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How To Deal With A Hoarder Mother

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Children of hoarders have probably had to deal with their father or mother’s compulsive hoarding from a young age. They likely grew up where clutter was simply part of their living situation.

Now that they are adults, they may unwilling to visit their elderly parents because they can’t stand their mother’s compulsive hoarding. It is embarrassing and distressing to see a hoarder parent’s home environment in such horrible condition.

How do you deal with a hoarder mother? Hoarding disorder is a mental health problem. Dealing with a hoarder mother is never easy, but knowing this may help. The best approach to this serious problem is to use love, ask questions, listen, and get them help without forcing them..

However, this is easier said than done. A hoarding parent has trouble letting go of things and likely lives with excessive clutter (if not in squalor).

Trying to make older people let go of this lifestyle can be a lot like pulling teeth.

But don’t give up just yet. This blog post will teach you how to deal with this challenging situation so everyone involved (including mom) can be happy again!

What Is The Root Cause Of Hoarding?

Why do people hoard? It isn’t a case of just having too much clutter. Hoarding is a mental illness that can be a very complex psychological issue.

The Mayo Clinic says, “Hoarding disorder is a persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions because of a perceived need to save them. A person with hoarding disorder experiences distress at the thought of getting rid of the items. Excessive accumulation of items, regardless of actual value, occurs.”

Your mom isn’t alone either.

The American Psychiatric Association reports that, “The overall prevalence of hoarding disorder is approximately 2.6%, with higher rates for people over 60 years old and people with other psychiatric diagnoses, especially anxiety and depression.”

A person who hoards often does not see their clutter as a real problem, which makes hoarding issues difficult to treat.

They have likely been accumulating their treasures for a very long time – often starting in the teenage years and getting worse as the person ages.

In extreme cases, your parent may have filled up her entire house with worthless items (that she sees as potentially valuable at some future point).

The extreme clutter may have even spilled outside of your mother’s house and into the yard.

I remember a friend’s sister who hoarded shoulder-high stacks of old magazines and numerous stacks of newspapers.

There were dozens of paths between these stacks, trailing through the living room and other parts of the home so that you could get around.

Aside from the huge fire hazard they created, there was the undiagnosed and untreated mental health problems her hoarding reflected.

Yet, she would not listen to family members (or her own husband) and refused to believe she had a problem.

There are different levels of hoarding severity. It can be linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), but that is not always the case.

Often, hoarding stems from trauma or a feeling of being overwhelmed with life and one’s possessions.

This usually happens after someone goes through something traumatic, such as divorce or loss.

However, mental health professionals believe there are several potential causes of hoarding. These include:

  • Hereditary: It’s been found that people who suffer from this disorder have a genetic predisposition towards it.
  • Environmental: Hoarding can be a learned behavior if someone has been raised in an environment where hoarding is the norm and is seen as acceptable.
  • Serotonin and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Some studies have found an imbalance of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps control moods and appetite, may contribute to the development of hoarding as it plays a part in OCD.
  • Stressful life events: Stressful life events, such as divorce or the death of a loved one, can trigger hoarding behavior in certain people.
  • Trauma: Traumatic experiences may result in the need to hoard items for safety reasons. For example, someone who has survived war may feel safer sleeping with many things around them, even if it’s not practical.
  • Mental health conditions can result in hoarding, such as social phobia, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, specific phobias, and depression. Some types of dementia can also contribute to hoarding.

Is My Mom A Hoarder Quiz

Sometimes, it’s not easy to spot a hoarder. A person might seem like a pack rat to you, but it’s not always that simple.

Hoarding is defined as the excessive collection of things, along with the inability or unwillingness to discard them.

The quiz below is adapted from the ProProfs Quizzes website . It is designed to help you determine if your loved one might have a hoarding problem.

Hoarding Quiz Questions and Answers

  1. If anyone touches your mom’s possessions, she gets distraught
  • A. Not at all
  • B. Somewhat
  • C. Very Much
  1. She can’t resist acquiring or picking up free things
  • A. Not at all
  • B. Somewhat
  • C. Very Much
  1. If she discards possessions, she tends to retrieve them
  • A. Not at all
  • B. Somewhat
  • C. Very Much
  1. She thinks about her possessions a lot
  • A. Not at all
  • B. Somewhat
  • C. Very Much
  1. She avoids getting necessary repairs due to all the clutter
  • A. Not at all
  • B. Somewhat
  • C. Very Much
  1. She excessively keeps possessions that remind her of good and bad memories
  • A. Not at all
  • B. Somewhat
  • C. Very Much
  1. She buys a lot of unnecessary items because there’s a chance she may need them in the future
  • A. Not at all
  • B. Somewhat
  • C. Very Much
  1. She avoids having people over because of the mess
  • A. Not at all
  • B. Somewhat
  • C. Very Much
  1. She experiences anxiety and depression when she considers getting rid of her possessions
  • A. Not at all
  • B. Somewhat
  • C. Very Much
  1. You find it difficult to walk through her house due to all her mess
  • A. Not at all
  • B. Somewhat
  • C. Very Much

If you answered C to 8 out of 10 of these questions, there’s a  good chance your mother is a hoarder.

However, this quiz is not meant to be a diagnosis. If you feel like your mother is a hoarder, we encourage you to seek professional medical advice.

What Do You Do If Your Elderly Parent Is A Hoarder?

So, you’ve taken the quiz, made a diagnosis, and you’re sure your mother is a hoarder. Now what?

Below are some tips on how to best help your mother:

  • The first step is to talk about it: If you don’t bring up the subject, your mother may not think there is a problem.
  • Don’t judge: Your mother may not realize she has a hoarding disorder. If you want her to seek help for her condition, it’s important not to criticize or blame her for having so much stuff in her house.
  • Express yourself politely: It’s crucial for adult children to avoid getting overly emotional when discussing a parent’s hoarding problem. Even if you’re feeling stressed, frustrated or angry about the situation, try to keep your feelings in check and express yourself calmly. 
  • Explain the dangers of hoarding: Make them understand how serious a hoarding disorder is and how it affects their daily life.
  • Offer to help: let them know that you are there for support if they ever need anything, especially when dealing with their clutter problem. 
  • If she’s open to discussing her hoarding or even to admitting she has a problem, a workbook like this one may help. It was written by Eileen Dacey, MSW, LCSW, the program director for the North Shore Center for Hoarding and Cluttering in Danvers, MA. The book details stories from reformed hoarders, as well as providing motivation for getting rid of clutter and actionable steps to achieve that goal with the least amount of emotional distress.
  • Be patient: It may take some time before your mom agrees to seek professional assistance for her hoarding habits.
  • Avoid touching their possessions without their knowledge: Resist the temptation to clean up the clutter yourself. Doing so would only make you seem like an intruder in their lives, not a concerned family member who cares about them.
  • Seek professional help: If your parent is willing to seek help for their hoarding disorder, contact a therapist or professional organizer in your area.
  • Find a support group for yourself: The International OCD Foundation has resources and support group information. If there is no local group where you live, you can try an online forum through their website.

We have more helpful info on our article, How To Help Elderly Parents With Hoarding.

How Do You Help A Hoarder Who Doesn’t Want Help?

Even with all your efforts, your parent may not be open to the idea of getting rid of their clutter.

In this case, you mustn’t push or confront them about your concerns.

There are a few ways for dealing with a hoarding mother who doesn’t want help:

  • Be patient: There may come a time when they’re willing to deal with their problem. Therefore, let them deal with it in their own time.
  • Use love: If you show your love and support for them, they may be more willing to work on the issue with you.
  • Ask questions: Try to understand why they hoard and what it means to them. This will help you understand their behavior better, which may open up the conversation about cleaning up.
  • Be gentle: They may be embarrassed by the way they live, so be kind in talking with them without pushing too hard or pointing fingers at them for not wanting help sooner.
  • Get help: In severe cases, it may be best to seek professional help even if your loved one is unwilling to do so.

Wrapping Up

Coming to terms with the fact that your mother is a hoarder can be difficult. It’s even harder to convince them to seek help.

However, if they are unwilling to do so on their own accord, you should take steps towards getting them the support and assistance that they need for them to live a better quality of life.

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