Does Your Parent Hoard?

Hoarding is described as the collecting of belongings to the point that it interferes with living and relationships.  My mother hoarded after my father passed away.  She had had a few mini-strokes (TIAs) and it may have damaged the center of her brain in which decision-making took place.  As a result, she grew more and more cluttered and more depressed.  She apologized every time we visited because there was not a surface on which to sit or eat.  In the end, we moved her to an assisted living center where she was able to remove herself from the clutter.  She felt better immediately and we helped by monitoring her small apartment to make sure it stayed under control.

However, there are other reasons why people collect so many things.  It is typical that hoarders are most often women, especially empty nesters.  During the time they were raising families, they were required to do the acquiring of food, clothing and other necessities for their families.  Later, when everyone has left the nest, those impulses to shop continue.  One author has found the hoarding happens across the economic spectrum and has a link to emotional deprivation and the amount of warmth expressed in the family during adolescence.  This is not a modern phenomena as it has been chronicled throughout history.  It may also be linked to ADHD and Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior.

Hoarders cannot throw anything away.  It is important that family members not dispose of their belongings behind their back.  Instead, counseling is recommended.  The therapist can help guide them to a plan where they are in control.  One neighbor owns several houses.  She lives in one but uses the other to store her belongings.  It has become a safety and health issue as it attracts creatures.  Most hoarders have lots of interests and cannot bear to part with their belongings either because they think they may need it again or because it brings back memories of fond times.  Many seniors who grew up during the Depression era have those deprivation fears so they keep things they may need in the future.  Many have kept clothes from their childhood.

If you are concerned about a hoarder, go to The National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization.  They have compiled a five point Clutter-Hoarding Scale to assess potential clients.  If pathways are blocked; books are stacked to the ceiling; piles are causing a fall hazard and the carpet has been unable to be vacuumed in a long time, it may be time to seek a professional or do an intervention.  Assure them that they are loved and appreciated and ask the therapist how to best support them during their therapy.

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