Compulsive hoarding is a mental disorder that is just beginning to be understood. As a hoarder, I have acquired things over the years with a specific purpose in mind at the time of the acquisition, used some of those items for their intended purposes, forgotten the goal for different objects, but now that I find that they have outlived their purpose in my life I am struggling to rid myself of those same things.

You can read the start of my journey here.

Friday, October 29, 2010

It's all in the genes?

I know it's been said there might be a genetic component to hoarding. That at the very least, it does appear to run in some families. Whether it be a learned behavior, it's in the DNA, or it's a combination of the two, there is definitely hoarding in my family. But just because a person has a predisposition to alcoholism, drug addiction, hoarding or the like, it doesn't mean a person should just surrender and say, "There's nothing I can do about it, so I'm not going to fight the urge, and I'm just going to allow it to control me and use it as an excuse for everything that's wrong in my life." So I will continue to fight with every breath that is within me to get through this dehoarding process. I don't want to leave a mess for my husband and children to have to deal with and fight their way through when I am someday gone.

My grandmother was a hoarder. She was an antique dealer, and she owned gorgeous pieces over the years. But she also had a difficult time getting rid of useless things and often lumped some of her best pieces in boxes that also contained clothes, both dirty and clean, dirty dishes, newspapers, brand new towels, mail, jewelry and curlers as well as the occasional dried out piece of dog poop. Each box seemed more horrifying than the next, and we would literally just shake our heads in disbelief, as we'd try to make sense of her thought process as we filled trash bags and sorted through boxes of stuff.

Several of us, usually aunts, cousins, my mom and I would get together and go as fast as we could to clean as thoroughly as we could, so she could have people over for the holidays. We would spend several days cleaning, sorting, and purging as much as we could get through before her out of town company would show up for the holidays. We would do what we could to make her guests feel comfortable, but we were in it alone. She would sit in her chair with a cup of coffee often looking off into space, sometimes engaging some of us in conversation or answering the occasional question.

She would have bags upon bags of unopened things that she'd gotten for gifts for her kids, grandchildren or great grandchildren that sat waiting to be wrapped and sent off to her loved ones. There were scores of items she'd picked up at garage sales or thrift stores and lots of gift wrap that never seemed to be put away. There was just tons of stuff everywhere.

I wasn't there for any of the last holiday scrambles where we'd gather to clean, as we lived several states away, but I'll never forget what it was like. It was hard to catch your breath, because the air was always thick with the smell of rotting food, dog poop and urine, since the dogs had free reign of the house and frequently used the floor as their personal restroom. We'd occasionally find maggots and mold in the rotting food in the kitchen, and there were always moths of some sort in the canisters of flour or in the tins of cookies.

Needless to say, we didn't eat anything at her house unless we brought it or prepared it from fresh food we opened ourselves. We went through the cupboards each and every time and emptied out all the old food and the bulging cans. And we thoroughly washed and dried every canister in the house before replacing the flour, sugar and other baking goods. We cleaned out the refrigerator and freezer, bleached all of it out, so it was nice and clean, and then went shopping to get fresh groceries, so she'd have something to eat.

Once all the major cleaning was done, and we'd vacuumed as well as possible, we'd shampoo the carpet. At some point, someone talked her into getting a carpet cleaner. We'd scrub the carpet until the water came out as clear as possible. We'd use a commercial carpet shampoo like are used in restaurants to get some really heavy duty stains out, and it helped tremendously. I don't think we ever cleaned the carpet with fewer than 5 passes per section, and even though we would try to get to the point that the water that we were extracting from the carpet came out clear, a dull gray was as close as we ever got.

I know that toward the end, many of her issues stemmed from her age. She was over 100 years old when she died, and she lived alone well into her 90s. She'd had several mini strokes over the years, so it was harder for her to keep things up, and she probably should have been in a home years before she was. But the hoarding started decades before the incidents which I write about happened. Horrific and indescribably atrocious things happened to her when she was a little girl, and I'm sure much of her mental illnesses stemmed from those things. I don't feel at liberty to discuss them here, but I honestly don't know how anyone could be 'normal' after going through what she endured.

I have no doubt that my grandmother's house would look like those on the hoarding shows, if we didn't intervene on occasion. It still took no time at all for things to pile back up and for the carpet to need to be scrubbed again. I'm in no way condoning the way she kept house, but knowing some of the things that happened to her as a child I can understand where the mental illness began and that this was her way of somehow trying to maintain control over her life. It was a coping mechanism that failed her.

I'm hoping that by recognizing the tendencies I have to hoard, like my grandmother did, and consciously choosing to address those tendencies on a daily basis, that I'll never fall into the trap that so tightly ensnared my grandmother.


  1. Wow. Pretty much all I can say! At least she let her family clean things out every year so letting go must not have been as much of an issue. Frankly, after enduring so much as a child it's amazing that this was her only outlet.

  2. Still in 'wow' mode from this!

  3. Huh. And it just goes to show how far you've come in your journey. You can clean all you want, but if you never know the reason it happens, it will always reoccur. Sad for your grandmother, but Yeah for YOU!

    Remember, you are what you want to be. If you're not who you want to be, BECOME who you want to be.

  4. I think hoarding is far more common an afflicion than we realised, and to different degrees.Truma , fear and ilness contribute as well. The fact that you are aware and working on your own to recover speaks volumes about your ptoential to complete your goals and remain strong

  5. Beautiful post! I am a 4th generation hoarder. Though my great-grandma kept it hidden pretty well. But it turned out one of the rooms in her house was stacked floor to ceiling. . .

  6. I think you're utterly amazing.
    Not only have you spent time analyzing yourself and recognizing what's going on, but you're willing to share it with the whole universe.


  7. Amazing.

    What an interesting blog. I'm a borderline hoarder. Though I'm always afraid it will worsen as time goes on.

    Congrats to you for being so aware and in control!

    -Lady Fromage


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