I live next to hoarders

gayle0000February 22, 2009

This might get long, but I just have to get this out of my system.

I've gotten friendly with my neighbors over the last 9 months. Been to each other's houses & our kids play together. They are now getting ready to sell their home fast due to financial troubles.

I've seen their first floor living space & it's always cluttered and dusty. Everything is always in a disheveled shambles when I've been over there. Have to walk over toys & you bump into furniture & piles of things on the floor. I've always noticed it...even my 3 yr old comments on the messy house...but I'm normally not very judgmental on how people live and it didn't bother me so much. Everyone lives their own way, ya know?!?!?

I was asked to give a hand with some pre-packing & pre-move organization, and I saw the basement & 2nd floor for the first time. My jaw has been hanging open ever since.

Their private spaces is equivalent to the bad hoarding stories you see on tv. Their 1st floor ceiling is cracking because of the weight of stuff on 2nd floor.

The basement is full to the ceiling except for a circular pathway once around. You can't walk to get to the power panel or water heater. The keep their cat down there & cat uses the entire basement as a litter box. Instead of cleaning up after the cat, they just sprinkle baking soda (by the large box-full) on the waste spots. Not healthy for cat or humans!

There is so much more to say about what I saw in the private spaces.

I was over there helping for 4 hours and we got nothing done other than I brought 4 empty boxes out for her. The Mrs. was so confused and frustrated about the situation...and add on the pressure of "do-or-die" finances.

She gave every excuse and justification on why they need to keep or save/store the things we talked about...even empty, dried paint cans!

I was very diplomatic...yet very forward with her in talking about the stuff. I used the term "hoarding" on more than 1 occasion. I let her know about the fire hazards. She told me they had mice in their house & I told her they are providing the habitat. They are always sick and I told her why. I went as far as telling her that her family probably needs counseling for this.

I had agreed several weeks ago to let them use a portion of my basement for temporary storage until they move. After I saw the amount of stuff, and she had made a comment to me about wanting to get as much stuff over to my basement ASAP, I clarified to her that my available basement storage was not even close to what they were wanting...so I let her know it's better they find storage elsewhere.

Amazingly, we are still friendly after everything I said. The Mrs. told me I was not the first to say what I did.

I have no point to this other than I saw firsthand a true hoarder. My grandparents saved everything, and that was bad. This is worse. There is nothing I can do. She was asking for help, and then after I gave ideas, she explained away why none of the ideas would be good. I'm not offended she didn't like my ideas. I was more shocked at how much she was asking for help & ideas, but was closed down to any idea or option in a split second.

Though I didn't tell her, I have decided I will never let my daughter over there for babysitting simply based on the amount of combustibles in there and the mold & cat feces all over the basement.

It must be a tough place to be and I feel for them. I've been obsessively cleaning and organizing ever since just to mentally and physically clear the Karma...and I'm one of the most organized people I know. I have no clutter and racking my brain to better organize what's already organized. Ugh!

Thanks for letting me get that out.

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i've been around people like that all over for way too many years of my life..it is a good lesson to learn to see people live that way..i know..as we have relatives and many acquaintences that live like that.

first..don't ever allow any of their stored items into your home, you are not talking just mice here, fleas, bedbugs, mites, cockroaches, you name it...they will make their home in your home...possibly lice and other critters too.

if you go over and help insist on particle mask..and i'm not kidding here..we have been in this position before and gotten extremely ill...dusts, feces, mites, molds, etc.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2009 at 5:50PM
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It is great that you were able to set some boundaries and recognize that there is almost nothing you can do to help your neighbor with her actual house-clearing project unless she is able to make some internal changes.

I think about all you can do is be kind and non-judgemental--meaning, not harass her once you have determined it is kind of an illness. If she does come over to your house, you can offer tea and cookies and a moment of respite. If she asks for help clearing or packing, you could decide whether it is safe for you and if so, allot the amount of time you are willing to spend just "being" there, assuming you may get nothing done. I have done this for some family members--arrive and tell them how long I've got--say, an hour--and then go when it's time to go, not fretting about what you did or didn't accomplish.

I suppose something you might try is to avoid saying or implying that certain things are really just trash, but instead approaching it as, well, it might be nice to save, but the real estate agent won't be able to show/sell the home, etc, if we don't get this out of here now. But even that won't work with a determined hoarder.

If the interactions are extremely stressful for you--as in some situations I've been in, in which the hoarder says, "you could help me if you really wanted to" and proceeded to try to get me to ramble in circles just the way they were, or reject every possible suggestion, or talk blame about other people, etc--then you should decline and get back to the role of tea and cookies.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2009 at 11:39AM
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Good for you for being blunt with her. I don't think I would have had the nerve to. I do know that seeing the cat droppings covered with baking soda would have been enough to make me get out of there fast. And if not that, then surely the revelation that she has rats.

My curiosity has the best of me, but what justification did she give for keeping empty, dried paint cans?

    Bookmark   February 23, 2009 at 2:51PM
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Gayle, I admire you for the compassion that showed through your post, even through your shock.
I only know one family like that, and they're the sweetest people, but always burdened down with financial, health and family woes.
Is real hoarding a bit like drug and alcohol addiction? No one can really help until the person her/himself reaches the point of deciding they are going to heal themselves? I don't know. I find it sad and really feel for those who have close relatives with the problem... knowing how different their lives and homes could be, but just having to watch them drown in it all.
Good on you for being there for your neighbour. I love the "tea and cookie" as a respite idea, and who knows.... by seeing the peace and harmony that you know in your own home, your neighbour may want the same for herself and seek help, just by your example? Anyway, hugs for letting your caring attitude overcome any disgust.
Cheers from lily

    Bookmark   February 23, 2009 at 6:28PM
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I'm just gonna stand here by LilyDilly and nod.

It must be SO frustrating to see something like that up close, esp. if you start from any mindset of helpfulness or feeling responsible.

It sounds like you handled it really, really well!

    Bookmark   February 23, 2009 at 10:29PM
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They keep a cat in the basement in the conditions you describe?
Can you convince her that it would be helpful to let you find another home for the cat? It's bad enough for children, but a cooped up cat has no options at all.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2009 at 11:10PM
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The only thing that might help is when the real estate person comes to the house for the first time (so she can write up the listing and take interior photos). The neighbor will take notice when the real estate person says to her, "I cannot sell this house as it is. You must clear it out." Maybe the possibility of jeopardizing a sale ($$$ talks!) will make her recognize that she needs some therapy to get through this?

You are right to want to protect your health when you go in there, as well as your child's. (And that cluttered basement--blocking access to the water heater and power panel--is a fire waiting to happen. One little spark when a fuse blows, and ignition!)

    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 12:12AM
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I have 2 relatives that live together and are approaching this state of living, so coming from that experience, here are some suggestions:
1. Retract the offer to store some of their stuff. You will probably end up with critters with anywhere from 4 to 8 legs and they will make your life miserable. Also, once the stuff is out of their site, they will never reclaim it and you'll be stuck with it. Then YOU get to haul it back upstairs and haul it away.
2.Keep the compassion you have already showed, but remember that you don't own this problem, and you can't fix it.
3.Do continue to be frank in your conversations about hoarding, and encourage some type of counseling for the family. With the financial situation, this may be tough to find.
I know firsthand how hard it is to stand by and 'do nothing', and if you offer to pack this up and clear that out, as you saw this is where the excuses start to fly. To you and me they make absolutely no sense, but then I realize they aren't really justifying the object but the behavior.
I would keep that teapot on, and encourage her to come for a break often. That opens many doors of opportunity for discussion where you can show her options.
You are a good neighbor. They will miss you.


    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 1:23PM
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You are indeed a good neighbor. Being anally organized, hoarders intrigue me. What really, really bothers me is the children. I would be interested in knowing what happens to kids in this situation when as the grow and then as adults.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 3:55PM
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Would it be possible to buy a book on hoarding and give to them? There are lots of books on the subject. David Tolin's book, "Buried In Treasures," has sections that talk directly to hoarders who have been approached by concerned family members and friends about their hoarding.

Here is a link that might be useful: Buried in Treasures

    Bookmark   February 24, 2009 at 7:25PM
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I would let them have it. They will be going and may be they will never talk to you again; but if they can change even just a little, that may benefit their lives and save their children's lives.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2009 at 11:18AM
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I have seen several homes like the one you describe. Dried dog feces in the carpet, vomit on the couch, & the need to push dirty clothes just to get into the front door. I believe hoarding & filth is a mental issue.
I couldn't imagine having to wake up to clutter & filth like that or letting children be raised in these conditions. It would totally depress me. If my bed is unmade & dishes in the sink, I feel unsettled.
During college, I was a master home environmentalist for a county program that our school was promoting, & filth is damaging to the body, especially little bodies.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 7:08PM
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Do you really think that "letting them have it" will change anything?

    Bookmark   February 27, 2009 at 10:11PM
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I've had some computer glitches since I wrote this post. Finally getting to check back in.

First, I want to thank you so much for the supportive comments about setting boundaries & etc. I would give the shirt off my back to anyone needing it more than me...and these people do need the help, but I did realize their issues are beyond what I'm able to offer. I had some guilt over not helping or still giving basement space. I feel much better about it now that I'm reading other opinions.

It's just tough to watch because I really like them.

So, some other random info based on comments above:
1. The "reason" empty dried paint cans are saved is so they or next owner will be able to touch-up or repaint in the existing color. They've saved the previous owner paint cans because they think the original color (when they bought the house) is a nice color too & the closets are all in that color. Just excuses, and too much justification on why to not throw away.

2. As for wearing a mask...I agree 100%. I am an environmental consultant. Mold is one of my areas of specialization. I know all too well what's in there and what it's going to take to clean up. I even told them about the health factors. Still not enough reason in their minds to address the overload.

3. Get this...they are doing FSBO, so no selling Realtor. I was a licensed Realtor for years (not anymore) and they seem to think if they clean up and stage their 1st floor living space in a good way, buyers won't care about basement or 2nd floor. Trust me...I had the talk with them. They've already decided how other buyers think. In hearing them talk, it's just another mind game/justification they going with as to not have a reason to scale down and clean up.

Also, it's very clear the husband is the main problem. The wife has gone along with it...Yeah, I think she has issues too, but not as deep rooted as the H. The W is just as trapped as the H. She makes excuses for him...he's an artist & needs the chaos for creativity. He had a tough childhood. He's got plans for all this but working full time & little kids right now makes everything tough. It goes on and on.

Anyway, I find the interaction and dialogue with them quite fascinating at this point, because this is something I've never experienced to this level.

Another thing...the W went into a crying session about how I'm the only one that's offered help to them. Their family won't. She thinks it's crazy that I...a single mom to a 3 yr old / work full time / blah, blah, blah can offer time but no family will. I explained to her I've helped them, but now that I've seen the issues behind the visible 'stuff', the family already knows helping is not productive. I told them I cannot help them anymore because it's not about organizing and packing anymore.

Thanks again for the support. I appreciate other's opinions and can see I'm not being uncaring or mean as I originally thought.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2009 at 9:24AM
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my sister cared for a hermit woman who had no heat or running water *in Michigan* and lived alone all her adult life. she was in a single wide trailer after her first single wide trailer burned and was still on the property.
Meals were delivered to her frozen, once a week, and commodities, but she had no refrigeration...she would just pile them up in a corner and eat what she would, which wasn't much and leave the rest to spoil and get eaten by the rats, snakes, critters that would get in..whatever.

she wore the same dress, no underwear, one coat, people would give her clothes but she wouldn't use them. she squatted outside to do her business...people brought her water in jugs to drink..she didn't do laundry or wash dishes or anything.

my sister inherited her place when she died cause she was the only one that ever helped her..she used mask and protective clothes to clean it out. she found thousands of $ of cash in cereal boxes..some half eaten by animals and stuck together with gunk, (sent off to government and they gave Bev the $ for it)..the house was full of antiques..most ruined..my sis knew i loved antiques so she saved out a few for me..a childs chair with the rockers rotted off and the cane seat gone, i restored but didn't put rockers back on..the mirror i posted on this forum, a rocking chair, the frame i made the ribbon board from, etc.

I had to scrape years of crud off of them, and didn't bring them into the house until i cleaned them and removed anything that could have stored bugs..but i hated to see the things go away, i also had a table but eventually gave that away..it was in bad shape..oh and my piano stool came from there too and a piece of artwork framed..can't remember but think that is about it..

there are more people that live like that then most of us would care to believe..some just know no way out

she hadn't had a bath in so many years, when she got ill my sister took her to the hospital where she was bathed regularly, and she died after a year in a nursing home, where she had a warm bed, baths, clean hair, clothes, and all the food she needed (but she still hid food all over her room)..just knew no better

    Bookmark   February 28, 2009 at 6:28PM
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Oh, and mustangs...about the kids...

I'm no expert in haoarding and how things pass down, but here's what I've observed:

The W tells me the H had a rough upbringing...verbally abusive, a mentally disabled sibling, no $$, and he can only recall having 1 toy as a child...a toy car.

The W and H both admit the H overcompensates in the toy department because H went without as a child. Seriously, the toys are out of control. They are piled up in the 3 yr old's bedroom halfway to the ceiling. Can't get to the closet, and there's only a path from the door to his bed...just a mattress on the floor.

Toys are in the living room, kitchen, bathroom. What does a 3 yr old do with 3 trikes???

When my 3 yr old DD & he play together over at their house, the boy is hitting, rough, etc. He is always running around looking for something to do. It's like he's overwhelmed at all the options...and at the same time doesn't even see or know what all the toys are. He'd rather pull the toilet paper off the roll and throw shoes around than touch any toys.

When the boy comes to our house, he's the best little kid. Structured play, doing one project or one game at a time. Yeah, he's hyper...but such a different kid when there's a focus in front of him.

I know he'd just rather have human attention than the toys, but the parents both think things are the key to happiness.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2009 at 7:47PM
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You so did the right thing and I know that it is hard to do. I ran into a hoarder at church. She was in a wheelchair and her DH did every thing for them. They were an older couple around 80. We had a womens group that she attended. She said that her DH didn't do things like she did but he did try to do a good job. One day we offered to come and help clean up the place and give her DH a break. We went and they lived in a single wide trailer. They had a screen room that was 12 ft wide by 36 (the length of the trailer). It was full of papers and filing cabinets but had a little walk way to the door. We cleaned up a little inside but could see that he was getting upset. He then asked if we would stop helping and sit down and had a nice visit. About a year later he died and he wasn't the sick one. We went there to clear it out as she was going into assisted living. It took us about 10 days with 6 of us working full days. It must have saved every piece of mail that he ever received. Inside was so many things. He saved empty tuna cans, milk jugs that he put water in and on and on. I opened the dishwasher and it was full of meds that they couldn't use any more so they saved them just in case they were told to go back on them. It was really sad.

When I went home I just had to clean and clean. Go through my stuff because I didn't want any one to think that I was that way, which of course I am not.

I think you handled it the best you could because any idea isn't going to work for them until they are ready. Hopefully it will be before they lose their house.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2009 at 8:23PM
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Gayle - really nothing you say or do will make any difference. I have 1 friend and 1 relative who is scitophrenic (SP?). Both are hoarders. I am 100% convinced that hoarding is a symptom of mental illness. One parent or both probably has an undiagnosed mental illness. They will not/cannot change until they get diagnosed & medicated.

My aunt was a terrible hoarder - once she got diagnosed and on meds, she got much better. She'll never be Heloise but the problem is 75% better now that she's medicated for scitsoprhenia. (sorry I have no idea how to spell that!)

    Bookmark   March 2, 2009 at 3:46PM
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I worked w/ an elderly woman years ago that was exactly as you described your sister working with. I think that she found security somewhere in the chaos, as I think most hoarder do.

Sorry, no advice to give, but I do commend you for being supportive to your neighbors.

    Bookmark   March 2, 2009 at 7:53PM
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With the situation you describe, it will be a "win" for helping them if you can remove one bag of trash or recycling a week. Good for you for showing that you care.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2009 at 12:46PM
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Gayle, With your compassion, insight and ability to set limits, you should be a crisis counsellor!
Klair wrote:"...remove one bag of trash or recycling a week."
I was going to say something similar. Set limits; they have to haul say 50 things out each day to the curbside. I know it wouldn't make much of a dent, but if they start to see some progress, they might start to move. Tell them to put each item/can/thing to the test: If there was a fire or a flood, would you miss it.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2009 at 2:38PM
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A sad story, but interesting. The fact that they invited an environmentalist over to help says a lot about the depth of their denial! You handled it beautifully, Gayle.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2009 at 11:33AM
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I'm a little late joining this discussion. Sounds like you have a ton of patience with these people! I was just thinking that it sounds as if you might have a little room to work with the W. If she would like to work on this, could you suggest something like getting paint chips from the paint store to replace the cans of paint? Then when she realizes these are always at the paint store, she might even be able to live without the chips too? Either way, the cards take up less room than empty paint cans. Just a thought.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2009 at 8:42PM
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I apologize, this is disjointed, but it hits really close to home.

My mother was a hoarder. About 10 years ago, my sister and I tried to clean out some of mom's house. She became extremely distressed as we were throwing away her memories. Junk mail, cans with dried pain...you cannot imagine. We gave up and let her be. Last year mom jokingly told my sister and me that she was leaving us a treasure hunt. In January of this year, my sister died unexpectly of a brain aneurysm. In February, my mom lost her battle with lung cancer. I can tell you, this is NOT a fun treasure hunt. I have removed over 100 bags of garbage from her house and still am not down to the stuff that may be distributed. The horrible part of it is, I have to go thru each and every thing. She his good items in the middle of junk. I found 2 loose diamonds (over 2 carats each) in a plastic bag of junk mail inserts and I just found it by accident! There is no telling how much stuff I threw out before that incident (about 25 garbage bags) This is hard. First of all when there are two matching items, one for me and one for my sister my heart feels like it is going to break in half. Secondly, I am the only one left. It will take me months to clean this out and dispose of everything. I find myself bringing home stuff I don't need and certainly don't have room for, but cannot fathom letting go of.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2009 at 3:20PM
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I don't have any answers. Just a few thoughts-How utterly kind of you to help them organize their excess stuff. My Mom (age 85, now blind and on oxygen for emphysema) was always a hoarder. She won't throw anything out. She has three households worth of furniture stuffed into her house-her own, her deads mothers and my brothers after-divorce furniture! She won't get rid of anything.The second floor ceiling is collapsing from all the heavy furniture she has stuffed into one of the bedrooms. One day I walked in and found she had purchased a new hutch for the kitchen. What happened to the old one? Did she donate it or throw it away? No, she turned it on its side and put it in the living room. That was about ten years ago. That darned hutch will be there till Mom dies. About three years ago, for Mothers Day, my sister bought her new kitchen curtains. The old ones were yellow with nicotine stains from my mother's smoking. Mom got mad, told Sis she liked the old curtains better and even cried when Sis took down old uglies and put up the new curtains. I told her how very nice it made the kitchen look, and she got mad at me!

    Bookmark   April 24, 2009 at 4:32PM
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It's been about 2 months since my original post, and thought I'd give an update. I'm not that nice of a neighbor anymore.

I've had to wash my hands of them and their situation. Even though I have not helped them much after I wrote this post, the W has asked, and asked, and asked for favors which I feel is beyond what someone would ask a friendly neighbor to help with.

1. Wanted me to help them clean out someone else's house from their church and use my SUV to help someone else move because the W said I have good organization skills and I would be willing to help. I didn't, of course.

2. Asked to host their 1 yr old's BDay party at MY HOUSE, bake the cake for them (because I helped bake & decorate for their other kid)..for 15 adults and 8 kids. Reasoning is because they are moving and their house is in "disarray". I said no and they ended up having the party at at park.

For what it's worth, they are still "cleaning and purging" 2 months later so they can put the house up for sale ASAP, and there has not been 1 extra bag of garbage outside their house to show for purging.

3. They've asked me to call the power and cable company for them because they are behind in bills and wanted me to work a deal for them. Actually, the way the conversation started, I believe the W was going to ask to borrow $$, but I didn't let it go that way, so she asked if I would call. I didn't, of course.

4. Repeatedly asks me to watch her 2 kids while she cleans and packs...and she actually cries when she's asking. Here's the rub...her only option is that I have to take myself and my 3 yr old to their house and babysit over there. I did this 2 times a while back and I flat-out told her I'm 40 years old with a 3 yr old myself, and my own chores and to-do list, and I'm not a teenage babysitter. I would watch her kids...and that offer still is out there, but the kids have to come over here. I'm not displacing my kid and our schedule for 3-4 hours. The H and W will not have anyone watch their kids outside of their own home. So, no babysitting, and I'm to the point where if she would be willing to bring them to my house, I wouldn't go for it just so she'll stop asking.

Anyway, their issues are beyond hoarding. They (especially the W) latched on to me...in a way that crosses neighborly boundaries, IMO. She's asked me to do things that I wouldn't even ask of my own family. I personally think this is the way get through life, and it's why their family doesn't want to help them anymore.

So, that's the story. I tried to be helpful. I can't do it anymore.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2009 at 8:01AM
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Good for you Gayle! It's sad, but it's not your problem. And I think a lot of people have trouble saying No. But it's a good thing to be able to do. Here's hoping that when these people do move, your new neighbors are much less dysfunctional.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2009 at 12:52PM
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Gayle, in my opinion, you're doing exactly what you should be doing. You helped as much as you could, and backed off when you realized that they're beyond normal help. You've avoided being sucked into their sickness. You've set limits and boundaries that are healthy for you and your child, but left the door open to help -- on your terms. You said you've stopped being a nice neighbor. I don't agree: you're still nice, you're just not enabling. There's a huge difference.

You're right: They've WAY crossed over "neighborly boundaries" and I'm glad and relieved that you're drawing sensible lines -- and that you're going to be strong in maintaining those lines.

Since they're FSBOing their house, it will just mean that it will be potential buyers, not agents, who tell them, "You've got to be kidding."

How sad for them, and for their children.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2009 at 9:50AM
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Gayle, again I say thank you for offering to help them, but obviously this is an abnormal situation. You must distance yourself, set limits, say NO to these toxic people. You are not their doormat.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2009 at 10:14AM
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Gayle, I think you 'dodged a bullet' on this one!!


    Bookmark   April 27, 2009 at 11:00AM
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Gayle, It takes courage to stand your ground as you have done; good for you for saving yourself. I can't imagine W thinking it would be okay for you to subject your child to such an environment when it has been acknowledged that it isn't healthy.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2009 at 11:40AM
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Thanks for the update. I like to hear further chapters, so I am grateful that you took the time.

It must be hard, to both want to help, but need to push them back away. You're right, though--your judgment is very sound; be confident.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2009 at 1:30PM
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Wow. You are brave and RIGHT to say no--it is hard, and you are doing the right thing not to get sucked in. I find myself surprised at her behavior, and it's a little scary that you are getting so many requests for inappropriate kinds of help--I thought surely she would just go round and round on the "stuff" itself. So, so much for trying to do a few good-neighbor things! It would make me want to really put the skids on too, even having their kids over--she seems likely to try to keep asking for other stuff as long as you are listening.

Hopefully you will get new neighbors..eventually.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2009 at 7:43PM
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I had not read the update, thanks for posting it.

Your post is inspiring for people who have a hard time saying no.

I had neighbors in the past who overstepped their boundaries , although not to the extent you describe.
Good luck to you, from what you describe it doesn't seem like they'll be moving out anytime soon, lol.....
but at least they'll be leaving you alone.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2009 at 5:48AM
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Oh my gosh...thanks again for the nice comments. I know I'm doing the right thing by staying back.

I'm the type of person who...when faced with a challenge or confusion...just pick a direction and start correcting the problem.

It's hard to watch the neighbors because (to me) to solution to the hoarding & stuff and overall confusion on how they are going to move & sell the house & store the house contents is so simple: Get Rid Of It. You Don't Need It. It's The Source Of Your Confusion! The Stuff Is Running Your Life. You Are Not In Control.

However, I know they don't see it and they are stuck in mayhem and desperate for help. They have more stuff than me, my parents, and my brother put together.

It does feel good to not be involved anymore, and have drawn lines. I've always been one to place good boundaries, but I've always been one to help out, listen, or give sound advice. Just never met people so out of touch of "the norm"...and so completely opposite of me in regards to personal possessions.

I hate collections, clutter, and stuff. I have no problem with other people's stuff, but this is beyond my comprehension.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2009 at 6:21PM
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I have to admit I found this thread fascinating. Every time I re-read it, it inspires me to tackle a cluttered area in my own home! It truly helps me break the "what if I'll need this" mindset into and OUT WITH IT! frame of mind. And yes, Gayle, I loved the way you were able to offer reasonable help without giving in to unreasonable requests.

Truly, I think if these people had a fire that burned their home to the ground (while they were away, of course!) it would in many respects be a blessing! But i realize that would not address the underlying psychology of the problem.

Any more updates would be welcome!

    Bookmark   May 1, 2009 at 12:51PM
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Hi all.

I read this thread with great interest because I was raised in a house that was similar, although not as bad as Gayle's neighbors. My parents weren't crazy. OK, maybe they were. Mom most likely had some form of depression (before anti-depression meds.) they both drank quite a bit. Our house was small and there were four of us kids. There was just no place to put all the stuff we needed. We'd go to a laundromat once a week and keep all of our clothes in plastic garbage bags in the livingroom because we had no room for dressers. (? maybe we did. Who really knows! ) As you can tell it's still pretty puzzling to me. Mom was a nutrition junky, cooked healthy meals before low fat became an every day term. We did not have animal feces, mice or cockroches etc, but we had junk stacked everywhere and there was dust on the piles and dust thick on the walls, and probably mold too. My mom nicknamed me Wheezer because I wheezed all the time. You are probably quite rightly horrified to read that, but I chuckled while I wrote it. My sibs and I, well we all have a sort of left of center sense of humor. And we love each other to death. I think back on that time and it is surreal.

I know one person asked what it is doing to the child. Let me tell you that kid is going to be confused. Even now in my 40's I have a hard time determining what is just a bit messy from the overwhelming sense of despair that comes when you live like that. If my house gets too messy, mail on the counter, dishes stacked the wrong way in the sink, I become paralyzed and can't clean up, and the house gets worse. I've tried to describe the situation to my husband and have cued him into the signs and he helps motivate. I will never have stacks of junk or anything like that. Even the recycling in the garage gives me the willies.

The strange thing to me about Gayle's story --and Gayle you are an ANGEL to try and help this woman-- is that the W let you inside of the house. Usually, you can't get through the front door. We never had guests over. Ever. Once a relative dropped by during holiday season and we HID in a bedroom until they went away. (My dad wasn't home.) Crazy. I remember reading an entry in Anne Frank's diary when the Nazi's are around and they did the same thing...

Oh yes, and one person felt that you were setting an example for them of a clean home. Trust me, W knows what a clean home is and wishes for one probably all the time. She probably says to herself, "When I get this place cleaned I'll..." hourly. The thing is, she is so overwhelmed that she is paralyzed, and the paralysis engenders the justifications for keep paint cans, etc. A crazy cycle.

Likewise for "Letting them have it." There is nothing Gayle could say that W doesn't already realize with at least part of her brain. Letting them have it will not motivate this couple, or even W alone, to clean up the house. Their problem is most likely psychological rather that one of motivation. My mother would have wept for days if someone let her have it. Also if the clean house fairy came over night, I'm certain that our house, like Gayle's neighbor's home, would slide back into squalor.

W's excessive demands for your help, and her apparent lack of shame (a huge component of the squalor mentality) make me think she may have other mental issues. The animal feces worry me tremendously. I hate to say this, being a kid that was raised in one of "those" houses, but for the sake of the child, I'd continue to refuse to help W, but keep an eye out in case you feel social services needs to check out the situation. My dad never missed a day of work and was a wonderful, responsible man, well liked and respected by neighbors who could see beyond our living situation. This does not sound like the case here, and I worry that there are other things going on beyond the squalor that are not healthy for the child.

I just thought I'd share a bit for what it's worth. I had to, being (formerly) one of "these people!"

Oh yes. Here is a link which helped me learn so much about that crazy element of my childhood. My lovely Neatnicks, prepare to be fascinated, horrified and inspired!


Here is a link that might be useful: Squalor Survivors

    Bookmark   May 9, 2009 at 8:17PM
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I know I'm coming into this very late. I think it was great the way you were truthful and up front with her, without losing your own boundaries.

"I would let them have it. " This will do nothing but hurt them.

It is a spiritual problem, and I don't say that lightly. I have been there right in the middle of it. Until they recognize this, it is unlikely that they will change. Eventually the problem becomes so overwhelming, they find it completely draining and impossible to live with.

My mother became a hoarder over a period of time. When I was growing up, she was a productive, creative, self-less mother, cooking balanced meals every day. My dad left us for another woman when I was around 14, at which time there was not a hoarding problem. Over the next 25 years I think my mother's loneliness just increased and there were more and more animals in the house. I think she was trying to fill the emptiness with stuff. By the time we could convince her to get moved out of the much-too-large-for-her house, it was very bad. There was constant pressure from her to keep so many things in the family. She couldn't seem to understand that so much of it was beyond saving or that we couldn't keep it all. Fortunately, she respects my brother so much, and took his offer to "let us do this for you." That way she wasn't there during most of it.

By this time all of her children had been married for many years with their own homes. It took months to clean it out and involved a massive dumpster, roughly 100 garbage bags, a day-long bonfire, many car and truck loads of trips to the thrift stores. I developed a terrible sinus infection after one of the major cleaning weeks. I was concerned that we wouldn't be able to eradicate the odor in the house. Nevertheless, a year later, the house was clean and somewhat remodeled and sold!

Behind this also and I believe this may be true of your neighbor  is a sort of deep-seated fear that something may be needed later. It is deeply troubling to my mother to think that an item will be wasted. There is so much "yes, it's broken, but it could be fixed up." After the huge ordeal of cleaning out her house, I was very motivated to do some clearing out in my own house because I can see that I have the same tendencies she has, although it's never been that big of a problem.

If she has internet service, I'd recommend telling her about www.childrenofhoarders.com. It helped us tremendously. I realize she's not a child of a hoarder, but reading and seeing some of the videos there may motivate her to seek help. Unlike some people, my mother did change after moving into a smaller, clean place. Her health improved immediately!

    Bookmark   May 24, 2009 at 11:11AM
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I agree that "letting them have it" is a pretty ridiculous comment & knew that from the second I read it.

Yes, they definitely have fears of needing things later. I've heard a lot of the reasons:

It can be fixed.
Someone else could use this.
We paid $___ for it.
We love our ____ and found 2 more at garage sales/thrift stores in case something happens.
And the justifications go on and on.

They still have not put the house up for sale. They still talk about it every time I see them. They are working on it. Still, no extra stuff comes out of their house, nor does the exterior get fixed (several uncompleted projects in the works before they can sell). They continually talk about their finances getting worse by the week.

I now know the W is just as bad as the H regarding the hoarding, but the good thing is she is very aware of it & can't find her way out. She's mentioned going to get checked out & maybe get something for panic or anxiety. Not sure if that's actually her problem, but at least she's thinking outside the box.

Something interesting I've noticed and figured out about them. They are both obsessed with saving memories. They have numerous souveniers from their events.

Several months ago, we went together to the movie theater with our kids...and it was on a whim. Not some big planned event we've been excited for. They saved their ticket stubs (2 adults & 2 kids) and the 3D glasses. "For the scrapbook I'm going to make when the kids get older." Good gosh. The movie was BOLT. What kind of memories do you need to hold and save? It's not like it was Star Wars...know what I mean?

They brought their kids over to my house last week & kids played in the sandbox. The H spent the entire time taking literally hundreds of pictures of the kids. The W sat next to me, but instead of socializing & watching the kids play, she kept telling the H what angles would be good for the best pictures. It was all about the pics. I felt used and taken advantage of for some strange reason. Like they only came over so they could get more pics of their kids in a place that was not their own house. I know that's not the case. I know they don't know any better. I know if I would have said anything, I would have embarrassed them and myself.

In chatting later, I asked her a Q about her son's birthday party, and she didn't remember. She said something about she doesn't remember anything & she would have to go back and look at the pics.

My revelation (based on other conversations we've had in the past...not just this one)...the W and H are so focused on taking photos, saving and keeping the souveniers, and having something to hold from every event...they don't spend time being in the moment, living in the moment, and keeping the images, feelings, and memories in their heads and hearts.

It's like they would rather live as zombies with no emotion, and just count on the physical objects to show for what they did.

I was the one who started this thread. Another poster said this thread is fascinating. I'm finding it fascinating too. I love seeing other people's thoughts & stories. There are a lot of oddities with people who hoard...but the stories are all strangely similar.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2009 at 5:42PM
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"I felt used and taken advantage of for some strange reason."

I can understand your feeling, and I don't think you should be experiencing this, your time and your life, they are abusing this and do not appreciate your kindness.

but until you decide to not let them do it, they'll keep invading your space, it's not easy to do, I know.

good luck in removing them from your life, you deserve better and should keep your energy for yourself and your close ones.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2009 at 7:24AM
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Gayle, I too lived next to hoarders for 8 years. We finally had to move because the situation was making me crazy. Absolutely crazy. It was consuming me. I couldn't help them, and their dilapidated mess was spilling outside. We just had to move. I couldn't take it anymore. It killed me because I loved my home but their yard and the condition of their house depressed me. Now and again I drive by and oh what a mess - it's never going to change. Your story sounds eerily similar to what I went through. The favors, the photos, lots and lots of photos - maybe a dozen rolls of film for just one birthday party, never at their home, the party is always somewhere else, but you never see the pics. They can never find the pics. It's heartbreaking.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 10:50PM
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This is just a thought, but do you think is would do any good to have them sit down and read this thread?

    Bookmark   June 3, 2009 at 12:17PM
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I thought of this thread today. On the way to my various garden centers is a permanent Sunday flea Market. A friend once got some nice enough wooden chairs there so I thought, "what the heck," and pulled in. Horrifying! It was basically stalls of hoarders selling their literally dirty junk. Broken, chipped dishes, heavily used, engrimed, stuffed animals (!) One stall even had a pair of used bedroom slippers. Absolutely wacky! The only customers seemed to be folks like me, in awe of the insanity that anyone would want any of this junk, or the other vendors who seemed to be shopping for more junk!

The thought of where the stuff came from made my blood run cold.

Any updates Gayle?
Has anyone seen Grey Gardens? The documentry about the crazy aunt of Jackie O?


    Bookmark   June 7, 2009 at 6:18PM
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I know what it's like to live in a hoarder household. And worse, it seems to be a family disorder. My dag hoarded dogs--we had 21 (big) ones. My brother has 35 cats. An aunt has 75 cats.

Fortunately, we never lived among pet droppings, but the house was always full of pet hair and dust bunnies. Clutter, too, since both of my parents were "relaxed" about housekeeping.

My reaction was to marry a fellow who was compulsively neat. That turned out to be crazy, too. My second husband is normal, and we live in a pretty neat household with NO pets (son has allergies), that's always clean enough that we aren't embarrassed if a friend or neighbor drops by unexpectedly. So it's not a given that kids from hoarder households turn out to be hoarders, too.

From close-up experience, I think hoarding comes when people feel a profound emotional void in their lives. My relatives who hoard all were very nice people, but for various reasons felt unloved. Collecting pets were an attempt to make up for it. I think people who collect things instead of pets are trying to compensate from some other deep emotional need (perhaps fear of being destitute). Please don't judge these people; they already feel bad enough. That's why they hoard.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2009 at 12:19PM
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Hey lenvt, as for the update...

When I put up the original post in February, it was a financial emergency for them to sell ASAP then.

It's now early June. Wife told me the other day their goal is to have the house cleaned out and on the market July 1, as they are nearing having to go through foreclosure and discussing bankruptcy. Nothing has come out of the house. W talks constantly...actually talks in lists to me about what needs to happen and in what order. The plan sounds good, but I told her that means the hoarding areas...basement cleared/sorted/cleaned this week, 2nd floor next week, garage week after...find storage for anything they keep.

She talks like it's no big deal. What have they been doing the last 3 months? She says they have been planning a garage sale yet sorting nothing, finding a storage garage (they haven't found anything they can afford), and building a swingset (the big wood playland kind)...which they just got done after weeks of working on it, but W says it's no big deal to take it down when they put the house up for sale.

That leaves 1 week to paint their interior, paint the exterior a new color (prime & paint), fix and/or replace the missing & broken trim on 5 windows, pack the excess of their very cluttered-but-not-hoarded main living space, and disassemble the big playland they just finished constructing last weekend.

I think they are in complete denial they have to move, and they just go on spending money and not moving forward with the reality of the situation.

Fortunately, they have stopped asking me for favors. They have now got another neighbor couple doing babysitting...and it's kind of funny to watch the neighbors have to go over to the hoarding house to babysit, while the H and W don't even leave the house.

As for Grey Gardens, I own that movie. When i watch that movie, I don't notice the squalor that much...I'm more intrigued by the mother/daughter relationship, and how they are completely dependent on each other.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2009 at 9:30PM
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Sending you hugs and strength for what you are going thru. My only concern is is H taking pictures of your children also? Does he have/use the inter-net? Could he be putting these on the inter-net--possibility for the wrong reason? Sometimes we really never know the people around us. Guess I watch too much TV and lived in the big cities too long. Just a thought.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2009 at 10:17PM
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mariend...that's NOT the situation, and I hope this thread doesn't turn into anything other than the phenomena of hoarding. There's no concern with my neighbors or any situations were predator behavior is an issue.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2009 at 1:17PM
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I have been reading for a while and just do not know what to say.
My sister is a hoarder that has gotten worse over the years. I think its cause we did not have much growing up.
We had food and clothes, good parents, just no frills.
My sis has enough lotions, makeup and candles to open a store. And many clothes with price tags on them. I lost weight and asked her if she had anything that might fit and she showed up with a garbage bag of clothes, about 1/2 with tags on them!
We don't go there any more, you can't really get in. And her bathroom by the back door just grosses me out.
they too have parties elsewhere. The park, the pizza joint or for big parties, they rent a hall. Or worse, my BIL sis will have them at her home. Its so darm hard to say this.
The thing that just tears me up is the stuff she saves...she has 100's of yougert cartons under the kitchen sink...I do not know why. We saved a few when our chioldren were little for 4-H. But, that was 20 years ago.
I have offered to help her. Now I would not know where to start. They have sooo much stuff.
And the piles, you know I am sure she has no idea what is on the kitchen counters.
The food comes home and the bags stay outside of the pantry. Cause it won't fit in there. I am sure whats in there is old and they don't eat that anyway.
I would throw it out and start over, but she does not throw things away.

I am neat, but I work at it.
I clean cupboards on a regular basis, keep the closets neat. And you can stop over any time you want. You can use my potty too.
I amy have the sewing on the table in the dining room but that is the total of my mess.
I can't for the life of me understand how we grew up togehter and she lives the way she does.
Ok, I have purged my thoughts for a bit. Sorry if this is TMI for you all.
Thanks for listening.
Karen L

    Bookmark   June 13, 2009 at 9:01PM
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Sounds as though your sister is afraid of not having anything in the future. I once had a SIL who grew up poor and as an adult was a hoarder. Her hoarding was in the form of clothing and food. She'd shop and shop till the freezer door couldn't be closed. Then she'd throw everything away and buy more. She had bags and boxes of clothes piled very high in every room of her house.

Her house was not dirty, just cluttered with all those clothes. She was a fanatic about keeping the bathroom very clean. Weird!!

As she got older she literally had a mental breakdown and lost touch with reality all together. She and my brother divorced, he passed away and the family has no idea what has happened to her. One more thing. She became anorexic also. I do think she had a serious mental illness that was never diagnosed and as she aged it just manifested itself into other self destructive behavior. Very sad.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2009 at 2:33AM
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I am the daughter of a hoarder. It is a mental disorder, a variation of OCD, as I understand. Getting rid of anything creates enormous anxiety. She will go back out and get things out of the garbage if someone throws things away. The house is stacked with boxes of magazines, newspapers, things she bought and forgot the location of. It is a maze of narrow pathways to the few still accessible rooms. I haven't been to her house in many years and it was a mess then. My sis was there a few years ago. She says it's really bad. She didn't begin this way so I don't know what went awry.

The upside is, it isn't genetic. Sis lives in a spotless ultra modern home and has no hidden pack-rat tendencies that I know of. Her kids are taught to send unused toys/books/clothes to charity. I will never win any Fly Lady awards but I purge and tidy regularly. All of my clothes fit into a small dresser and half of an ordinary sized closet. My only weak spot seems to be black shoes. I have lots of those. My kitchen is clean and neat. My one source of real embarrassment is the dog fur everywhere. Love my Lab but gad, she sheds a dog a week, I swear. I could vacuum everyday but I rarely do.

My mother is overwhelmed by the task of going through her things, I'm sure. I imagine that if I had a month - at least - to spend with her away from my home (in another state) that she would allow me to help. Sis is less sentimental and our mother knows this. She thinks a match and a can of gasoline will solve the issue. I helped our mother pack up my grandmother's apartment, another keeper of yogurt cups and bags, (all of which is at my mother's house now - oy) and she knows that I won't just throw (though I wanted to!).

My sister worries. I say let her be until she asks for assistance. And she hasn't. She is active and busy and seems to be happy enough.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2009 at 12:09PM
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I read enough of this to just say I'll be praying for your neighbors Gayle. It is a sickness and I hope because the financial need they realize they have to change. God bless you for being there for them. I don't know many neighbors anymore that would be so kind.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2009 at 2:39PM
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Barnmom and KarenSL - scroll up and see the link to "Buried in Treasures" in a previous post that I wrote on this thread. I recommend it highly for people who are in any way dealing with hoarders. Understanding them changes how you interact with them. It did for me.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2009 at 5:36PM
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barnmom wrote: "Sis is less sentimental and our mother knows this. She thinks a match and a can of gasoline will solve the issue."

LOL!!! Barnmom - don't let Sis torch the house! My next door neighbor was a hoarder, lived in the house 32 years. I would have sworn the house would have to be condemed & burned down by the city. But, when she moved into a retirement home, a her minister got a committee of people from the church. They rented 2 of the biggest dumpsters you can get & filled both twice (imagine the HUGE ones at construction sites - that big!). The house is only 11,000 sqare feet, so you can imagine the extent of her hoarding over 32 years!

After it was cleaned out to the bones, she listed the house for $40K less than comparable houses. A flipper bought it, gutted it to the studs & remodled it. He sold it for market value & made a killing off the deal. If you saw it today, you would never know the state it had been in!

So there is hope - you might have to gut the house to the studs, or sell it WAY below the market value, but there is hope!

    Bookmark   June 15, 2009 at 10:16PM
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Frankly, my mother would take enormous offense to any notion that her stuff is symptomatic of a problem. She is the Empress of Denial. I don't have to live with her "stuff" and have resigned myself to dealing with it in tandem with Sis when our mother either passes away or can no longer live by herself. She is 78 now and since longevity and general toughness runs in the family, I suspect that will be a while. Sis and I have a deal. I can go in and find the family photo albums before she strikes the match. ;)

Mother is an odd duck.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2009 at 12:07AM
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My mother is a hoarder too. She was born in one house, got married, still lived in that house with Grandma, her husband (my Dad) and 4 kids. Around 1963, her mother died, she inheirited the house (an only child) , sold it and moved to a bigger house in the suburbs. Time went by, us kids married and/or moved out. Then Mom's aunt died, left everything to Mom, who took all the furniture out of Auntie's house and fitted it in among our own furniture. Then brother got divorced and came home, along with half his marital furniture. That got stuffed into an upstairs bedroom. The furniture in that room is so heavy it's cracking the ceiling below. Mom has three sets of kitchen cabinets in her kitchen, stacked up and down, every which way. She has a twin bed set up in the kitchen so she can watch TV from bed. She bought a new hutch for the kitchen-lord knows why, she already has tons of cabinet space. I told her the new one looked good, what did she do with the old one? Did she donate it to charity or throw it away? No, she laid it on its side and dragged it into the living room, where it's been for at least 15 years. My sister bought her new kitchen curtains but Mom said, the old ones are still good, take them back. Sis sneaked in when Mom was out shopping and switched the new for the old. Mom was mad when she came home. Sis had taken the old ones with her and threw them out. Did I mention Mom is a heavy smoker and there's a brown nicotine film on everything? I dread when Mom dies. We'll have to clean that house out and get it ready to sell. I'd like a few of the old photo albums, maybe some bowls from the kitchen. But there's nothing else in that house that interests me, nor any of my siblings, as far as I know.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2009 at 9:25PM
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Jannie, I feel for you. My mother is also a smoker. It will be a mess. Like you, there is little I want, just the family photos.

Reminder: wear a dust mask.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2009 at 12:50PM
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I dated a man with a very similar situation. He did do dishes and his pets were clean, cleaned up after and cared for...but I think I was the first person in years he had let into his home.
He constantly has some scrape or bruise because he has no more than an 18 inch path through his home and bumps into things.
I began to just not...go there anymore.
I am not the most organized...a reason I am on this board right now...to get organized...
and I admit...his place was the ...inspration ..so to speak.
Although my home is nothing like his...nor would it be. Seeing his place woke me up to the idea that getting a little more organized can never be a bad thing.
I am not shy about tossing stuff out.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2009 at 12:08PM
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The children of the hoarders are living in unsafe, unsanitary conditions. You can--and should--make a report to Child Protective Services (I don't know about your state, but Texas has a hotline to report abuse or neglect). Not all cases are about abuse. This situation involves neglect. I used to work for Adult Protective Services (investigated cases of abuse, neglect and exploitation of the elderly and disabled), and know first hand how hard it is trying to help hoarders. If CPS gets involved, they will try to involve the family in counseling and set guidelines and goals for sanitation. The parents have the right to live as they wish, but the children need to be protected. Sometimes it takes official oversight to make changes. Good luck with your neighbors.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2009 at 11:49PM
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Gayle, this brings back memories. Years ago there was a lady who went to my church who was pg with her 4th or 5th child. She worked in the church nursery (for pay) and drove an old car that didn't have a hood on it because her husband was working on it (she drove it like that for over a year, even in the rain). I never met her husband until one evening when I took a baby gift to her house. It was a Christening gown I made. Her house was so filthy and cluttered that I could barely make polite conversation while she opened the gift. There were roaches crawling up the walls and she had a package of meat thawing (or thawed) on the kitchen counter with roaches all around. After I got back home, I stayed up cleaning most of the night even though my house was very clean. I never really knew why I did that but like you, it was a mental and physical way of cleaning that scene.

The next Sunday, the woman brought me a tattered baby blanket and asked me to mend it since she knew I sewed. The blanket was ripped to shreds, filthy, and reeked of smoke and urine.

My mother isn't a hoarder, but she is definitely has some kind of mental problem when it comes to "stuff". She collects things and buys more than will fit in the house. She remodeled a few years ago and got rid of some of her clutter and the house looked great. Then, she started adding to it until once again, there is no room to set anything more than a plate on the kitchen counter or the table, and barely room to walk through the hallways or bathroom. I know I have too much clutter and know most it it is mental. One visit to mom's house is usually all it takes to make me purge though.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2009 at 8:51PM
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This is an excellent discussion. Though old, the OP's insights and ways of dealing with this problem have so much to offer anyone reading this thread.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2011 at 10:17AM
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Cupofkindness! It is so nice to see you on here! Remember checkerboard tile floors? :)

Op, how are the neighbors? Gayle, you really have dealt nicely with them. I wonder how their impending move is going. We are way past their deadline!

    Bookmark   January 1, 2012 at 2:52PM
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