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How My Hoarding Disorder Affects Me

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I am neither lazy nor am I a bad housekeeper. I struggle with my hoarding disorder every day. Even when my house is clean, neat and tidy, I still deal with it on a daily basis. I know I am a compulsive spender, especially when I am emotionally charged. I also recognize that my anxiety, depression and various physical and mental illnesses become a hindrance in my attempts to sort, clean and organize my house. All of these illnesses, disorders and syndromes affect my hoarding disorder. Hoarding disorder plus compulsive shopping plus anxiety plus depression plus various physical and mental illnesses, disorders and syndromes together have the potential to be a recipe for disaster.

I get easily overwhelmed and do not know where to start. I get disgusted with myself when I see the mess and clutter and become my own personal bully. I feel as though others are judging me harshly and negatively when they see the state of my home — that somehow I am letting them down. I am also feeling as though I am failing at being a good person, a good fiancée, and a good and useful member of society. I feel embarrassed. I actually do get judged by some of my family and friends, which doesn’t help me or my situation. I get so discouraged when I make progress but within minutes I am piling things in an area I just cleaned and organized. I get disheartened when days, weeks or months later, the area I just finished or finished again is now back to how it was or even worse.

I have purposely stopped going to yard, garage and estate sales because I felt obligated to buy something, anything — even if I didn’t need or want it, or would ever use it. Depending on the situation, it can be fast food, junk food, something I wanted, a gift for someone, or I just go hunting for something to buy. It can be something pretty to make my home more organized or aesthetically pleasing or something to make me feel good. I have become an expert at rationalizing the need to hold on to things because you never know when you might need it. I have become an even greater expert at making excuses for my hoard, but then I question if am I truly making excuses, or are my excuses legitimate reasons? For example, my fibromyalgia is flaring up, making it hard for me to bend over that day (because it affects the muscles and joints), or I was physically sick, or I had more pressing issues or tasks to deal with that were time sensitive.

I realize and admit I am a hoarder. Even more so, I actively try to work on lessening my hoard, while trying to avoid my collecting triggers. However, just because I am aware of all of my nuances with hoarding doesn’t mean it is easy for me to “cure” myself of this mental disorder. I am thankful for my father taking me to his mother’s house after her passing, to help the family divide up her many possessions, and I came to the stark realization I had a problem — I was a hoarder. She had her salt and pepper collection, spoon collection, Red Rose tea figurines collection, other knickknacks, and two-thirds of a trailer-sized room filled from floor to ceiling with paper. Now keep in mind everything was organized and had its own spot. Her house did not look messy or cluttered at all. Even the paper was neatly stacked in tidy rows and columns. It simply was the sheer volume of paper she had that hit home with me. I wondered, “What possible reason could she have had for all of that paper? Was there anything important on those hundreds of thousands of 8-inch by 11-inch sheets?” Then another realization dawned on me. If I wasn’t careful, I could potentially lose up to two-thirds or more of my future home to paper and other unnecessary junk.

I became aware of the fact I had a tendency to keep scraps of paper, and this was an even bigger problem than just more items being collected. I have not been so far gone into my disorder that I have held on to unsanitary items, which you often see on the reality television show “Hoarders.” I have never rationalized keeping disgusting items such as rotten food, dirty laundry, mouse urine-soaked items (after a small winter mouse invasion), mouse chewed items (after a winter mouse home invasion), or water damaged items (from flood damage). I have always had working plumbing and appliances, and never had a cockroach infestation. However, I am certainly guilty of keeping things just because I might need them sometime in the distant future. I am guilty of keeping expired food items that are just old and stale but not spoiled, till I decide it is time to let them go. I am guilty of holding onto clothes that are either too small or too big for me because I may lose that weight or I may gain back the weight I lost. I do however eventually donate some of these clothes I no longer fit into and other clothes I simply do not wear anymore.

I am also guilty of buying gifts for people and storing them, which is fine up until the holiday or birthday arrives. However, sometimes I find I do not have the money to mail these gifts out so they remain in my home for a year or more, and sometimes I forget what I have. The worst is when I have wrapped them, but had no label and could not mail them out. I forget what the present was and sometimes I forget who it was even for. I have items in need of repair and I have several projects which I have started but have yet to complete. I have bags of bags and boxes of boxes, as well as other packing materials for those gifts I have yet to send out in the mail. I have some of my textbooks and notes from my last degree, as well as everything from my most recent diploma, and I even have all of my high school French notes. I still have my fake corsage and the dress from my prom, which will soon have been 20 years ago.

I also realize I get this from my mother’s side as well. My grandmother had dozens of heavy blankets, even though it was just her and her second husband. My mother has more than one of the same items. One day I looked in her vanity and found nine mousses, six hairsprays and five gels, just for her hair. In her fridge, she had three bottles of dill pickles, five bottles of mustard, and two bottles of mayo. Every single bottle, jar or can in her fridge and vanity had been opened and partially used. My nanny had dozens of old Sears catalogs, stacked in her cupboard by the phone. My father would sometimes scavenge for metal and throw it into the woods because you never know when you might need a certain piece or size of metal (he did a lot of welding and auto repair and maintenance to our vehicles, our neighbor’s tractor, and our wood splitter). No one would ever claim my grandmother was a hoarder, nor would they say that about my mother, my nanny or my father, because their homes looked neat, tidy and organized. Everything had its place and some things were out of sight. Yet, they all held onto things that were not necessary. So, if you look at their collections, it isn’t too farfetched to think my hoarding disorder has been slightly influenced by them, albeit not intentionally.

It is not as simple as many people might think to simply get rid of these items or mail them out. It hasn’t helped that I left my job to focus on my university diploma. “Hoarders” does not adequately show the struggle a person has with a hoarding disorder. Viewers are left thinking the individual was successful because they cleaned up their house; the person is cured of their emotional struggle, therefore they are cured of their hoarding disorder and all they need is some aftercare in the form of therapy, organizational help and some extra help decluttering and cleaning. The show makes the audience believe hoarding can be cured, much like depression, which is a complete myth. Yes we all sometimes get behind in cleaning our homes, or have that inevitable junk drawer, or experience a small bout of depression due to the loss of a loved one, home or job, or have a bout of anxiety (nervous for that new job, etc.), but those who get diagnosed with depression, anxiety or hoarding disorder truly struggle every day of their lives, not just once in a while when something happens.

My hoarding started getting worse after I moved out of my family’s home. It was never really too bad as I often had enough space in my apartment or basement suite to accommodate my belongings. At the most, I would have up to four boxes of paper and one or two boxes of random junk. This was an easy amount to manage. However, the boxes of paper greatly shot up when I decided to move across the country and my mother told me I could not store anything or leave anything behind. I was successful in getting rid of 11 large garbage bags full of paper, mostly notes from my university degree and high school diploma classes. I still ended up with about six to eight boxes of papers that were important, such as student loan or line of credit letters and documents. When my fiancée bought our house, I managed to get the number of boxes containing just paper back down to just two or three boxes. However, shortly after my nanny passed away (she raised me from 6 weeks to 8 years old during the week while my parents worked), things slowly spiraled out of control. When I returned to university for another diploma, things rapidly disintegrated because it was a very assignment-heavy program — meaning lots of notes and written papers, plus a lot of printed materials — and I hardly had any time for anything else. I barely got any sleep and barely managed to keep the bare minimum of chores completed. Now here I sit three years later, and my house has all these pathways to walk through and I cannot use my writing desk, dining room table, my kitchen counter, coffee table, access my crawl space under the stairs, or even get into my spare room. Yet, I already feel defeated. I am overwhelmed, and I know things will get even worse given enough time.

I have been to therapy for all of the loss and grief I have experienced, but obviously, I was not seeing the right therapist. So, I feel even more defeated, because what if no one can help me? Are there some that there is absolutely no hope for?

I have sought out therapy for my depression, anxiety, self-confidence and self-esteem. Between therapy and medication, I have had a reasonable amount of success and progress. I often hear myself saying things such as, “The reason why my house is such a mess is because the house is so small, it is tall and not wide, I am just not used to such a small horizontal space that has large vertical spaces, and I do not know how to work with this space.” Am I just making more excuses? Or is there some legitimate truth to my claims?

If I had the money, I could afford therapy for my grief and loss — an organizational specialist to help me par down my hoard and organize my small home, and I could afford a therapist who specialized in hoarding disorder (assuming there is one here in my city). Until I find and obtain constant employment in my field, I guess I will just have to soldier on by myself, battling my inner demons, my emotional scars, mental health issues and various illnesses, diseases, and syndromes. Hopefully, I will one day find some freedom from my affliction by having my house in order, with a place for everything and everything in its place, with better tools, strategies, and techniques at my disposal to use in order to avoid letting triggers affect my hoarding disorder. Until then, I will have to just keep plugging away and slowly chip away at my hoard, one small area at a time, one item at a time and one day at a time.

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Thinkstock photo via VikaValter

Originally published: September 16, 2017
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