My First Experience With A Hoarder's House

mustangs81November 4, 2010

For years I have worried about my neighbor. Her house is 4,000 SQ feet with a cottage on the property full of furniture. on 10 acres, way too much for an 87 year old widow to keep up with. In fact, too many people think the house is abandon and vandalize it. Last month someone pulled out her AC and all the copper pipe. We are in Florida so AC is essential.

Anyway, last week I drive by her house and freak because there was an ambulance, 2 sheriff cars, fire truck, 3 cars. I pulled up and jumped out of the car, she was on the gurney. The sheriff said that she had chest pains and her car wouldn't start so she was hitchhiking to the hospital!! Yes, she had my phone number with periodic encouragement to call me if she ever needed anything.

Okay, fast forward to today. I stopped by to see how she was doing and what could I get from the store for her. Until today I have only been in her garage and it is stacked to the ceiling with hundreds of boxes and only a small path to the kitchen door. She invited me in and OMG, it was every bit as bad as anything I have seen on the Hoarders TV show!! It smelled so musty. Her bed is a tiny cot in the middle of the living room. It's dark as she doesn't turn on the lights much to save electricity and (horrors) uses candles.

From what I could I see, the bulk of the "stuff" was fake flowers, vases, knick knacks, neatly stacked magazines, extra furniture, and hundreds of dolls.

BTW, I stopped a couple of months ago because I saw her pacing on the edge of the street. Someone had stolen her mail box and she was stressed because she wanted to get her mail from the mailman. She said she had to get the Flyer (our local paper) because she lost her job and needed to find another one!

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How sad. It sounds like she has some dementia as well - unless she really did have a job.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2010 at 3:13PM
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Sounds like her family needs to intervene and get her some help.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2010 at 4:23PM
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Marti, a few years ago (maybe 3-4) I asked her if I could get groceries for her. She said "no, I get groceries on the way home from work". I would see her come home about the same time each afternoon but never thought she was coming home from work!! I had just been laid off at the time and thought this is bizarre that she has a job and I don't.

Des, She doesn't have family. I have asked social services what they can do for her and was told she has to request it. I sure didn't know that's how it worked.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2010 at 5:26PM
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I would think now that the police, fire dept. and a hospital have been involved, she probably won't be flying under the radar very long. A department of Human Services that deals with vulnerable adults should be notified if the police and hospital social workers, etc. haven't already done so. And I'll bet they have if your area's public servants have anything at all on the ball.

You always wonder what happens when families are absent - if the courts award guardianship. Really sad, but I bet police, mailmen etc. run into these situations all the time.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2010 at 5:30PM
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Here's what I would do: Contact the hospital, ask if they have a Social Work Dept. If they do, ask to speak with a Social worker about her. Tell him/her everything you've said here. Tell him/her she's living alone, no family, you're not sure she had a real job, what her house is like, probably unsafe and unhealthy to be living like that. The SW can tell you exactly what can or can't be done for her. If she's 87, she probably has an income (Social Security, possibly SSI-Supplemental Security Income) and Medicare. The SW can investigate what you're saying and help her. You are such a good person to look into this for her.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2010 at 10:34AM
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This story sounds exactly like my former mother in law. She has a gorgeous home with multiple sheds on her property and built a 3 car oversized garage with a loft apartment. She has her 3 bedroom home full with garbage and every square inch of all the buildings on her property. Additionally she rents storage sheds around town and has stuff piled up in various places in her yard and her car is packed so tightly with stuff that she cant drive it anymore. She goes in and out her bedroom window because she cant squeeze thru the door anymore (she is only about 5'2" and 95lbs) One time she let me come to help her clean and I picked up old stockings on the floor that absolutely disentigrated in my hand. Her calendars hanging on the wall were from the 1970s when she got a divorce. The fire department have said that if there is ever a fire they will not try to save her house, but instead only the neighborhood. She always thinks everyone is stealing from her and the police know her well because she is always calling them. One day a social worker went to her house to see her and she came to the window but collapsed because of not eating well and fainted. She was admitted to the hospital and when the rescue workers tried to go into her house they had it red tagged. My former brother in law tried to get her to live with him and his wife which worked for awhile but she thought they were stealing from her too. Then she went back to sleeping in her car in the driveway because her house was still red tagged. No one can help her. I check on her and take her to eat and listen to her stories but she wont allow anyone to help her. I wish you luck, please watch her.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2010 at 1:44AM
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What does that mean "red tagged"? Not to steal a thread but I think my DH's DD is a beginning hoarder. She's a great kid, never in trouble, straight A student but her room is so filled up with crap all there was was a small path to her bed.

Once I opened the back storage in our garage and there were bags and bags of her clothes, full storage baskets, and shoes filling up the space. I was told she was going to have a yard sale in spring. It was fall at the time. I said no, not happening because I already knew she took the same amount of crap to her friends house the spring before to have a "yard sale". When I peaked in her room I could see it barely made a difference in the amount of stuff she had laying around. But the path to her bed was wider!

Of course I was the bad guy, I made her clean the storage out and she ended up taking 2 car loads of that stuff to her brothers. She left for school now, she's 18. But I wonder how hoarders do when they become renters. I ended up cleaning her room when she left, but I know I don't have to do it after this.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2010 at 9:07AM
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Coming from a lifetime of severe hoarding myself and now in recovery: A hoarder looks at their possessions very different than non hoarders. We become very attached to items, almost like they are an extension of ourselves. When you want to take a item and throw it away, it feels like you are cutting an arm off our body. That said, we can and do get better...but it almost always takes a professional who is non-judgmental and it is a long, long, slow, painful process to dehoard. If someone "forces" us to dehoard, but going in and "helping" by throwing away and cleaning up for us it will always go back to the way it was and almost always gets worst. Being a hoarder is very shameful. People do not understand, most people don't even try to understand. Hoarders don't want to live in clutter, although it may seem that they like it, accept it, or refuse to change, this really is not the case. Hoarders experience great anxiety with every decision. It's easier to take care of it later, tomorrow, next week, or next month. Before they know it, that pile of "take care later items" has tripled, fallen, spread, and overwhelmed them just like a small seashell being violently thrashed around in an angry sea. Clearing the clutter is like emptying that ocean with a thimble and thinking..."Lord will I ever get out of this?!".

    Bookmark   December 23, 2010 at 7:27PM
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Thank you so much tookeepit for helping me understand. I worry that I teeter on the edge of hording and realize, for me, it comes with the anxiety of making a decision. When I was young and cleaned out my room, my parents went through everything and yelled at me for throwing away perfectly good things...which then came back into the house. They weren't real horders because they didn't buy or bring in hardly anything. They used something until it was in shreds before replacing it.

I bog down on the decisions of what to do with items, wind up keeping too much and then postponing decisions about what to do with them.

Your description about the anxiety, postponing and being overwhelmed was wonderful.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2010 at 9:19AM
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Tookeepit, what you said is very profound. Both my parents are/were hoarders, so are one of my sisters and myself. I have just too much stuff. Too many clothes, too many things I was given as gifts or inheirited from dead people. Last year my daughter totally infuriated me by going through my house one night while I was sleeping. She threw out everything she decided I don't need. That includes my kitchen measuring cups, cookie sheets and double-boiler pot. She also threw out books and a black Coach purse. Now I appreciate her intentions but back then I was very angry. I still stress and fret over the reaining clutter in my house. "Feeling overwhelmed" sums it up.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2010 at 11:29AM
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Tookeepit, I appreciate what you shared with us. I have a question--when I get rid of something that I like but have deemed unnecessary, I find I forget about it shortly regardless of the value. Do you remember or forget something that you have gotten rid of?

    Bookmark   December 26, 2010 at 1:21PM
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My mother is an extreme hoarder. I've only seen 1-2 people on the hoarding tv shows whose houses are as bad as hers. She won't allow anyone to come to her house. My three brothers and I are NOT allowed to ever mention her problem. We all pretend like we don't know what her problem is because when one of us hinted at it in the past, she didn't speak to him for months. I worry that she is influencing my 5-year old DS to hoard also. She tells him to take his used napkins from a restaurant. She pulls paper garbage from my recycling basket telling him that old coupons need to be saved.

I find it hard to feel much respect for her for lots of reasons related to her hoarding, shopping addiction, and secrecy. I applaud you for wanting to help your neighbor. It can be extremely frustrating and confusing dealing with a hoarder. It can also be difficult to get help for them. Good for you.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 3:47AM
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breezygirl I feel your pain and frustration. The hoarding thing has its own peculiarities and also has a spectrum of expressions so not everyone is the same or has the same relationships. But, like many addictions and mental illnesses the person tries to exert a kind of control on others including demanding that others act like nothing is wrong with the person--change the world to fit them rather than fitting in with the world. They keep others "walking on eggs" so as not to cause a scene or be punished.

No, you can't feel respect, so all you can do is to try to preserve your own sanity and humanity--keep in touch with some form of compassion, and you can demonstrate behaviors of general "respect for persons" such as, not mocking or insulting the person.

However, if your 5 yr old asks, Mommy, SHOULD I take my used paper napkins home? the answer is no, we don't do that (unless you are a compost whacko--then that would not be hoarding, that would turn in to compost!)

And of course the real struggle occurs when the hoarder or addict or whomever makes a lot of effort to keep you "enmeshed" because they're just looking for that putdown or opportunity to be offended or to control you by making you live their addiction or illness. So in some cases only breaking off contact will work, and of course that conflicts with the hope and desire to remain in some kind of relationship, so 'round we go.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2011 at 8:18PM
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