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  1. #1

    Helping a parent with compulsive hoarding

    To anyone who can offer some advice;

    Every Christmas our family is faced with the same issues- that of how we might spend Christmas among all the chaos at my parent's place. My father is a compulsive hoarder, and the newspapers, phone books, concert programs, etc. have been piling up ever since we were children. Now that all the kids are grown up and living out of the house, our old rooms are also filled up with papers, not to mention half the kitchen table, and the floor in every single room of the house except for the bathrooms and the kitchen counters. There is no doubt in my mind that this illness has alienated my parents from the outside world, especially my mom who is very passive in the whole affair, as we're all quite embarassed to ever have anyone over. Growing up, my friends knew of the situation but I was always too embarassed to really invite them over to see. I secretly wished someone would call Oprah, get our house onto TV and perhaps someone could come to our aid to help my father and the rest of the family through this. All this to say, I don't even know how to express how chaotic the house is and how much of an impact this situation has had on the family members.

    My father knows he collects too much, and he'll admit it once in a while. But most of the time he uses a form of diversion to step around the real problem; that of his illness. He often says how if this or that wasn't going on in his life (with blame on my sibling getting married, or another family member), then he would have more time to clean the house. My mom tries to throw things out, but he is very suspicious and gets extremely upset if anyone touches anything in his piles.

    Now that we are all starting families of our own, this is the first X-mas where we will be so many all at once. We are spending X-mas at my place, because of it's size and non-clutter. This really upsets my father because he says that X-mas should be spent at the parent's house and then goes on to say that my mom doesn't help him clean the house. I finally stopped avoiding the conversation and told him that he has a problem with collecting things, and until he's ready to admit that, no-one can help get rid of the mess. I also mentionned how much I loved him. He obviously got really defensive, blamed everyone else, and the conversation was ended very quickly.

    My question to any out there- how can I help my father and my family through this? This is the first time I've confronted my father about the situation (that anyone in our family has) and I really don't want to go back to pretending the situation doesn't exist. I want to do something proactive now that I'm ready to.

    Any suggestions?

    Thanks :-)

  2. #2

    Helping a parent with compulsive hoarding

    It seems to me that you are already doing something proactive. When I started reading your post, I had it in my mind that the solution would be to make a point of having the family Christmas in someone else's home. You've done that and told your father why, in effect. I don't know that there's much you can do beyond that -- it's up to him whether he wants to try to change his hoarding behavior but you've done your part by confronting him with the fact that his behavior is a problem for other people and by deliveriung the message that you're no longer prepared to turn a blind eye to it. That gives him a choice: If it's important to him to have family events in his home, then he needs to do something to make his home more comfortable to other people. If he chooses not to do that, family events will be held somewhere else.

    Now I would suggest that you try to ensure that other family members conform to this so there is consistency in the family. It might also be worth pointing out to your father that your mother shouldn't be burdened with the task of having to worry about or clean up his clutter. But if he asks for or will accept help, the other family members would be happy to pitch in and get rid of it for him.

  3. #3

    Helping a parent with compulsive hoarding

    Dear Daughter of Hoarder, I know just how you feel. I actually did write to Oprah about the issue of hoarding in families. My kids and I moved to our own house after 21 years of marriage because I hated living in such an environment. What I'm trying to contend with now is that I want a divorce and my husband cannot face giving up our relationship. It has been three years since the kids and I have lived separately from him and I have tried several times to make progress with a new life but he can't deal with it. I am having trouble going ahead with the divorce paperwork because I am afraid of how angry and hurt he becomes over this. I would appreciate suggestions from people who have some understanding of this hoarding condition. Thanks. cm

  4. #4

    Helping a parent with compulsive hoarding

    Hi, cm. Welcome to PsychLinks Online.

    I assume that your husband understands that his compulsive hoarding is the prime reason you moved out? If so, you might try to give him an ultimatum: Seek counselling to address the problem or the papers will be filed. This may seem cruel to you (and to him) but really if the problem doesn't change you are not likely to want to resume living with him and as long as the status quo continues neither of you can move on.

  5. #5

    Helping a parent with compulsive hoarding

    Thank you for your reply. I do not wish to continue being married. The hoarding behavior is just one aspect of the unhappiness in our situation. After knowing him for over 20 years I seem to love him as one would love a member of the extended family, but not particularly like him as a close relative. The main problem is that I am afraid to confront him with the divorce again because of what happens when I have done this before.

  6. #6

    Helping a parent with compulsive hoarding

    I understand. But in order to move on with your life, you may have to do what you need to do and let the chips fall where they may. After all, the status quo really isn't helping him either -- it's just avoiding direct conflict.

  7. #7

    Helping a parent with compulsive hoarding

    Yes, I agree we are avoiding direct conflict. When I have confronted him with getting on with our lives he becomes verbally agressive towards me and I back off. The kids and I are still financially dependant on him at this time. I feel like I need some kind of official agency to back me up or something. In the past I have asked him about suggesting a mediator or other advisor to help us sort things out, but he's not interested. I am considering going to Social Services for temporary assistance financially and in order to help me secure an official separation and divorce agreement. Lately I have even thought of checking myself into our mental health ward because I feel like I'm not going to be able to solve this on my own with him. cm

  8. #8

    Helping a parent with compulsive hoarding

    Oh, I see. That obviously complicates things further -- you might investigate how much assistance you would be able to get from social assistance, although it greatly depends on your location. For example, in Canada now (or at least in Ontario), legal aid will no longer cover separation and divorce costs, another huge blunder on the part of the government in my opinion.

  9. #9

    Helping a parent with compulsive hoarding

    Thanks for your help.

  10. #10

    Helping a parent with compulsive hoarding

    Hello cm,

    I don't have any experience with OCD symptoms in a family member or separating while not having an income but wanted to say welcome.

    I have been in very stressful situations concerning my son and ex-husband though. I know how stress can take it's toll on your mental health and your ability to think and act at an optimal level. I have used every stress reduction method know to man :~} and it has helped very much. I have tried the the herb Valerian http://www.aafp.org/afp/20030415/1755.html without success. It smells too bad for me to get past it. I have also used an antianxiety medication to get through rough periods and recently an antidepressent with success.

    I would urge you to talk to your family doctor so that you can use one of these tools to get you through the most difficult period...if you have not done so already.

    Let us know how things are going.

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