My dad is a compulsive hoarder. He collects newspapers, records –
wax and vinyl – CDs, videos, reels of films, family heirlooms,
magazines and theatre programmes. The volume of his junk is
formidable. In rooms he has to himself rubbish is piled from floor
to ceiling. When stacks of papers fall down he angrily blames other
people and not his own behaviour.
Dad clutters two houses but he doesn’t use the items he collects.
They are there because he thinks they are of value and he will need
them some day. He tinkers with electrical equipment that is beyond
repair and is determined not to waste anything – from soap powder
at the bottom of the box to rundown batteries. He buys damaged or
soon-to-be out of date food because it’s reduced and therefore a
“bargain”. He’ll eat cakes and buns well past their sell-by.
My dad is 72 and too old to change his habits. According to my mum
he has been hoarding for nearly four decades and it probably began
when he was a child. She daren’t throw anything out when he isn’t
looking because he will be distressed and will retrieve it from the
outside bin. My dad is very isolated and doesn’t have friends. He
used to work in the legal profession but since he retired he spends
nearly all his time “sorting out” his possessions (although no
rubbish is ever moved from its place).
Growing up in such a cluttered environment was difficult for me. We
never had people round and I had to apologise to my friends for
keeping them on the doorstep without giving them a reason.
Maintenance like replacing cracked windows was never done because
workmen couldn’t access rooms due to the junk, or my mum was
ashamed someone else would know the family secret.
My reaction to the problem was to withdraw into serious anorexia. I
felt this was my secret – I couldn’t have many while I shared a
bedroom with my older brother until I was in my twenties. Even our
room had dad’s rubbish on top of and in drawers and in an old
wardrobe. Like other rooms it was never cleaned because there
wasn’t the physical space to do it properly. I don’t know why my
dad hoards except that it may be because he is a perfectionist.
Although he tries to go through all his junk he needs everything
“just so” and cannot throw possessions away. It’s like he has an
emotional attachment to all the things he owns and can’t bear to
let them go.
Hoarding is classed as a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder
(OCD). It can be helped by interventions such as cognitive
behavioural therapy as long as the hoarder wants to change the
situation and will accept help. My dad doesn’t see his behaviour as
a problem and has never received help to manage his behaviour. My
mum started collecting antiques as a way of coping. Clutter seems
normal now. I’ve moved away from home but keep in contact with my
dad. Despite his hoarding I respect and love him greatly.
* Not her real name. The writer is a mental health service
user and a volunteer.