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Compulsive Hoarding

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Therapist to help my hoarding mother

May 2011

My mother is and has been a hoarder for most of her adult life and is just now acknowledging that the problem is serious enough to get help. We have been looking for a therapist in the east bay (she's kind of centrally located in Castro Valley but is willing to travel) who deals with issues of hoarding and also OCD and organizational and attention problems as she identifies having some of these other features as well. Can you help us simplify our search and find someone who has that expertise and/or someone you can recommend?


You will probably need to take a multi-pronged approach. My friend Kathleen Crombie specializes in working with hoarders and their families to clean up and get organized. She can also refer your mom to an experienced therapist. Find more info at www.inorderto-organize.com. Elizabeth
You might want to check with Michael Tompkins, Ph.D., at the SF Bay Area Center for Cognitive Therapy (in Oakland). He specializes in anxiety/depression/OCD and has written a book called Digging Out: Helping Your Loved One Manage Cutter, Hoarding, and Compulsive Acquiring http://www.amazon.com/Digging-Out-Hoarding-Compulsive-Acquiring/dp/1572245948/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1306420914&sr=8-1 He is usually pretty busy, but he may be able to refer your mom to someone else.

Also, as the child of a hoarder, I am sure that you have many feelings around your mother's hoarding. In case you are not aware, there is a helpful online support group for Children of Hoarders: http://childrenofhoarders.com/wordpress/ Best to you both. BPN mom/psychologist


Berkeley has 2 Clutterers Anonymous meetings-- Mondays at 7:30 PM and Tuesdays at 10 AM, both at Epworth Church, 1952 Hopkins. I saw 2 therapists recommended in the previous replies to your post and want to say that I saw one of them who was completely unhelpful-- nothing has come close to the support I've gotten from this understanding and welcoming group. My home is now clean, clear, and beautiful-- a true sacred space. Recovering Clutterer
I can also recommend the services of Kathleen Crombie both personally and professionally. I have worked with her as an organizer and know for a fact that she has dealt with the extremest of circumstances with integrity and professionalism. I would also suggest you visit the website for the Institute for Challenging Disorganization http://www.challengingdisorganization.org/ to get some tips on what it means to be a child of a ''hoarding'' parent. If you still have questions, contact me at info@letsmakeroom.com Lis

Help for a depressed elderly hoarder

May 2011

Simply stated my Mother is a hoarder. Not as bad as you see on some of the tv shows, but her home is standing room only and there aren't even that many places to stand. She doesn't keep garbage and the place doesn't smell, but she hasn't done real housework in 30 years. So far we have taken a mostly hands-off approach with her problem because she has been independent and highly functioning outside of her home. She has since retired, lost some of her mobility (using a cane), and is experiencing some hearing loss. Her doctors seem to think this is all normal for her age (mid 70's) but the combination of things has really affected her self confidence. She seems depressed, increasingly isolated, and the hoarding is really getting out of control. She claims not to want help with the hoarding because she ''likes it that way'' but we all know it is a huge factor in her unhappiness. I am her closest friend and main support. We spend a lot of time together but I am really overwhelmed. I don't know if she or I need a therapist, an organizer, a support group, or all of the above. I just know we need some help. Has anyone successfully dealt with this kind of problem? I'm desperate for suggestions or just personal experiences with what worked and what didn't. I'm having a hard time not being critical and blaming even when I know it will only make things worse. Drowning


I found this link with resources and a tip sheet for dealing with elderly hoarding that looks really helpful: http://understanding_ocd.tripod.com/hoarding3_links2.html It's a mental health issue and can become a public safety issue. I would also strongly encourage your mother to consider getting a hearing aid or two to help her hear better. Costco offers hearing tests and aids or there is probably a hearing center located nearby. Untreated hearing loss is most likely contributing to any depression she may be suffering, as not being to hear can lead to feeling powerless and social isolation as people get frustrated when they try to communicate with other people and give up by staying home. Many people balk at hearing aids, seeing them as an admission of old age, but as someone who has worn them since age 3, I can attest that many young people wear hearing aids just as most people wear glasses. They are expensive, but they work! hope this helps
I just finished the book ''Stuff'' (http://www.amazon.com/Stuff-Compulsive-Hoarding-Meaning-Things/dp/015101423X) and I highly recommend it for you. There are resources at the end of the book for people in your situation. Gina
Call the Mental Health Association. They have the an Institute on Hoarding and Cluttering and have services for you and your mom (if willing) Their # is 415-421-2926 r.
I am a graduate student in gerontology and recently attended a lecture on elderly hoarding and came across some resources that may be helpful to you: A book geared for families: Digging Out by Michael Tompkins. Other experts to research are Randy Cross and Barbara Soniat who, when I searched found a PowerPoint with other good references. (see link below) She also wrote a chapter on Hoarding in Empowering Social Workers for Practice with Vulnerable Older Adults.

http://www.socialworkers.org/agingConference/documents/presentations/Social%20Work%20Interventions-.Soniat.pdf

Websites recommended are: ocfoundation.org/hoarding Hoarding taskforce.org

Wish you and your mother well. geri


Hoarding can be a sign of mental illness and depression is a mental illness. I have a parent who has dementia that started out with slight depression and then the hoarding crept in gradually over a 10 year period. Your parent needs medical help, but that being said, it is extremely hard to find the correct kind without having a medical background yourself to manage all the potential stray paths caused by well intentioned health practioners. There is a program in Livermore at Valley Memorial called the Legends program, which may be a good start. It is a 2 week evaluation-inpatient program.

I would get her permission to ''clean'' the house when she is gone and I would hire a professional team to come in and ''just do it'', and to educate you. I would rent a storage locker to put vital things that she can visit if needed.It is like removing a band-aid, sometimes slow is a lot more painful for everyone, especially her. We cleaned/moved the house with her present, per the recommendation of a counselor and it was bad advice. Bottomline,...seek professional help because this may be part of a natural - irreversible health decline if it has a neurological basis. Best of luck,...its a tough road. j.


There is a great article in the NY times recently and it listed soem support groups at the end. My mother finds comfort in all her ''things'' adn won't let us throw anything out. She isn't quite at the hoarder phase, but keeps way more than she needs or uses. I hope you can help her, but if you can't I suggest finding some way to make it work for both of you so you maintain a relationship over her last years, not always arguing about her space. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/12/garden/children-of-hoarders-on-leaving-the-cluttered-nest.html?_r=1&ref=style Good luck. dont' let the clutter win
I don't have any great advice for you, since my own hoarding parent died in his home (which he'd taken great pains not to let me see for more than a decade) before I discovered just how bad his problem was. But I did recently find this online group for adult children of hoarders: http://childrenofhoarders.com/wordpress/

There's lots of info there, and online forums where you can connect and swap advice, stories, and support with others who are dealing with the same issue.

Best of luck. Been There


Dear Drowning,

As a child of a severe hoarder, I can relate to much of what you shared. It can be so heartbreaking, overwhelming, and angering to be in the position you are in, and of course it's hard not to be critical! Sadly, it is usually very hard to fully treat hoarding behavior, though cognitive-behavioral therapy sometimes helps and might be worth looking in to if you're mom's open to it. Depression very often occurs alongside Hoarding, as well as other OCD tendancies. What will work or not work as far as treatment really depends on your mom. Research on hoarding is also relatively new (last 1-2 decades).

If you haven't already, I would suggest checking out Dr. Randy Frost's book, ''STUFF.'' There is also an online and very active support group called Children of Hoarders. Additionally, another child of a hoarder recently published her memoirs, ''Dirty Secret.'' I have not read it, but it sounds interesting and gives voice to the many offspring of folks with this often debilitating mental illness.

In the meantime, take care of yourself, too. Therapy might really be worth checking out, I know it's helped me. And know that there are so many other people out there who can relate to your predicament. You're not alone. Child of a mom who hoards


Wow. I could have written your post. I don't have any surefire advise for you but if your mother is anything like mine, she would not tolerate a professional organizer sorting through her stuff. If you have the time and the patience, I recommend that you help her clear out her house. My elderly mother would not let me touch anything until recently and that's only because she needs me now. I have been visiting about once a month (she lives five hours from here) and I take one surface/corner at a time. It's been a difficult process, but it's brought us closer. I better understand the depression and anxiety that led her to hoard but she won't get treatment for it. It's very frustrating. If you would like to talk more about this, please contact the moderator for my email. I know what painful and strange relationship this can be. Good luck. anon
What you describe about the hoarding in your elderly mother is identical to my mother's situation before she died except it sounds like you live close to each other, and I was flying from here to Portland every week or two for three years to see my mother. I came to the conclusion that there was nothing I could do about the hoarding (and my gut-level negative feelings about being in that chaotic environment) so I would pick up my mother outside of her home, take her out to breakfast, chemo appointments, shopping, etc., then return her to her home. This way I supported her in the things which were important to her without putting myself in a place of having to deal with the toxicity of her hoarding (the stuff, the smell, the filth, and the chaos.) I had to create a boundary between my mother's hoarding and stuff (including dead animals and a powerful stench) and myself to support myself in being loving towards her and to avoid going to a place of revulsion. For what it's worth, I have since attended a national conference on hoarding and learned that there are identifiable differences in brain functioning of hoarders for which, to date, there is no effective treatment. I don't know if this is helpful or not but the best of luck. Committed to both loving Mom and self-protection

Counselor for help with hoarding issues?

Oct 2009

My husband and I are looking for a marriage counselor and have gotten some good feedback and recommendations from BPN. My husband has major hoarding issues, and I have yet to see a recommendation for anyone who has received help for hoarding. We need a therapist or counselor who has real experience with this, not just someone who covered it for an hour or two at a workshop or in school. We would appreciate recommendations as well as more specific examples as to how the therapist helped you deal with or overcome hoarding issues. Thank you. anon


Call the Mental Health association of SF, they sponsor a Hoarding and CLuttering conference each year (the next one is coming up soon - go to for more information: http://www.mha-sf.org/). I'm sure they can recommend therapists who manage this because of their experience with this annual conference. anon
I just heard Dr. Alexandra Matthews speak in Marin a couple weeks ago. She works with people who have hoarding issues, as well as OCD and other anxiety disorders. Her website is here: http://www.amatthewsphd.com/ You can contact her through her website. As a person with hoarding issues myself, I was impressed by her talk. She said that hoarding was a complicated and difficult issue to resolve, and that successful treatment involved a therapist who practices CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), group therapy, and an organizer who goes to the house and has experience working with hoarders. All of this is expensive, and often not covered by health insurance. There is also a conference on hoarding and cluttering that I urge you and your husband to attend. It is on Nov. 5th and is sponsored by the San Francisco Mental Health Association. Go to www.mha-sf.org for more information. I am going and am taking along several friends who have similar issues.

My father's hoarding has gotten out of control

May 2007

This sounds strange, but I am wondering what I can do with my father's books that are not only taking over his home, but his life. He has been collecting, and hoarding, books for the past 25 years, and it has gotten out of control. The walls of his tiny rental are lined with book shelves and the floors are covered in stacks of books.

Most of them are in great condition and I doubt that they have even been read. There is a large variety of topics, but I am guessing a lot of them are historical, art, & novels. I am wondering how I can get rid of these books other than take them to Half-Price books or Pegasus--that would take a hundred trips and they may not even take most of them. I think they prefer newer things, don't they? I am hoping he can get some money for them. Is it worth having a garage-book sale? Would anyone even go?

So does anyone have any idea as to how I can help him? It has gotten so bad that you can barely walk through the house ... In addition to the books there are magazines, paper, mail, unpayed blls, etc. I would love advice on how to help him with the OCD/hoarding disorder, it is ruining his life, but I guess that requires another post altogether! Any help here is appreciated, please! Drowning In Books!


My mother is a hoarder, so I empathize. My first question is: will your dad let you get rid of some of the books? If he will, just move them out as fast as you can and figure out what to do with them later. My mother was so furious at me the last time I tried to clear a path to the bathroom she threatened to call the police if I didn't stop packing up her stuff and moving it around. really! She picks up things others have thrown out - tables and chairs, clothes, books, shoes, TVs, sewing machines, lamps, you name it. She says that other residents in her complex insist that she take all these things. Once I saw TWO pairs of ice skates in her apartment (she is 78 and has never skated). It's a common problem as people get older. The senior apartment complex where she lives has a policy of ''fire inspections'' twice a year, which is the only way that floor space ever gets cleared enough to walk through her small 1BR apartment, and even then it only stays clear for a couple of weeks. It really is a serious problem. Usually she will not let me come into her apartment at all - she knows I disapprove and doesn't want me to see the mess. She fractured her arm a couple years ago so she had to let me come in to help her. It was insanely unsafe, especially for an old lady with her arm in a sling. There were towers of perilously stacked boxes everywhere, on every piece of furniture and on the floor, sandwiched between those flimsy rolling racks stuffed full of rows of bathrobes and winter coats. I had to turn sideways to pass from the livingroom to the bedroom, and the door into her bathroom wouldn't close without moving big boxes out of the way. The bathtub was filled with somebody else's discarded Christmas decorations, and there was barely enough room to sit on the john without toppling a stack of something nearby. Well, I really don't know what to do about this, I am just very thankful for the twice yearly inspections. Good luck with your dad. Daughter of hoarder
Berkeley Free Clinic offers free therapy services....check them out at http://www.berkeleyfreeclinic.org/ It might be a good place to start! good luck...
I, too, have an elderly relative who is hoarding. My mother-in- laws stacks of papers, notecards, books, bulk food purchases and the like are over-taking her life. We are looking into it and I don't yet have much to offer on that. A quick internet search of hoarding and the elderly makes it clear that the problem is common. In our case, it seems to be in conjunction with depression. I am not taking the lead on this one as it seems like my husband and his brothers need to do this but I think there are resources out there. Good luck. With sympathy
I have OCD but I am not a hoarder or clutterer as some like to be called. Is your Dad interested in getting help? Just taking his books away could be very upsetting to him. Even if he is willing it would still be good to get him some support through therapy. A good place to start would be the OC Foundation's Hoarding web site http://www.ocfoundation.org/hoarding/ Good luck. OCDer

My mother is a compulsive hoarder

May 2006

I am hoping to find a therapist for my mother. She is a horder and compulsive shopper. If she has a dollar she will spend it on stuff that clogs her house. She also ignores bills and now is having her wages garnished and utilities shut off. I read a great book about obsessive/complusive horders a few years ago (and now can't remember the title). In it the doctor says you can't just clean out a person's house because they have very physical/emotional reactions. He says the best solution is to have a therapist who understands the problem and can actually visit the home with the patient and talk about what the stuff is covering. The book described my mom perfectly and I know that she gets really uptight if she thinks you would throw anything away. Her house is minimally functional and we need help soon. Struggling daughter


I found reading this book helpful in understanding the problem with my mother: Overcoming compulsive hoarding : why you save & how you can stop / by Fugen Neziroglu, Jerome Bubrick, Jose A. Yaryura- Tobias Now, I just have to do something about it! Good luck, this is a tough problem anon
A dear friend of mine began as a compulsive shopper, progressed to a hoarder and now is living in second degree squalor. There's a website that describes this condition and may be of some help to you. One thing I read was of children who had cleaned out their parents' homes SEVENTEEN times, only to find that their parents regressed again. The site is squalorsurvivors.com and there is another for children of hoarders which doesn't apply to you as you are an adult, but may have good resources its called childrenofhoarders.com. I wish you well friend of a hoarder

My mom's compulsive hoarding

June 2005

My mother has always been a packrat, but since my sister & I moved away and she moved to a smaller house, things have gotten out of hand. Moving through the house is becoming difficult because of piles of stuff. Going through old papers is very painful for her, but because of her refusal to do so, or let others do it, there are financial and legal problems. We can only visit about once a year because of distance and there is no-one else around to help. Any suggestions? anon


i have an aunt who does the same. unfortunately she livs in a gigantic 4 bedroom house. there's literally a path through the house and up the stairs. either side of the path is at least 6 feet high piles of stuff. she won't let us help her clean it out either. and she's a chain smoker!!

i talked to a therapist and she said it's a kind of obsessive compulsive disorder that some older folks get.

we're still trying to figure out what do to help her. it's a tough problem because they don't think there's a problem. my aunt really thinks she needs to keep all those papers and bags of who knows what.

there are probablly advocates for the elderly in her community. maybe you can start there. good luck


Do you think your mom would be open to hiring a professional organizer/occasional assistant to help her go through her papers, say, once a month to make sure that everything gets cleared and paid, etc? I wonder if she'd be more open to ''professional'' help than help from a family member. I've done organizing with people, and have been surprised to learn that people will often feel more comfortable having a perfect stranger help them than they would getting help from a partner, child, or other close person. Maybe the distance of that person helps them feel more able to ''let go'' of the clutter. If I can help, let me know - Gal
You didn't mention your mom's age or if she hoards other objects (other than paper), making her house unlivable. JIf you mother is older it might be a symptom of dementia or she may have an anxiety disorder that is beyond her control. JDoes she realize how out-of-control her circumstances are ? JIf not, you may have an uphill battle to get her help. JIf you feel the situation is dire, you might want to contact social services. JThey have people trained to assess situations like hers and suggest ways in which your mom can get help. JA social worker might also be able check in on your mom which is something you can't do because of the distance. Best of luck to you. -anon
Members of my mother's family are/were compulsive hoarders, who never really got the help they needed. I'm always on the lookout for signs of hoarding in my immediate family as well. The following was an interesting story on the radio awhile ago, and has other resources listed. Good luck. http://www.npr.org/features/feature.php?wfId=1920203 Anon.
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