Pack rat husband -- enable or resist?

nutsaboutplantsMay 5, 2014

My husband of 25 years, a wonderful guy in so many ways, is nevertheless a pack rat. We have bought bigger houses twice. The current house is about 3100 sq.ft. It is a quite nice house in a desirable neighborhood, but its current level of clutter produces extreme anxiety for me. We've found a house that is about 4500 sq. ft. of which 1000 sq. ft. is on a different level. He can have it and not mess up the other levels visibly. This new house is in one of the two most desirable parts of the city, and at a great price. Beautiful house and spectacular views in the back, sloping down to a bayou. But a lot of house and lot of land (about 1 acre). My husband is, I think, a little more self-aware of his habits and promises to be more reasonable about discarding things.

Moving to this house could buy me 10-15 years of peace with a wonderful man. On the other hand, it is quite possible that he will fill up this house too, though he is trying not to.

The new house price is in itself not a concern and is potentially a great investment because of the location and the price. But we can't put our current house on the market until we move and get this house ready for showing. It could sell reasonably quickly once on the market based on current market in the area, but there is always the possibility that we will be holding on to two houses and maintaining them for more than a couple of months if it doesn't sell relatively quickly. This possibility is a little unnerving. It won't wreck us, but it would be a waste.

Also, the new house will cost more in maintenance (yard work, house cleaning, utility bills, etc.). The extra cost of maintenance is within our means, but an avoidable cost that could be better invested if we don't move.

So, please weigh in on this issue, but please keep in mind this is a person I love and care about deeply. And a brilliant, successful and loving man. So, please be gentle while commenting on hoarding and hoarders. Thanks in advance.

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You should resist. Although it's good that you have the means to keep increasing your square footage to match the amount of growing inventory, that's also not a very good solution.

My sister does something with her kids. Every now and then, she will take away a toy or item that her kids don't want to part with. If they haven't asked for it in 6-12 months (or whatever timeframe might be appropriate for that item), she then donates or gives it away. Her kids didn't miss it or had too much stuff to think about it.

She is in parental mode and that gives her more leeway to do this to her kids than being in spouse mode, but I hope you could find some method to help reduce some of the stock.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 1:34PM
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Resist. His being a hoarder has nothing to do with the size of the house. He'll just fill up the bigger one too, and in fact see it as license to do get and keep more stuff.

I'd say your husband has a problem that he needs professional help with. (My father has the same problem). It's a compulsion disorder.

Meantime, I'd designate an area of the house - the basement comes to mind, and tell him that is his space to stash anything he wants, but that the rest of the house is off-limits and you'll give anything that lands outside of his collection room away to charity.

Then do it.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 1:43PM
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I have a dh who is also wonderful in many ways but has a hard time letting go of certain things. Mainly clothing. Sigh. I recently discovered that he will gladly trade me clothing items for foot rubs. He says "will you rub my feet" and I say "give me five pieces of clothing." Slow, but progress and we are both happy because I'm not nagging and he's getting rid of stuff.

It sounds like you may have a bigger problem with more categories of things. But perhaps the general approach can be applied in some way? Big fishing trip after he clears out the garage or trip to Paris when he cleans out the attic?

That may not work though if the keeping stuff is too important to him for some reason. If that's the case, I do wonder if he would be amenable to counseling?

I would not want to move and incur expenses just to accommodate my dh keeping more stuff.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 2:14PM
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Hmmmm, I guess I'm the odd man out here. To me, it sounds like a perfect solution. Clearly you love this man deeply and great compassion toward him. Would it be reasonable and lasting to make an agreement with him that the main 3500 sq.ft level stays at *your* comfort level, and the separate 1000-sq.foot level is his to do with as he pleases? If so, I don't see the down side. You can afford it, and it may end up being a great investment. If he can't agree, or agrees but you don't honestly believe it will be lasting, then it may not be such a good idea.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 2:17PM
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Since he seems to be aware of his problem, why not talk to him about seeing someone who deals with hoarders? Explain to him he's causing a fire hazzard and a breeding ground for diseases.

It would be great if a professional could come to the house instead of your husband going to him/her.

It needs to be dealt with head on.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 2:17PM
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Go for it!

Buy garage style shelving units for "his" area -- and designate "open" zones for access and safety issues etc.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 2:21PM
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Resist. I grew up with a father like this. He filled the basement floor to ceiling. There was a narrow path from the bottom of the stairs to the washer and dryer, otherwise no usable space. He filled the two-car garage and three sheds, then built a four-car garage and filled that.

When they sold their home and moved into a condo (about 3000 sq ft), my mother said he could have the basement but that was it. He soon filled that and then rented storage lockers.

It's no way to live and I can probably guarantee your husband will be unable to control his "growth."

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 2:24PM
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My friends parents were hoarders. It started out with neat and organized stuff. Over the years they moved from one larger house to another but kept acquiring more stuff. Now they are in their 70's and due to health reasons had to downsize dramatically. Of course all their "stuff" had to go. It was quite a bad scene for my friend and her parents.

I say address the issue now. What is this stuff? Does he have a plan for it? I agree to find fun ways to get rid of the stuff. Trade "whatever" for stuff to be sold or given away. How about him "selling" some stuff for a special trip for both of you? Is he still acquiring more? If he resists any plan for reduction then you know he needs to see a professional.

My mom also has hoarding tendencies and I have to really work to keep it in check. With my mom I tried a 1 item in 2 out. Also counting items. How many pairs of black pants do you really need? How many can you wear in 2 weeks? Every item should have a future plan.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 2:34PM
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I would be concerned about eventual overflow of the space that is to be his. I would also worry about the long term.

Someday, someone is going to have clear that space out. Is it going to be the original poster? Is her wonderful husband going to be left alone in the house eventually and fill all of it with no one to keep the stuff in check?

I don't mean to be morbid, but I just don't see more space as a good long term solution for the well being of either the original poster or her, clearly very much loved, husband. I really do think it would be better to face this head on in some way now rather than delaying into what may be a crisis for one or both of them at some point down the road.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 2:39PM
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I would not move solely for the reason of providing more space, when you seem to feel it is not necessary.

But I do think it is a good idea to give him his space and let him fulfill his "pack rat" tendencies; I would not try to change him unless he want to change. Can that be done where you are?

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 2:47PM
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I say resist. First, I think it's pretty ludicrous to buy a bigger house because you cannot fit his "stuff" in it. That's probably pretty harsh, but It's my opinion. Not only will it be, as you say, more work, more energy, etc., but by shuffling your husband and his stuff off to the other level, you are indeed enabling him, and you are cutting him off from the family and life of the rest of the house.

I'm trying to be gentle, here, but it's probably not in my nature! I was recently talking to someone close about addiction and recovery, and was told, "it's a disease of MORE. We do it with alcohol, we do it with sex, we do it with food, and we do it with stuff." and I think this is true. Looked at that way, your husband is suffering from a disease of "more." And we all know that those suffering are enabled by their loved ones, because they love them!

Now, I don't know whether you have a house full of people, or it's just your husband and yourself, which would affect my opinion on the size appropriateness of the house itself. I also don't know what the "stuff" is -- is it collections? Old books? Old clothes? newspapers and magazines? How much of it is really needed or valuable? That might also affect my opinion as to the appropriate response.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 2:58PM
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It's never a good idea to enable personality disorders or mental illness altho sometimes may seem the easiest way.

IMO it would be a mistake to take on more maintenance and expense when your DH does at least partially realizes he has a problem. Discuss this and see if your DH will either get counseling or try to reduce the amount of clutter on his own. He may be ready to do that if he knows how distressful you find the situation.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 3:21PM
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Resist. Do you really want the hassle/stress of moving (not to mention having to pack up all his 'stuff' again), possibly having two mortgages for a time, having to ready the old house for sale, etc.....all because he has an issue with getting rid of things? You know more room will just mean more've been down that road several times already.

I feel your pain. We have a basement filled with 30 years of junk that we are slowly sifting through. I would say we are both somewhat of pack rats by default BECAUSE we have a basement...anything we didn't know what to do with went to the basement. Our main and second levels are just fine. So, you are really asking for trouble giving him free reign in the basement!

I was finally able to convince DH that a) 35 years of National Geographic magazine aren't worth anything and b) no, no one wants them, especially not schools.

I would suggest working with him to clear some of the clutter...maybe give him one bedroom or small area....but he has to go through it once or twice a year and pitch..something like that.

A bigger house will just mean a bigger problem...for you!

PS---has he watched any of the hoarding shows---they might be an eye-opener for him. Good luck!

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 3:30PM
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I think thereâÂÂs a wide range of pack rattiness, from being a lover of collections, to being a full-fledged hoarder (when health and cleanliness are impacted.) Where your DH is along this scale is something you know, but the rest of us donâÂÂt. Clutter is not always a sign of mental illness, of course. Sometimes, it's simply a personal choice.

If itâÂÂs not out-of-control hoarding (as on the TV show, and as described by some posts here) then I would be open to a creative solution as youâÂÂve mentioned, setting aside some space for him, and some for you. ItâÂÂs not fair to you to have the entire house filled, if it impacts your daily happiness. But if he can have a space that makes him happy, I honestly donâÂÂt see the harm.

My father certainly qualified as a packrat, and a loving, brilliant, and successful man. He had numerous interests and hobbies, and loved the hours he spent at each one. He loved to restore and build things, which always leads to the gathering of âÂÂthings that need rescuing.â And endless tools, materials, books, and more.

When he passed suddenly, my mother and I were faced with a huge number of items to be sorted and sold. We did it with eBay, CraigâÂÂs List, Freecycle, multiple big garage sales, and donations. I wonâÂÂt lie, it was a lot of work. But when I thought of the hours and years of satisfaction these âÂÂthingsâ gave my Dad, I didnâÂÂt have a momentâÂÂs anger toward him. He enjoyed himself immensely, and I was glad for that. Many of his varied interests and pursuits made him who he was, an interesting person with a love of many things, and a thirst to keep learning. If I could have him back today, I would happily help him refill the garage and rooms we excavated.

I guess this is an issue we all respond to in different ways. My take is, life is short, and (unless the behavior is harmful) itâÂÂs OK to let the people we love find ways to be happy.

I do think clear understandings (carefully made agreements) would be a very good idea, so everyone understands the ground rules, and thereâÂÂs no âÂÂslippageâ into your calmer space. I hope you find the solution that is right for both of you, and I think it's great you're giving it such thoughtful consideration.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 3:33PM
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My sweetie tends to collect a lot of stuff, too. I've been very slowly working on decluttering our house, but that just means the stuff gets piled somewhere else, unseen. It also makes him a bit defensive, as things I want gone are "his" stuff.

He has a very hard time letting things go. He even has things stored away for his children, but they end up being kept forever, because "they can't be trusted with it, yet." We have toys, clothes, sporting goods, and furniture that he's saving for grandkids. He has knick-knacks and "decorative" items out the wazoo :o

As soon as I clean and organize a space, he fills it up with something else. Anything I remove from the main living areas, he wants put in the guest room, our room, or his son's room. If those are vetoed, it gets piled into the garage, laundry room, or the pantry he started building for me two years ago.

I love him, just as you love yours, however. He has been provided with spaces for his things (garage, attic, game room), but it still spills over into other areas. I don't think buying a bigger house would help that.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 3:33PM
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mudhouse hit this 100% in my eye - perfect summation. Only you know the specifics of your situation and the particulars of his habit. Good luck with whatever you decide - keep us posted.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 3:44PM
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I vote resist. I would ask your husband to first get his hoarding under control and then you'll know how committed he his; furthermore it would provide you a new found freedom.

I am currently in the process of cleaning out my husbands elderly relative's place. It's time consuming, gross and the feelings of resentment are overwhelming. We own the unit he's lived in for the past 10+ years. His living room was sparse so noone knew how much stuff he kept, but the rest of the place was packed. He's kept newspapers, envelopes, oatmeal boxes, the disposable containers from deli salads, hats, pillows, every freebie anybody ever gave him, every shirt, pair of socks, magazine, plastic bags from newspapers and grocery stores, etc. I found containers with used dental floss, various versions of soaking dentures in plastic frosting containers (that freaked me out when I opened them), But then he also has multiple new, unopened packages of socks, electric razors, toiletries (in mass), etc. I'd swear that given the quantity of cleaning supplies he should have had the cleanest place in the world, but a person has to actually use the product, just having the item in the cupboard doesn't get the job done. I realize it's a mental disorder (and in this case he's got a little dementia) but the rest of the family still has to deal with it.

Unfortunately I'm the one who gets appointed to do the cleaning and this isn't the first place I've had to clean up after him. The prior place wasn't necessarily hoarding but had a lot of stuff and he convinced himself that it had mold, so he asked us to find him another place to live, he took the bare necessities, and he moved and never looked back, leaving me to dispose of everything else. In hindsight I think he was beginning to have some health & memory issues and thought that if he could blame it on something (in that case mold--of which we never found a single sign) then life would get better.

At some point one of you will pass on. If he goes first, you will be left with the entire mess. Imagine the emotions of having to sort through everything yourself. If you go first, he will then be alone and will his hoarding then continue or escalate? Will that be healthy?

I'd work on the hoarding problem first and then consider different housing if you still want it. Right now it seems you're trying to avoid or hide the problem. I guess in some ways, that's what we did with this relative. Looking back I wish we would have addressed the issue head on or made him take responsibility for it. But in my case it wasn't my direct relative and I was trying to be caring and compassionate. Only now I feel a bit angry and duped. I don't want you there 10 years from now.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 3:46PM
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Gosh, such a well written post that outlines your issue so thoughtfully.

I do think that getting the new house just sounds wrong. Even though it wouldn't be the worst move based on your finances, etc., it sounds like you are kicking the can down the road and will have to contend with it eventually. Dealing with this in a 4500 sf house sounds serious, no matter what kind of limits you put on it.

Good Luck to you. I know you will find a good solution.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 4:03PM
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Yes, the way you have shared this is touching. What a sensitive approach.

If your husband's collecting is a problem, and he doesn't seek professional help, then you must do what's best for you. If a new house buys you some peace, go for it. You can't change him. You can only try to make the situation workable for you.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 4:17PM
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What does he collect? I think that makes a difference.

Are there others (children) living in the house? Do his collections bother anyone else?

Can his collections become dangerous?

Too many questions before voting to enable or resist. Good luck.


    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 5:13PM
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Mudhouse, what a wonderful, sweet post. Thanks for posting. It is easy for disembodied strangers to make broad pronouncements and rail against strangers, but the story behind the real people we love are more nuanced and complex than online discourse might always allow.

I stand by my original post --- kind of a neutral stance. I would not force him to "get help" or disallow his collecting, but neither would I allow it to ruin my space or dictate where I live.

Best of luck to you.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 5:29PM
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I feel so sorry you have this problem. Trying to change the behavior of a spouse by yourself can be almost impossible. He knows you have been willing to enable him to continue this behavior and assumes you will go on forever.

However, you have moved not once, but twice, to larger homes to accommodate what has to be called his hoarding. It no longer is just 'collecting' or a hobby when you have to consider moving from 3100 sq ft to a 4500 sq foot home just to store his stuff! Where will it end? It won't unless you insist he gets help now. If he refuses I would advise you to consult with a counselor yourself to see how to proceed. Obviously you love him very much, but you are the only one who can help him and yourself out of this situation.. My DIL was much the same as your husband, I know she was seeing a counselor, and when we visited this past weekend we were shocked and happy to see the house clean and neat and the junk gone! It can be done.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 5:39PM
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Thanks to each one of you for the thoughtful response! I see the sense in the majority of the responses. I really do, and have tried most of the things suggested. A few things to clarify. First, he's been seeing a counselor. It's gotten a little better. Second, I've assigned specific rooms for his use and all other places are offlimits so to speak, but as several of you have pointed out, it spills over to other areas. The "stuff" is mainly papers, which I can't throw out because he mixes important things with other papers, and they are all sitting on the two beds in the guest bedrooms, in the garage, in his study and other places. There are also other things accumulating, mainly from buying 4 items of something where one or two would do. Also not throwing anything out. Since our house is one level (which is customary in my state), his things spread more easily. (The house I'm looking at has 3 levels, the lowest of which has the 1000 game room he can use as a study.) Third,, we've both had a relatively stressful 18 years, raising a child who's on the autism spectrum, and both holding on to relatively demanding jobs. Things are infinitely better now. Our son is in college at the state flagship university, in the Honors program at that and far happier than ever before, but it's taken a toll on three of us. Discord is hard on all children. but particularly hard on children on the spectrum. My husband and I have had more than our share of disagreements and arguments over his "stuff" and sometimes he gets panicky when I throw stuff. And I get distressed when I look around the house.

So, escapist as it may seem, I was thinking something has to give. Also, I've been having relatively calm conversations with him in recent months asking him things like "have you thought about what makes you do this?" And "if your worst fear is not having something when you need it, don't you think our reality is ten times worse than that? Isn't a drive to the grocery store in the middle of the night easier to tackle than storing everything?" He's beginning to look a little inward I think, though I don't want to get my hopes up. So, I thought I'd attack the problem in two ways, first by giving me some semblance of peace by starting afresh in a home where I don't have to walk around feeling anxious from the clutter and giving him a separate level and second by continuing to work with him more kindly and gently than I have in the past.

I still and agree with and value the opinions saying resist, but wanted to clarify a few things.and provide some context. Each of you have been so thoughtful in your response and I thank you all for your time. Couldn't respond to each post separately, though they deserve one. Please continue to give me your thoughts.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 5:53PM
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I wish I had something more helpful to say, but I do want to say congratulations on raising your son and his successful start to college. My oldest is special needs so I understand a little how stressful that can be.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 6:17PM
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Its great to hear that he is seeing a counselor. Have you also met with the counselor? I would suggest perhaps meeting with your DH, you, and the counselor to develop a plan going forward.

Living with a hoarder and even having a close family member with this issue is very hard. I know how frustrating is what when my mother would be mad at me for insisting she get rid of stuff. Once I watched a hoarding show and heard a woman use the same words my mother used. It hit home that this is a very serious problem. I don't know if hoarders understand the stress they put their family under.

I grew up in a family of enablers, alcoholism, hoarding, etc. So I tend to be the anti-enabler. While it hurts terribly, I will not sit by and watch. My mother has told me before that she hates me and will never speak to me again. I said thats fine. Of course her anger is short lived as she realizes this is tough love.

I have two friends who parents are hoarders. One I referenced above and for the other, she is able to keep some distance (not visiting her parents home very often). The day will come however she will be the one faced with dealing with all the stuff.

You must take care of yourself!

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 6:35PM
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I'm wondering if filling rooms to overflowing is a comfort thing for him. It shows (in his mind) affluence, ownership, but also indicates poor decision-making skills. My concern is that when you move into a bigger house that the empty rooms may cause anxiety in him which will produce the need to fill those rooms that you have given him as his own.

It is obvious that you love your husband and perhaps in your conversations this is something you might explore before making the move. Just a thought.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 6:48PM
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mtnrdredux, thank you.

nutsaboutplants, the idea of a differently configured home doesnâÂÂt seem escapist to me, because youâÂÂre not denying the problem exists. HeâÂÂs doing counseling, and youâÂÂre working to help him consider his own behavior. Instead of escaping, one could make the case that youâÂÂre looking for ways to keep things moving in a better direction for all three of you, while working within the reality of the situation.

Since this is a long term pattern of behavior, IâÂÂm wondering if itâÂÂs realistic to expect a big improvement in a short period; maybe more likely, small improvements over time...? I have a beloved family member with emotional difficulties of a different kind. In our case, much change is unlikely, and forceful corrections usually donâÂÂt work for us. ThereâÂÂs a âÂÂtwo steps forward, one step backâ feeling. I just try to keep a goal of steadily improving things, in little steps, with love, and I try hard to avoid things that make all the wheels fall off (because then we all lose ground.)

People choose specific houses all the time to accommodate the real needs of family members; handicapped access, mother-in-law units, sound proofed rooms for young musicians. If a house with separate floors would help you coexist more peacefully (and if the financial aspects arenâÂÂt worrisome) it might be worth considering.

I agree with debrak2008âÂÂs thought. Maybe the person providing the counseling has an opinion on how this move would help (or hurt) the progress your DH has made. If they don't think it would increase the problem, they might have thoughts about how you can craft agreements about separate floors to give you some peace.

If your wonderful DHâÂÂs behavior is more likely a long term reality, and if you can make changes that help you take better care of yourself, I'm thinking it might give you more energy to keep helping your DH, and son, over time.

Congratulations on your son doing so well in college, thatâÂÂs great!

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 9:00PM
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Although moving is a pain, it's also a great time to take advantage of going through all our belongings and getting rid of stuff. Less stuff means a more peaceful, stress free life. Found that out myself!

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 9:03PM
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Jjam and peony, thank you. It's not been easy being kind and loving.

Mudhouse, thanks. I can relate to that. Really.

Mudhouse, debrak, and others, I've been to see the counselor along with DH, but my expectations may have been unrealistic. I do plan to go with him if we decide to buy this house so we can try to lay down some rules.

Crl, Mudhouse, Thanks for all the kind words about our son. He's an inspiration to me because he never gives up.

If we go the new house route, I'll be coming here for all kinds of advice!

    Bookmark   May 5, 2014 at 11:01PM
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nutsaboutplants, I've read this entire thread and perhaps have a little different perspective. Neither my DH nor I are hoarders, but we could be called pack rats by default. There are only two of us and we've lived in the same nearly 3,000 square foot house since '86. There's a large storage building on the property, too. It is all too easy - if you aren't obsessively organized - to continue to buy things, store them and forget it.

We decided this house and yard are entirely too big and take far too much time and money to keep up. So.... we bought another house. We can't sell the one we're in at present. Why? We have to empty it first and ready it for market. Now we have far more stress than we had to begin with. We have two mortgages, the huge project of sorting, selling, donating or throwing away stuff that I am determined will not go to the 'new' house. And we have no more time or money than before the purchase.

If I were you, married to a bona fide hoarder, I definitely would not buy another house until you have the situation under control. Your stress level now will only increase with the purchase of another house.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 3:21AM
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Well, a few things here.

It's important for you to understand why he wants to keep all the paper. Is it for reference, legal protection, or some other legitimate reason? Is it necessary to have the originals, or could he copy at least some of them into a computer, with a backup system that is essentially fail safe?

Additionally, why is it necessary to have piles of paper on beds? Does he need a better storage and filing system? Perhaps he needs narrow shelves (similar to what some libraries use for current magazines) rather than file cabinets? Is there any way to make his collection more usable and efficient? He might need help with this--some people have difficulty with organization.

Something has allowed you both to be in a good financial situation. Would fighting against his collection impair that in any way? Would his creativity and sense of well being be negatively affected?

Additionally, it seems that on the new property you could build a rather large separate office outside of the house itself on all that land, and install a really nice, well organized space for all of his papers. Why not do that?

A slowly implemented move, in which he forces himself to go through everything and either discard or copy to computer all nonessential papers should help to cut down on clutter in your new home.

If you are fairly certain the new property will at least maintain its present value, that would also be a hedge against inflation, so it might not be as wasteful as you fear, either.

I have spent a good part of my life collecting books, most of which I have now outgrown, but it was the search for greater knowledge and understanding that led me to collect so many. Now I find myself finally able to give up a significant number of them. Perhaps your DH is on a similar quest.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 4:09AM
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Nutsaboutplants, whatever you do, please resist. It is so ironic that I should come across this post tonight, after telling my DH, whom I dearly love, that "I can't live this way anymore". We had finished our tax returns, and I was arranging the attachments and the printouts, and found that there was no surface in the house which was not filled with paper. His office is a nightmare, which I started decluttering last year, and after several trips to the shredding and electronic re-cyclers, I still cannot see the surface of his desk. The coffee table is filled with mail, which he will not open. He has since moved to the family room, and I don't go there any more. The kitchen table is half filled, some of the chairs are stacked, and now he has moved to the dining table: that's where he did the figures for the tax stuff. I have bought so many organizers, but they just prove hopeless against him. I am claustrophobic, and hate to be surrounded by so much stuff. It is also in our bedroom. You need to ask him how much he loves you? He sees you in distress and continues. Tonight was the first time I really told my husband how I felt, after 31 years, also raising a child with Asperger's (now thankfully out of college and working), because I did not want to be a 'nag' but I have had it. I now have high blood pressure, sleeplessness (it's now 4:19 a.m.), unexplained stomach upsets, and anxiety brought on by stress. And just think how much it will take out of you to move or dispose of all that 'stuff' before you can take possession of the new house. And think of having to clean that huge house by yourself when the kids are gone. Paper is a hazard on two fronts: it is a fire hazard, and it traps lots of dust. BTW, anyone wants 6 guitars (another collection)? And what about clothes, he has enough enough suits to fill 3 closets, and our bedroom closet is stuffed. I am sorry, but I am just venting, for the first time. But you really cannot continue to enable him. Not only is your sanity at stake, but so is your health. And eventhough he may be restricted to one room, you will still know it is there.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 4:26AM
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This thread was a fascinating read and there were several extremely well-written responses.

Nutsaboutplants, I am sorry for your situation because it is a difficult one. I am not a hoarder and know none, but the psychology of hoarding is a fascinating one to me. I am given to understand that the difficulty of raising a special needs child, even a now-successful one, is enough to trigger controlling behavior in your DH. Not that it actually IS control, but I am aure he, on some level, thinks this. At the very least his say in what stays and what goes is a form of holding onto what he might feel is the only place in his life he has any control.

That said, and taking into consideration what others with experience have said, it is unlikely you are going to gain lasting peace by moving into a bigger home. As others have testified, placing boundaries on allowable space is easily circumvented and will not curb the hoarding.

At least you fully understand that to purchase a larger home is straight-up enabling. The views, location, etc. are just excuses. However, only you can decide what you are willing to do. Hoarding has destroyed many marriages, so if you choose enabling over separation that is a choice only you can make. However, that IS the choice you will make, no two ways about it. You said it yourself, "enable or resist.". No ifs, and or buts.

Best wishes, I cannot even begin to fathom the difficulties you are facing. I will say this, though: his hoarding is as much your problem as his so in addition to his personal counseling the two of you should be in regular counseling sessions together. You are a victim by default and should have an arena where you are heard and respected. Your needs are not to be discounted just because he has a problem.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 5:35AM
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It is clear that some do not understand the nature of hoarding, if in fact that is what this is. If hoarding could be contained, it wouldn't be a problem. Hoarders take over any available space and will eventually take over ALL the available space--- hence the piles of stuff on guest beds and sofas in family rooms and kitchen counters. If you can give a person 1000 square feet of well defined space for his or her stuff and the person complies with the limits, that person is NOT a hoarder. I agree that there is a spectrum of behavior with this condition, from what we benignly call "pack rat" tendencies to severe and debilitating disease. But the condition usually gets worse with age, so that is something for the OP to think about as well.

Buying a bigger house for a hoarder is counterproductive if you want to actually help him with this problem. Regardless of the size house you buy, he will continue to fill it up and encroach on other areas. Unless you are prepared for a lifetime of moving into bigger and bigger homes and your funds to do so are unlimited, you will have to draw a line somewhere. I personally would not wait until the house is much bigger, the tendencies are much stronger and your husband is older and you are that much more worn out by living with the problem.

Yes, there was a hoarder in our family, my dad. By the time he became incapacitated by a stroke the lower level of their house was an incredible jumble of stuff that kept creeping upstairs and made my mother physically ill. It's the reason she threw away anything she possibly could, in reaction to his wanting to keep everything.

Obviously, every hoarder is different, every family's circumstances are different and every marriage is different. But I can tell you from firsthand experience that within the parameters of a loving, stable marriage, a very successful career, wealth, and a very large home, that hoarding is a destructive force. If I were you I would do anything in my power to get help for your husband, not a bigger container. And I would insist he see a psychiatrist, not a counselor.

This post was edited by kswl on Tue, May 6, 14 at 6:44

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 6:33AM
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I doubt you were being unrealistic. I would see the counselor and not just talk about the possibility of a bigger house but INSIST on a plan to finally get this under control. As others have said it just gets worse with age. If this counselor is not able to get your husband to move in a healthy direction then get another. As suggested a psychiatrist would be an excellent idea.

Mixing important papers within junk papers I think is a common issue. It must be a tactic to stop others from throwing stuff out. My friend ended up just throwing all the papers out. What was lost was current bills and birth certificates, etc. All EASILY replaced.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 7:50AM
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Annie Deighnaugh

I'm sorry you have to deal with this, nutsaboutplants. Northerner-on, please get some help for your situation...while you're welcome to vent here, you need more support than that to deal with it. Please get some help for him and yourself.

If the purpose of the move is to get more space to "limit" the stuff, I don't think that will work. If this is a real OCD situation, there are no rules or agreements ahead of time that will work. The only thing that will work is to get appropriate psychological help to get to release the emotions that are the root cause of this kind of behavior, and lots of follow up therapy. The problem isn't the stuff...the stuff is a manifestation of the problem. The stuff is the symptom and will fill whatever space is available, and then some.

The hurt and stress this behavior causes to loved ones is also extremely damaging and painful, physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Especially since women feel more responsible for an organized home then men do, the clutter and stuff causes them significantly more stress.

I'm so sorry you are dealing with all of this, but like many others, I don't think adding the stress of the move or more sq ft to fill is going to alleviate the situation and may exacerbate it.

If the amount or kind of counseling you are getting isn't working, then please try someone else. You may have to try several until you find the right person with the right approach and skill set to work for you.

I'm sending you both thoughts of strength, comfort and courage in dealing with your situations.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 8:13AM
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I thought about this thread a lot, last night. I keep coming back to the same thought; the heart felt responses here are so varied because none of us really "know" your DH, his complex individual emotional needs, or the history of your 25 year relationship.

I know itâÂÂs a little risky to give advice about things like this from a distance. ItâÂÂs entirely possible that my posts (seeking a way to allow steady but moderate progress) could lead you to worse problems, and IâÂÂd feel awful about that. Similarly, I think itâÂÂs possible that other posts here (seeking ways to firmly end the damaging behavior) could lead to a fractured relationship with someone you love. Clearly your posts have struck a chord, and we all wish we could help.

Because every individual and every family is different, the only people who can really choose the right path are you, your wonderful DH, and (hopefully) the right healthcare professionals.

In my experience, itâÂÂs hard to force an adult to seek or change care. In the past IâÂÂve even met with a therapist on my own, just to gain a better understanding of what I was up against. Here I go with more advice (!) but please donâÂÂt hesitate to seek additional professional help for your own benefit and clarity. You deserve the help, too.

So many of the suggested solutions in this thread will work or fail, depending on what the future holds; will the behavior definitely get worse, with time? Would your DH be able to respect new boundaries, at all? These might be questions you could ask a trained professional, perhaps in private, before you make a major decision.

Your approach is so caring and thoughtful, I really feel certain you can find a path that works for you. Lots of us here are rooting for your family.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 10:38AM
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Nutsaboutplants, it seems your husband could have mental illness, and, agreed with above, that counseling isn't sufficient. A doctor of psychiatry is needed for accurate diagnosis and treatment options.

But don't let others make you feel as if, by considering moving and making the situation manageable for yourself, you're an "enabler." It is much more complex than this. You needn't feel guilty about any options you're exploring that you will believe will improve your quality of life and enjoy your time with this man you love. I have worked with mental illness (and addiction), and the term "enabling" inadvertently places guilt on family members who are often trying to love and live with a person who has a disease that may not be curable. You shouldn't feel guilty about wanting to accommodate your ill husband. You shouldn't feel any sense of responsibility that you're making his disease worse. That's ridiculous.

Mental illness is a disease, and, like cancer, is not always curable. Your husband may make improvements, like one may with any illness, but he may never recover. And the collecting or hoarding or whatever you want to call it may continue.

In the meantime, if moving will buy you more peace with him, then move. And don't let anyone tell you you're "enabling" his addiction, any more than if he had a physical disease for which you were making alternate living arrangements. You're accommodating his illness, in a loving, compassionate way that allows you to stay with him and preserves some of your own peace and sanity in this situation.

What you are considering is not wrong. It will not make his illness worse.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 10:51AM
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Many have made good comments and observations about the emotional side of your problem. I'm going to comment on the practical. Do you really want to go from a 1-story house to a 3-story house as you are ageing? What will happen if your husband develops some physical issues and can no longer use the stairs down to his lower level? Is there an elevator or room for one? If not, you could end up with the same problems you have now.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 12:17PM
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there are some very compassionate posts. Love peony 4 and agree. If it were me, I would ask dh if he would be comfortable putting a lot of his things into a storage space to make the move easier. If so I would find a large, HUGE, storage place and start moving things there. Whether you buy the new house or not this would help relieve some of the clutter for awhile. You may not be able to "fix" dh and the stuff will keep coming but if you can divert it you may be able to maintain. I think resisting will only frustrate both of you. As peony 4 points out, you aren't "enabling" as he has an illness. You can accommodate or make both of you miserable. Life IS too short to be miserable. My little mother was a "saver" and after my dad died we were moving her. I am so glad I told her she could keep whatever she wanted to because she died just 4 months later. Cleaning out her little house was a lot of work but a labor of love. i didn't resent it at all and it seems in your case you could hire someone to take care of it all if/when you need too. You love your dh, do what your heart tells you.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 1:26PM
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Hmm. Could we have an objective description of "clutter?" A few pictures? What does he collect, how often does he use it, what kind of space does it occupy? Because it's possible for a minimalist to feel overwhelmed by an average amount of stuff.

And some clutter/collections are useful, or valuable, or artistic, or works of self-expression.

And some are useless, and an eyesore, or a health and safety hazard.

If there is clutter, or at least a lot of stuff in your present house, that may be the biggest obstacle to selling. It will likely have to be sorted through, packed, and put in storage before you sell. That is also an opportunity.

If you are concerned that your husband's collecting is verging on the pathological, maybe the two of you might agree on a counselor to assess the situation? It is possible that the two of you simply have different levels of comfort when it comes to "stuff'" and that this incompatibility is the problem rather than the stuff itself.

Many of the responders here make an assumption that your husband is a true hoarder, and I just wanted to offer the other side - maybe you can't stand a lot of "stuff."

(My brother has a hoarding problem - I had to help him move once, so I know what it looks like. Right now he's too poor to acquire more stuff, so there's some small upside to job loss.)

Good luck to you, and you are blessed to look at your husband with so much love and respect and gratitude.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 1:29PM
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Does DH want to move? Does he think his clutter is a problem? Does he understand how much the clutter bothers you?

I would do a dry run at your current house. Organize and declutter everything, which you will have to do anyway to sell, and see if DH can live with a few clutter rules. If he starts to fill up the house again I think that will be a good indicator about what will happen at the bigger house.

Waiting while you test your husband's commitment to reducing clutter may result in losing the house you have in your sights. If you learn the DH can control his tendencies and you still want to move to a bigger house something will eventually become available.

Good luck with whatever you choose.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 2:33PM
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Annie Deighnaugh

I hope my comments weren't taken as placing blame on anyone...

I look at things as problems and solutions, and only meant to suggest that it doesn't sound to me like a larger home is anything but a temporary solution and not a long term fix to the underlying problem.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 3:04PM
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Again, thanks for the thoughtful responses, all of them very helpful.

Tomorrow, I will post pictures of the floor/room/area that I thought would suit his needs while giving me (and him) some peaceful calm space to live in. For various reasons, many of which have been nicely articulated in the responses above, I'm leaning toward giving the new house a try. We live well within our means and this move won't be fiscally irresponsible. And I need a place to come home to that won't stress me out. Again, I fully understand the reasons not to do that and a part of me agrees with those. I hope to make it work. If it doesn't, I've bought myself some peace for some time which I need.

A very good friend of ours, in whom my husband places a lot of trust, has offered for many years to come and help my husband go through the process of how to decide what to keep and what to throw away. After all these years, my husband has agreed to a time for the two of them to do that. Collectively, the three of us also plan to shop for filing cabinets, book shelves, files, labels, etc. to go through the exercise of organizing some papers. With or without the new house, I'm trying to make sure these things happen, though it is possible that my husband will balk and busy himself with work. But I'm going to try.

Will keep you posted, starting with a picture of the lower level tomorrow. Keeping my fingers crossed. Hope I didn't make this discussion too mushy. KSWL, peony, mudhouse, notherner, and others, grateful for all your thoughtful responses. Cheers.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 3:38PM
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Best of luck!

    Bookmark   May 6, 2014 at 4:42PM
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I do not vote for moving because of the amount of space the "stuff" takes care of. My grandma did exactly that because of her things and all she did was hang on to even more. The fish grew to the size of the bigger fishbowl.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 8:28AM
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When I first read the original post I was firmly in the make the move camp. After reading all the thoughtful posts I'm not so sure.
After reading all this, I realize I have been surrounded by hoarders all my life. I had never really thought about that. My parents in law were both hoarders. She hoarded because she grew up very poor. He was a trader and auction nut and couldn't pass up a bargain. I wasn't involved in any of the clean up after they died so I wasn't affected. My sister in law died of ALS last year and when she was moved to a nursing home a few months before her death she was worried about what was going to happen to her stuff. Her kids had cleaned up after her many times through the years and threw stuff away and it never changed her hoarding tendencies a bit.
I had another sister in law who hoarded and when my brother died I'm ashamed to say, I went in with her permission and cleaned out her house. I knew nothing about hoarding at that time and enjoyed every minute of it. Later, when I saw how wrenching the clean up was for her and how emotionally invested she was in every plastic cup and scrap of paper I felt just terrible. She was mentally ill for as long as I knew her but functioned well, held a job and had multiple degrees. Still I suspect the cleanup of her house was just as hard on her as the death of her husband. She kept me at arms lengh for the few years she lived after that and I had to read about her death in the newspaper. She talked to me on the phone but never allowed me near her house again.
Later, when a hoarding neighbor had to move and couldn't throw a thing away I helped her pack every piece of cardboard and paper sack without comment. I said plenty about the hoard of cats she had and told her they stunk and I could smell them from the street. She'd laugh and say "but they are so cute". LOL
My advice is to do what YOU think is best. You've listened to all our advice and only you know what is best for your situation.
If I were in your situation I would get a house of my own and live in peace. I wouldn't get a divorce and I'd stay on friendly terms with the husband. Easy for me to say, huh?
On another note, I have a grandson living with me who is twenty one but can't function in the world. He has tourettes syndrome but I'm not sure if that is responsible for his problems or not. Just wanted to say, I relate to those of you with similar kids and rejoice to hear the success stories.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 4:22PM
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When I first read the original post I was firmly in the make the move camp. After reading all the thoughtful posts I'm not so sure.
After reading all this, I realize I have been surrounded by hoarders all my life. I had never really thought about that. My parents in law were both hoarders. She hoarded because she grew up very poor. He was a trader and auction nut and couldn't pass up a bargain. I wasn't involved in any of the clean up after they died so I wasn't affected. My sister in law died of ALS last year and when she was moved to a nursing home a few months before her death she was worried about what was going to happen to her stuff. Her kids had cleaned up after her many times through the years and threw stuff away and it never changed her hoarding tendencies a bit.
I had another sister in law who hoarded and when my brother died I'm ashamed to say, I went in with her permission and cleaned out her house. I knew nothing about hoarding at that time and enjoyed every minute of it. Later, when I saw how wrenching the clean up was for her and how emotionally invested she was in every plastic cup and scrap of paper I felt just terrible. She was mentally ill for as long as I knew her but functioned well, held a job and had multiple degrees. Still I suspect the cleanup of her house was just as hard on her as the death of her husband. She kept me at arms lengh for the few years she lived after that and I had to read about her death in the newspaper. She talked to me on the phone but never allowed me near her house again.
Later, when a hoarding neighbor had to move and couldn't throw a thing away I helped her pack every piece of cardboard and paper sack without comment. I said plenty about the hoard of cats she had and told her they stunk and I could smell them from the street. She'd laugh and say "but they are so cute". LOL
My advice is to do what YOU think is best. You've listened to all our advice and only you know what is best for your situation.
If I were in your situation I would get a house of my own and live in peace. I wouldn't get a divorce and I'd stay on friendly terms with the husband. Easy for me to say, huh?
On another note, I have a grandson living with me who is twenty one but can't function in the world. He has tourettes syndrome but I'm not sure if that is responsible for his problems or not. Just wanted to say, I relate to those of you with similar kids and rejoice to hear the success stories.

This post was edited by peaceofmind on Wed, May 7, 14 at 20:47

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 4:24PM
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I apologize for the delayed update. The inspection on the 4500 sq.ft. house showed some serious concerns and we canceled the purchase agreement. I'm sure it is a sign, but sign of what, I'm not so sure.

The only unique advantage to that particular house was (for purposes of managing clutter) that it had nearly a 1000 sq.ft. on a separate level that I could turn into a space for DH and keep the other levels clear. (And the only reason I even raised the subject on a decorating forum.) Not sure I'll think of moving unless a house presents itself with a similarly separable area.

DH appears open and willing for the first time to tackle the mess. We'll see. Thanks for everyone's time and thoughtful responses.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2014 at 9:57AM
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It's a really positive sign that your DH recognizes it's a problem and is willing to start the process of cleaning out, even if he's just doing it to make you happy. My only suggestion would be to take it very slowly so he doesn't feel overwhelmed and that "all"his stuff is being thrown small section a day, twice a week, once a week...whatever he can handle. Even though it was by default, I think staying put and trying to tackle this in your current home is the best thing. Good luck and update us on how it's going!

    Bookmark   May 17, 2014 at 11:00AM
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It's surely a sign! Good luck with cleaning up and sorting out!

    Bookmark   May 17, 2014 at 11:00AM
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