children of hoarders interview series is Deedee. The floor is hers:
I am a wife, mother of two adorable preschoolers, and full-time usability analyst for a large oil services company (which is just a fancy way of saying I design software). I have lived a great number of places along the East Coast and throughout the south, and while I currently live in Texas, I consider my home to be in Mississippi. I'm still struggling to sort out what parts of my life and how I think about things are related to growing up in the hoard, and what parts, regardless of how I acquired them, are worth keeping - but I think I'm making progress, and providing my kids a better life because of it.
Which parent hoards?
My mother - although I'm coming to accept that my Dad was an enabler, and years of living with mom produced many things I would call "pre-hoarding" traits - wanting to collect things, being excited about acquiring, not limiting collections, etc. But Dad never reached the levels that my mom did (and does).
Growing up, the state of the house varied from "only slightly embarrassing" to "a friend called CPS on us" - but spent most of the time near that second mark. Roaches, moths, the whole bit. When my dad got sick about 9 years ago, it got really really bad - and when my dad died 2 years ago, it went off the deep end. I honestly think the house would be condemned if anyone inspected it.
Do you have any hoarding tendencies?
This is a really hard question for me, as I am terrified of becoming my mother. I would say I have some "pre-hoarding" tendencies, but I monitor them very closely. I tend to be a little compulsive, so I have to watch my buying habits and acquire things carefully - with a mind as to where I will put them, how much I really need, and so on. I think most of my problem is with habits - I don't know "how" to clean, or what habits I need to keep everything clean. But I try really hard, and I'm determined to keep the house clean enough for my kids.
I struggle with determining what constitutes a "normal" amount of cleaning for a house - some days I clean like crazy, other days not so much. My house is not magazine perfect, but it is "clean" - not gross, I scrub the bathrooms and kitchen regularly, etc. I probably don't sweep and vacuum enough, haha. And my kids have too much stuff, but I try to keep things organized and cull down a couple of times a year. My husband helps a lot, he's very patient with me, but totally over my mom entirely. He's still finding out things about my childhood that upset him (we've been married 8 years, and dated 4 years before that).
I do have this fear that something will happen (I'll get sick, or my husband will, or someone will die, or there will be a fire, or any number of other traumatic events) and I'll go off the deep end and start hoarding. Or just not be able to keep up with the house. I think working to put good habits in place and keep the house in order helps calm this fear, but it's still there.
Is there a history of hoarding in your family? If so, who else hoards?
My mother's sister hoards, but it's more of a clean hoard. Just dusty, not rotting food and such. I suspect my sister hoards, but I don't know. My mom (and her sister) were adopted, so I don't know much about their biological family. But my mother's adopted mother always kept a magazine quality house. My father's mother and sister keep neat and tidy houses - something my mother made fun of them for when I was growing up, saying they couldn't afford to have enough stuff to have clutter. Ha!
What are your hoarding parent (HP)’s favorite things to hoard?
Everything. Food and food wrappers are a lot of it, but also vitamins, health food stuff, crafting supplies, and paper - she used to print out every web page she went to "so she could read it later", and that generated a ton of paper. She has fabric from years ago that she was going to make into a quilt, baby clothes she bought for my kids before they were born (or thought of) that never made it to us, tons of organizational supplies, trading cards, you name it.
And books. She has so many books that my grandmother built a huge, almost two story, four car garage in the back yard to use as a library - complete with built in shelves. All the shelves are full of books, and the walkways between them and the rest of the garage are full, floor to ceiling, with books and other things.
How is your relationship with your HP?
Right now we talk once or twice a year, and she occasionally comments on my facebook posts. So basically, no relationship. I pretty much broke contact about two years ago, when I realized how abusive she could be and how badly she was affecting my mental health. The break was hard (and still is sometimes), but my day-to-day life is so much better not having to worry about her and accepting the fact that she will not change.
Do you still live at home? If not, when did you move out?
I moved out to go to college when I was 17 - but still went home for school holidays (if the dorms were closed) until I got married at 22 - a month and a half after graduation. I cleaned a lot oat the house, and kept things livable at least some of the time. Everything got a lot worse when I left (both for college, and then again when I got married) - I think part of this is because I wasn't there, and a great deal of it is because my dad got sick. Added stress on mom meant more hoarding.
Does anyone besides your HP currently live in the hoard? If so, who and how are they handling it?
My dad lived in the hoard until he passed away two years ago - he tried to clean as much as possible, but was very passive when it came to mom. I think he didn't want to upset her, and he had kind of given up on keeping it clean. The last couple of years, he just didn't have the strength (or sight) to do anything about it.
Now, my mom lives alone, although I hear through the family grapevine that she's acquired a couple of kittens.
Who else, if anyone, knows about your HP’s hoard?
My dad's whole family knows - his mom (who lived with us for a while), his sister (who his mom now lives with), and his sister's whole family. My mom's sister knows. Not many people that mom knows outside the family, I guess, except my husband's family - we told them and showed them pictures two years ago.
My bible study group knows, and several of my friends. I'm fairly open about it now, and just straight up tell people if they ask about my mom.
When did you first realize that your HP’s behavior was abnormal?
I was homeschooled, so it took a while - I think it became really obvious when I was in college, but I knew before then that other people kept their houses clean. I did have a few friends through church, and I knew I couldn't invite them to my house.
When, if ever, were you able to disassociate yourself from the shame of hoarding and begin opening up about it?
Only within the last 3-5 years. Being on the COH boards helped, as well as having the support of my husband and my dad's family. And therapy. I figure the more open I can be, and the more people in my life that know, the more people can stop me if I start heading down that road. Plus, I'm just tired of keeping secrets.
Have you ever sought any kind of therapy for dealing with your HP and living in a hoard?
Yes - I saw a therapist for a while after my kids were born - I had two children under two years old, was dealing with some postpartum depression, had lost my dad, and was trying to figure out how the hoarding affected me as a parent. I was terrified that I would turn into my mom, and my relationship with her was dissolving. Therapy was very helpful in getting me to open up, and realized that it's not my fault and that I can provide something better for my kids. It's also helped me open up to my husband more about the situation - although he was aware of the hoarding, he's still learning things about how my family operated and how the hoarding affected us.
Do you have any hope that your HP will eventually stop hoarding? Why or why not?
No. Even with roaches and mold and general nastiness everywhere, she still thinks it is not a problem. She still thinks it's my fault, and my siblings. because we left all the stuff in her house. Unless she can see it's a problem, she will never change - and I don't think that will ever happen.
What is the most disgusting or interesting thing you encountered in the hoard?
Food. Rotting food is disgusting. And insects. And rodents.
One time, when I was maybe 8 or so, I found on a table one of the super-yummy giant gourmet muffins that my mom liked to eat - it had been a three-pack, but there was only one left. I turned to mom and asked if I could have it, and as I picked up the package to show her, a couple of giant roaches crawled out of the wrapper. She looked, horrified, at the roaches, then shrugged and said "If you want it, I guess you can have it." I threw it away.
Another time, my husband and I were visiting my parents (right after we got married, I think, maybe our first Christmas). My mom mentioned they had been having some rodent problems (which we had noticed by the number of droppings on every surface). My sister (who lived in the hoard at the time) went to pick up her coat that she had thrown on a pile - and discovered AFTER she had put it on that it had stuck to a glue trap that had a live mouse still stuck to it! Everyone freaked out so much my husband had to go extract the glue trap (and mouse) from her coat. I was mortified.
What is at least one positive thing you were able to glean from living in a hoard and dealing with your HP?
I've learned the importance of acknowledging my faults and asking for help, as well as accepting help that is offered to me. After my son was born, I was so overwhelmed with working and dealing with both kids and my husband and the house (and my mom), that I thought I would drown. I saw a therapist, and told my husband I needed more help - he took on more than his fair share of the kids and the housework for a while, and hired a maid twice a month for a year until I got my feet under me again. My mother would have never admitted she needed the help, or allowed a maid in to help her even if it had been offered.
I'm also super good at remembering where things are, if they are some place odd. This doesn't mean I can always find my keys, but it does help a lot :-)
What are some ways you coped with living in a hoard?
I read. A lot. We had a lot of books. I still love to read, and still use it as an escape sometimes. I have too many books, probably - but anytime they overflow the shelves I pare them down and get rid of some until they fit again, so I figure it won't get out of hand :-)
I also spent a lot of time daydreaming. And I got a job, in high school, that took up a lot of time.
I cleaned, when I could, but got tired of cleaning ALL THE TIME only to have the space instantly fill again - or throwing away a newspaper that was 6 months old only to be told "I was going to read that!" So cleaning was sporadic. Mostly I just read and daydreamed.
Do you have any advice for others currently living in a hoard or trying to cope with their HP?
Just remember that hoarding is most likely a result of mental illness - if your hoarding parent won't admit that they need to change, then there is nothing YOU can do to change them. It's not your fault that they are the way they are, or that the house is the way it is. And if you need to walk away from your HP to keep your sanity or to protect yourself or your family - DO IT! Don't let anyone guilt you into continuing to offer help when the help is refused or unappreciated. Remember that it's okay to love your parents and still set boundaries with them regarding how you will interact and what kind of behavior is acceptable. Live YOUR life, not theirs.
Thank you, Deedee, for taking the time to answer my questions so thoroughly! If you are a child of a hoarder and are interested in being interviewed over email, please shoot me a message!