How to deal with a hoarder?

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My mom is a hoarder. She refuses to let me in her home and I don’t believe she has working heat. She refuses all attempts to help - and it breaks my heart to see her live this way.


She is not mentally incompetent per se, so I don’t believe I can legally seek a guardianship or similar.


I desperately want to try and get her help before it’s too late. Any suggestions?

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I was a child in a hoarder home. I desperately wanted to help mthr all the time I've been out, but only through therapy and my supportive online friends at Children of Hoarders have I been able to grieve the fact that she can't be the mother I needed or deserved. It's like alcoholism with family secrets and shame, and also that there is no cure if the actor does not think she has a problem. You can't fix them, only change how you react.

When I changed how I reacted from trying to fix her to accepting her as she is, things went better. I accepted her adult decision to live in squalor. I accepted her decision to live without much heat, no fridge, no ac (in the south!), and minimal working plumbing. I did not want to be around her because she smelled and because she treated me poorly. I set strong boundaries after working through the book Boundaries by Townsend and Cloud and that has helped me in all aspects of life. I was a possession of hers, and I needed to be a separate person. That was hard for her. She chose to have no contact with me for 8 years.

When she truly hit rock bottom, Adult Protective Services had been called by multiple people with reports of a senior in need of services. They were able to take her to a doctor and find us a couple of states away. She was demented from blood loss from a large colon cancer. We scooped her up and fixed the cancer and installed her in a memory care home near us. She recovered well and is enjoying having heat, ac, running water, a clean bed, and meals and snacks served to her even if she forgets.

My advice: visit your mother at a restaurant or your house (if you want). Set strong boundaries and don't enter her place unless it's sanitary and safe. Wait for an incident when she can be discharged to a care home. Grieve the mom you deserved and wanted, and realize this is what it is. If you get along with her, wonderful! If you don't, join the club. You can use google to find the supportive group I'm in.
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MrsC2018 Sep 13, 2018
Thank you for sharing. It helps so much to know I am not alone. I’ve been researching legal remedies and am coming to the same conclusion. There is literally nothing I can do as long as she is legally “sane”.

I have been progressively drawing boundaries for a while....I guess I’m not sure I can wait for the big event that renders her incompetent, but until that happens, I don’t know how I’ll get closure. I did find your group,on line and signed up.

Thank you.
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Part 1 of my response:

My mother wants to stay in her house but she has dementia. If she is moved against her will, she would likely die much sooner and be miserable and horridly distressed the whole time. She refuses the caregiver so I'm trying to find someone she would accept because I need my life back and feel I deserve it. She's ill but has rights like other adults. People who hoard have rights too, and, believe it or not, deserve respect.


So, you're going to be irate with me too. 


Please first remember that earlier generations did not deal with depression, etc., with medicine nor was it evenly discussed openly, probably not even with her doctor. This is how people cope with the tragedies and illnesses in their lives. We know it's shamed in our society. So why would we show others or let them in when they are just going to be nasty or forceful? 


Would you call APS if she were obese? That's quite unhealthy as well but is more accepted in our society, but hoarding is something that people shame others for on worldwide television. I know now this is not accepted in society where other mental issues are. Would you continuously threaten someone who is severely depressed? I hope not. What about someone who is dealing with the death of a loved one, as it was probably part of the cause with me because our dad died when we were kids? That can often be the start of hoarding but the threats come anyway, not empathy and understanding.

That's not okay with me. And it's not okay because I'm hurting and have been for decades about this and the comments. Nobody taught me how to deal with my father's death in a healing or healthy way. I spent decades trying to navigate through the hurt and grief alone. 
 

I am messy, and I could see
myself leaning towards hoarding, even actually hoarding some things too. But I have experienced terribly judgmental comments, horrid treatment and plenty of threats about people want to "throw it all out," "burn it all," and "throw it all onto to the curb." With all due respect, that is not a decent or kind or helpful way to treat someone with depression, or something related. It only makes things worse, much worse, to have everyone treat you like a problem-causing idiot deserving of contempt.


It it took me until I was 55 years old to finally realize that I am a good person. I'm messy, very messy, sometimes disorganized and I have too much. But, believe it or not, that doesn't make me a bad person. 


I was cleaning the top of a dresser a year ago or something. I started to cry, hard, and then I got progressively more angry. "How dare all these people treat me so horribly all my life about this?" "How dare they threaten me?" Then I went into the bathroom to blow my nose and I happened to look in the mirror. What I saw startled me. I didn't see anger or frustration on my face. I saw incredible sadness and hurt on my face instead. Decades of pain of trying to figure this out alone, and from what others said and did to me. 


The only thing that would help me would be a kind, gentle and patient, helpful person that would help me the way I ask them to. I've pleaded and even begged for that for so many years I can't count. My mother would occasionally "help" me but it wouldn't even take her five minutes to start the insults, ridicule and anger. So I'm alone in this again. I can't bring others in because they might instead spread the word and could even report me. 


That's all we get. Threatened, ridiculed, shamed, forced to not have our own choices on what to part with. Nobody in my life has ever been kind and helpful to me so I could start to decide how to part with some things with their assistance. Nobody has ever even offered to help that would act friendly and trustworthy and respectful of my pace and decisions. Nobody that would let me have control of my choices.
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mjmm16 Sep 17, 2018
I totally understand where you are coming from..My mom to had dementia, before she passed away. She collected some items and groceries for years..I never thought anything about it because the house was always clean. I knew she was depressed at times before she was diagnosed with dementia but never considered that as a possibility.
I too have numerous things (stuff) that I don't want to get rid of. I have asked my boyfriend to help me get rid of things, my daughter, my best friend, everyone says yes, but when it comes down to them coming over to help..NoOne...after reading your post it makes me wonder if it is caused from depression. I have had numerous tragedies in my life and don't know if I quite handled them thoroughly. Thanks for your insight I can now look at things differently or from a different perspective.
I hope all goes well for you. Keep your head up and keep pushing on.
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I have a hoarder brother. We’ve done the clean out several times. It’s useless as each time he refills the house worse than the way it was. I’ve finally come to understand that it’s a mental illness that isn’t going to change, he sees nothing wrong and has no desire for anything to be different. You’re right, it is heartbreaking, I’ve wondered many times about if a fire happened....well it would be tragic. You’re also right, most often hoarders are mentally competent, it’s seen as their choice in living this way. Only when it spills excessively to the yard and neighbors complain do authorities get involved. APS might help, it’s worth a try. Sorry you’re in this position, but glad you care
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MrsC2018 Sep 13, 2018
Thank you for your suggestion and I'm sorry you are dealing with this too.

I know I am the only one who can control how I feel, but I feel so horrible when people ask why I don't see her....at holidays....why I don't stay with her when I am back in my home state (I live about 8 hours away from her by car)...... I know that other family members (enablers the lot of them) judge me as cold-hearted, selfish and uncaring that I didn't stay and keep banging my head against the wall with her/help her keep her "secret"/and that I speak openly about what her condition is - there's a name for it, it's hoarding.

I think I am the only one who is ACTUALLY caring about her by not consistently enabling her path of self destruction. Now I'm at a crossroads where I have to decide if I can be ok with simply acknowledging the problem and letting go, or if I want to try last steps with outside agencies.

How are things with your brother, if I can ask? I have two young children, and for me that really caused me to stop and set more boundaries and have less tolerance for just "looking the other way" like everyone else does. Do you ever think about stopping communication? I know an ultimatum would be useless, so maybe APS is the best last viable option. I hope that wasn't too personal, and please excuse/do not feel you have to reply if it is.
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Re: Hoarding
I've turned into a hoarder in the last few years. I credit that to not having enough lifetime to do all the things I want to do, so keep the information, supplies, contact list etc for the "future," while knowing the future is too short, but what if i get the chance and don't have the data, then what?
I also have just so much energy these days and after a lifetime of being the keeper of a house and maintaining it to the standards others prefer, I just dont want to be bothered anymore. So I do enough to keep nosey do-gooders out while all the time knowing a good house fire would not be a bad idea.
Another factor is that I save lots of "stuff" because i know I have some memory lapses, and it it's not written down it might as well not exist. And if I have to round up supplies for another project I;m sure I'll forget something important.
I don't think there is a "cure" for hoarding , as it seems to be connected to self-esteem and/or self-control
Does this help any?
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Sunnygirl1 Sep 14, 2018
Whyarewe,
I am curious about this. Would you be open to addressing the hoarding if help was offered? And,

Would you be inspired to address the hoarding if you were placed on notice that you may have to move from your home due to safety reasons by the city/county?

I'm just curious. I've watched quite a bit about this condition on tv.
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Mother is a hoarder, although she is considered to be an "organized"one. She used to tell me she desperately wanted a more organized space--but in truth, when it came time to actually throw anything away, or donate it she just---couldn't.

She has very poor relationships with all 5 of us kids (oldest son is deceased) and so I know she equates "stuff" that one of us have given her as being "us". A rotted plastic frog given to her by a grandson she hasn't seen in 10 years "becomes" him. To throw out the frog would nearly be the same as disowning this grandson.

I have tried and tried to help her, studying up on how to talk to her, how to bring this up--and I was as gentle as could be, but in the end, other than the stuff I personally hauled to the Goodwill, it all found its way back into her home.

While I have certainly seen worse living conditions,it makes me sad that her already small apartment is now so hoarded out that she cannot have another person in the apartment when she's there.

I have insisted that she remove all throw rugs and extension cords running hither and yon....and I think her stove is disconnected...so it's safe for her. It's just really, really smelly and grimy.

We had a huge family fight about 10 months ago and I was kicked to the curb as a "housekeeper". I have only been in her house twice since then. She's no way capable of cleaning or maintaining this place, but nobody cares, and she actually said she hated my methods of cleaning, so I walked out.

Yes, I could call APS, but I don't think they'd do more than write up a couple small code violations.

Sadly, if and elder refuses help and is content to live in an apartment that reeks of stale urine and filthy birds and rotting food---it's not the end of the world.
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Part 2 of my response:

And it would take me time to trust a person that wanted to "help" me so I see that they don't just want to start by being nice and then take over.


In all truthfulness, sometimes all I want is for someone to hold a couple of bags and listen to me. I would make choices and I could say, "okay, this is for the garbage bag" and they put it in the garbage bag. "This is for charity" and I hand it to them for the charity bag, and similar for recycling. Someone who would take the bags to their appropriate places so I wouldn't have to face that too. Someone who could see or hear me get overwhelmed and offer to enjoy a nice break with me. Someone who wouldn't laugh or get angry with me if I cried. I'd probably be crying as part of my grief for my dad and also the threats. Someone who could come and take the bags if I wanted to go through part of this alone.


I also have have been quite poor in parts of my life and know I could be again. In those times, having extra things made all the difference to me in making it through. Haven't you ever been to peoples' houses that went through the Great Depression?They have all kinds of things they store for future needs instead of having to buy them again: elastics (rubber bands), extra plastic bags, extra fabric, strings, and so on. That was called being thrifty back then, but now people laugh about it and it is frowned upon these days. 


I also don't remember everything as well as others, so when I get depressed and think I'm worthless I want to have some things to look at that remind me that I actually have accomplished things and have been respected and valued for my work, and have had fun times too. That's been so meaningful and helpful for those periods when I spiral down to those lows.


Another thing that a kind and helpful person could do is help me take pictures of me with some of my things that I want to part with but want to remember by having a photo. I would want that person to help me put the photos together in a nice container so they could be accessed when I desire. Maybe they could tell me a good way to scan receipts so I could recycle them and some other paperwork I might need for my taxes. 


I would like them to help me when I want to choose where to put some things, and even wipe the area and help me put them there. When I find something valuable to me, I want them to listen to my memory about the situation that made it special, and for them to gently clean it or wipe any dust off of it and put it carefully aside to find a place where I could see and enjoy it. 


My cleaning, decluttering, etc., comes in stages. First I see the easier things to part with. Then I take some time and then the next level becomes obvious, and so on. Sometimes I really have to take extra time to find the next group, and some groups are larger or smaller than others.


But nobody ever thinks I'm decent enough to be helped that way. Decades of family, friends, acquaintances, whomever, never once thought I was worth that. Nobody.
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hannahBN Sep 17, 2018
Joanne, your post opened my eyes from the hoarder's point of view and now I understand my parents that much more.

My dad was more realistic of the two and wanted to "fix it", but couldn't figure out how. I'd take a day to help, then throw my hands up in frustration. The day I accepted what it is and simply love the person was a turnaround.

Perhaps it is your assumption that family and friends think you aren't "worth" it. Could the "worth" part be in your mind. They may not know where to start and it may help if they could read what you wrote or you could have a sit down with them about where to start. Not everyone may come through for you, but if just that one kindred person sees your point of view...
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Do you know anything about her medical situation? Have you ever been with her to a doctor's appointment? Does she have a DPOA or HCPOA? I might consult with an Elder Law attorney to explore the laws, rules, etc in your jurisdiction to get your options. I'd be open to finding out what is really required in the courts. In some places, there is a big focus by the courts if someone can manage their own household. If things are close to being condemned by the county or declared a fire hazard, that might be considered not being able to run her household.

Also, if her doctor is aware of the situation, and thinks it's a danger to her, he may report it to adult protective services. That sometimes happen, because, not only do they have the unsafe house, but, they may have a medical condition that is not being treated.

I'd also do a lot of research about hoarding. It's a very frustrating condition and is resistant to change. I'd explore what you would change, if you were in charge of her and how you would maintain it. It might be quite a daunting and continuing challenge.
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MrsC2018 Sep 13, 2018
Thank you. I don't know if her doctors are aware, but I know who they are, and wrote each a letter today, explaining my concern that she has hoarding disorder and requesting that the consider screening her for depression and/or compulsive hoarding disorder at upcoming visits if possible.

If I could change anything....I'd put an objective 3rd party in charge of monitoring her living conditions in an independent living situation, coupled with psych evaluation and whatever medically recommended care would come out of that evaluation. That would, I think, give us an outside chance of continuing our relationship and provide her with the supervision she needs.

I have a lifetime of frustration around this issue, so I do have the clarity to understand that I cannot be the person charged with monitoring her living environment.
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All that stuff and rotted food are fire and disease hazards for herself and her neighbors. If you notify the city/county they'd likely investigate and force a cleanout. That might be less messy than involving APS.

My sister in law doesn't have much money but has filled five storage units with junk. She tried to start a sixth unit but the storage place refused to rent her another. She's been paying storage bills for years and could have bought a house with that money. Her hoarding caused my brother to move out.

This isn't a curable disorder. You're being pilloried for tying to help. Wouldn't blame you for staying away.
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Mom appeared to hoard. When I started digging into the piles, it became clear to me that she was no longer able to determine if something was important or not or she didn't have the energy to keep up with the things that naturally enter a home these days...junk mail, for example. Emptying her home seemed an insurmountable task, but I just thought about it as one bag at a time. I also encouraged her to gift certain things to people herself, so she could enjoy the giving. She was an artist and had drawings and paintings to share. Little by little and therefore less painfully, the clutter disappeared. In this painstaking process, we found some savings bonds, lovely photographs, and special keepsakes. My mantra to her was, "Let's get rid of the things you don't need so you can better enjoy the things you love. Over time, it was easier to vacuum and sweep. I would call my effort with her a success. But, hoarding in its extreme form is a real danger. I believe the frustration comes when a clean out is attempted in a more rushed manner and maintainance isn't achieved. I had a dear friend who was a terrible hoarder. I would plan a day with her to sort through and throw out things (lots and lots of papers and magazines. We would reach a point where she would just shut down. There were two others who tried at times to help her. One was a firefighter who knew that this hoarding problem could kill her. He advised our headstrong friend that if she couldn't exit her home, to go into the bathtub with a wet cloth over her nose and mouth to await help. Sadly, that day did arrive. While she waited in the bathroom, the heat was so intense, it melted the glasses frames on her face. She survived the fire, but was so compromised from smoke inhalation that she was forced to live out the last two years of her life in a nursing home with frequent hospitalizations for breathing issues. I loved her dearly, tried to help, but her hoarding addiction won.
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What appears to be another person's hoarding is in reality the "hoarder's" treasure.

My DH & I are/were both "hoarders" of our treasures. Tread lightly as I never made DH get rid of his treasures and he never made me get rid of mine.

Unless it is to the point of being a health hazard, leave your mother's "treasures" alone.
Believe me - she will not only miss them, she will know exactly what is missing. Not worth upsetting the apple-cart.

You could be turning a pliable personality into a violent one when you remove another person's belongings - especially when they aren't causing the person any discomfort or health hazard. What appears as junk to you, are in reality memories for her.

RE: heat: this needs to be addressed with winter approaching. I am guessing Mom won't let you into her home because you keep trying to throw out her stuff. Promise to leave her hoard alone and she should allow you entry again.
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