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Experience with a compulsive hoarder family member?

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posted on Oct, 15 2009 @ 04:14 PM
My 75-year-old widowed mother is a compulsive hoarder. I am in a position where I am her sole care-giver, and her "stuff" has created a literal and figurative wall between us. She refuses to seek any help and will only respond to my concerns with the expected stock excuses to justify the enormity of her "collection".

I feel as though I have only two options left:

1. To report her to a local social service agency so that they can assess her coping ability within her home. This of course, in her eyes, would constitute my ultimate betrayal of her.

2. To walk away from her and her situation (much as you would be advised to let an alcoholic hit rock bottom and decide for themselves to seek help) and reconcile this in my heart as an act of self-preservation.

Has anyone else out there walked in my shoes? Can you offer any advice? Do I have other options that I have not considered?

She lives alone in her own large home and refuses to sell and move to smaller accommodations because it would necessitate disposal of her hoard. She can't bring herself to part with her money (another form of hoarding?) , so even if she is made to clear out her stuff, she would expect me to solely physically undertake it even if it meant me throwing out my back or getting a hernia. To hire a crew to do this would be unthinkable to her. As it is, I would resent being made to do this anyway, as it is not my mess to clean up in the first place.

My other concern is that cleanups are futile anyway unless the hoarding compulsion is treated. She would never agree to treatment as she is in denial that there is a problem.

posted on Oct, 15 2009 @ 05:08 PM
A hoarder is a "mental disorder".

My experience is that you will never ever convince her of this. You will never ever get her to change.

You must seek outside help.

As her sole care giver you should have a Power of Attorney over her. Do you have one?

If not, it may require a court action. Sounds extreme, but the only way you can take control of the situation, as you currently have no control. To get control you will have to have her deemed mental incompetent by a physician.

OR -
Walk away.

Neither option is good.

I'm really sorry you are in this situation because it is a terrible position to be in. Do you have any other family members for moral support because you are going to need it.

I had to take control of my mother, but I got lucky - she got sick and got dementia so it opened up a window to allow me to take control and dispose of everything while she was in the hospital. She never went home again and is in an assisted living facility and now doesn't even barely remember where she used to live. I could not have accomplished this without a Power of Attorney.

I had it easy compared to what you are facing.

Do you have a family attorney that you can consult with?

I'd be happy to anwer any more questions if you have any.

posted on Oct, 15 2009 @ 09:47 PM
reply to post by Julie Washington

Your reply is appreciated.

As a matter of fact, I consulted with my attorney just two months ago to have him determine if my mother has a PoA set up (she could/would not give me a straight answer when I asked her directly) and to find out if I was assigned a role. He contacted her attorney (who happens to work within the same firm) who then sought her permission to divulge the existence of the PoA and any responsibility I might have. He was able to establish that she did possess a PoA, but that she refused to grant the release of the details to me. Due to strict newer federal privacy laws where I live, my attorney regretfully couldn't even tell my why. Her lawyer also requested to visit her home to determine her ability to safely function in her home and she likewise would not allow him access -- for obvious reasons. He cannot act further in that respect.

My mother's mind is still sharp, and she is a kind and polite woman who would not be deemed incompetent at this time. She has isolated herself from all social interaction in order to hide this disorder from the world. The sad part is that she is carrying around some serious baggage that prevents her with parting with any item from her past and is progressively pulling her into an abyss (and me with her, it feels at times).

My hubby has been very supportive in providing physical labor during her several failed attempts to initiate a clean out to the point where I feel we have been enablers, not helpers. She fills any empty areas back in within weeks and I will no longer subject my husband to any more risk of injury in providing this free, futile service.

All I have been able to accomplish is to assure her that I still love her, but that I hate her hoarding.

posted on Oct, 15 2009 @ 11:22 PM
There are professionals who work with these types of mental conditions. I have watched it in the discovery channel. You would not need a power of attorney to have one come over and speak to her about her situation and persuade her to allow her to help. Then it is her idea and she is not being forced or bullied into making any decision. They will slowly work with her at her pace and also counsel her at the same time ti try and treat the sickness. I would research that and see what you can find. She had to have specialized help or even if you could clean it all up it would all just come right back. Don't give up on her yet. Find the right person and I bet they can help her but you will have to be patient.
Keep us posted on her progress!!

posted on Oct, 16 2009 @ 10:29 AM
I'm so sorry that your mother is in such a state that she would refuse to grant you the information in the POA. Do you suspect she is "paranoid" as opposed to secretive? Which could be another condition.

I was fortunate enough to have my mother give me full POA several years ago before her mental health had deteriorated enough that she became uncooperative.

I understand when you say your mom is sharp as a tack. My mom was too - but it was manipulation. Her manipulation and lying were the perfect coverup to her condition for years.

Her dementia at one point caused her to believe that I was in jail for stealing all her money. That might have been manifested from realizing that she no longer had her home, her car or control of her money. It was a difficult time, but she has since forgotten most all those thoughts.

One thing you might check out - I had the POA filed at the county courthouse so it was on record. In our area this information is available to the public on the internet - so you might check to see if there has been any documents filed in her name.

I think that your only possible hope is for some sort of intervention by an outside source. Is there a senior services group in your area that you could get involved (even anonomously if possible)? Maybe a senior welfare check? County health inspection? They could come under the guise of a "neighbor concern complaint".

I'm sure at this point her home is unhealthy. Are there any evidence of rats yet? Ususally when the garbage piles up enough the rats start to invade. This would then fall into a health and safety issue and a County or State Health department could intervene.

I haven't searched, but I bet you could find a better forum on line dedicated to this and perhaps get more ideas.

I understand getting her cooperation in any of this is not a possibility, so to get anything to happen is going to be a challenge.

But look at it as a challenge. You don't hate your mother, you hate her disease. The disease must be addressed while you continue to show compassion to your mother - almost a contradiction unto itself.

I bought a great book to deal with my mother's dementia that helped tremendously called "The 36 Hour Day". It taught me to separate the dementia from the person.

Perhaps you could look for a book on this as well. You need to educate yourself on this disease and forums are a good start. But a book or website written by experts will be a great help to you.

posted on Oct, 16 2009 @ 02:31 PM
Hi GoneGrey.

Not that I have any great advice to offer, but my father is a bit of a hoarder. My mother, on the other hand, is completely anti-clutter. So their common areas are very clean. My dad's personal area, the garage, however is completely stuffed with crap. You can't even walk through it- AT ALL. One year my mother and I spent 2 days cleaning out the garage for him (as a gift - we didn't really know better back then) and when he returned from a "guys only trip" was totally upset. He was looking for rusty bent nails, broken tools, wood scraps, and totally panicked when we threw them away. He flew into a rage, took off in his truck, and we didn't see him for HOURS. Needless to say we haven't done it again, and now we just avoid the issue altogether (not that that's healthy at all.)

Not that my father's problem is even close to your mothers living situation, but I wanted you to know you're not entirely alone.

I agree with others that the POA issue is a big one. I would hope that SOMEONE besides your mother has POA - maybe a sibling/neice/nephew/friend so there is someone who can make those tough decisions.

But all I can say is good luck! Its a tough issue.

posted on Oct, 16 2009 @ 05:17 PM

Originally posted by Julie Washington

I understand when you say your mom is sharp as a tack. My mom was too - but it was manipulation. Her manipulation and lying were the perfect coverup to her condition for years.

I believe that this is precisely what is going on. She is intelligent and has no memory or reasoning impairment that I can detect (hoarding aside). She is desperate to conceal this disorder from anyone besides my immediate family and that is why she has withdrawn from social interaction and has nobody over to her house. She has draped off most areas of the house from view and for years has prohibited me from entering any room with a closed door. She has admitted that they are off limits to me because they are "that bad".

There is not really a hygiene issue, per se, just incredible volumes of household items, decades of newspapers and magazines, and all the worldly possessions of her deceased parents, mother-in-law, aunt and uncle. At last count, she had 5 fridges, four sets of living room and bedroom furniture, all of the dead relatives clothes and kitchen utensils, china, lamps, small appliances, you name it. She can't part with anything from her past nor her relatives' past.

In a recent confrontation I had with her over my concerns for her well-being, I made it clear that the magnitude of the effort that it would require to clean up and dispose of unnecessary things exceeds anything that I or my husband are physically and emotionally capable of, nor have the time to do.

She refuses to hire outside help to do this -- she doesn't want anyone else to know her secret. I told her that I steadfastly refuse to be the steward of her collection. This is why, I speculate, that she does not want me to find out the truth about the details of her Power of Attorney. In all likelihood she did assign me, without my knowledge or consent, and doesn't want me to know.

I wrestle daily with the dilemma of "turning her in" (with the best of intentions only to have her regard it as the ultimate in betrayal and then do something stupid out of despair) or abandoning her and not falling prey to her manipulations any longer. Part of me wants to hug her because she is clearly struggling with some demon, but another part of me just wants to shake her because she so wantonly thinks she can exploit me because I am expected to be a subservient daughter.

posted on Oct, 16 2009 @ 06:57 PM
Consider sending her on a long cruise (edit to add: she should be doing nice things like this anyway), watch her house for her and invite the attorneys over for lunch to work out something that pleases her and eases y'alls situation. A good attorney could schoomze her in whatever direction is ethically right.

[edit on 10/16/2009 by seentoomuch]

posted on Oct, 16 2009 @ 06:58 PM
reply to post by GoneGrey

Have her attorney pay her a visit on some pretense, then have the fire dept. pay her a visit as hoarding paper, plastic, etc. can become a very real fire danger. Perhaps this shock, that apparently you had no hand in, will allow for some resolution.

My mother hoarded boxes, bottles and stuff she found in the neighborhood and in the dumpster of her apt. house, like broken household appliances. When she died it was a major job to haul all that stuff to the dump.

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