A Personal Thanks:
I joined an online support group for children of hoarders some time ago. I didn’t share posts on there very often because I really hate complaining and being negative. When I did share something, though, there was always an outpouring of support from the other members. I joined the group because I was still living in one of my mother’s hoarded trailers and sometimes I just needed to know that other people out there understood what I was dealing with. When I finally moved out, I updated the group with the first good news I’d had since joining. I was thrilled to be able to report something positive, something going right in my life, improvement. When I updated the group, I decided to also share this personal blog with them. I left the link in my post, inviting anyone to come check out my blog.
I didn’t realize right away, but now I know that someone shared my blog on their own site. I’m touched that anyone would even notice, let alone share my blog like that.
Thank you, Joe Hoarder’s Son! http://www.hoardersson.com/
And thank you all who have found your way here via Joe Hoarder’s Son!
A Bit About Hoarding:
As most people know by now from the increasing awareness of hoarding (many people have seen A&E’s “Hoarders” at least once), it is a mental disorder often caused by a traumatic event or loss. As most of my readers know, my mother is a hoarder. In fact, my stepfather is a hoarder, my cousin is a hoarder, my aunt was a hoarder, and I’m sure I have several other relatives who are hoarders, especially on my mother’s side of the family.
Growing up in a hoarded home was like living in a filthy prison- a physical prison and a mental/emotional prison of guilt, shame and abuse. The house was constantly messy and cluttered after my father died when I was 9, but the first time it truly resembled the worst of hoards was when I was 11 or 12 and my step-aunt had offered her old furniture and belongings that she didn’t want/need when she was moving. My mother has never been able to resist something that was free (or even cheap). Instead of choosing a couple things that she wanted, she literally took every piece of furniture and “stuff” that was unwanted.
In with the new, out with the old! Or not…
I was excited at first. I thought it was better than Christmas. We were getting all new furniture, couches, shelves, bookcases, cabinets, tables and chairs! But then we never got rid of our old stuff. Everything was just piled into our living room (where I was sleeping at the time), with barely a pathway to get through. I think I was the only one small enough to fit through the maze of stuff, actually. At first my parents were happy and excited about all the new stuff, but after a few days of not being able to use our living room or even walk through it, tensions rose and they were angry all the time.
I tried my best to stay out of the way because I couldn’t handle the anger, cursing, yelling. Our kitchen was hoarded, too, so I would slip in and out as quietly as possible to get food. Dishes piled up, trash piled up, junk mail and random papers piled up, “stuff” piled up everywhere. The house could no longer be vacuumed, swept or mopped. Counter tops and tables couldn’t be wiped down. Insects and rodents infested all the cabinets and corners. I remember picking weevils out of my cereal or pasta before eating it; brushing roaches off of dishes before using them.
In my bedroom, I slept every night with cockroaches and spiders in my bed. Those weren’t even the worst, though. The worst thing was being bitten constantly by fleas. Right now I have several cats, but I have always kept fleas away from them, myself and my home. I will never forget the hours I spent lying in bed trying to fall asleep but being kept up by the constant itching and pain from the fleas biting me. They covered my legs, crawled through my clothes, nested in my hair as if I were a stray animal. Whenever I asked my mother about the fleas or complained about them, she said it was normal and this was the price we paid for living in the country and owning pets. She said if I didn’t want the fleas I had to get rid of all my pets. I never knew then that she was wrong, that people actually had pets and did not have fleas. I didn’t know until I was much older and my pets were fully my responsibility.
Hoarders tend to refuse to take responsibility for what’s going on in their lives. They will redirect blame to anywhere or anyone else, and often it is the children who end up taking the blame.
I didn’t wash dishes enough. I watched too much TV. I was lazy. I left my stuff everywhere, never cleaned up after myself. I didn’t do my chores. I stressed her out too much for her to get anything done. I was in the way, distracting her. I forgot to close a bag of chips or I spilled crumbs and that attracted roaches and ants.
Even though I was a kid, it was never my mother’s responsibility to clean up after me or to teach me how to clean up after myself. I didn’t know how to do anything properly. The reality is, you cannot teach a child how to clean when they’re living in a hoard. You teach a child not how to fix a disaster, but rather how to keep an already tidy home tidy. You teach them how to clean up messes that occur, not how to attempt to vacuum around 500 pieces of junk that they aren’t allowed to move.
I learned how to hide things- how to cram things into places and cover things with sheets so no one could tell what they were. I was never able to clean my room, so I was constantly punished and degraded for it being a mess. I had a friend visit once. My mother had told me to clean my room, and I honestly tried, but I couldn’t do it. So, when my friend came over, I wasn’t allowed to have her in my room. I was okay with that because I was embarrassed by the mess. However, I wanted to show my friend my new fish, so I left her waiting in the hallway as I slipped into my room and retrieved the fish bowls. When I came out, there was my mother. She had this look of horror, rage and disgust on her face. She screamed something at me, I don’t remember what, and slapped me hard across the face right there in front of my friend. I nearly dropped the fish bowls. I had no clue what I’d done wrong, and I still don’t know. She had just appeared, screamed, slapped me, and disappeared again, leaving me in tears and ashamed.
I had that same friend spend the night once. We had to keep moving from room to room because the cockroaches and fleas scared and disgusted her. She never came back.
My parents got sick of the hoard and they bought a new trailer. They moved into the new trailer on a different piece of property down the street and I and my brother stayed in the old one. We were both teenagers by that point. I had just turned 14 and I was going to go to public school for the first time in my life. I had been homeschooled up to that point, but actual schooling never really happened after my father died, so I chose to go to public school with my brother. I’ve always loved learning, but my mother had turned into a monster and she couldn’t teach us anymore. A kid can’t learn amongst piles of junk and with an angry, impatient, screaming teacher.
Hoarders seem to love bargains and anything free, so they tend to go to thrift stores a lot and even dumpster dive. My mother was the queen of the dumpster dive, and certainly the queen of the thrift store. It would have been fine that I got all of my clothes from thrift stores, except that none of them ever fit. I got in trouble at school constantly for wearing clothes that didn’t fit. Most of my shirts were too small, because too big would have been even worse, and my jeans were all different sizes except what I actually needed.
Looking back, I can only imagine how bad I must have smelled. It didn’t register at the time, but my brother and I didn’t even have trash cans or trash bags. My cousin was living with us and she was an adult, but she was (and still is) completely crazy. I don’t know what’s wrong with her, but she has always had something wrong with her. She is like a little child with adult responsibilities. She never cleaned anything, and she’s always been a hoarder. She just barely holds a job at Wal-Mart. They can’t fire her for being mental. Needless to say, there was no “real” adult in the home. It was her, me, my brother, and an infant. Wal-Mart gives people some crazy hours to work, so I was constantly woken up at odd hours of the night when I had school in the morning. I never got enough sleep between the fleas biting me and the odd hours that I was always woken up at.
I don’t know how I even got ready for school every day in all the mess and filth. Sadly, it was cleaner than it had been when my mother was living there, but it was still bad. Since there was a baby living there, there were always dirty diapers piled around. The “adult” in the home left food smeared, splattered and just laying anywhere. I remember an open jug of Sunny Delight sitting in the fridge for months with barely a serving left in it. My brother and I never had help with our homework, never had someone there to share meals with us or see us off to school in the morning. My mother tried to get us to go down to her place for dinner sometimes, but I hated it. She was always angry and frustrated, and she had hoarded her new place quickly.
The damages done to children of hoarders can last years, or for life. Children need love, patience, attention, structure, order, and guidance. Children of hoarders don’t often get those things. In one of my recent posts on here I wrote about my little cousin “J.” She was the baby I was living with as a teen. From what I wrote about her, you can see the emotional damage incurred largely by her mother’s hoarding. Clearly her mother has other issues, too, but it’s the hoarding that is the biggest issue for poor J. Hoarding breeds other issues- anger, resentment, lack of structure and order, neglect, guilt, and all sorts of emotional abuses.
Hoarding can cause anxiety, OCD, depression, personality disorders, and more in children raised in those conditions.
It’s so much more than just a messy home. It is abuse and neglect, isolation and imprisonment.