It is quite often a hidden problem. People suffering from it can literally close the door on it and hope no one will ever discover their secret.
“They tell themselves, ‘If I don’t let anyone in, they won’t see it.’ But when the windows are half full of stuff, people see there’s a problem,” said Tammi Moses, founder and owner of Homes are for Living LLC on Whidbey Island.
Moses is referring to Compulsive Hoarding Disorder. She is holding a hoarding awareness presentation and discussion from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Oct. 24 at 1690 Main Street, Suite 102, in Freeland.
“My main focus is educating people on what hoarding is, what it isn’t and how to help people in that particular crisis,” she said.
A child of hoarders herself, Moses said one of the main things people need to recognize is that while the outward sign of compulsive hoarding is the “stuff,” it’s really a much deeper issue, and that is what she focuses on in her business.
“You can do a forced cleanup of someone’s home, but it’s like tearing off a scab that’s not ready to be removed,” she said. “The healing underneath hasn’t been completed.”
Recent television series about hoarding have shone a light on the problem, but according to Moses, it’s estimated three- to five-million Americans have this issue, to varying degrees.
“Up until the late 1990s, hoarding was treated like any other obsessive-compulsive disorder, but it’s been discovered there are other pieces to it, such as anxiety, depression and early childhood trauma that make it a far more in depth condition than originally thought,” she said.
And there are different levels of hoarding, ranging on a scale from one to five, five being the most severe cases, and the ones typically profiled on the television shows. Obvious issues that stem from hoarding include a decrease not only in the hoarder’s property values, but sometimes those of nearby neighbors; plus there can be serious safety and health issues. One of the biggest problems, though, can be the affect hoarding can have on relationships and more.
“It starts to impact their social life,” said Moses. “It limits the ability to have people in their home. If the home isn’t clean, then maybe their clothes have a smell to them. Then employers may begin to wonder ‘If they can’t control things at home, how can they be in charge?’ People make judgements.”
Or perhaps, said Moses, the hoarder is a grandparent whose problem is disrupting their relationship with their grandchildren.
“It hurts to see broken relationships,” she said. “And this behavior puts more strain on those relationships.”
Many of the calls Moses receives are from children of hoarders who have moved away from the situation but now find themselves with aging parents and their “stuff” to deal with.
“I find more adult children of hoarders, and they’re angry,” she said. “Kids in that situation start feeling that they’re less important than the stuff. It’s hard to have a normal relationship with someone who doesn’t place a higher value on the relationship.”
Moses, who left her parents’ home her senior year of high school, said she’s spent most of her life learning “how to get back to normal.” For her, entering the Navy gave her the structure she needed and helped the healing begin.
“I was tired of the chaos, but I recognized I didn’t have to live in chaos,” she said. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology and started Homes are for Living two years ago.
“I’m able to provide a space for people to tell me what is going on, clear of judgement,” she said. “The first step is facilitating that conversation, then you can start working on a plan.”
Today, Moses has a positive relationship with her mother, who is still living, but it is a relationship with clear boundaries. Working on the relationship is the first step for anyone, she said.
“You have to take a step back and recognize that you didn’t create the situation,” she said. “You need to focus on the person and the relationship.
“I want to give hope to people,” she continued. “There are choices and options out there. Yes, they’re hard, but there are choices.”
More information on the hoarding awareness seminar and Homes are for Living can be found by clicking here.