In an earlier post I talked about my strategies for going home to a hoarder's house. I think the one strategy that I didn't mention in that list is empathy.
Hoarding really isn't about the stuff. It's about the hoarder's inability to cope with events in their life. Understanding why a loved one hoards can go a long way when it comes to coping with their hoarding. Let's take a look at what I think are the reasons behind my mom's hoarding.
Family tragedy and grief
My mom was the oldest of four kids and the only girl. Her next-youngest brother was killed in a grisly accident when he was 23 and she was 27. Maybe she hoards because stuff doesn't disappear the way people we love do?
After Gram died, my eating disorder spun completely out of control after Gram died because restricting and bingeing were how I numbed myself. My mom's hoarding got worse at that time. Was hoarding her anesthetic?
Talking to my uncle a while back, I learned that he doesn't think grief or trauma started my mom's hoarding, but he does think it's become a coping mechanism. He said that she didn't start hoarding after their brother died; she had already started hanging onto objects by then. It may play a role, but it's not the cause.
In an earlier post I mentioned my father's mental health problems, his emotional detachment, and his frightening anger management issues. She wasn't getting the love she needed from him. Has she kept stuff because the stuff will always be there, and it can't hurt her the way he has?
Or is the stuff making up for material deprivation? While no one can say that my mother didn't have everything she needed growing up, there were many things that she wanted that she didn't have. When she needed a dress for school, she didn't get the one she wanted, she would get the one that Gram could find for the least amount of money. When she needed new stockings, my grandfather responded that she needed to stop wearing through them so quickly (like any girl can keep her stockings from getting runs in them).
She got what she was handed. Now that she has more resources, is she compensating for what she didn't have growing up?
My great-grandmother lived in Germany between the World War I and II. She suffered pretty much every kind of privation there is during that time. As a result of not having money, food, or material goods, she developed an eating disorder (either bulimia, binge-eating disorder, or bulimarexia, we're not sure which). She became a compulsive saver. And according to my uncle, my mom adored her.
Did my mom learn her hoarding from her grandmother? Did it get passed down genetically?
Where empathy ends
I can never be sure exactly what causes my mom's hoarding, but it seems as though she doesn't have the skills she needs to cope with the events of her life and instead has used hoarding as her coping mechanism. I know how badly I needed my eating disorder to cope with the issues I've had in my own life when I had no other alternative.
So I've finally come to the conclusion that no amount of cleaning, organizing, or cajoling will free my mom of the hoard. Until she can find another coping mechanism the hoard will remain, and will get larger.
Question is, how large will it get?