How are The Children of Hoarders Affected?

Hoarding is a condition that affects many people and causes them to keep a lot of junk, causing a clutter around their lives. People who suffer from this condition are usually not aware of what they are doing and it is people around them who notice that they have a problem. The people who are affected most by this behavior are their families and anyone else who lives with hoarders. Children of hoarders could be the most affected, because they look up to their parents as roles models.

Hoarding around children is very dangerous because most of the time the children of hoarders also become hoarders as they grow older. This is because they do not think that there is anything wrong with it. Their parents will probably encourage them and they could end up being social misfits when they go to the outside world and other people realize that they have a problem. This could mean that they do not end up making any friends and become lonely. Eventually the condition escalates as they turn to hoarding as a source of joy and comfort.

Gustave Doré's illustration to Dante's Inferno...

Gustave Doré's illustration to Dante's Inferno. Plate XXII: Canto VII: The hoarders and wasters. "For all the gold that is beneath the moon, / Or ever has been, of these weary souls / Could never make a single one repose" (Longfellow's translation) "Not all the gold that is beneath the moon / Or ever hath been, or these toil-worn souls / Might ever purchase rest for one" (Cary's translation) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The children of hoarders might have to change their lifestyles to suit that of their parents. Hoarders usually have no space in the house and their children might have to look for some other place to carry out their normal activities or not do them at all, limiting them in a huge way. The children cannot enjoy their homes because there is no space. The parents may also not have enough money to cater to their children’s needs because they are busy thinking of other things that they can add to their hoarding collection.  The children’s health may also be at risk as compulsive hoarders usually suffer from headaches, allergies and respiratory problems because of the excessive clutter.

The children might realize that their parents have a problem and this could strain their relationship with their parents, gradually affecting their life in a huge way. The children of obsessive compulsive hoarders might be in constant fights with their parents because they are not on the same thought process when it comes to their hoarding habits. In severe cases, this could result in child neglect where the parents only care about hoarding and since the children do not encourage it they may find it necessary to lock them out of their lives. If they are not careful, their children could end up growing disturbed because they do not have the love they need from their parents while growing up.

There are some cases where the children of hoarders can end up saving their parents from the condition. One of the main reasons for this is the love that is shared between parents and children. The children may point out politely that they parents have a problem and since they love them so much they might be open to reason. Children also have the skill and patience needed to take their parents through the treatment stages to enable them to live a normal life once again.

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Comments

  1. Thank you for writing this article to raise awareness about the children of hoarders (COH.)

    You wrote:
    “Hoarding around children is very dangerous because most of the time the children of hoarders also become hoarders as they grow older.”

    Agreed, there are dangers. However, while some research has shown there may be a genetic component to hoarding disorder, I’m not sure using the phrase “most of the time” in the above sentence is appropriate. Some COH also exhibit purging/minimilist behaviors as they grow older, and some learn the tools to have a healthy relationship with objects and household maintenance even.

    While you bring to light many accurate points about COH, I have to comment on your last paragraph:

    “There are some cases where the children of hoarders can end up saving their parents from the condition. One of the main reasons for this is the love that is shared between parents and children. The children may point out politely that they parents have a problem and since they love them so much they might be open to reason”

    You can’t love an alcoholic dry. You can’t love a hoarder into a non-hoarder. They have to want to save themselves.
    For any younger COH who may come across this article, here are a few items from Alateen’s “Seven C’s:
    1. I didn’t Cause it.
    2. I can’t Cure it.
    3. I can’t Control it.

    Thank you for letting me share my opinions, and thanks again for your article.

    Donna
    http://www.childrenofhoarders.com

    “But biology is not destiny. Just because somebody has a genetic predisposition to develop a certain behavioral condition, that doesn’t mean they are doomed.”

    -David F. Tolin, Ph.D., founder of the Anxiety Disorders Center at The Institute of Living in Hartford, CT

    • I agree. You can’t love someone well in a case like this.

      Especially because the hoarder often doesn’t see that it’s a problem. I know my Mom can’t imagine why her daughters are bothered so much by her “poor housekeeping skills.” She doesn’t find any issue with living the way she does, and even though I love her dearly, she’s most certainly NOT open to any discussion about it. In fact, pushing the issue has nearly ripped my family apart.

  2. Janet Rehn Hernandez says:

    I wish I knew then what I know know. The horror of it all, I still deal with issues of my mom and Hoarding. My mom passed away 29 years ago and I just thought she was just weird, not knowing it is a condition. If you ever want a story I would love to tell mine. Sincerely, Janet

    • I would love to have you tell your story. My wife and I are working our way through her mother’s house, now that she has passed.

  3. Speaking from my own experience, which I believe may be common to other Children of Hoarders, pointing out politely or otherwise to the Hoarder Parent “that they have a problem” is not effective at all. My hoarder father insists to this day (two hoarded homes, one condemned and torn down later) that the only problem is other people who think he has a problem.
    FYI, there were six of us who grew up in a home that was hoarded from the time we were all very young… and none of us are hoarders as adults.

    Barbara Allen
    Nice Children Stolen from Car

  4. There’s a lot of good sentiment there, thank you for sharing these thoughts. It’s a painful world to grow up in – in retrospect. As children, for so long we just don’t know that it’s not the way everyone else lives or that it isn’t ‘the norm’ – until that day when you realize that there is something not quite right. My mother was a carefully controlled hoarder – everything was packed and stacked in every cabinet, every nook and cranny, every possible space. I remember the day it hit me, I was maybe around 9 or 10 years old. I had spent a weekend over at a friend’s house – again – and when I came home it was if I was just suddenly aware, with a capital A. I didn’t have to move fabric bolts or craft notion kits out of the way to get to things at my friend’s homes or at my cousin’s places. And that was also when I realized that I was always spending time with my friends at their houses, no one ever came to my house for overnights or long weekends. Or, I should say, they came once and it never happened again. I would laugh at the novelty of making a bed when I was a guest at someone else’s house – and I embraced it. I tried to put things into effect in my own little corner of the house I lived in, like an attempt to show my Mother that sense of “Hey, if I can do this in just a few minutes a day, maybe you can too?” No dice, but she did think I was a good boy. One day when I was in Junior High – the day that changed a lot of things – I was trying to wind my way up the stairs to my bedroom through stacks of patterns and craft books and magazines and little tubs of doodads and the enormous stack of fabric bolts that had been collecting at the top of the stairs came loose. I remember it in slow motion. Just all of these bolts of fabric teetering toward me and then falling in one giant avalanche on this narrow stairway. It knocked me down backwards and I hit my head first on the bottom of this weird little alcove my Dad had built to accommodate even MORE stuff and then I got all caught up in the wave of stuff and ended up with my neck twisted in a terrible way…and there I was on the landing like a rag doll, just covered in STUFF. I could barely breathe because my head was twisted in such a bad way and I was covered in all of these huge, heavy bolts of fabric. I couldn’t move for what felt like hours and I was so paranoid that I had a broken neck. When my Mom came home that night I had wriggled myself free but I was still laying there and she went ballistic. “WHAT DID YOU DO?!!” and she started in on naming the projects she was going to do with this fabric or that chunk of stuff – absolutely no awareness that I was laying there with my head bent sideways at an unnatural angle. It was all about the stuff. I know now that I had several fractured vertebrae in my neck but my parents were so ’embarrassed’ by ‘my clumsiness’ that they never took me to see a doctor. I’ve had a daily reminder of that day for my entire life because my neck is wrecked – it healed, poorly, but it limited everything in my life from that day forward. For years afterwards I had fantastic plans of hauling everything out of the house and burning it in an enormous bonfire.

    The situation never got better in that house. I graduated from high school at 15 and left 2 weeks after that. I visited my parents maybe 3 times over 20-some years and never stayed more than a few hours. Mom accumulated, Dad accommodated. They would get so upset that I would go stay at a hotel nearby and not spend more time with them at the house. It fed itself over decades. My Dad ended up building a 10,000 square foot garage on our property for ‘his cars and stuff’ and that’s pretty much where he spent all of his time…and then Mom started to encroach on that. Here we had this beautiful huge property – with this cute tiny little house bursting at the seams with stuff, and now there was this big thing – it looked like an airline hangar – starting to fill up with even more stuff.

    My Father was killed in a car accident in December of 2000. My Mother started exhibiting signs of dementia within 2 years of that. By 2004 she was diagnosed with multi-infarct dementia and by 2005 we had to move her to an assisted care facility. My brother and sister and I waited as long as we could to clean out the house and we finally all agreed to meet and just do it. We lived in 3 different states and each had very demanding careers and lives – but we had to do it. It took almost an entire week of 16 hour days to do it, but we did it. It was so difficult to not just throw EVERYTHING into dumpsters. We had dumpsters under every window of the house and we were just shoveling things out. With the help of an auctioneer and their crew, we managed to create a workflow to get as much stuff as possible into a lot sale – almost all fabric and ‘notions’ (I now hate that word) from Mom and cars and car parts from Dad. We made as much money from the piles of stuff as we did from selling the house and the property!

    I’m now a controlled slob. For about 20 years I struggled with even doing laundry. If I had too many dirty clothes, instead of doing laundry I went and bought more new clothes. When my kitchen counters were stacked with dirty dishes, pots and pans, I would throw everything away and go buy new stuff. Sometimes I would even pack the dirty stuff into boxes and put it in my garage – then go buy clean, new replacements but save all of the packing materials and boxes…also in my garage and then eventually in a storage area that I was paying $187 a month for. I could never let go of old electronic equipment or gadgets that failed or that I replaced (or duplicated) – and I saved the boxes and packing materials for every computer, printer, scanner, camera, etc that I bought. Which necessitated another storage area. Just for boxes and packing material! “In case I have to send it back during the warranty period.” Over the last 15 years I’ve spent almost $30K in storage area rental fees – for empty boxes or boxes of dirty clothes and dishes!

    I had very few long term relationships in my life until about 7 years ago, when I met someone who was also a careful collector and who also could not manage a household. We just accommodated each other with an exhale – like saying “Well, it’s so nice not to be judged.” We couldn’t live together because we each had so much STUFF. The idea of living together became a joke, knowing we’d have to buy an 8 bedroom house if we wanted to make a stab at it…and neither one of us wanted to let go of the houses we already had that were packed full of STUFF.

    I’m not exactly sure what happened last summer (August 2011) but something clicked in me. Some of our friends had asked about coming over to one or the other of our houses for a get together and I felt that panic of “Well, you can’t come to MY house..I’m still unpacking from moving in (5 years ago) and I’m just getting started on the demo of the hallway bathroom …” and saw the same look on the face looking back at mine. Things started to change. There’s a long way to go, but I’ve been working in earnest ever since. I’m down to one small storage area which I plan to eliminate next month. Very few things are coming to the house or the garage…it’s just purge purge purge. With the help of some friends who I went full bore with and asked for help without judgement, things are getting done. There’s judgement – how can there not be? – but we go in small doses. I fessed up with everyone that I asked for help and told them this is extremely difficult for me, so please – no comments, and know that I am watching your faces too, so please – no rolled eyes or getting bossy. Just help me for an hour or so when you can. I’ve house sat for you, dog sat for you, watered your plants, tended your gardens, got your mail when you’ve vacationed – not that it’s all about tit for tat – but if you love me, this is what I need from you right now.

    The only thing I can say is YEEE-HAAA! I am feeling so unburdened for the first time in my life. Some people will watch the various Hoarding shows and make comments like, “Well, at least you aren’t that bad…” and I have to pipe up and say “That is not really helping me…but thank you for helping me through this.”

    Thanks for the opportunity to share my story. Always remember, you’re never as alone in this situation as it feels. Once you can release the blame or anger or guilt or whatever is clinging to you, life opens up in entirely new and awesome directions.

    Carry on, my friends.

  5. I help people all over the world declutter and create homes they love (I provide a free masterclass at http://www.mygreenandtidylife.co.uk)and I want to add my voice to that of Donna’s above.

    You can’t ‘save’ a hoarder. You can support someone who is ready and willing to make changes but you can’t change it for them.

    And, in my experience, it’s not the case that most children of hoarder develop the condition themselves, though some do.

    Some people who are not children of hoarders also develop the condition.

    In the end, the cause is less important than strategies for the future – so long as the hoarder themselves wants to shift the situation, is open to changing their opinions, attitudes and habits and is willing to confront the stuff that will come up for them when they do.

    Thank you for continuing to raise awareness of this much misunderstood condition.

  6. I work with compulsive hoarders on a regular basis, helping them to declutter their homes and from my own personal experience, it is the children that become most effected by their parents’ hoarding. Be it young children or adult children. More needs done to help hoarders and their kids. I’m glad I found this website as the more I learn about hoarders, their condition and everything else associated with hoarding, the more I can help those I work with. Thanks for all of the great info.

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