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An Unannounced Visit Into The OVERCROWDED Minds of Hoarders

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The Psychology of Hoarders

Posted by Adam Tod Brown for The Smoking Jacket

Just about everyone has seen the various reality shows documenting people’s problems with hoarding. Or maybe you just know someone who has a ton of junk laying around the house and you’re worried that they’re heading for an appearance on one of those shows. Either way, you’ve probably wondered exactly what the hell is going through the head of a person who hoards.


This fascinating infographic has the answers.
Psychology of Hoarding Infographic
Source: Psychology Degree


Hoarders: Andrew

1 min – Dec 13, 2010
Andrew and Matt are clearing up his yard when Andrew comes across a set of plates that have been outside for some time. Andrew

Hoarders: Hanna

Apr 7, 2011
Hanna sits with Dr. Zasio and Matt to sort boxes of canned food. Some of the food is over 30 years old and the cans are heavily

Hoarders: Mary Lynn

2 min – Oct 25, 2010
Geralin discusses Mary Lynn s shopping and spending habits. Mary Lynn has justified her excessive purchasing by considering it to

Hoarders: Claudie

44 min – Jun 6, 2011 – Season 2 – Episode 13 – Claudie
This family of 14 was the Brady Bunch of the block–until mother Claudie’s hoarding tore the family apart and turned them all into the pariahs

6 Celebrity Hoarders

By Ami Angelowicz for The Frisky

6 Celebrity HoardersSplash News

Michaele and Tareq Salahi, better known as the White House party crashers cum “The Real Housewives of DC” cast members, may be hiding a very dirty secret. According to a former employee, they may have a hoarding issue. “[Their home] was almost like a hoarder’s house, with paper stacked up everywhere. There was also dog hair and dead bugs that seemed to be all over the floor—and old food would be sitting on the stove for weeks!” revealed the former personal assistant to the couple. As a person who has watched every episode of “Hoarders,” I would say that if these accusations are true, the Salahis are most definitely in the club. It doesn’t really surprise me either—something just ain’t right there. [Celebitchy]

On the laundry list of Lindsay Lohan’s problems is her compulsive hoarding issue. Luckily, Niecy Nash intervened.

6 Celebrity HoardersSplash News
I think owning 17 dogs qualifies Paris Hilton as a pet hoarder. [Examiner]
6 Celebrity HoardersSplash News
Maybe a hoarding problem was partially to blame for the end of Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt’s marriage. Some pics of the inside of their house scared us more than Heidi’s new face. [Pop on the Pop]
6 Celebrity HoardersSplash News
“Friends” star Lisa Kudrow has publicly acknowledged her hoarding problem. She’s into keeping old documents, faxes, and day planners … like from the ‘80s. Yikes. [Perez Hilton]
6 Celebrity HoardersSplash News
Mariah Carey has been rumored to collect (read as: hoard) lingerie, perfume bottles, and all things feminine. [E Music]


  1. We admitted we were powerless over clutter — that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for the knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The Twelve Steps are reprinted and adapted with permission of Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. Permission to reprint and adapt this material does not mean that AA is affiliated with this program. AA is a program of recovery from alcoholism only — use of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions in connection with these programs and activities which are patterned after AA, but which address other problems, does not imply otherwise.

Copyright © 1989 – 2010 by Clutterers Anonymous World Service Organization.
All Rights Reserved.


Children of Hoarders on Leaving the Cluttered Nest

Stacy Sodolak for The New York Times

Holly Sabiston said that her home in Austin, Tex., fluctuates between neat and “über neat.”

By | N.Y.T.
JESSIE SHOLL’S West Village apartment is a rent-stabilized fifth-floor walk-up, three small rooms and a sleeping loft where she and her husband, both writers, have lived for seven years. Perfect-storm conditions for clutter. But Ms. Sholl, a petite, pale-skinned woman of 42, keeps things tidy with routine “purges.” Even of objects she likes.

“I should get rid of this,” she said on a recent afternoon, pointing to a chicken sitting on top of a bookshelf, handmade by an artist out of recycled shower curtains. “It serves no purpose.”

Two minutes earlier she had been admiring its colorful plumes.

She laughed. “It’s a little pathological, I admit.”

If Ms. Sholl is overly zealous in her approach to housekeeping, one can understand why after reading her recently published memoir, “Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean About Her Mother’s Compulsive Hoarding.” The parent Ms. Sholl describes is a woman whose cluttered living room inexplicably contains five sewing machines and at least eight pairs of moldy cowboy boots. She is someone who buys too much and doesn’t throw anything away, even as the stuff piles up and impedes normal life — the textbook definition of a hoarder.

In dealing with her mother’s home in Minneapolis, Ms. Sholl has spent much of her life alternating between feeling shame about its squalid condition and attempting to rid it of the books, scraps of paper, empty food cartons and thrift-store tchotchkes littering every available surface.

When she learned that her mother had cancer, in 2006, Ms. Sholl flew out for one last-ditch cleanup attempt, an effort that inspired “Dirty Secret.” “The stove was piled feet-high with dirty pans,” Ms. Sholl said. “It gnawed at me that she was living that way.”

Many children of hoarders know the feeling. Even as scientists study the cognitive activity that accompanies the disorder and television shows like TLC’s “Hoarding: Buried Alive” and A&E’s “Hoarders” have made it a mainstream issue, scant attention has been paid to how hoarding affects families of the afflicted, especially their children. Most are left to their own devices to make sense of growing up in homes where friends and relatives are unable to visit, with parents who seem to value inanimate objects more than the animate ones navigating the goat paths through the clutter.

Randy O. Frost, a psychology professor at Smith College, has been studying hoarders for two decades and is an author of “Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things.” Children of hoarders, he noted, often display a tortured ambivalence toward their parents, perhaps because unlike spouses or friends of hoarders, they had little choice but to live amid the junk.

“They grew up in this difficult environment and naturally came to resent it,” Dr. Frost said. “But at the same time, these are your parents and you have to not only respect and love but take care of them. What happens when they get old?”

NOT surprisingly, there are a number of online support groups and blogs devoted to children of hoarders, including Hoarder’s Son and Behind the Door. The most popular, Children of Hoarders, maintains an online forum where members trade strategies for helping parents, discuss issues like “doorbell dread” (more on that later) and share stories. One account, posted by a woman named Tracy Schroeder, details in emotionally raw terms her mother’s death and the subsequent cleanup of the family home in Clovis, N.M., which was filled with magazines, craft supplies and dog feces.

“The COH Web site was my saving grace,” Ms. Schroeder, 42, said. “Nobody understands the weirdness of growing up this way unless they go through it.”

In high school, Ms. Schroeder said, she was a cheerleader and president of her class, but she lived in constant fear that “someone would see our house.” After her parents divorced, she strategically arranged visits with friends when she was spending weekends with her father. The college she attended was 20 minutes from her mother’s house, but she rarely visited, she said, because “I wouldn’t want to stay there, and that would cause fights.”

(Page 2 of 3)

Her reluctance to visit became a moot point when her mother eventually stopped letting her in. By the time she died, in 2006, Ms. Schroeder said, “I hadn’t been in the house for eight or nine years.”

Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Adult children of hoarders like Jessie Sholl, with her husband, David Farley, often compensate by purging clutter from their homes. Their dog, Abraham Lincoln, shares their New York apartment.

She added, mournfully: “She wouldn’t let you help — that’s what’s so frustrating. She would cut you out if you brought it up.”

Ms. Sholl’s mother, Sheila Sholl, said she had the same attitude: for years she was in denial about her hoarding. “I told myself I was collecting kitschy things, and I was sure the value would go up,” she said. “I was dealing with anxiety disorders that I had as a child through this stuff. I’d walk into a room and see my stuff and feel comforted.”

As the house filled up, though, she shut down. “I never really could put effort into my environment because I felt overwhelmed by everything.”

Her daughter’s book, she said, helped her understand how hoarding affected their relationship, especially after she and her husband were divorced, and why her daughter decided to live with her father. “She had no place to be comfortable here,” Sheila Sholl said. “There was no place to sit.”

The Children of Hoarders message board often reads like a transcript of a group therapy session, but exchanges also reflect practical concerns. Some children of hoarders ask questions like, “How often do you wash bedsheets?” that reveal a lack of basic household skills.

Like others, Ms. Schroeder went through an adjustment period when she was on her own for the first time. The dorm room she lived in during her freshman year in college, she said, was a mess: “My roommate from that time still brings it up. I’ve never done that again.”

Holly Sabiston grew up outside Kansas City, Mo., with a parent who had a “junk room” that took over the house. (Her mother, Gwen Fisher, doesn’t dispute that, but prefers to see herself as someone with a cluttered house rather than a hoarder. “I don’t like the term,” she said. “I do have a lot of guilt that we didn’t have a better place,” she added, but explained that she accumulated items she thought she would use, and that money concerns kept her from tossing anything.)

Consequently, Ms. Sabiston, 42, never learned how to maintain a home, she said, so after high school she went to work for a housekeeping service, in an effort “to work it out by getting a job as a cleaning lady.”

It stands to reason that someone raised in a home marked by excessive accumulation would have a complex relationship with stuff. Some children of hoarders keep too much; others throw out everything. (Ms. Sholl can’t find her graduate school diploma; she thinks she may have tossed it during a purge.) Both responses may suggest an inability to determine the proper value of objects.

As Dr. Frost put it: “Without a role model, how can one learn what is valuable and what is not? How do you decide whether you need an empty soda bottle or a piece of junk mail?”

Ms. Sabiston now lives with her husband in a small house in Austin, Tex., that fluctuates between neat and “über neat,” she said. For years, she didn’t want much and found shopping “paralyzing,” but recently she discovered her nesting side, when she took a job as an image archivist for an architecture firm. She is currently reupholstering an Eero Saarinen chair that once sat in her paternal grandparents’ midcentury modern home, a project she describes in almost therapeutic terms.

One suspects that her lingering discomfort with shopping may be rooted in the fear of becoming a hoarder.

“I don’t think I’m in danger of getting anywhere close to my mother,” Ms. Sabiston said. “But I do still worry about it.”

It’s a reasonable concern. Preliminary evidence from research being done at Johns Hopkins University suggests that hoarding runs in families, said Jack Samuels, an associate professor in the psychiatry department. “We think there may be a genetic component,” Dr. Samuels said.

(Page 3 of 3)

Dorothy Breininger, a professional organizer and a producer of the A&E show “Hoarders,” said she had noticed that when someone was raised by a hoarder from a very early age, “there’s a likeliness they’ll want to collect.”

Stuart Isett for The New York Times

Jason Brunet said that his Seattle apartment is “somewhere in the middle” on the tidiness scale.

That may be why Jason Brunet was “reassured greatly” when he was able to downsize from a large two-bedroom apartment to a one-bedroom in Seattle not long ago. Mr. Brunet, 30, appeared in an especially harrowing episode of the show. His mother’s hoarding was so far gone that authorities deemed her home near New Orleans unfit for her pet dogs after Child Protective Services removed him when he was 13. He spent the remainder of his childhood living nearby with his older sister.

The episode shows him returning to his mother’s house for the first time in four years, surveying the squalor with the curiosity of an anthropologist. Standing in front of a bed heaped with junk, he informs the camera with apparent detachment: “This is like an alluvial flood plain, with layers and layers of deposits.”

His own apartment, Mr. Brunet said recently, is “somewhere in the middle” on the tidiness scale. When he moved, he added, “it was extremely easy to get rid of stuff that I didn’t need — I was relieved to learn that about myself.”

Not everyone leaves the cluttered nest behind so easily. Perhaps by living with his older sister, Mr. Brunet managed to avoid many of the hang-ups children of hoarders deal with — including the nearly universal “doorbell dread,” a term mentioned frequently on the Children of Hoarders board. It’s a response to living in an isolated home, where the hoarder is too embarrassed to entertain guests. As a result, children of hoarders tend to be uneasy hosts.

Ms. Sholl said she can’t recall anyone visiting her childhood home, something her mother confirmed. (“Somebody has to know me for 10 years before I let them in,” Sheila Sholl said.) And as an adult, “I can only think of two parties I hosted in my 20s,” Jessie Sholl said. “I didn’t like my space being viewed.” Now that she’s married, she added, her more-social husband has helped her feel comfortable inviting people over.

Marriage, however, creates its own challenges — merging one’s life and domestic habits with those of another person is an adjustment for anyone, especially someone who is the child of a hoarder. And it tends to complicate relationships when you tell a potential partner, “You can never visit my parents’ house.”

Ms. Schroeder has been married twice; neither husband ever set foot in her mother’s home. Certainly not her current spouse, who is very tidy, she said, and would have been “traumatized forever.”

Is it a coincidence that Ms. Schroeder married a neat freak?

“I wonder if I did it to have him ground me?” she mused.

Ms. Sholl’s husband, David Farley, a travel writer, has ventured inside his mother-in-law’s house. After her cancer diagnosis, he went along with Ms. Sholl to help clean. They both got scabies.

“I’ll probably never go back,” Mr. Farley said, though not bitterly. He seemed understanding of his wife’s history and said their domestic styles were for the most part compatible. The knickknacks he buys on his travels abroad, though, sometimes make her uncomfortable. As do his old baseball cards in the hall closet.

“I keep saying, ‘Sell them — let’s go to Europe’ ” with the money, Ms. Sholl said.

WHATEVER balance children of hoarders manage to find in their own homes, there is still the ancestral homestead to contend with — and the knowledge that it is filling up with more junk by the day — so long as the parent with the hoarding problem is alive. After years of pleading and arguing, children of hoarders often abandon all hope that the parent will reform.

Most therapists agree that the disorder is complex and difficult to treat. Dr. Frost noted that there had been some success with cognitive behavior therapy that “includes a combination of things: focusing on controlling the urge to acquire and learning how to break the attachment people have to things.”

Just trying to de-clutter the home doesn’t work, because “you’re dealing with the product of the behavior, not the behavior itself,” he said. “That’s what’s so frustrating to family members — they’re trying to de-clutter and it ends up being a giant argument.”

But by simply admitting her problem, Sheila Sholl has given her daughter a small measure of satisfaction that many children of hoarders desperately want but never receive.

“She has a mental illness that is really frustrating,” Jessie Sholl said. “But she doesn’t want to be a hoarder. Nobody wants to do that.”

Sheila Sholl, who is now cancer-free, said she was making an effort to buy less and keep her house tidier. Still, she said, “I’ve got all kinds of things on my table, dishes to be washed, cookbooks lying around.”

Her daughter, meanwhile, prefers not to discuss the house with her mother or to visit her there — until the day she must. “I’m not trying to sound flippant,” she said, “but when I go into that house I will definitely be wearing a hazmat suit.”

A version of this article appeared in print on May 12, 2011, on page D1 of the New York edition with the headline: Leaving The Cluttered Nest.


Brian Stauffe

‘Dirty Secret’

Published: May 11, 2011

I take an early flight and arrive in Minneapolis in the late morning. That afternoon, my stepmom, Sandy, and I are meeting my mother at the lawyer’s office so I can sign the papers about the house. My dad and Sandy normally have limited contact with my mother, but before I left New York, Sandy called me and offered to help in any way she could; she even agreed to let my mother sign power of attorney over to her, since I live so far away. I wish I could call my brother so he could help, but that’s not an option.

When my mom arrives, Sandy and I are waiting for her in the parking lot in front of the lawyer’s office. My mom gets out of her giant rusty car and I try to ignore the fact that the back seat is piled to the ceiling with garbage bags, clothes, shoes, and God only knows what else. It’s April, and warm for a Minneapolis spring. My mother’s in one of her signature knee-length sweater-coats, the baggy black leggings she’s taken to wearing in the last few years, and a roomy pale blue T-shirt, or as she says in her lingering Boston accent, “a jersey.” Her keys hang on an orange plastic coil around her neck. Her curly hair is completely gray now—sometimes she dyes it brown or auburn—and cut in a chin-length bob, with bangs. It looks pretty decent for cutting it herself, which she always does.

“You look good, Mom,” I say, leaning down to hug her—she’s the only adult I know that I have to lean down to hug. “How are you feeling?”

“Not too bad,” my mom says and takes a sip of what I’m sure is coffee from her ever-present travel mug. Right after she called me with the news about her cancer I went online and found out that the statistics for colon cancer are good. Really good. And now, seeing how plump and healthy she looks, I’m even less worried. Then again, both of her parents died of cancer. So I’m worried, but not panicked.

“Thanks for coming, Sandy,” my mother says, sounding shy.

“Of course,” Sandy says, and squeezes my mom’s shoulder.

Inside the small office, the lawyer: blonde, pretty, and hugely pregnant, is waiting for us at the reception desk.

“Right this way,” she says, her Minnesotan vowels elongated as she adds, “How’re you guys doing?”

“Good, okay, fine,” we say, and take our seats around a conference table in a windowless room. A small stack of papers sits in front of each of us.

“Does anyone want coffee?” the lawyer asks, and my mother accepts, topping off the contents of her travel mug. My mom drinks two or three pots of coffee a day and nothing else. She hates water, which I’ve been trying to get her to drink for years. She won’t touch it. Just like the vitamins I’ve bought her, just like the leafy green vegetables I nag her about. And she’s the one who’s a nurse. She picks up her travel mug by wrapping both her tiny hands around it and takes a big sip.

I wonder what the lawyer thinks of us. She seems like the most normal of creatures; it’s hard to imagine that she’s encountered such a strange repackaging of a family. A daughter owning her mother’s house? The ex-husband’s wife holding power of attorney? Then again, maybe it doesn’t seem so strange. At thirty-seven, I have friends my age who are beginning to make choices for their aging parents. Because my mother’s and my roles were reversed early on, I probably shouldn’t be fazed by this new, official responsibility. But when I glance down at the stack of papers in front of me, it takes all my self-control to keep from jumping up and pacing.

My mother, on the other hand, appears as relaxed as I’ve ever seen her—she’s smacking her gum and sipping her coffee as happily as if she’s just found a treasure trove of misshapen wool sweaters or a bundle of dog-eared 25-cent detective novels at her favorite thrift store, Savers. I know she likes the idea of not having to be responsible for herself anymore. Like the time she called me at my dad’s when I was nine, demanding that I come up with the money to pay her outrageous water bill—since I must’ve left the hose on the last time I was there. I laughed, thinking she was joking, and she hung up on me. It turned out the bill was so high because my mother hadn’t paid it in months. But what stayed with me afterward was the relief in her voice at having come up with a “solution” before she bothered to call the water company and work out the problem herself. It was the same relief I heard in her voice the following year, when I told her I didn’t want to live with her every other week anymore, and that from then on I’d be living with my dad and Sandy full time.

The lawyer tells Sandy which papers she should sign, and explains that she should keep them in a safe if she has one.

And then it’s my turn. In one sense, it might be good for me to have the house in my name—that way I could force my mom to finally sell it and move into a condo. But the idea of that house in my name is too repellant. My hands won’t move toward the papers.

“I can’t do it,” I say, and at that moment I recognize a way out. “David and I have low-income insurance. With a house in my name we wouldn’t qualify anymore.”

I have no idea if we’d actually be disqualified—I just know I don’t want that house. I really, really, really do not want that house.

“You have to,” my mother whisper-orders, her hazel eyes opened wide.

“No I don’t. I can’t.”

The lawyer looks unfazed. Maybe it’s the pregnancy hormones. “How about this,” she says, and suggests we sign the papers and leave them in her office without filing them. We can file them later, she says, if it’s necessary.

“Okay,” I say, and sign them.

And just like that, my mother goes back to smacking her gum and sipping her coffee, a pleased half-smile across her face.

After the lawyer’s office, we go to a coffee shop to discuss my mother’s post-surgery plans. For about the hundredth time in the last few years, I suggest that my mother sell her house and buy a condo. Partly it’s for selfish reasons: The smaller the space, the easier it’ll be for me to clean during visits. Plus, in a condo the yard work and repairs would be taken care of.

“Helen, I think that’s a great idea,” Sandy says. “I can help you find something.”

Sandy and my dad are realtors, with their own company and a few agents who work for them; they occasionally buy a house, fix it up, and try to sell it for a profit, with my dad doing all the carpenter-type duties.

“No,” my mom says. “I’m happy in the house. I’m staying.”

“That house is way too big for you,” I say. It’s got four bedrooms and a large backyard that as far as I know hasn’t encountered a lawn mower in years. Besides, the only bathroom is on the second floor and it’s not clear if my mother will be able to climb stairs after the surgery.

“How much could I get for it?” my mother asks Sandy. As soon as she hears the answer she starts shaking her head. “I know it’s worth more! A house two blocks away sold for twice that last week!”

“I know that house, Helen—it was sold by one of my agents. No offense, but your house just isn’t in that kind of condition.”

“Should we go to Savers next?” my mom asks. “It’s ninety-nine cent day. Everything with a yellow tag.”

“Mom, are you listening? What are we going to do about your house?”

“Maybe I’ll go look at the cakes,” my mom says. “I’m in the mood for something sweet.”

She scrambles to get out of the chair, her movements clumsy and deliberate. She has the gait of someone just released from an Iron Lung, someone with equilibrium problems. At 63, she moves with the grace, agility, and speed of a 93-year-old. Or, to be fair to 93-year-olds, maybe a 103-year-old. Sandy and I watch her hobble up to the counter. She’s wearing sneakers, as always, and her already giant feet (I’ve got them too) have spread even wider after years of back-to-back nursing shifts. I try to take some deep breaths, but the frustration over my mom’s reluctance to even consider selling her house roils inside me. Not to mention the dread I feel about having to clean it. Again. I have to admit, though, there’s another part of me that’s excited—maybe this time, it’ll work. Maybe this time, it’ll stay clean.

“Are you okay?” Sandy asks me. “You must be worried about her.”

“I am.” I look down at my hands; I’m tearing my napkin into strips. “And I wish I could get her to be serious for a second.”

Right then my mom returns to the table, empty handed.

“Oh, Jessie,” she says, “I know what I’ll do. I’ll buy a van, one of those step vans!”

“What’s a step van?” I ask.

“One of those vans that you step into! I’ll buy one and I’ll drive it to Florida.”

“And then?” I ask. My mother is a terrifyingly slow driver. I’ve walked a mile in a Minnesota winter rather than drive somewhere with her. And even in a normal car she requires two phone books to see over the dash. There’s no way she can drive across the country in a van by herself.

“And then I’ll live in the van,” she says.

“Mom, come on. I need to make sure you’re going to be okay. You do have some kind of retirement fund, right?”

I’ve never been able to get a straight answer out of my mother regarding her money situation. For years my dad and I have speculated about her savings. Her expenses are so minimal—the house is paid off, she drives a used car, never takes vacations—that she must have something saved from all the years of overtime at the nursing home. She must, we say, have hundreds of thousands of dollars stashed away in a mattress; it was what her father did, after all.

Just before her cancer diagnosis she was fired from the nursing home for being too slow. It wasn’t fair, she said, the people she worked with were so much younger, mostly in their twenties and thirties; they could just fly down the hallways while she struggled, and often didn’t succeed, to finish her duties before she had to punch out. So she began punching out and then continuing to work, hoping no one would notice. But they did notice. She was warned, more than once, that she had to finish her work during her shift. But she couldn’t keep up.

It was only because she was unemployed that she had time for the check-up that led to the colonoscopy, which revealed the colon cancer. And since I’m the one who insisted she get health insurance a few years back, she says I’ve saved her life. Assuming she survives the surgery, and I’m definitely assuming she’s going to survive the surgery. So I need to know how she’s planning to live. She won’t qualify for Social Security for two more years.

“The house is my retirement,” she says now, taking a sip of her coffee. “Jessie, this is cold. Will you ask them to heat this up?”

“Just answer me. Do you have a 401k?”

“Oh, yeah, yeah, don’t worry.” She waves away my ridiculous concern. “I’ve got a plan.”

“Good. What’s the plan, Helen?” Sandy says.

My mother leans forward, her eyes glistening with excitement. “Cat beds!”

I drop my head into my hands, groaning, as my mother continues.

“These beds are like wicker baskets with pillows in them … and then the cats lie down and sleep in them!”

“Mom, be serious! This is about your future.”

“These cat beds are my future. They’re going to be so gorgeous, you just wouldn’t believe!”

“Do you realize that beds for cats already exist?” I ask.

She shakes her head. “I’ve never seen them anywhere.”

“Where did you get this idea, then?”

She leans back in her chair and is silent for a few seconds. “Okay. I do have another plan. I’m suing those motherf**kers who fired me! That was ageism and they can’t get away with it.”

“But you’ve been getting complaints at work for years,” I say. “The work was too much.”

“I don’t care. What they did was illegal and those motherf**kers are going to pay. Just wait!”

* * *

Early the next morning, my dad drives me to my mom’s house on his way to check out one of Sandy’s listings. Today is supposed to be the one day my mother and I will both be in the house while I’m cleaning, which will give me a chance to ask her before I throw out anything I’m uncertain about. Tomorrow my mom is going into the hospital for one last quick test and then the surgery—we’ll learn her prognosis a day or two after that. I intend to finish as much of the cleaning as I can while my mom is in the hospital recovering; then I’ll stay in Minneapolis for a few days after she’s out, so I can help when she first goes home.

We pull up to the curb. The exterior of the house is the worst I’ve seen it—the paint peeling, the enclosed front porch piled in some spots to the ceiling with furniture, boxes, and giant empty picture frames. And that’s just what I can see from here. But I’m going to do this, no matter what. This is my chance. I say goodbye to my dad and climb out of the car. The lawn is a foot high and the unruly bush plopped right in the middle of it at least six feet across. I quicken my pace as I walk up the narrow sidewalk and then the front steps. I open the creaky glass door and duck inside the porch, hoping no one has seen me. I don’t want to be associated with the junk house.

A neglected heap of mail, who knows how many days’ worth, lies scattered under the slot. The red carpeting, in the few places I can actually see it, appears to have been splattered Pollack-style with motor oil. Two beat-up, three-speed bicycles lean precariously against one of the windows. In the corner stands a vintage washing tub, the kind where clothes are squeezed through a ringer. And in another corner there’s something black and twisted, no coiled—ohmygod, ohmyf**kinggod—

—it’s a snake.

I’m out the door, down the steps, and to the sidewalk in a millisecond. At the curb, I lean over at the waist, taking shallow hiccuppy breaths. I don’t even care who drives past—if it’s a choice between being associated with the junk house or facing one of those hellish creatures, I’d happily tattoo across my forehead that I belong to the junk house. On the other hand, I don’t want to give my mother the satisfaction of seeing me like this. I pull my cell phone from my jeans’ pocket and dial my husband. He’ll know what I should do. He’ll understand.

But he doesn’t answer.

And I really can’t put this off. I only have five cleaning days here and if the house is anywhere near as bad as last time, that may not be enough.

I force myself up the steps. Getting my eyes to look at the snake is another challenge. But somehow I manage. And maybe I’m at a better angle, but now I can see that what I thought was a snake is actually a pile of oil-black rags. A twisted pile of rags. Thank God. I feel the dizziness leave my head, as if clearing out a room’s stale air by opening windows; my lungs expand, drawing deeper breaths.

I open the door and once again step inside the porch. Two crumbling armoires take up half of one wall. Boxes and paper bags are stacked all around and on top of them. This mess looks somehow familiar. And then I recognize it: Like stumbling upon the remains of a village buried by lava, the evidence of my last cleanup attempt lives on underneath. She was supposed to arrange for the Salvation Army to get the armoires. Ditto for the bags of old sweaters and the sets of inflatable furniture.

The glass part of the house’s heavy front door is covered with a bamboo shade, so I can’t see inside. I press the doorbell. My mother opens the door and steps forward onto the porch, pulling the door closed behind her so I won’t come in.

“Oh, Jessie, let’s go to Perkins before you start cleaning. I want some of their pancakes.”

“Let me see the house,” I say.

She freezes. I push the door open a few inches and steal a look behind her: The hallway is packed with stacks of even more ignored mail—her phone gets shut off on a semi-regular basis because she can’t find the bills—two ironing boards, a mound of ratty looking sweaters, winter boots and coats and snow pants heaped directly underneath an empty metal coat rack, at least one box of marshmallow Peeps, milk-colored storage bins that I know without checking are empty, an oversized plastic pail containing ironic jugs of Lysol and Pine-Sol, and dozens of unopened white plastic Savers bags with the receipts still stapled to the top.

I push past her, to the narrow path in the center of the hallway. It reminds me of the winters here, when people are too lazy to shovel their whole sidewalk.

“Christ, where do I start?” I ask no one, already overwhelmed. Three years ago when I cleaned, my husband was here helping me.

During a visit to Minneapolis, my mom had asked us to help her move a dresser. I hadn’t seen the inside of her house in a few years, not since before Roger, her boyfriend of ten years, died. When David and I went in, I almost couldn’t believe what I was seeing—while her house had always been messy and crowded with things I considered useless, the clutter had entered the realm of the pathological: plates full of hard-as-a-rock spaghetti, smashed up take-out bags from Taco Bell and Burger King, coffee mugs with an inch of solidified something on the bottom, containers of motor oil, calculators and flashlights and key chains still in their packaging, knitting needles, magazines, bunches of brown bananas, and fast-food soda cups bleeding brown stickiness down the sides took up every inch of the kitchen table and the counter. The sink was piled high with dishes and an open garbage bag in the corner overflowed with paper plates. If she’d switched to paper plates, I thought, how long had those dishes been in the sink?

“What’s going on?” I asked her. “Why does your house look this bad?”

“I’m busy. I don’t have time to clean.”

I knew that was true; she was working as many doubles as the nursing home would let her. But still. “You can’t be so busy that you have to throw Popsicle sticks on the floor,” I said, pointing at a cluster on the other side of the doorway, in the living room. “Why can’t you put them in the trash? This place is an absolute disaster.”

“Oh, it’s fine,” she said.

“Tell me the truth. You really don’t see anything wrong here?”

She shook her head. “It’s not perfect, but it’s not too bad.”

All four burners on the stove were stacked with dirty pans, and the stove itself was crusted with grease that was cracked in places like a topographical map of the continents before they split apart.

“When was the last time you cooked?” I asked. My husband hadn’t said anything; he probably had no idea what to say.

“I don’t know,” my mother answered. “I only liked to cook for Roger.”

Family members of hoarders can often point to a particular trauma that occurred right before the hoarding began (though most hoarders show signs of it from an earlier age, often in their teens). My mother had always been a compulsive thrift store shopper, and untidy and disorganized, but when I saw her house that day for the first time since Roger died, I knew this was different. And it wasn’t just the trash everywhere. Her kitchen seemed utterly unusable, for one thing, and it was hard to walk from one room to the next. I’d heard the word “hoarder” in association with the famous Collyer brothers, and I suppose it stayed in my mind because I subconsciously suspected my mother was on the road to being one too—after all, as soon as she and my dad split up when I was seven, I began doing the cleaning, and as a kid I’d spend my summers weeding her front garden and planting flowers so my fellow students at the school across the street wouldn’t guess at the mess inside.

But what I saw that day was a whole new level of clutter. Clearly, Roger’s death had triggered my mother’s true hoarding. And what disturbed me most was that she couldn’t even tell.

Over the next few months, I kept picturing her in that house, alone. So my husband and I came up with a plan. We usually visited Minneapolis once in the winter and once for a long weekend each summer; we decided that the next summer we’d extend our long weekend by a few days and clean her house.

David and I arrived, full of purpose, determined. But my mother was uncooperative—I had to explain each and every item I wanted to get rid of and she fought me on almost everything. Still, we ended up driving seven loads of stuff to the Salvation Army in her car and leaving a mound of full trash bags out by her garbage bins in the alley. When we left, the house was better, but it wasn’t done. Somehow I managed though, to push her house to the bottom of my priority list. Until the cancer. Until now.

“Honey, come on, I’ll make some coffee. We’ll sit and visit,” my mother says, excited again. “Just for a few minutes. Please.”

I follow her into the kitchen. But none of her three coffeemakers work.

“I know you don’t go a day without coffee,” I say, “so how have you been making it?”

“That one just broke,” she says, pointing to an industrial-sized machine that looks like it was once white. “Oh, Jessie, now we have to go to Perkins!”

“The problem is, I need to start—there’s a lot to organize, and Joe’s showing up at 1:00.” Joe does construction and lawn work for my dad and I’ve arranged for him to help me haul the heavier items outside. At the end of the day another guy is coming with a truck to take the stuff away.

“Do you think Joe would help cut down this tree in the backyard?” my mom asks.

“Tree? What tree?”

“Wait a minute, Jessie, I’ve got something to tell you. You know how they say there are no atheists in foxholes?” she asks, a laugh already starting to crack her voice, “I’m proof that that’s not true! I’m still an atheist!”

“Good for you, Mom. Now what about that tree? What tree are you talking about?” Good Lord, I’m a humorless bitch. But someone has to take care of business and it certainly isn’t going to be her.

“It’s just this branch that’s been growing against the house. It’s not a problem.” She waves it off. How does a “branch” grow against a house? I walk past her, toward the back door, which is blocked by empty paper grocery bags, more plastic bins, dirty dish rags, rolls of paper towels, the skeletons of metal shelving units she never got around to properly installing, giant metal pots still in boxes, and full bags of garbage I don’t even want to guess the ages of. She stands behind me, watching as I try to get through it all.

“Oh, Jessie, the lock on the back door is broken. Do you think your dad and Sandy know a good locksmith?”

“I’ll ask them tonight. Although I can’t see why anyone would want to break in,” I add, like the bitch that I am. I can’t help it. Most people, I imagine anyway, whose mothers are about to undergo surgery for cancer have visits where they get to know each other better or discuss fond memories, or whatever it is that normal families do. I, on the eve of my mother’s surgery, get to begin cleaning out her junk-filled house because she can’t. The one bright side to this is that I’m too busy to worry about the cancer.

She’s not offended by my rudeness, anyway. “I know: You can think of all this stuff as a burglar deterrent! It’s my own free version of home security!”

As she laughs hysterically, I finally make it through the pantry and open the back door. She follows me out.

It is indeed a tree and it’s growing right against the house. To my untrained eye it looks big enough to crack the foundation if left untended. The whole yard looks like something out of Wild Kingdom: There should be lions and tigers prowling the lawn, hunting prey. It was once a beautiful backyard, with neatly cut emerald-green grass, two lilac trees that every spring and summer filled the air with their purple scent, and a long garden running the length of it. Someone has put planks of wood down where the garden once was, which is odd because it’s right up against the metal fence that divides her lawn from the neighbor’s. What is the purpose of the wood? It’s like a shabby catwalk to nowhere. And the two lilac trees look like something you’d see in a movie involving a haunted forest with evil foliage that comes to life and strangles passersby. At the back of it all, the rickety, paint-flaking garage looks about to tip over.

“And there’re those, too,” my mom says, pointing at the rain gutters running up the side of the house to the roof. “Could he do those?”

They’re totally rusted through in places, hanging off the house like a trapeze artist flailing in the wind. Then I notice the trim around the windows: The wood is coming apart from the house—it’s as if nothing wants to be part of this decaying landscape. And I don’t blame any of it. I don’t want to be here either.

“Jesus Christ,” I say.

“Oh, Jessie—” my mom says. “I just remembered something. The dryer guy is coming tomorrow.”

“What dryer guy? What’s wrong with your dryer?”

“It hasn’t worked in over a year.”

“How have you been drying your clothes?”

“I’ve been going to the Laundromat,” she says, shrugging. “But I don’t think I’ll be able to get there with my clothes while I’m recovering from the surgery ….”

“But what’s your basement like right now?” I doubt a stranger should go down there.

“It’s fine,” she says, a nervous smile on her face.

She’s lying. She brought it up for a reason. I need to make sure it’s in decent shape. But there’s a problem: I haven’t been able to go down to her basement in well over a decade. Even imagining entering that musty jungle makes my skin crawl. I’m not sure I can do it.

But then again, there’s no one else. What my mother refuses to believe is that her house is borderline condemnable. If she needs private nurses to come in and care for her after the surgery, they could report her to social services. She could be taken from her house; her house could be taken from her. I’ve told her this many times, but she just laughs and tells me I’m being ridiculous. The cleaning charts, the suggestions about Clutterers Anonymous meetings, my nagging these last few years about getting a retirement fund: all ridiculous.

It’s a miracle that she finally listened to me about getting health insurance.

“Let’s get started so we can be ready for Joe when he gets here,” I say, intending to put off the basement for as long as possible. We go back inside, my mother huffing up the back steps ahead of me.

Inside, she says she needs coffee and threatens to go to Perkins without me.

“That’s fine—you go, and I’ll stay here and get started,” I say, and she waddles out the front door. It’ll be easier for me to work without her here, anyway.

I decide to start in the living room. I pick up one of the white plastic Savers bags and tear the stapled receipt off the top so I can open it. Inside is a pair, no, two pairs, of those sneakers that have no back on them—the clog meets the sneaker. The white fabric is vaguely gray. I pick up another bag and the contents are identical, except this time it’s three pairs. Then another bag, again with two pairs. I don’t even know where to put anything; I just shove the sneaker-clogs into a garbage bag and hope that she won’t find them. The room is crowded with paperback and hardcover books, five sewing machines with hundreds of sewing patterns heaped on top, two foot massagers still in their boxes, a water-jet-infused bath mat, three electric heating pads which look second-hand, old magazine clippings of restaurant and book reviews, two banged-up motorcycle helmets, at least eight pairs of moldy cowboy boots my mother’s convinced she can sell for a fortune, two three-foot tall antique radios—the wood scratched and warped—hulking in one corner like bullies. Half-consumed boxes of Entenmann’s donuts and empty soda bottles and flattened lean cuisine boxes and crinkled candy wrappers.

Toward the top of the wall, almost to the ceiling, the plate rail supports half a dozen of those round tin containers that butter cookies come in. There’s a tin embossed with the image of two Scottie dogs facing each other; a red one with white stars circling the edge; a rusty one that was originally pink; one with a fat snowman and snowwoman surrounded by snowchildren; and two identical tins with a Rosie the Riveter–type character flexing her muscles. Scattered between the round tins are miniature perfume bottles, many of which I gave my mother when I was a kid, back when she was still a “collector.” They’re relics of a road veered wildly off.

Tears spring to my eyes and I wipe them away with the back of my hand. I’m suddenly so exhausted that if there were anywhere for me to sit down in this room, in this whole house, I’d collapse right there. But I can’t. Because every surface, every potential spot to sit down, is covered with junk. There’s just so much junk, so much worthless, heartbreaking junk.

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CRAZY VIDEO: Guess What This Woman Has Been HOARDING For 30 Years?

Posted by Patti the Precocious Guru | Mommy’s Dirty Little Secret

Most women will admit to owning more shoes, clothes or hand bags than they need. But for one woman, her passion for has spiralled out of control into a 30-year obsession. Click below to see the photos and video, of your not so typical hoarder.

Patricia Dean

Jennifer Bourgoyne, 45, from San Jose, California, has so many products that surfaces of her dressing table are piled high with lipsticks, eyeshadows and face powders, while drawer beneath are so full, not one will close. Speaking on Good Morning America today, she told how she spends hundreds of dollars on new products each month – whether they suit her or not.

Make-up hoarded for 30 years

Mrs Bourgoyne explained that her love of make-up began in her early teens, when she began suffering from poor skin. She also admitted to feeling like an ‘ugly duckling’ when compared with her ‘goddess’ mother.

Make-up hoarded for 30 years

Professional organiser Cori Roffler, brought on by GMA to help, quickly got to work, and within an hour had discarded all out-of-date products. Mrs Bourgoyne was thrilled with the results, exclaiming: ‘It looks like a department store.’ Ms Roffler even gave her client licence to buy even more make-up – albeit with one important rule: ‘For every new purchase, something must be chucked.’

Extreme Makeup Hoarders

abcnews.go.com4 min – Jul 21, 2011
Some women might tell you they can never have enough makeup.

Source: DailyMail

Tags: #hoarders, #a&e, #thesmokingjacket, #Whoreders, #celebrityhoarders,# NiecyNash, #LindseyLohan, #12step, #ClutterersAnonymous, #DirtyLittleSecret, #ChildrrenofHoarders, #CrowdedNest, #clutterednest, #NYT, #C.J. Omololu,#JessieSholl, #DirtySecret, #shoehoarders, #makeuphoarders, #Jennifer Bourgoyne,

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