychiatrist or cleaning professional so if you have been diagnosed with a hoarding disorder, please consult a specialist in that area. That said? From the research I've done and just from my own life experience I know I grew up in a family of hoarders. Now none of us was ever diagnosed by a medical professional because at one time there was no such disease.

Because it is normally healthy for people to get possessions. And for those of us who collect too much there is always what I call The Plan. The Plan is always a goal. We collect to decorate that bigger house we will one day move in. We're going to become master decorators and we need all this stuff. If we only hold on to all this junk, which I think most of us secretly hate, everything will be OK.

All photos are my own, most are after photos. I wanted to show others who are struggling with too much stuff that change is possible. If you own the rights to any material used herein and want something removed or credit and a link, please let me know. All videos are shared for educational purposes only.

Please Note: I am not implying that you have to do this on your own. If you have a disability or need help cleaning your hoard for any reason, please get it. There's no shame in needing help. But I am implying that you are strong enough to do this on your own. I didn't exactly have a choice. It was just me left and I couldn't afford a cleanup crew, but in the end facing it on my own empowered me and made me a stronger person and I want that for you too.

You Can Do This!!

Once you get going, cleaning your hoard can become a totally addictive, empowering and freeing experience. You will find the strength inside of you to own your things and not be owned by them. You will fight for your freedom and learn things about yourself you never knew.

How did it start?

The photo is from hauling out stuff. Scary, eh?

My parents were day and night different. My father grew up in a household where everything that wasn't nailed down was thrown out and my mother grew up with a mother who had gone through the Depression and kept everything. I wouldn't quite call what my grandmother did hoarding. Her house was always neat as a pin, she just saved everything. But to her credit when she ran out of room the oldest things went.

And for a lot of my childhood, my family did pretty much the same thing. Dad's stint in the Army had made him cleaning crazy and so my earliest memories are of an almost overly-clean house. My mother needed his permission to start saving things to decorate with and I think that is how it all started. That and mom, God bless her, was very sentimental and didn't want to throw out much us kids had ever had.

So over time the hoard grew, but slowly. Decades passed, my father and mother got older and ill and the hoard grew and we all felt helpless. It was just so overwhelming that it seemed easier to just add to things. Dad died, my grandmother died, and this is partially my fault, but the hoard exploded.

Readers will keep in mind that we never had food or dirty clothes hoarded, but it was bags and boxes of stuff. Junk, really. And it just seemed like if we kept it all nothing bad would ever happen. How'd that work out for us? Not too well.

So what am I doing?

It's clean at last!

I am cleaning like no single woman on the planet, expect perhaps other hoarders has ever done. After five months the official count is now 102 bags of trash out. And a broken down door, broken lamps and so on. The actual total is actually somewhere around 150 bags or more and there has been a ton of progress. No more goat paths, as experts call them.

My living room, kitchen and bathroom are flawless, the whole first floor is. The bedrooms are cluttered but not at a hoarding level, but the basement still needs tons of work. But even though I at times want to scream or cry over what is left to haul out I know how much better things are.

I also have a detached garage that while terrible by my new standards, is a lot better as I clean in there when I can. So progress is being made and I know I never want to shop for anything ever again is because I'll never need anything for years at least.

Ten Things I've Learned

  1. Things don't keep the dead around and getting rid of them is OK.
  2. Inanimate objects don't have feelings. They do not cry if people don't want them.
  3. Clean is a heck of a lot nicer. You can have guests!
  4. I don't massive amounts need the four most typical things kept by hoarders: clothes, magazines, newspapers and containers.
  5. Hoarders do collect valuable things but we just collect way too much of it because of The Plan.
  6. Buying something new? Chuck old junk to make room!
  7. There is always room for improvement. One hoarding show inspired me to get a bag of junk out of what I thought was an already spotless living room.
  8. I can't let aggravating triggers start me on hoarding again.
  9. This will be a lifetime struggle. I've had more people want to take me shopping-- Last thing I need at this point.
  10. I have to do this for ME. Not to shut up annoying, pestering people, not for society, not to conform. For me.

Trash Bags Help!

I get these and they work pretty well. I've had some tearing, but considering the stuff getting thrown in them it is acceptable and if you have a huge amount of trash haul away to do these really help and are cheaper than the big brand names.

Kirkland Signature Drawstring Trash Bags - 33 Gallon - Xl Size - (90 count)
Kirkland Signature Drawstring Trash Bags - 33 Gallon - Xl Size - (90 count)

As strong as other bags? Not quite but they are hauling out tons of trash and many of the full bags are pretty heavy.


How Did I Change?

Much Better! Trust me.

Well, I used my spirituality and prayer and if you know me you know what that is. Because I just couldn't do it alone. After mom died I literally did not see a problem, even when I had to haul stuff out of the way to get a new furnace installed. I grew up this way, so it seemed normal. But this is not easy.

Although I love my clean rooms there is this panicky part of my brain that says clean and airy is sterile, and somehow not safe. That if all the stuff came back it would be cozy and comforting. Keep in mind I know that logically that is wrong. So each day is a battle since there are strong emotional ties to a lot of this junk.

Am I really a hoarder by a clinical standard? I think I'm at least a mild one. I know it is an unhealthy, illogical way to live and ironically I actually love cleaning and I'm proud of the cleaned up parts of my home. And I know it will be a struggle to keep things clean. I love junk. I have no problems with stacks of books, too many little geegaws decorating a shelf and so on.

But I'm being tough when I have to and forcing myself to clean. And gentle. There are rewards like a much easier soak in the tub now that it isn't filled with junk. I think that hoarding is a lot like alcoholism. It is something you have to struggle with for a lifetime.

Having attended years of AA meetings with a family member I can tell you it will be a lifetime addiction on my part. If you've never been to an AA meeting the give out, or at least used to give out a coin when a person stayed sober 90 days because the older recovering addicts knew what an accomplishment that was to be proud of.

But they would also warn that that was just a start. These coins had no cash value in a bar. A clean home is just the start. Like that coin it is a reminder of the progress made, but no proof of a cure because there is no cure. I can't start collecting things again any more than a recovering alcoholic can have 'just one drink' to please someone and prove they are cured.

And although both sets of addicts can have setbacks if we are mindful that we do have this addiction we can control it.

Why do I think hoarding is like alcoholism?

Also much better! Though there's that dang missing tile...

Because both are addictive and at first to loosely quote one of the books I sorted through both are great fun at first. When my mother and I started decades ago it wasn't called hoarding it was called shopping. And everyone we knew had too much stuff because it is the American dream to move into a bigger house. And the thrill of a good deal is fun!

But then the addictions are fun with trouble. In our case there was way too much stuff and oh-so-many reasons not to throw anything away. It would be a waste of money. We could use it. Regift it. Donate it. My father and I even kept stuff for the flea market booth we would have ran one summer, just the two of us. Obviously none of these things ever happened with our old stuff and things just grew.

At the last stage both addictions are just trouble and the addict in both cases literally can't stop. Many people in AA will tell you about having to hit bottom. Or being a functional alcoholic. Those can apply to hoarding too. Hoarding addicts have to get to the point where they or someone else gets hurt, or sick of seeing everything, or something. I can't give you one good reason I started to open my eyes. I do know I watched hoarding shows literally for years and thought: "Wow, I'm glad my house doesn't look like that!"

Both are socially acceptable in moderation. Alcohol advertisements are everywhere you look and meeting for drinks is socially acceptable. As a matter of fact these ads imply there is something wrong with you on some level if you don't drink. So is shopping for things you love. Ads slam into us from all sides for new things, implying that if we aren't buying we aren't part of the happy, wealthy, and for some reason mostly white in-crowd.

The problem comes in not how much or how often but what happens to you. If you get hammered one one teaspoon of beer and do this every day and can't stop, you have a problem. Likewise if your home is full and you can't stop shopping you also have a problem.

People think you can just quit either addiction. Just like that. After all they don't have a problem, so why should you? Because of a lot of possible reasons, that's why. There are a billion different reasons people hoard or drink and to the addict they are valid. And the hard thing is that the stressor may always be there and lead to a possible relapse.

The good news is they are also like in positive ways. There are recovery and support groups. There are ways to seek treatment and there is often a support group built in to you friends, family or place of worship if you choose to take advantage of them.

I do want to stress though that change has to come from within. No amount of books, therapy or watching TV shows on hoarding can help until you are ready. That is not to discourage you but to remind you that if you have this addiction you can also face it when you are ready.

Six Things for You to Remember

  1. You (or a hoarder you know) are not sick lazy, or worthless. You have a very real, treatable disorder.
  2. You can get on top of your hoard but not in one day. It has taken me five months to get it down to a dull roar and there is plenty of work ahead.
  3. We still don't know exactly what hoarding is as a mental disorder but research is ongoing.
  4. Millions of adults in the US alone suffer from some degree of hoarding, so you are not alone.
  5. You have to start the change within yourself. Give yourself time and be both tough and gentle as needed.
  6. Hoarders are actually perfectionists, not that you could tell from our homes. Doctors researching hoarding feel the need to be perfect in the cleanup is what keeps many hoarders from starting.

Quick Tips

Having a plan helps!

Feeling lost? Set yourself a simple goal them plan accordingly. What do you want? A clean bedroom to sleep in? A living room where you can entertain guests? Or things under control so that emergency services can come in a door? Whatever goal you set, come up with a plan YOU can manage. Not me, not people who may be giving you more pressure than you can handle. What you can handle.

Chart your progress.

Got a Facebook account? Start telling your friends about your goal and your progress. Share stories, before and after photos, look for support groups and more. Or join me on HubPages and start a hub to chart your progress.

You can clean up for free!

Porvided you currently have a trash service, of course. Find out the maximum number of bags and set that as an eventual goal. Find out what they will haul away like broken doors, empty boxes and the like and go for it! I know it is hard, but other than some new cleaning products and maybe repairing any damage your hoard caused cleanup can be free.

Deal with your emotions, they are valid.

I've felt everything from sorrow when items trigger a painful memory of what once was, to boiling anger over self-righteous bullies who lecture me. If I want to avoid it triggering me into burrowing deeper into my shrinking hoard, I have to let the emotions flow through me and sort of watch them like a bystander. I'm not saying you give in and start screaming back or hit people, but do know that your emotions are normal. This is a huge life event for you!

Don't let other people get to you.

Humans seem to have no other function than lecturing you some days, or putting you down. Ignore hateful bullies that constantly dig up the past, get self-righteously angry over how things are in your home, or predict failure. These people need some serious therapy for their own issues in my humble opinion.

Like those cuties? You'll be amazed what treasures you'll find as you go.

The following You Tube video by Dr. Randy Frost is a real eye opener. He discusses hoarding cases, the wheres and whys of hoarding and how it is really an exaggeration of normal, health behaviors. Yes it is over two hours in length, but if you are struggling I think it will be a comfort to you. I could relate to so many things his patient did, and he has a much more compassionate and logical view of hoarding.

Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding
Buried in Treasures: Help for Compulsive Acquiring, Saving, and Hoarding

The book Dr. Frost mentions as having a high success rate in his groups. You could read and work alone or form a support group of your own. Once I have this place sparkling clean I might seriously want this around as motivation not to start over.


A Switch Will Flip

At what part of the process it flips honestly is different for everyone. I had my house pretty clean and my hoard tamed when my switch flipped and I saw how much more potential I had to clean. Suddenly the emotional attachment I had to things is just gone, and that will likely happen for you too, and it is a wonderful thing.

I want this hub to be a positive place, negative comments will not be posted. But please feel free to share your tips on coping with the clean up process, dealing with temptation and more.

Do You Have a Hoarding Disorder? - Please share your coping tips!

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    • Nightcat profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago

      It is, Heather! Once I realized the world wouldn't stop turning and nothing bad would happen progress began. A little at a time but it worked. I did meditation at the same time to work through my own fears. Thanks for visiting!

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Great reading. I need to clean out fear which uses the same processes.

    • Nightcat profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago

      I kept doing the same thing, That Grrl. I eventually told myself to sort first and buy storage later. It isn't perfect by any means, but the first floors and bedrooms look great, now the basement and garage need doing. But I find that as I chuck out stuff the storage I do have becomes enough. Hope that helps and thanks for commenting! :)

    • That Grrl profile image

      Laura Brown 

      4 years ago from Barrie, Ontario, Canada

      I am a hoarder, at least in one room. It is hard to deal with all that unfinished stuff that just keeps piling up. I've tried to stop buying more of anything. But, the irony is that I buy stuff which I hope will help me sort out or store the existing stuff. In the end it usually just adds to the pile.

    • Nightcat profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago

      @Virginia Allain: My family did much the same thing, villain. But it is like they say in AA, it isn't how much or how often, it is what it does to you. As long as you have a functional home you are happy with, and it sounds like you do, no worries. For me I may have to move in the future and there most likely won't be an option to take all this stuff with me, so why not clean up? I'm not cured by a long shot, just on top of it right now.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      4 years ago from Central Florida

      My family collects things (elephant figurines, owl figurines, books, feather bird pictures, etc.). My husband's a neatnik so I've stopped adding to my own collections (ginger tins, miniature baskets, historic diaries, books, Tindeco tins, Hall china water pitchers, antique valentines) but all of those are on display in my home.

      Since I just inherited 25 boxes of family history when my mother died, that's added considerably to stuff in our home. Fortunately we live too far away to bring back any furniture or collections or other stuff. I'm the official family archivist now so I must figure out how to compact what I have so it can go to the next generation 10 or 20 years down the road.


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