Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Hoarding family portrait: Mom

The fourth of July looms here in the states, and that means I have to make an obligatory trip home  for my sister's birthday and my mother-in-law's birthday. It also means that I have to stay at my parents' house again. And no, staying at my MIL's place isn't an option. She has a dog and I'm incredibly allergic to them. It's my folks' place or a hotel. 

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? 

General anethesia
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?

Hand-me-down hoarding 
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?


  1. At least she has a very understanding, emphatic, and analytic daughter. You have put a lot of thought into the psychology of hoarding behavior.

    1. aw, thanks. I swear I'd be in better shape though if I spent as much time shrinking myself as I do my family!

    2. It's always easier to shrink those around us rather than ourselves. lol I have no great words of wisdom as I battle with this too. I wish you well. =)

  2. It's funny because I just wrote how purging (house stuff) was my coping mechanism/compulsion. Each side has their extremes, right?! Check out the comments on that post (The Real Struggle)-- there are some great options & perspectives about how to deal with stress, options, should one addiction be replaced with another, etc.

    Good luck! I know it will be a trying weekend, but your bloggy friends are here for you :)

  3. Just remember to take care of yourself. Like you I have spent years analyzing why my mother hoards, and have developed some workable theories. The truth is I can't control her hoarding, I only can control my response. Several years ago I made a decision to skip the "obligatory" visits for my own physical/emotional health. A tough decision, to be sure, but the right one for myself. Only you can make that determination in your own life. Stay strong! There are many kindred spirits behind you.

    1. Thanks for reminding me. My guitar seems to be the only thing that keeps me sane when I visit and I almost forgot to grab it! It means a lot to me that there are others who are going through the same thing and have made peace with it. I'm looking forward to hearing about your experiences with your mom and any more advice you can give. Best,

  4. Hi. I just found your blog tonight, and I was drawn to this post. I find myself in the same situation as Karin where I have made the choice not to go to my parents home. It is just too painful for me having been forced to live in those conditions during my childhood. Luckily I live 9 hours away so there aren't too many get togethers aside from major holidays. And those are spent at other family member's homes since my parents are unable to accommodate a large group of people.
    I admire your empathy. I still feel a lot of anger towards my mother, and the conditions my siblings and I were forced to live in. Mainly because she says she didn't have a problem until she had kids. Well, all three of us have been out of the house for years and nothing has changed (that I am aware of.) I just want her to take responsibility instead of placing blame outside herself. And now after struggling with illness myself, I am seeing hoarding tendencies in myself. It scares the shit out of me!
    Wow. That was a lot to lay on you for my first comment! I guess I just have never found someone who understands before. I am really glad I found your blog! Thanks for "listening."

    1. It's great to meet you! It's been so comforting to find other people who are in the same situation. Thank *you* for listening too :o)

      And trust me, I still feel a lot of anger too. In fact, I think that the more I get shrunk the more anger I feel as I start to realize how not normal my childhood was.

      How is it that we can become the thing we hate?


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