Hoarding is a serious mental illness - LONG

mommabirdNovember 7, 2010

After 8 years of chaos, I finally decided to divorce my husband. He moved out 3 weeks ago. PLEASE don't anyone say they you sorry - this is GREAT news for me and our sons!!!! We have been married 23 years but the last 8 have been a living he!!.

I rented a 10x10 storage unit and moved about 1000 lbs of his clutter into it - the stuff I knew he would want. I went through the kitchen and basically boxed up everything but a few cans and a few spices. He did all the shopping and cooking; I knew he would think of the kitchen items as "his." I also didn't want the stuff he had infused with his negative energy in my house any longer. I gave it all to him. I bought a 3 saucepan set, an iron skillet, a muffin tin, a cookie sheet, set of mixing bowls and 2 frying pans. I bought a set of dishes and glasses. That's ALL that's in our kitchen right now and the boys and I LOVE IT!!!

I called for bulk trash pickup and cleaned out the garage and breezeway. His hoarding was just awful. I had a trash pile about 8'tall, 12'long and 8'wide. That is AFTER the trash pickers took everything they wanted. I can now park my car in the garage! The boys can get to their bikes!

My dad and I worked on the basement all day yesterday. Trash pile is growing but the trash pickers seem to like most of it - mostly it disappers in a few hours. We will finish up the basement today. That just leaves the attic and DH didn't take much stuff up there. The attic is mainly Xmas decorations and out of season kids clothes.

All of this has shown me that hoarding is a TRUE and SERIOUS mental illness. Actually I've known that for 8 yeras but this compressed clean-out has shown it even more. I have found 24 - TWENTY FOUR - flashlights scattered in all of this, 9 coolers, 30 bags of charcoal, 14 bags of lawn fertilizer, 12 lawn rakes, COUNTLESS of the same screwdriver, pliers, wrench, etc. Multiples of items that don't make sense to have multiples of. Dozens of those folding nylon "bag" chairs. Things I didn't even know we had!

He had a compulsion to keep buying even when he knew he didn't need - or even want - the items. It is actually very sad. It's like a visual example of everything that has gone wrong in the past 8 years. I also found out he ran up my Visa card to $3,900 in one month before he left. It was -0- the month before. Now I have to pay that off.

I took my 2 teens to their first counseling session last week. The counselor asked me to sit in on the first session. DS#2 told him "Our house is so nice now - it's so clean! Mom is working hard to get all the clutter out so we can live in our house!" DS#3 has his first session on Monday - it's a practice where one psych sees teens, another sees kids.

I am doing this massive purge for 3 reasons:

1. To clear out the "stuckness" that has decended on my family for the last 8 years

2. To give DH all the stuff he valued so highly - even above his family

3. As a symbolic cleansing gesture for our home.

Once the divorce is final & the deed is in my name, the boys and I are going to paint every room and then have a housewarming party. My friend who is a spiritual director is going to conduct a home blessing/energy cleaning ceremony during the housewarming party.

Long story short - DS#2 hit it right on the head. My sons and I will now be about to live - really LIVE - in our home!

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Congratulations on getting both your husband and his h0arded stuff out. I am greatly in awe of you. I am myself a big time clutterer and in money debt up to my eyeballs. I hope I have the strength to clean up my mess on my own. In my case, DH is still living in our home. But we have no s+x life, very little communication. He likes to go out shopping for groceries and occasionally cooks. But I am the main cleaner and cook in our home. DH is very sick with multiple sclerosis and he's fixated on all the things he can't do. Rather than on what is left, which is plenty. Anyhow, Mommabird, you go, girl! It will only get better!

    Bookmark   November 7, 2010 at 9:49AM
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Oh, mommabird, I am happy you are on a good path, but sad that it had to come to this. Was he always a hoarder or did something happen along the way?

    Bookmark   November 7, 2010 at 4:05PM
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I think your focus on the mental illness part can be helpful to you and your children. What I mean is not meant as preachy but as support. That over time you hope your children will be able to tap into feelings of compassion for their dad but not be helpless victims--that balancing that is important. It seems likely that your husband had no intent to hurt the boys even though he ended up doing so. Why some people cannot help that and some can is one of the great mysteries of the psyche and brain chemistry and who knows what else. Grownups have experience with that, but for kids it is tough--if Dad loved me, why did he do ___ ?

So that as you have realized, at some point you have to separate from someone whose illness is destroying your life and that of your family. That is not the same as abandoning someone just because their illness is a nuisance or cramping your style. That is the huge problem of mental illness and addictions--there are a few things family members can do to "help" in a productive way if the person is getting the other help he needs, but it is not nearly the same as the opportunities for maturity that can occur with helping a loved one deal with some other illnesses.

It might also mean that you face challenges in how your DH( who will be former DH) may yet interact with your sons in the future, if there is some way that will not be corrosive for them but can be healing--but that is for another day. And, you sons will mostly decide what they want or can handle.

For now the separation itself likely consumes all your resources. You probably had to tamp down some of that compassion and hope toward DH to make the break--again this is why we are endowed with different emotions and with survival skills, because you probably had to back up and think, what about my kids's future and well-being ? What about the kind of mother I want to be now and for all the years to come? You sound very wise to have included some counseling for your sons since not only do you not have all the answers, you are not expected to. This gives your sons an outlet and someone with distance and perspective and gives you support, too. Also may help them over time understand how little we can do to "change" someone else. I have faced this with some of my family members who had problems--others close to them asked me aloud, why don't you help (her or him)? Maybe if you would just talk to her....she'll listen to you! So we all know that guilt trip that gets laid out.

So even though this is on the site for organizing, it is not that your husband failed the "organizing" test and you want the clutter gone. His mental illness had consumed him to the point that he could no longer be part of the give and take of marriage and family life and yet was negatively controlling how the rest of the family lived their lives.

So it's not so simple that it's physically messy people we may not be able to live with, but people who are emotionally crippled and crippling in spite of all our best efforts to help and support.

Keep taking baby steps and one day at a time.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2010 at 9:58AM
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mommabird - I wish you much peace and many blessings on your new journey!


    Bookmark   November 8, 2010 at 11:50AM
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I've known you for a long time (virtually) and have benefited from your posts over the years but certainly didn't know the seriousness of your challenges. I am reading a breath of fresh air (literally and figuratively) in your post and wish you and the boys a healthy and happy life!


    Bookmark   November 11, 2010 at 10:09AM
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Mommabird, I am in awe of you rising to the challenge of decluttering in such a big way and basically by yourself. I hope you find most of the stuff he bought in the last month so you can return it and not have to pay such a big bill.

Good luck to you and your boys in your new life.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2010 at 1:43PM
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I admire your courage in facing this problem and letting others know so that those who need help will seek it out. Here's wishing all the best to you and your whole family in your new journey.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2010 at 9:35AM
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What do the experts say about the causes of hoarding? Precipitating events, perhaps, that make one more suceptible to this type of addiction/mental illness? That is, addiction to stuff? Mommabird, do you have any idea of why your ex-husband is like this? What makes a hoarder mentally ill versus simply sloppy and disorganized? Is it about how it affects relationships?

    Bookmark   November 12, 2010 at 3:28PM
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I'm proud of what you did good for you ;I myself have ocd hoarding problem and i'm having my family helping and boyfriend plus psychology appts every 2 weeks it is a serious i wish i could just do it like you did!

    Bookmark   November 12, 2010 at 5:04PM
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Mommabird, congratulations on your new nest. May you and the chicks thrive there! Thank you for sharing your story. I do hope the kids can still have a relationship with their dad and accept him with his faults. I don't know your whole story, but kids love their dads even if they aren't perfect. (I know this is not what you posted about and none of my business....sorry.)

I insist that DH's "treasures" (as he laughingly calls them, which is not funny) be kept in the garage or the 4-5 other storage places he has. We were forced to put my car in the garage because of parking issues, so he moved more stuff to storage and stacked what was left higher than my head in the garage. He does a job which requires quite a few tools, tool boxes, equipment, etc., and I respect his need for those things. And I appreciate how hard he works. But really, it's all such a disorganized mess. Difficult to find anything you need, lots of just plain junk. Sometimes I throw things away, and it makes me feel better. But it's like a tsp. of sand missing from the beach. It makes me sad.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2010 at 8:52PM
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Good luck in your new life, your testimonial is astounding.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2010 at 7:43AM
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Thank you everyone! I've read this over and over for the pats few weeks to get encouragement.

Life is GOOD. My last spot, the attic, is still untouched but my folks are coming today for 5 days to help me get it done. The space, both metaphorical and physical, in my home is unbelieveable. It's so easy to clean now without X's hoarded clutter taking up every vertical surface!

Next comes the deep cleaning - I've washed down the walls in two rooms, but after the attic comes washing down every room, closet, cupboard, etc. After I have the deed in my name only, then comes the painting and new flooring. I want this to be a DIFFERENT house for my kids - one where they are free to be who they are, without being controlled by a control freak. I really do think hoarding is a control issue. People who must control others hoard to control every aspect of their environment.

Several of you asked about the kids, and their relationship with X. Right now the teens don't want to see or talk to him. I hope someday they can view him with compassion or at least pity, but it's too soon for that. Their counselor told me they feel free to be angry now, and they will be overwhelimingly angry for a while. DS#3 has seen X 3 times in supervised environments. It's hard on him because he's only 10 and is torn. His counselor is a big help, too.

Thanks again and my family (DSs and myself) is getting through this and stronger, healthier and happier than ever!

    Bookmark   November 18, 2010 at 9:28AM
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Mommabird, I'm a bit late chiming in, but I've been sending such good vibes your way.

I'm sure there's some bittersweet in there, but I am so pleased that your life feels lighter. And I wish you and your boys the best!

    Bookmark   November 20, 2010 at 10:05PM
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i lurk here because i am always looking for tips on organizing my life! just had to comment on this...

it sounds as if maybe your husband may also have add...

i do and as our lives became more and more busy (we also have 3 boys and a dh who works long hours), as responsibilites increased, and as we accumulated more and more stuff, i became more and more overwhelmed. my kids were very active and 2 are add themselves (for the most part 'untreated' because i'm anti medication)...it became even more overwhelming for me as they got older and i lost more and more control of schedules, my 'order' within my home, projects, homework, etc. etc....
my husband dislikes clutter more than i and would be 'helpful' and put things away, i couldn't find them and would become more stressed, etc...even though areas would look chaotic, i often had some type of 'system' that helped ME... it can be a tough time of life!!!
when you say you found many multiples of different items, rather than 'hoarding', they also may have been purchased in order to save time/aggravation looking for the item needed...i know because i've done the same! i have tried putting, for example, a flashlight in several different rooms, so when power goes out i can find one! however, the next year, when looking, i could only find one and it doesn't work! that type of thing...(and i didn't throw it out because maybe it just needed batteries or a lightbulb...i guess some would just throw it out!)

i grew up with parents who were BOTH "pack rats"... and have a much higher tolerance for clutter than many. it is much easier for me to just pack away when dealing with clutter than to take the time and energy to go thru stuff...very overwhelming-esp if i let the piles get out of hand, which i tend to do! over time, stuff accumulates! (hoarding or add--hard to differentiate sometimes i think!)my husband grew up in a home where clutter free areas were almost an expression of godliness! it is really hard because both of us felt our 'way' was best.... he has loosened up alot and now that i only have one child at home fulltime, i am trying to restore order...

i hope you are able to restore order in your life! i can definitely empathize with the chaos that has been your lives, tho probably more thru your husband's eyes. it can be a crazy time of life, and doesn't always bring out the best in all of us! i'm sure having your own spaces will help both of you be much less stressed...
i would sure hope you don't encourage your boys to 'pity' their father....but, they definitely need to deal with the anger which has resulted from the conflict within the family...

sometimes, opposites attract! i think my dh's sense of order and his drive attracted me... i know i am very happy i married a more orderly person-as hard as it's sometimes been!!!...i know we would definitely be drowning in a sea of clutter if i ended up with someone like myself!!! (sorry this has been so long...!)

    Bookmark   November 22, 2010 at 11:58AM
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Busybee3, yes X does have ADHD. It was an unknown illness when I met him in 1981. His mom used to say "X was into everything and drove me crazy when he was a kid!" Now that I know more about ADHD he's a textbook case. I do think ADHD leads to hoarding. I saw the decent that started with the wedding gifts. We got multiples of many items, but insead of wanting to return them, he wanted to "save" all of them in case one broke. I've been packing up items for him and found unopened wedding gifts - from 1987! We never needed the multiples.

His hoarding is also an obsession with saving. He always wants to save things in case, that it will save money in the long run. In fact, we are broke - only $4000 in the bank after 23 years! Hoarding leads to spending because every trip to the store ends up being $100 or more of stuff to just hoard, not use. He could never pass a clearance shelf - he bought the most bizzare things because they were on sale!

This major clean out has been so soul cleansing for myself and my sons. We all love having a clean house. They have freinds over every day now. My kids were the ones who always went to their friends houses because they were ashamed of their own. Now all 3 have friends over after school every day. It's wonderful to the be "kool-aid" mom!

We all love feeling like we can breathe. The hoarded clutter was so dusty. My sinuses are better because I'm sleeping in a clean, uncluttered bedroom. The house even smells better - not like a musty warehouse any more!

    Bookmark   November 24, 2010 at 8:24AM
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Congratulations mommabird, for having the courage to do what's best for your boys! That's one thing I've never understood when watching the "Hoarder's" show. While some of the people on the show live alone, many of them do not. I can't understand why someone would continue with that existence, especially when children are involved. I even saw one show where the husband got fed up and left, but he left the kids there! My husband gets ticked off when the mail pile gets too big on the counter. The mess in the basement, however, was his. He's not a hoarder just more of a "what if we need this one day" type. I used to go down with a couple garbage bags when he was at work and just fill them up. When he got home I would tell him that if he could tell me just one thing that was in the bag, I would put it all back. Of course it never happened lol! Congrats again, I hope your boys know how lucky they are to have such a strong mom!

    Bookmark   November 27, 2010 at 8:16PM
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Hi momma bird. Tonight is my first time on this forum. I've spent a year hanging out over on the kitchen forum. My DM is an extreme hoarder so I can understand what you are going through. I was wondering how you and your sons are doing now.

I've often thought that my three brothers and I should get some counseling after growing up with DM. DD divorced her and left us with her. My youngest brother got the worst of it as I don't think he really remembers a time when our mother's hoarding was under contol. I at least remember some decent years.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 4:14AM
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I'm the child of hoarders and a hoarder myself. I remember when I was young Mom was able to keep our home clean and neat. She actually did that activity called "Spring Cleaning." Then we moved to another town, another house, and the hoarding began. Four kids, legal troubles, and all of a sudden she just stopped cleaning. Oh, she'd steal junk from neighbors' garbage ("I can make this bottle into a lamp") and cleaning ended. I'd throw a dress into the laundry to be washed and never see iot again. I'd go in the basement and see it in the bottom of a pile next to the washer. Yech! Now I'm a bit of a hoarder myself. My two SILS tried to do an "intervention" on me. They both approacherd me (together) and told me "You ned counselling." Maybe I do...

    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 8:38AM
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I hope life is going well for you mammabird and for the rest of you on this thread that struggle with hoarding, my prayers and positive energy are heading your way. I just keep thinking about the comments they make on the organizing shows that we are releasing clutter to make way for new wonderful things to come into our life. I truly do believe it is that way. :)

    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 12:25PM
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Congratulations for having the courage to put you and your kids' lives first. I hope that your euphoria continues.

Whatever the cause (and I am sure that there are many), I think we can all relate in some ways, if not to hoarding, then to the opposite of it--extreme cleanliness. Whatever happened to just living in our homes w/ just the right amount of stuff, rather than being controlled by our possessions? Why do we yearn so for more stuff?

I heard the other day that over 90% of us feel that our homes are too cluttered. I don't mean to trivialize. It is very sad to hear of anyone who is so into their stuff that they can't give it up, even when faced w/ divorce.

But what if we all focused on "just enough"? Wouldn't it change the world?

So didn't mean to go on. Thank you MommaBird for being so being so honest.

Many blessings.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 4:30PM
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Thank you everyone! It's been four months now and things are going great with the kids and with me. Home is staying decluttered, clean and tidy with our continued efforts. IT's easy to CLEAN when the CLUTTER is gone. Cleaning is the easy part when you don't have to move piles!

We've decluttered the house top to bottom - attic to basement. Along with countless vanloads dropped off to charity, we also called Bulk Pickup 3 more times. It's so great to have space to live!

EXDH has a 2 bedroom townhouse that's cluttered top to basement. It's absolutely horrible. He has visitation rights with the kids but no overnight visits. The guardian ad litum told me he would not want the kids sleeping there due to the clutter. Divorce should all be done within 3 months.

When I get down or depressed, I just start remembering how it was to live in a hoarder's house. I was so much more depressed with him than I am without him! He still has not sought couseling and still does not think his hoarding is a problem. The kids and I continue with counseling and are getting a lot out of it. If he wants to continue to fight for his limitations there is nothing I can do about it.

Life is GOOD!

    Bookmark   February 14, 2011 at 3:04PM
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**I also found out he ran up my Visa card to $3,900 in one month before he left. It was -0- the month before. Now I have to pay that off.**

Not necessarily. Now what you need to do is talk to a good divorce lawyer. Each state is different but in many states, debt that he runs up is at least half-his, even if he ran it up in your name. And a judge may order him to pay it since he ran it up. And/or perhaps some of the items he bought can be returned for a refund.

So talk to a lawyer to figure out what your rights are. It's obviously not worth spending $5000 on a lawyer just to get him to pay the $3900 bill, but with the length of time you've been together, not to mention the kids, there will be a whole lot more than the $3900 to deal with (for example, house, car, health insurance, retirement funds, child support, yada yada yada). Definitely do yourself the favor of getting out of this as cleanly as possible, with as little damage to your financial health as possible.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2011 at 12:46PM
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mommabird, it's nice to know you're doing well, thanks for the update !!

    Bookmark   February 22, 2011 at 11:03PM
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mommabird congrats on moving on and doing what you needed for your sons and yourself to get your life back, it's great to hear things are going so well. one thing in your posts really jumped out at me:
" " I really do think hoarding is a control issue."

as a former hoarder who did get help and learned to overcome the obsessiveness of hoarding, I totally agree that it is about control. I think often what happens is circumstances that make a person feel like they have no control, that could be a job loss, a death in the family, financial problems, poverty, lots of other things that trigger that sense of not being in control in your life. that was very true for me, and the hoarding is like a way to control your surroundings, as long as you control the stuff you feel like you have control over something.

one of the greatest feelings though that I wish all hoarders could experience is just letting go, giving up the need to control things and realize that hoarding doesnt improve your life, it doesn't protect you from all the crap that life throws at you and when you learn to let go you get such a sense of freedom from this horrible obsessive behaviour. it's not easy but it can be done and the rewards are so worth it, but I think a lot of hoarders are afraid to try and get the right help but no one can make them face it head on, that has to come from within and just a desire to change and do the hard yards to overcome it.

unfortunately though hoarding does affect other people and mostly those who also live in the house, as frankie said above mental illnesses do have that impact, but when a hoarder tries to control everything in your surroundings, it ends up controlling what other family members can or can't do as well. At the end of the day, you realized what is right for you and your kids.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2011 at 2:59AM
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