Today, I’m going to talk a little about what it’s like when you are cleaning a hoarder’s home. Last January, while I was ill in hospital, my 91 year old grandmother fell down in her home and lay where she fell for about two days before she was found and brought to hospital. She was treated with antibiotics and assessed, and she was found to be impaired enough that she cannot return to her home. She is now in a long term care home, sometimes seemingly with her wits about her, other times telling us that it rains inside her room at night.
We, her family, have been left with a huge task and that is cleaning up her home–a hoarder’s home. My grandma has lived in the same house pretty much since she arrived in Canada in the early 1960s, and she’s never thrown a thing out. And I mean, never. As her family, we knew her little house was jammed packed with things. However, I personally had no idea to the extent of how much stuff she had rammed into every nook and cranny, and the kinds of things she was hanging onto. Being somewhat obsessed with cleanliness, my grandmother’s home has always been clean. So all of the things she was keeping were tidily stuffed away.
We have had to go several times to her home to clean it out. It has been an enmoronus task, one all her children and grandchildren have pitched into because that’s how much stuff was in the house. We all realized something that I think had somehow escaped us, and that is that my grandmother is a hoarder.
What is Hoarding?
Hoarding is a disorder that causes people to have difficulty parting with items. They are distressed the idea of parting of a possession and choose to keep it, even though the item may have no value. Hoarding can then result in an excessive accumulation of items. This is a severe psychological disorder and is thought to be connected to such factors as genetics, OCD, stress, altered brain connections, environmental factors, and altered levels of serotonin. Some people who hoard also search for new items to acquire as well. You can learn more about hoarding at Anxiety Canada.
Some signs and symptoms of hoarding include the idea or thought that the an item might be useful in the future; that they ought not be wasteful; that an item has sentimental value; that the item makes them feel safe or secure. Some people who suffer from hoarding accumulate so many items that their home becomes difficult to navigate or even unsafe to live in.
For those familiar with the show Hoarders, this likely all sounds familiar. And I think we are very lucky that cleaning a hoarder’s home, in our case, did not look like what you often see on the show.
What my Grandmother Hoarded
This sounds so awful, and clickbait-y, but I do want to outline some of what she hoarded to give you an idea of what a person suffering from hoarding can do and be like. Because I didn’t realize she was a hoarder. I just thought she was a stubborn old lady who didn’t like to part with things. Given that she grew up during the Depression era, and lived in post war Sicily, this is hardly surprising. Things were hard to come by, and that made them all the more precious once you did acquire them. Once she arrived in Canada, she and my grandfather struggled to make ends meet, so things were still precious. It made sense that she didn’t want to part with things. But I didn’t realize how well she had hidden all the things she had. She had so much, so much stuff.
Her bedroom was crammed with all sorts of clothes and linens. Clothes that didn’t fit her. Linens she never used. In one dresser drawer alone we found three or four tablecloths complete with napkin sets, never used. In her closets we found boxes and bins and suitcases full of old bills, calendars, letters, unused birthday cards. We keep finding more and more useless papers. She had four china cabinets stuffed with china, crystal, silverware, glassware, other dish sets, figurines, knick knacks. This is only some of the stuff we found upstairs.
Downstairs were dressers and chests filled with fabric material from the days when she and my grandfather had the tailor shop. More unused linens–bedsheets and towels and bed spreads. Yarn and knitting and crochet needles–my grandmother didn’t knit or crochet. I think I have painted enough of a picture. And what is really important to note is all of this was neatly folded and packaged, tucked into drawers and bins and chests, all organized. It wasn’t just junk lying around, it was all hidden away, so of course I had no idea how much stuff she had, that she was hoarding. A lot of this stuff was useful–but seeing as she refused to use it and always used her old table linens and such, it was all wasted. As you can see, cleaning a hoarder’s home is a huge task. And my grandmother’s case is mild in comparison to how bad hoarding can get.
Hoarding is a Mental Illness
I really want to highlight that hoarding is a mental illness. Thinking back over the years, my grandmother did have difficulty parting with items, and in retrospect, more than is usual. But a few isolated observations of this didn’t raise any red flags with me. Especially, as I said, her house was always neat and clean, all of these things tucked away. But the more things we unearth, the more it’s clear to me that she had a serious mental health problem. This hoarding is very different from I thought my grandmother was failing to do at times, and that is declutter.
To be Continued…
The more I delved into this topic, the more I realized that there is a lot to address when it comes to hoarding, mental illness, clutter and managing cluttering, so I decided to turn this into a mini-series here on the blog. In the next post, I will be addressing clutter and managing it physically and emotionally.
Please share your thoughts in the comments below! And be sure to subscribe to the blog so you don’t miss this mental health series.
My grandmother was a hoader too and also had a fairly clean and tidy house but in every cupboard or hidden away (sometimes very neat piles of things out in view too but they never seemed that bad). My grandmother grew up extremely poor and even though she wasn’t poor as an adult she held on to things “just in case”. The fear of never having anything again and also growing up in the ‘make do and mend’ era she literally never threw anything away. Thanks for exploring this aspect of what some people deal with. I try to remember this as our upstairs neighbour is an extreme hoader (there is a little passage through his home as every room is stacked to the ceiling with stuff he collects. It’s good to try to understand the possible root cause of this.
Molly Transatlantic Notes recently posted…Activism: Different Ways To Take Meaningful Action
Yes, I think for many who grew up in times or places where things were dear and scarce, it’s harder to let go. It’s definitely a contributing factor to those who might already be predisposed to this disorder.
First off, I’m so sorry to hear about your grandmother. That must have been so heart wrenching knowing she was laying there that long.
Thank you for sharing this insightful post on hoarding. I’ll admit, I have never thought about it much before so it’s interesting learning more about it.
Jordanne | Ofaglasgowgirl recently posted…My 2022 Sims 4 Challenge | One Save for One Year
Thank you! She’s strong and other than her cognitive state us doing well.
I’m glad to share some insight into this topic!
This post is quite insightful. Never Decluttering causes significant physical and psychological problems. As humans, we are overly sentimental about things. But there comes a time when we have to part with things that no longer benefit us in any way. Just last week, Rocking Specter took some time to declutter our apartments, and it felt good to have done so. Thank you for sharing.
What a scary thing to happen to your grandma with her fall! I’m so glad she was found and taken care of and that she is somewhere safer now.
Hoarding is definitely a mental illness and I see it at work quite often. There are a lot of layers to hoarding behaviour so that’s awesome you’re doing a series on it!
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It’s going to be a whole series on decluttering, minimalism and yes, hoarding.
Thanks for sharing Giulia, it sounds a lot like my Oma with her also keeping and holding onto everything as she also had a tough time when immigrating here and having very little. I can’t imagine needing to do her whole place when she can no longer live there and I imagine it’ll be similar to your experiences. You’ve outlined some great information on hoarding.
Simply Alex Jean recently posted…5 Ways To Sort and Organize your Paper Clutter
Yes, I think the immigrant experience contributed to this problem for sure.
Very insightful read. I recognize these traits in members of my Own family. Thank you for sharing.
Crystal recently posted…A Way Through the Clouds
Glad it was useful!
So sorry to hear about what happened to your grandma. We’ll, I’ve never heard of the term before, so this was insightful. And well written. Xx
Isa A. Blogger
Isa A recently posted…Women’s Winter Outerwear with a Burst of Color
Thank you! I’m glad you learned something new 🙂
This was really insightful. I’m sorry to hear about your grandmother’s accident. I’m glad to hear she’s getting quality care. It’s amazing what people can hold onto, I have to admit, I can never let go of old receipts!
S.S. Mitchell recently posted…Cheers to New Year Goals- not Resolutions
Oh, gosh, I don’t even take those sometimes anymore LOL
I’m so happy that your grandmother is found and she is in a safe place. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to have that happen to anyone in my family. Given where and when she grew up, it is perfectly understandable and I believe common for her to have held on to stuff. I can see the leanings toward hoarding in my family as well. Attempts to create order are quickly unraveled. it’s a challenge. Good post.
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Such a challenge! I remember once she wanted us to help her declutter a closet. We took everything out and put it all back in the end except three things. It was so frustrating.
Thanks for sharing, hoarding is DEFINITELY an issue with the elderly who grew up during periods where they had nothing. ThEre life Was truly the exact Opposite of our “disposable” society where we expect to discard items on a regular basis. This saving Usually leads to the obseSsion of keeping everything for a rainy day. Thanks again for sharing your story
Tim recently posted…Take Action Now to Reach the Point
Very good point Tim!