Friday, November 11, 2011

Hoarders and Enablers

I just finished reading Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean about her Mother's Compulsive Hoarding by Jessie Sholl. Sholl's mother was a nurse who worked many hours of overtime, was distanced from both her birth family and children, and was a shopoholic addicted to thrift stores. During Jessie's attempts to clean out her mother's house, she would find unopened bags from thrift stores containing multiples of the same item.

Despite Jessie's attempts to declutter her mother Helen's house and her attempts to persuade her mother to keep the house uncluttered, she was not successful. She even tried to encourage Helen to go to therapy for her hoarding, but Helen refused. Eventually Jessie learned to separate herself from her mother and to lead her own life, not to continue to clean up after her mother.

Ironically, Jessie was confronted by one of Helen's neighbors, who implied that Jessie's neglect was causing Helen to live in squalor. When Jessie eventually joins the site "Children of Hoarders", she meets a woman online who had a similar experience. This woman realized

"after years and years of pleading with her mother, and after countless unsuccessful cleanup attempts - each involving verbal abuse (and threats of physical abuse) by her mother- Starlene has finally given up. As difficult as it is, she knows that she has to detach emotionally. She has to give up the hope of saving her mother in order to save the one person she can: herself." (Dirty Secret, p. 226-7).

Both Jessie and Starlene realized that their mothers needed to make the decision to get help, not them. They also had enough sense to move to other states and reduce contact with their mothers in order save themselves. In Stuff, Frost describes attending a social services-mandated decluttering in Manhattan. The coop to be decluttered was owned by an elderly widow. She lived there with her adult son and her elderly sister. While the widow's husband was alive, he had banned her brother, Daniel, from visiting. Once the husband died, Daniel moved in; his own apartment was so filled with clutter that it was unliveable, and he moved on to cluttering up his sister's apartment.

Frost's description of the apartment was out of a nightmare. When he first approached it, the doorframe was completely covered by roaches because Daniel hoarded objects that he found on the streets of NYC. The owner took a nap on the coach one day, and found herself completely encased in a wall of junk that Daniel had built around her as she slept. The apartment was decluttered four times by city orders, and still she allowed Daniel to return with his clutter.

Do family members enable the hoarders by walking away and allowing them to hoard undisturbed?

Do they enable them by staying and cleaning up after the hoarders, again and again and again?

Is it fair that the burden of decluttering frequently falls on local government?

Is the local government responsible because it is too difficult (and unsafe) for family members to get their loved ones treatment and aid?

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