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Old 24.01.2012, 21:54
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Compulsive Hoarding - does it ever get better?

The Swiss may have an almost "cute" term for it by referring to Compulsive Hoarding as "Messie-Syndrom" but in a land where entire families are judged by the tidiness of its members, it doesn't make it any easier to have a "Messie" in the family. I am a little bit of a hoarder myself but am definitely working on it and it's still within manageable boundaries. But a member of my family is really, REALLY out of control and while they will not accept any real help (I must have already invested a month of my time trying to get them to throw things out, only to have them back again later), I know they are deeply unhappy. They have two homes - both are full to the rafters with stuff, the garage is full, the cars are full of junk too and the garden looks like a war zone. The cellar is filled up to the ceiling, with little paths to walk through. I know that family photographs and heirlooms are in among all this junk, things that we all treasure but that this person took, saying they would file / store them properly. Yet you come across 100-year old photographs with bent corners because they have ended up in a "general pile".

People from the village approach me and ask why I don't make the person clean up, the neighbours have complained as the view from their garden is, well, the junk yard that is my family member's land. I find this situation so incredibly difficult, especially as I think I know where the problem lies but this person refuses to go anywhere near a therapist and is very "either you are with me or against me", pushing the issue could make them blow up. They are married and the partner has to live in the chaos again, the partner is not allowed to tidy up or throw anything out, otherwise there is massive drama.

I guess I'm just wondering if anyone else has a "Messie" in the family or is one themselves and how they have coped / what they would accept in the way of help.
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Old 24.01.2012, 22:12
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Re: Compulsive Hoarding - does it ever get better?

Hoarding is a serious disorder. There is a great series about it, Hoarders:
http://www.aetv.com/hoarders/
They show extreme cases in the episodes. The people in these episodes with a hoarding disorder accept help only when there is a legal threat above their head (child protection services, adult protection services, community or court orders, etc).
It looks that this behaviour cannot be changed easily and quickly.
There is a common reason behind all this hoarding - these people have deep pain with which they have been unable to deal. As soon as they are able to face to their pain (losses) they are more capable of dealing with the hoard.

It helped me a lot as I also tend to be hoarding. I managed to recognize that I should take responsibility for the stuff that is piling up in my house (er, for the stuff I piled up in my house). And managed to part 95% of that easily!
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Old 24.01.2012, 22:15
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Re: Compulsive Hoarding - does it ever get better?

Hey
my mum is also a compulsive hoarder. Not as bad as your family member though, but very nearly.
Hmm a couple of suggestions, even though to be honest im not really sure if they will work as have not completely worked for me.

1.maybe try and get some close family members together and try in more pleading than demanding way to ask them to change. sometimes the person will not do it for themselves but if they can see that the situation is causing others unhappiness and distress they might be more motivated to change. Offer them help and with the physical work and maybe offer paying for a skip. I know that my mum always waaay overestimated the costs and didn't even know where to hire one.

I suppose they call it an intervention in America, but i don't like that word as it sounds too agressive.

more importantly if you see any positive changes or tidying out make sure you complement them and a make suggestions about further plans.

2. Get the person a holiday, and then clear out the worst of the offending stuff when they are not there. If they can even remember half of what is gone ill be very surprised.
My mum would probably hit the roof though, so big gamble. ive never tried it, but some friends successfully have(their parents had a far smaller problem).

If you do option 2 then option 1 maybe?

I've never completely succeeded in either of these methods. But after a pretty desperate attempt with option one i managed to get some small results. I had to threaten never to visit home though.
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Old 24.01.2012, 22:33
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Re: Compulsive Hoarding - does it ever get better?

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Hey
my mum is also a compulsive hoarder. Not as bad as your family member though, but very nearly.
Hmm a couple of suggestions, even though to be honest im not really sure if they will work as have not completely worked for me.

1.maybe try and get some close family members together and try in more pleading than demanding way to ask them to change. sometimes the person will not do it for themselves but if they can see that the situation is causing others unhappiness and distress they might be more motivated to change. Offer them help and with the physical work and maybe offer paying for a skip. I know that my mum always waaay overestimated the costs and didn't even know where to hire one.

I suppose they call it an intervention in America, but i don't like that word as it sounds too agressive.

more importantly if you see any positive changes or tidying out make sure you complement them and a make suggestions about further plans.

2. Get the person a holiday, and then clear out the worst of the offending stuff when they are not there. If they can even remember half of what is gone ill be very surprised.
My mum would probably hit the roof though, so big gamble. ive never tried it, but some friends successfully have(their parents had a far smaller problem).

If you do option 2 then option 1 maybe?

I've never completely succeeded in either of these methods. But after a pretty desperate attempt with option one i managed to get some small results. I had to threaten never to visit home though.

German Trash TV Show:

http://www.rtl2.de/72029.html

In a situation as described by the OP, the above approaches will most likely not work.
Psychological help (or at least counseling) is needed.
I see that there are also various self-help groups - but if the "patient" is in denial about his/her own state of mind, it's a complete waste of time.
But then, according to the stuff I read, the "denial" may just be shame - because it seems that deep down, almost every hoarder knows that (s)he needs to clean-up his/her stuff - most just never get beyond the planning-phase...
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Old 24.01.2012, 23:56
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Re: Compulsive Hoarding - does it ever get better?

Hoarding can be because of a psychiatric disorder which is classified similar to obsessive compulsive disorder. There may be an underlying anxiety/fear that makes throwing things away difficult or impossible.

We also have hoarders in our extended family on the one hand, and on the other hand obsessive compulsive cleanliness people...not a good combination

The father of a close family friend of ours was an absolutely impressive hoarder - floor to ceiling in every room except one which was the mother's 'parlour' room...for entertaining guests...the first thing the children were asked to do when their father passed away suddenly from a heart attack, was to clean out the house.

They got thousands of dollars from antique dealers, scrap metal, collectibles, and then spent many many many hours taking things to the rubbish tip...it was an amazing task, but at the end of it, their mother was very comfortable with her new situation - very much part of her grieving process...

I'm not sure if you can put any limits on a hoarder unless the underlying psychiatric condition is being treated. What I do know is that loss and fear of loss are triggers for hoarding, and anxiety/depression can be part of the dynamic...and the longer it goes on, the harder it is to 'cure'...
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Old 25.01.2012, 00:42
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Re: Compulsive Hoarding - does it ever get better?

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1.maybe try and get some close family members together and try in more pleading than demanding way to ask them to change. sometimes the person will not do it for themselves but if they can see that the situation is causing others unhappiness and distress they might be more motivated to change. Offer them help and with the physical work and maybe offer paying for a skip. I know that my mum always waaay overestimated the costs and didn't even know where to hire one.

more importantly if you see any positive changes or tidying out make sure you complement them and a make suggestions about further plans.

2. Get the person a holiday, and then clear out the worst of the offending stuff when they are not there. If they can even remember half of what is gone ill be very surprised.
My mum would probably hit the roof though, so big gamble. ive never tried it, but some friends successfully have(their parents had a far smaller problem).
I did number one, invested a lot of time, argued over whether or not to keep torn shirts ("I'll use them as dusters"), floppy disks ("I still have computers that use those"), old newspapers ("There's an article in there that I want to read"), empty envelopes ("I use them for my notes"), food/drink that was long past its use-by date (Person "I'm sure that's still perfectly fine" Me "You bought this champagne the year I was born, it'll taste like vinegar!") - it's utterly exhausting. I can't order a skip without the person's permission as they would have to keep it on their land. And like I said, this would cause them to kick me out of their life.

We also did number two, his wife and I cleaned while he was away. But she was scared to REALLY chuck things out, we did make SOME headway but when I came back a month later, more stuff had been bought and it was just like before, if not worse. Hoarders often have a photographic memory of every single thing they have, I know I do, I know exactly where stuff is, even in the greatest chaos. So the WILL notice missing things.

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Hoarding is a serious disorder. There is a great series about it, Hoarders:
http://www.aetv.com/hoarders/
They show extreme cases in the episodes. The people in these episodes with a hoarding disorder accept help only when there is a legal threat above their head (child protection services, adult protection services, community or court orders, etc).
I recently discovered this show, it's what prompted this post. My situation is most like that described in the episode entitled "Patty and Bill" - Bill lives with his normal partner and daughter and they have to put up with his mess. He has all sorts of manuals and projects he wants to do and is very condescending when they tell him that the stuff is making them miserable. This is similar to what I've experienced and the wife has actually been injured because she tripped and fell over one of the projects in the garden. The reaction was that she should have paid attention to where she put her feet.
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I see that there are also various self-help groups - but if the "patient" is in denial about his/her own state of mind, it's a complete waste of time.
But then, according to the stuff I read, the "denial" may just be shame - because it seems that deep down, almost every hoarder knows that (s)he needs to clean-up his/her stuff - most just never get beyond the planning-phase...
This person realises it and when we have a fight, then things like "of course I'm not happy, someone with a house like mine is not happy, I just want to run away/kill myself" pop out - this is what upsets me most. To be so taken in by your stuff, to be prepared to push those who want to help away but to still be so miserable, true craziness.
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Hoarding can be because of a psychiatric disorder which is classified similar to obsessive compulsive disorder. There may be an underlying anxiety/fear that makes throwing things away difficult or impossible.

The father of a close family friend of ours was an absolutely impressive hoarder - floor to ceiling in every room except one which was the mother's 'parlour' room...for entertaining guests...the first thing the children were asked to do when their father passed away suddenly from a heart attack, was to clean out the house.

They got thousands of dollars from antique dealers, scrap metal, collectibles, and then spent many many many hours taking things to the rubbish tip...it was an amazing task, but at the end of it, their mother was very comfortable with her new situation - very much part of her grieving process...

I'm not sure if you can put any limits on a hoarder unless the underlying psychiatric condition is being treated. What I do know is that loss and fear of loss are triggers for hoarding, and anxiety/depression can be part of the dynamic...and the longer it goes on, the harder it is to 'cure'...
This is definitely a case of a psychiatric illness but the person feels deep contempt towards anything with a "psych-" in it, ironic, as I am studying psychology.
There is not a single clear room and they sleep on a mattress on the floor because the person has not managed to clear the bedroom after some work was done in the house. There is also an element of liking the whole "reputation as a crazy person", wanting to be unconventional, even if this inconveniences/embarrasses those close to you.

I also have said "what happens when you die, I will have to clear all this", the reaction was that there is enough money in the bank to sort it out. It's just exasperating.
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Old 25.01.2012, 00:59
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Re: Compulsive Hoarding - does it ever get better?

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To be so taken in by your stuff, to be prepared to push those who want to help away but to still be so miserable, true craziness.
People attach themselves to things when they feel unable or very afraid to attach themselves to their nearest ones. Objects will not disappoint. Not being able to figure people out disappoints them every day.

If you are afraid to show up with giant trash bags because they'd never speak to you again after you clean up (I wouldn't, I would do it with them when they are ready, or, after you get that permission), then reverse the strategy. Get close and reassure, be the reliable person, soften the approach. Have them explain to you what those things mean to them. Don't judge and see if a little later they might accept to perhaps keep one single copy of things, reduce the piles, etc.

Don't worry about family memorabilia, who cares for bent corners of photos.

Their failure is not yours. Detach yourself. As a psych, you will need to detach yourself from living through people's inabilities, paralysis, failures...
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Old 25.01.2012, 10:15
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Re: Compulsive Hoarding - does it ever get better?

Hey
I know my suggestions were not the ideal way of dealing with the problem as it is a psychological disorder, but was just sharing my experiences of what has partially worked in the past. I also had the do you want to see a therapist route shot down so there was not much I could do as my mum lives alone in "her house" and therefore tells me she can do what she pleases, as it makes her happy.

I once or twice have joked about submitting her for one of those hoarder tv shows..... I havn't seen one, but would there be any point in trying to get your family member to take part? do they provide psychological counselling?
(leaves forum to watch tv show)

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I guess I'm just wondering if anyone else has a "Messie" in the family or is one themselves and how they have coped / what they would accept in the way of help.
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Old 25.01.2012, 10:32
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Re: Compulsive Hoarding - does it ever get better?

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I once or twice have joked about submitting her for one of those hoarder tv shows..... I havn't seen one, but would there be any point in trying to get your family member to take part? do they provide psychological counselling?
(leaves forum to watch tv show)
It's a TV show.
It's lowest-common-denominator-entertainment designed to attract viewers to be able to sell the next tv-ad block.
The life, feelings and state of mind of the people shown in these shows is usually the last thing the producers concern themselves with.

In Germany we have even created a word that describes the feeling you get watching the people taking part in these shows: "fremdschämen".
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Old 20.12.2013, 00:42
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Re: Compulsive Hoarding - does it ever get better?

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2. Get the person a holiday, and then clear out the worst of the offending stuff when they are not there. If they can even remember half of what is gone ill be very surprised.
.
Would you be? That sounds very traumatic for me. Wouldn't it open their fears of wondering what else was thrown away? Even worse if they cannot remember it?
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Old 20.12.2013, 01:16
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Re: Compulsive Hoarding - does it ever get better?

Guilty
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Old 20.12.2013, 07:52
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Re: Compulsive Hoarding - does it ever get better?

http://www.messiehilfe.ch/24654.html

The above offers a hotline for the German-part of Switzerland.

Good luck.
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Old 20.12.2013, 09:03
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Re: Compulsive Hoarding - does it ever get better?

We also had this problem of compulsive hoarding with one elder member of the family and it was coupled also with a compulsive purchasing disorder. The methods we employed to try to manage the situation were (1) Encouraging him (and his wife - who was deeply troubled by her husband's illness ) to move from their house to a smaller apartment nearer the rest of the family. That shed a huge part of "the collection". (2) Secondly, reigning in the compulsive purchasing with the help of the Vormundschaftsbehörden (Court of Protection?) by the appointment of a Beistand (guardian) who regulated the finances to ensure that only a small amout of daily "pocket money" was available for unspecified purchases and this was "drip fed" into his bank account. (3) After a relapse we enforced a complete clear out which caused a huge row but after a short time it was all forgotten. Anyway, by that time, the problem was limited to one room and mainly books and newspapers.
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Old 20.12.2013, 09:23
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Re: Compulsive Hoarding - does it ever get better?

It can be very difficult to intervene when a family member falls into hoarding behavior - indeed, it often happens so gradually that sometimes it is not noticed that the hoarder has crossed the line.

My parent's generation, who grew up in the Depression, had 'saving against a rainy day, make do and mend' drilled into them. Nothing should be wasted, some day you might need that 'thing'. The line between frugal practicality and hoarding is pretty easy to cross.

My aunt became a hoarder. It started with the death of my uncle; in her grief my aunt could not bear to get rid of anything of his, or anything he might have once touched, or anything that remotely reminded her of a memory connected to him. Personal papers, clothes, books, tools, hobby equipment... and then mail, newspapers, finally garbage - it all became memories.

The family would try to clean up, but we were all walking on eggshells, uncertain of how to handle her grieving. This went on for years. And then the years became decades. At one point she stopped allowing family in the house - she insisted on meeting us at restaurants, or when we'd come to pick her up she'd be outside the door waiting for us. We didn't want to force her, fearing that she would cut off contact with the family altogether - at least if we 'played by her rules' we could keep tabs on her, spend time with her frequently.

Outside the house she seemed perfectly normal - she was her usual funny, bright, curious, intelligent self, seemingly in full command of her faculties and her life. Only the state of her house clued one into the state of her mind.

I truly feel for you Kittster - helping a family member who has developed hoarding tendencies is very difficult. Do what you can to keep communication open - usually that is the best way for a family member to help. Whether to bring in professional help is a delicate question, best decided by the whole family together.

I do hope that help can be found - for your family member's sake, and for yours.

---

In my rescue work I was once involved in a case of animal hoarding. Heartwrenching. It started with good intentions - an individual wanting to save a homeless abused animal. And then another. And another. And then he couldn't say no... and couldn't keep up with the care, the money ran out...

Soon he had dozens of dogs living in squalid conditions - the same fate he had started out to prevent. But he couldn't see it. Tragic.
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Old 04.08.2021, 14:21
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Re: Compulsive Hoarding - does it ever get better?

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Outside the house she seemed perfectly normal - she was her usual funny, bright, curious, intelligent self, seemingly in full command of her faculties and her life. Only the state of her house clued one into the state of her mind.

This is very common, based on my experiences. I would say a large majority of the instances I have known of have involved people with cushy office jobs, earning lots, going to work every day, looking to the outside world as if they had it all together, and were living the life of Riley.



The degree of severity has ranged from:

  • a home cleaned from top to bottom regularly, but with the person filling every nook and cranny with piles of stuff that would fall randomly, rendering walking around dangerous in any direction
  • to every patch of flooring and storage being filled with rubbish - empty plastic bottles, wrappers, plastic bags, the remnants of old meals, dirty crockery, torn strips of clothing covered in blood, animal fur, blood-stained paperwork, CD cases, damaged pieces of furniture sprayed with faeces and blood, broken gadgets, empty beer cans, walls sprayed with urine and faeces, floorboards caked in urine and faeces, a toilet filled to the brim with old faeces...

Last edited by CliiniMuus; 04.08.2021 at 15:38.
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Old 04.08.2021, 14:38
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Re: Compulsive Hoarding - does it ever get better?

The OP posted in 2012.

Perhaps she can now answer her own question:

Compulsive Hoarding - does it ever get better?


(I think the answer is probably, and sadly, no).
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Old 04.08.2021, 15:37
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Re: Compulsive Hoarding - does it ever get better?

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The OP posted in 2012.

Perhaps she can now answer her own question:

Compulsive Hoarding - does it ever get better?


(I think the answer is probably, and sadly, no).
No, it does not.
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