Friday, January 16, 2009


So my parents left on a one month vacation the other day. My future brother-in-law decided that over the next 30 days he was going to clean their house. This is a bigger deal then you may realize, because my parents are compulsive hoarders.

As a child I used to think that our family was weird but I guess everybody thinks that. What I mean is that I didn't realize other families had the same issue. I never had friends over to my house for example. It simply wasn't possible, mostly due to the shame and embarrassment of having someone other then family see how we lived.

Its not like as children my brother and sisters didn't try. There were countless times we cleaned the house top to bottom, only to have it return to its state of chaos in a matter of days. My mom would hit the newly cleaned house like a whirlwind. Clearly it was a psychological thing that she couldn't explain or understand. I think the end came when I was 17. My brother and I had just cleaned the entire basement, every book on a shelf, every box stacked, etc. We came home from school to find books scattered all over the floor of the basement. Entire shelves we had organized dumped with the swoop of an arm. My mom claimed to be looking for a particular Needlepoint book and was upset that we had "moved it" so she couldn't find it.

I moved out at 19 and never went back.

So Kevin and my sister showed up at the house last night with a video camera. He and my sister have a house and kid together, are getting married next year, and he had never seen my parents house. My sister moved out a couple years ago and claimed things have gotten worse then she could imagine. They found seven (7) Monopoly board games. You could never get a more blatant example of hoarding then that, I mean how many copies of Monopoly do you really need? They were probably on sale.

So they now have rented a dumpster which is sitting in the driveway and Kevin is spending time there every day after work throwing things out. They figure they may need multiple dumpsters.

The real problem is hoarding is an illness, and most experts believe cleaning a hoarders house without their permission is not treatment. The behaviour will continue and the house will just fill up again. Regardless I still think this needs to be done. My parents are pushing 70 and one of them could easily be injured due to all the junk in their house.

Now some hoarders have rotting food and stuff all over their house that is very unhealthy (imagine animal hoarders with dozens of cats and unchanged litter boxes). My parents are different. They hoard things that should be thrown out when the usefulness is done. Newspapers and magazines are prime examples. The last time I visited was in 2000 and I was in their living room looking around at the garbage and I had grabbed a garbage bag and was trying to make a dent in the mountain. I found newspapers from 1996. They literally had 4 years worth of newspapers stacked in their living room.

Oprah did an episode on hoarders about 8 months ago and prior to seeing that I really thought I was alone. Watching the families that afternoon I realized that in fact my parents were not pigs but were suffering from a mental illness similar to OCD.

Just doing some research for this post I stumbled across a number of resources on the web.

CHILDREN OF HOARDERS - A resource group for adult children of hoarders

CLUTTER HOARDING SCALE - For ranking the seriousness of the hoarding. My parents are only L2. Provided by the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization

HOARDERS.ORG - Internet Guide for Extreme Hoarding

Living like this as a child has had definite impacts on my life as an adult. My wife can tell you all about it. I'm not a clean freak by any means, but I am a tidy freak. If I come home from work I need to tidy up the kitchen before I can eat. Dirty dishes or garbage on the counter, loose papers, toys scattered around the floor, etc. I cannot ignore. I'll spent 30 minutes cleaning the kitchen before I can even consider heating up my dinner. A pile of dishes in the sink doesn't bother me, but dishes, crumbs or stains on the counter are a huge pet peeve. Clutter around the bathroom sink is another big one. I'm constantly putting hair dryers, brushes, and other assorted objects back into drawers or back under the sink.


Catherine said...

Great blog post on a problem that deserves more attention! is a fantastic resource.

Janice said...

Hi Calvin I can identify with you here,my mother was the same.I wondered if it was something to do with the war- shortage of supplies etc in the UK, or she had a need to surrounded by things that were familiar. If you are loved during all this then that's the main thing, but boy it's frustrating. Great post.

Ca1v1n said...

I have heard arguments that say children of the depression are more likely to be hoarders, and others who say this is a myth. I do know both my parents were children of the depression and WWII when rationing and such was common place. I think its definately an impact on my parents condition. Probably a 50/50 split between growing up in that era and a bit of an empty-nest syndrome now that all the kids have moved out. From what we can tell things got much worse after we all moved away.

xoggoth said...

I like everything tidy round me but hate actually throwing things away so it all goes in the sheds and the attic. You never know when an aeration pump for a fish tank may come in handy for example, the fact that we have not kept goldfish for over 20 years has nothing to do with it.

Must be an inherited gene. My father left me a set of steel drawers full of bits of electrical socket etc. all neatly arranged in matchbox trays. I shall leave my sons lots of shoe boxes full of old washing machine parts.

PS are you sure you are doing them a favour? They must like it as is.

Liz said...

L2?? Out of what?? You are seriously underestimating the craziness...I found on a coffe table, a soup can that was dented so bad it had leaked on to the table and was cemented on...god knows how long that was there...also: bugs...BUGS!!! so many...teeny tiny fruit fly maggots...*shudder*

Also, we have decided that if they do mess it up bad again after the insane amount of time we have taken to do this...Kev is just going to start letting stray cats into the house...but I will actually make sure I go over once a week or so, and "tidy up" a bit, so that never happens again. ALSO, are you new?? mom and dad are not pushing 70, they're pushing 75...

Liz said...

Also, I can't believe they have support groups and shit for this...