My Family Secret: How Hoarding Changed My Life
Updated: Jul 8, 2022
I fit the profile for most professional organizers: naturally good at organizing, enjoy helping people, like being my own boss. But one thing I suspect is different.
Although it wasn’t a thing at the time, my mom would today be diagnosed with Hoarding Disorder: buying and keeping a lot of things that weren’t needed, acquiring things until there’s no space left, great difficulty throwing out or letting go of possessions. My dad was a classic enabler: tolerating problematic behavior, avoiding conflict, sacrificing his own needs.
It got worse as the years passed. Entire rooms so full you couldn’t get past the threshold, just enough space in the hallway to walk side-ways, no car in the garage. By their eighties, my mom’s health forced my parents to move to a senior living facility, and my siblings and I had the task of liquidating a lifetime’s worth of accumulation.
I haven’t talked about it much because, honestly, I didn’t feel like being psychoanalyzed. She became an organizer because she grew up in a hoarder household kinda thing. Also, it wasn’t a part of my life I really wanted to revisit.
But, you know, I did become an organizer helping people declutter their homes. And I gotta say it feels pretty damn amazing. We throw the word transformation around a lot, but when you see someone’s whole countenance – body, mind, and spirit change because they have their home back – it’s truly life-changing.
I wish my parents could have known that experience.
There are plenty of statistics on how our mental and physical health is affected by the clutter around us. Looking back, I can see how I was affected by the condition of the house. But more important the condition of my mom. She struggled most of her adult life with health issues and was in constant pain. I mostly remember my mom as someone who was disappointed, irritated, and unhappy.
I don’t think people are born with Hoarding Disorder. Life and trauma happen, and people cope the best way they can. Was it because she grew up poor in the Depression or experienced a world war? Maybe, but I think that’s too simple an answer. I will never know all the things that happened to my mom to cause her to cling to things so desperately, but she must have hurt tremendously.
I do not take clients with Hoarding Disorder. I’m not qualified to help them in the way they really need. And, truthfully, it’s too close to home. But, often when I’m seeing a home for the first time a new client will refer to themselves as a hoarder out of shame or embarrassment. I smile and reassure them that this is not the case. They are just people who got out of balance and want help getting back on track. They wouldn’t have hired an organizer if they weren’t ready. It’s all good. Help is on the way. And I mean it.
Underneath my mom’s pain was a remarkable woman. When she was distracted from life her sharp sense of humor would light up a room. She was beautiful, smart, tenacious, super creative, and loved me as best she could.
One of my superpowers is being able to walk into a cluttered space and see it done – decluttered, organized, peaceful, beautiful. I can reimagine my childhood home clutter-free and my mom as her best self. I like those images.
I guess I don’t care why I became an organizer, or why it feels so good to help people get rid of their stuff, or why those moments of transformation mean so much to me. I’ve had a lot of therapy and counseling in my life. I can guess the why.
What matters is that I get to help people experience what my parents couldn’t. As an organizer, I bring the promise of transformation. A new day. A fresh start. That’s no insignificant gift. A gift for me and my clients.