children of hoarders interview series continues with fellow blogger, Rae, from Not Just Clutter.
My name is Rae, and I’m the daughter of a hoarder. I try not to let that define me, but my blog is all about my relationship with a compulsive hoarder. Otherwise, I’m happily married, with 2 beautiful daughters, and have a great career. I’m creative and love to sew, read, and pursue photography. And yet I struggle with my Mother’s mental illness. My blog is where I try to sort out my feelings about the situation, and deal with the stress of trying to help someone who doesn’t want it.
Whenever I discuss compulsive hoarding with others, I find they think it’s just slightly more than average untidiness. They’re amazed to learn how serious it is, and how devastating the results can be for the family of someone with the disorder. They watch the shows like Hoarders or Buried Alive, and are disgusted. Often, they’re compelled to go and purge some of their own belongings, or clean their fridge. ”How can anyone possibly live like that?” they ask me. ”Why don’t they just throw the garbage away? They’re just being lazy.” Well, that’s just not the case.
And so explains the name of my blog…I want to give you a personal view so you’ll see it’s ‘not just clutter.’
Do you have any hoarding tendencies? I'd like to say no. But there are times when I'm faced with decluttering something and I have to talk myself into tossing it away. I can easily put emotional value on something, but then I let my analytical side kick in and get me past it.
Is there a history of hoarding in your family? If so, who else hoards? I don't think there's a history of hoarding. My maternal grandmother kept her home very tidy and didn't seem to have too much of anything extra laying around. Despite that, I suspect being the youngest child in a poor family with a drunken father probably had a big part in my Mom's mental health development.
What are your mom's favorite things to hoard? Mom loves to keep anything crafty. Vintage or modern patterns (especially if they're doll-related), bits of antique lace, scraps of leather, and wool. She's got the tools and supplies for just about any handicraft you can imagine. She's actually very talented, and her "craftiness" is definitely a bit part of her identity. Now that she has eliminated all useable work space and her own physical health has deteriorated, she doesn't do any of her projects anymore....that hasn't kept her from collecting more though. You know, for "someday."
Craft supplies aside, she has also kept all the stuff I left there when I moved out, and all of my Dad's stuff. He passed away almost 7 years ago but she still has all his clothes, and everything from his concrete lawn ornament business. She also loves the thrill of the hunt. If she hears that someone is even casually looking for something specific, she is on the job! Which is sometimes cool, but other times unnecessary. And if you express an interest in something, she loves to add to YOUR own collection. When I took up sewing as a hobby, she loaded me up with all sorts of sewing manuals and fabrics that were outdated and not my style.
How has your relationship with your mom changed since you moved out of the hoard? We used to be really close and I'd look forward to our weekly calls. Now, I almost don't want to be bothered because all she wants to talk about is the people she meets at her favourite thrift store and what deals she scored there. I find our conversation is very shallow now. I don't feel like sharing as much with her anymore because she's lost touch with reality. I miss the vibrant, creative woman that used to be my mother. I suspect she's in there somewhere, but buried under all her piles of stuff. I wonder if I actually have it in me to dig her out, or if it's even possible.
How does your relationship with your mom differ from your sister’s? My sister has less patience than I do, and I think could walk away from Mom and never deal with her again. One major thing both my sister and I notice is that Mom's hoarding problem ends up being the main topic any time we chat. It's so totally consuming. I think that's something people don't realize when they think about mental illness. It really does become a focus and distraction for all the loved ones.
How did your dad handle the hoarding while he was alive? Did his death trigger worse hoarding behavior? In his last few years, I think Dad started to contribute to the hoard in his own way. He had a few things he collected, but nothing was ever put on display, it was just piled on the table. The hoarding started before his death, but it certainly took over after he passed. I can imagine why...suddenly finding yourself alone in a big house after being married for over 40 years, and before you know it, you're filling the void with stuff.
Who else, besides your sister, knows about your mom’s hoard? Mom's physician, who is also my Sisters physician. Mom doesn't know she knows. We also have a family friend who is close to Mom who is aware, and it's often from her we learn extra details to Mom's life that she doesn't tell us. It takes communication between this family friend, my sister, and myself to figure out the truth of any story Mom tells us.
Do you think you have a stronger relationship with your sister because you survived living in the hoard together? Do you two talk about your mom’s hoarding? We talk about it alllll the time. Ad nauseum, really. We sick of it, but we're always just racking our brains about how to handle it. My relationship with my sister has waxed and waned over the years depending on what's happening in our individual lives. We didn't live in the hoard like it exists today. When we were kids, the house was always cluttered and untidy. It took a lot of work from the whole family to get the main rooms ready for guests.
When did you first realize that your mom's behavior was abnormal? As I got into high school, I think. I wanted to bring friends home to hang out, but didn't dare without trying to do a major clean up. I usually ended up spending more time at other's houses. It was always so refreshing that I could drop in at any time and be welcomed. That would never happen at our house; we had doorbell dread. After I moved away for college, it got worse. It wasn't until years and years later and I saw Oprah discuss hoarding on her show that I realized that Mom's untidiness was more complicated. I called my sister and told her about it, and suddenly lots of things started to click into place for us.
When were you able to disassociate yourself from the shame of hoarding and begin opening up about it? In the last few years I've noticed compulsive hoarding getting more and more attention in the media. Often the response by the public is disgust and scorn. I wanted to step forward and start creating a better awareness about hoarders and their relatives. I want everyone to remember when they see shows like Hoarders, those are real people with real emotions and people who love them.
Have you ever sought any kind of therapy for dealing with your mom and living in a hoard? Writing my notjustclutter.com blog IS my therapy. It's been a huge help. Once I type out what's bothering me and hit publish, it's wonderfully liberating. It doesn't solve my Mom's living conditions, but it gets it all off my chest.
Do you have any hope that your mom will eventually stop hoarding? Why or why not? I have no hope about this. Mom lacks any level of insight that she has a problem. She would need to finally admit she needs help and then attend extensive therapy.
What is the most disgusting or interesting thing you encountered in the hoard? I know my sister found a mouse floating in the toilet there once. I also know Mom had a problem with wild critters getting into the house and creating a huge mess in the kitchen. I suspect that's never been fully sanitized.
What is at least one positive thing you were able to glean from living in a hoard and dealing with your mom? That's a tough question. There's lots you don't get while living with a hoarder, like how to properly clean a home, cook a meal, or organize anything. I suppose one good thing I've learned from being the daughter of a hoarder is empathy for anyone dealing with mental illness in their family.
What are some ways you coped with living in a hoard? I had moved away before it really got serious. But as a kid, there was always stuff all over the place. If you wanted to use a table, you had to clear it first. I cleaned the bathroom sink and bathtub myself. But because I didn't know any better, I just wiped them down with wads of toilet paper. I didn't know any better.
What are some ways your sister coped with living in a hoard? My sister is 10 years older than I am, so she moved out way before I did.
Do you have any advice for others currently living in a hoard or trying to cope with their HP? Remember that there's a real person behind that hoard. Probably the trickiest thing is not getting resentful they're picking stuff over you...I really don't believe they would if it weren't for the mental illness. And most importantly, it's not your problem to figure out. You're not to blame, you're not the cause of it, and you are not doomed to living the life of a hoarder, too. And most importantly, you're not alone.
Thank you, Rae, for sharing your experiences! If you are a child of a hoarder and are interested in being interviewed over email, please shoot me a message!