Clutter is a normal, everyday part of living for many people, but most people would never cross over the line from a “messy desk” to the mental health issue known as hoarding.
Hoarding is a debilitating psychological disorder characterized by the collection of a large volume of possessions, according to the Hoarding Task Force of Washtenaw County. Some of these items appear to have little or no value to most people.
However, it doesn’t just mean a home filled with junk.
“There are situations where hoarders and their families can’t live in their homes anymore because of unsanitary conditions,” said Betty Huotari of Tyrone Township, a professional organizer. “A hoarding company has to come in wearing HazMat suits to protect themselves from diseases that may be present in the home. A remediation like this might cost a homeowner $15,000 to $20,000. And it still won’t solve the problem if the hoarder doesn’t get help from a mental health professional who specializes in hoarding.”
This mental health disorder has become more mainstream because of reality television shows like A&E’s “Hoarders” and TLC’s “Hoarding: Buried Alive.” Huotari believes that more people are “coming out” as hoarders because of more awareness about this condition.
For one Holly area resident, Jamie, growing up as the daughter of a hoarder meant living in complete chaos with broken appliances, stacks of junk from floor to ceiling and social isolation.
She remembers all the lying that came about from their chaotic lifestyle.
“We pretended we weren’t home a lot,” Jamie said. “We always had large dogs and said they were mean and might bite, so one no could come in the house. No friends, No sleepovers, No play dates.”
“If someone knocked on the door and Mom said it was okay to peel the curtain back to see who it was, I did, because I was the oldest,” Jamie added. “Then, if it was okay to answer, the door was only allowed to be opened a tiny crack big enough to squeeze out onto the porch.”
Jamie said that the kitchen got to the point where only the oven was usable, which they used to heat the house because the furnace was broken. There was no table to eat at, no beds to sleep in, no kitchen sink and no stove. “We did have access to a pantry closet and one cupboard,” she added.
In more recent years when her mom began hoarding animals and couldn’t afford to feed them or herself, resulting in many dead animals on her property, Jamie called Animal Control to get control of the situation. She still doesn’t know if that was the right thing to do, and hopes her mom will reconcile someday with her children and grandchildren.
Jamie still believes it’s possible to have a relationship with a hoarding family member. “You have to accept that person where he or she is in their life,” Jamie said.
“Strained relationships are very common in hoarding situations,” Huotari said. “As hoarders age, they have to be aware of what kind of legacy they’re going to leave their children.”
Source: International OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) Foundation
How to talk to a potential hoarder
• Provide your full attention
• Focus on the individual’s good qualities
• Draw out the best in the individual
• Recognize and acknowledge
• Be judgmental
• Ridicule or criticize the individual
• Exaggerate consequences
• Belittle their feelings
Where to go for help:
• International OCD Foundation iocdf.org
• Detroit West Hoarding (248) 880-7869
• Hoarding Task Force of Washtenaw County, Ypsilanti (734) 340-5813
Eight questions to ask yourself:
Do you have difficulty getting rid of items?
Do you have a large amount of clutter in the office, at home, in the car, or in other spaces that makes it difficult to use furniture or appliances or move around easily?
Do you often lose important items like money or bills in the clutter?
Do you feel overwhelmed by the volume of possessions that have “taken over” the house or workspace?
Do you find it difficult to stop taking free items, such as advertising flyers or sugar packets from restaurants?
Do you buy things because they are a “bargain” or to “stock up?”
Do you avoid inviting family or friends into the home due to shame or
Do you refuse to let people into the home to make repairs?
If you answered yes to one or more of the above questions, you may have a