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Why Does My Mother Hoard Everything, Including Garbage?

Question:

My mother has had this problem ever since I can remember. The house was always so filthy and I learned never to invite friends over. I still panic when I hear a doorbell. Now that I am out of the house and married, she has gotten worse. She hides inside her house and mainly lies in bed. She goes to work at a job she has had for over 20 years. Her mental health issues are threatening her job. I can’t convince her to document her medical issues. She is on several medications and needs to be back in therapy. I know the meds. will only go so far without talking.

I want to know some general info about hoarding and why people live in filth (sometimes as bad as dog feces collecting). I’ve been through it all with her. I was angry that she was wasting away, not being a mother and was going to die in her home. I was convinced I’d be the one to find her and she would leave me all alone to clean up her horrible mess. I’m less angry and more hopeful as I have grown to be a happy person as an adult. I motivate her, challenge her, trust her, and give her more love and encouragement then I ever have. I don’t know how to help her. I don’t understand her, but I believe in mental illness and I believe in treatment. I just dont know what the big first step needs to be, besides seeing a psychiatrist and a therapist.

Thank You

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Answer:

In my opinion, hoarding is not a single diagnosis. In fact, at the moment, I do not believe it is a diagnosis at all. Rather, it tends to fall under Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I suspect there are many types of hoarding disorders with varying intensities and with different causes. It appears to me as though your mother may be a very mentally ill person.

Unfortunately, seeing a psychiatrist and going to psychotherapy will not help your mother. Conventional treatments such as those will have no effect. Yes, she probably does need medication but she will also need major behavior modification and cognitive behavioral therapy to help her overcome this illness. This will include mental health professionals visiting her home and helping her get the house cleaned up.

Like most people who hoard, your mother is probably in denial that anything is wrong. That is why the only way she can be pushed into getting help is if she is reported to the Department of Health where she lives. From what you describe about her hoarding, her house presents a health danger to herself and to her neighbors. Reporting her will result in a judge issuing a court order that she get the place cleaned up and get herself the correct treatment.

By reporting your mother, you are not being mean. Instead, you are being conscientious in getting her the help she needs.

There is no single reason why people like her hoard. Whatever her reasons, she needs a major intervention if there is any hope for her recovery.

Best of Luck.

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