Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Moving out of a hoarder's home: what does and doesn't work

I'm 28. I still haven't moved out of my parents' house.

In a way it didn't make sense before because I've moved eight times since 2001. And now that we're buying a condo I'm moving again! Yay! Argh.

Since we're staying put for a while it's time to grow up and empty out my old room. But my parents are hoarders, so this is easier said than done.

Exhibit A: their basement (there's a bar under there somewhere)

Exhibit B: Their offices

Alright, the living room isn't so bad:

But my own room needs help.

About half of that is my sister's and my mother's stuff. But that means the other half is mine. I was a hoarder too. Oh I want to cry.

How do you move out of a hoarder's home?

These strategies DON'T work:

Trying to throw things out.Your trash will be edited and you will find it right back where it started. Hoarders can't bear to see anything go to waste, particularly if it has meaning to the person it belonged to, even if it has no meaning to them. When I went home last spring I tried to purge a 55-gallon trash can's worth of primary school projects and souvenirs. I found about half of the items back in my bedroom the next time I returned. 

Removing everything all at once. The sudden substantial loss will be easily noticed by the hoarder. It will also add to their stress and make them more defensive. They'll work harder to keep the stuff around and this will make life harder for you.

Trying to tackle the clutter while the hoarder is around. They will notice what you're doing, and they will panic.

These strategies do work for me:

Pack up anything and everything and take it off the premises. Then dispose of it where the hoarders can't see you and where they won't find the items.

Get your friends and neighbors to help you. Quietly explain the problem to a few neighbors or friends that you trust. Ask them for a little space in their trash cans so you can discard the items you need to be rid of. They will likely be more than happy to help. The holidays are not a good time to try this though, as most of our neighbors weren't around and I didn't want to interrupt those who were.

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming!

What makes this all so frustrating is the amount of energy it takes. There's only so much we can fit into our car.  There are only so many times we drive up to Philly from DC each year. It's exhausting to have to do all of this just to throw things in the trash in another state. But as you'll see in the coming posts, I did get rid of some stuff and it's better than nothing!

Just remember -- you're moving OUT not in with a hoarder. It's hard to get the stuff out and keep your sanity. But leaving will keep you more sane than staying.


  1. [...] This link is to the blog of one of your fellow 365 readers, Joanna. The difficulty level of Joanna’s mission far excedes mine. Please give her some support. 365declutterchallenge ~ Moving out of a hoarders home, what does and doesn’t work.  [...]

  2. I guess there are a few things to consider. How big is the condo you are moving into? You should only bring what fits reasonably in your new condo. Don't spend the money to move junk. You could spend thousands of dollars that you don't need to, depending on how far you are moving. Get rid of it and don't haul it to a new place. This is a great time to do this since "You are Moving" so it is an excuse to get rid of stuff. Let everyone in your home know how much you can take and what will work. I would haul trash away little by little and get rid of it without them knowing. They may remember it, but after you move you can just say that it must have been lost in the move. Have a trusted friend come. Tell you parents that you are giving them some things since they won't fit in the new home. A lot of people want to have their stuff find new homes. If you parents are tight on money, sell some things and have them reap the benefits of getting rid of it. Maybe you can pay for your whole move just by selling stuff that won't fit in the new home. Have your parents find the things they love the most and tell them that you will deal with the rest. Let them go to the new place and not worry about it if they are willing.

  3. Hi Joanna! I came here thanks to Colleen http://www.365lessthings.com/ and I wanted to give you a big hug because you really really deserve it. You're very brave!! Keep thinking why you're doing this: because you need it in order to feel better and because in the end it may make some difference for your parents too (maybe they'll acknowledge they have a problem and need some help). Good luck!

  4. Spendwisemom, I think you might have replied without actually reading the article:)

  5. No worries! I think her post does make the point that there are a LOT of strategies that have to be carefully considered when dealing with hoarders. And in time (especially if my folks and I all get help) it might not hurt to re-try some strategies that didn't work.

    But I definitely agree that it's important to know that we all have to do what is right for ourselves. Even whem mom cries.

  6. Good tips for the adult children of hoarders, Joanna. Was there something that led to your parents' accumulation? I know that in my own case, family illnesses and emergencies, plus jobs that demanded far more time than normal, plus shutting down a business, all contributed. It is hard on the kids.

  7. I should stress that I agree with spendwisemom as to the strategies she suggests, for moving hoarders out of their current home to a new one. It's a difficult job, for sure.

  8. You are brave to share this. It's encouraging to others. I myself have hoarding parents (not the rubbish filthy kind of hoarders but the lots and lots of stuff kind) and of course they encouraged hoarding when I was young. So now I not only have to deal with them but also with much more stuff than you should own at the beginning of your 30s. It's not easy especially as there is much shame involved and I feel it would not be fair to them to talk about the whole issue openly. But if you want to get in contact: you've got my e-Mail.

  9. Hi Yliharma!
    Aw, thanks for the support! I love Colleen's blog. Even if my parents can't see the light, I feel fortunate that I've made the decision to change and that there's such a great community of people here to learn from! Stop by anytime, thank you so much for commenting!

  10. Jo,
    Thanks for commenting! I appreciate hearing what led to your situation. It seems that stress and a lack of a strong support and coping network is at the core of many hoarding cases. It's hard on anyone. I don't think I'd be coping well at all if it weren't for all of the people I'm chatting with on blogs, and the help of my really awesome psychologist. Do you have any resources you'd suggest that have helped you?

    For my own family, right now I'll say generically that anxiety issues and family problems led to the chaos in the house. My grandmother's death two years ago definitely pushed my mother over the edge, the house has gotten much worse since then. I'll do a post soon about the causes of hoarding and discuss my own situation a bit more...check back soon!

  11. Thanks hoarder kid 2! You've definitely hit on a key point. I've been thinking a lot about how much I can say to get the help I need, to try to help others, and to not upset my parents. Telling their entire story to the world, if they found out, would probably make them so stressed that they would actually hoard more to cope with the stress. But in a future post I'll generally address the causes of hoarding. I do know and am open about the fact that everyone in my family has struggled (with and without help) with anxiety issues. Grief has also played a substantial role.

    I appreciate that you're willing to chat and I'd be happy to! Has anything in particular helped you break the habits you learned from your family?

  12. Oh gosh Joanna, I could cry just looking at all that stuff. It sounds like you have some good ideas of how to tackle this mountain and my best wishes are with you as you accomplish this monumental task. You can do it, and break free from hoarding; I know you can!!

  13. I came over from Colleen's blog too. I have a close relative who is a hoarder. The only time this person declutters anything is when a guest is coming. Then she'll let me help her. What is the source of the hoarding? For my relative, I know it's fear, mostly fear of the future.

  14. By the end of my 20s I went to a psychologist. Not for hoarding, depression or anything you could put a name on (she could not either!) but for a general feeling of not coping well. I could put a perfect mask on most of the time but inside I felt as if my card house could fall together any moment. The therapy (I went about two years) did not make me a new person but it encouraged me to be confident with myself. It taught me how to endure being me ;-) I slowly understood that I was hardwired by people who had issues themselves and that I therefore sort of inherited behaviour that had become my nature but that is not necessarily me. It finally made sense that I never felt at ease with myself because I was behaving like a hoarder without actually being one. Now I am learning new behaviour. I declutter stuff. It's not a fast process and it can be very straining and emotional at times but I make progress. I hate that I have to go through so much more stuff than other people my age. I sometimes want to cry over the money I spent on "bargains". I want to cry over the time I have to spend on the stuff now. But overall I am looking forward to having less and less on my back in the years to come. I am still at a loss how to deal with my family though. Their hoarding is eating up their space and their means and I don't know how to convince them gently to stop accumulating and start purging.

  15. I too came here via Colleen's blog - it has been a wonderful learning tool over the last few years.

    I am a daughter of a hoarder (my dad) and I yo-yo between slight messiness and obsessive cleanliness.

    I visit my parents and take home stuff that my mum has hidden from my dad. She also uses the rubbish bins at the petrol station to dispose of small bags of stuff.

    It is extremely difficult to discuss my dad's stuff and how it makes my mum feel ashamed to invite people over.

    I wish you all the best with your move and will be checking in now and then to support your journey.

  16. Hi Joanna, I feel your pain. I'm the same age as you and although I have (unconsuously) started decluttering when i moved out of my parents home, it took me years and years of living on my own (and 7 moves in 10 years) to aknowledge the hoarding tendencies I've been brought up with. Good luck to you and I'll keep checking your blog now and then, even if it's just to know we're not alone.

  17. Agreed, thanks for the post.

    -Land Source Container Service, Inc.
    Dumpster Rental NYC


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