Deborah Greenhut is The Author of The Week

“It’s My House, Too!”: Guidelines for Living with a Hoarder

by Deborah Greenhut, Author, The Hoarder’s Wife

During 35 years as a hoarder’s wife, author Deborah Greenhut explains that she had to change her thinking many times over. At first, she thought her husband could learn to pick up his things. When she realized that he did not choose to clean up, she tried to do it for him, and that intrusion became the source of many arguments. Whatever she brought to the trash can, whether it was spoiled food or broken furniture, he brought it back into the house. 

When things went from bad to worse, she convinced him to seek counseling. Because he was in his mid-fifties, and this behavior had been with him for a long time, Dr. Greenhut was advised to “Forget the last twenty years (of marriage)” and to try to start over as he tried to heal. She found it frustrating to stay on the sidelines, unable to effect change while her husband struggled with learning new behaviors. Feeling ignored, she stepped back to avoid hindering or harming, but he felt abandoned without her feedback. It did not end well. It wasn’t easy to love the hoarder while hating the ever-growing hoard.

Mental health specialists have come up with some useful rules to avoid antagonizing people with hoarding disorder, such as not cleaning up the hoarder’s home without permission; not throwing away the hoarder’s belongings without permission; or not nagging the hoarder about getting rid of things. These are focused ad helpful goals for the patient, but they do not address the needs of any co-inhabitants or family members in the home.

They also recommend setting boundaries for personal space if you must or choose to live with hoarders. In Deborah’s experience, these boundaries were difficult to enforce. Hoarders are always running out of space.

All well and good to protect the hoarder from conflict. But…what about the family members’ needs?  Tiptoeing around a disaster area can get complicated. Windows and doors may be blocked, and personal items can be lost. Health may be compromised by food rotting on the floor. How can a family thrive in that environment?

It’s important to be proactive about participating in family counseling and to speak up for your needs. Look for a therapist who:

–understands that mental health disorders affect the whole family, not just the patient; 

–recognizes that mental health disorders can be stressful and disruptive for families;

–includes the family in the therapy process as much as possible.

Shame prevents many hoarders and their families from seeking help. While the mental disorder may seem to be hidden and secret, the consequences of hoarding are visible and often offensive to all five senses. 

It’s your house, too. Open a window on the problem and bring in the fresh air of therapeutic support. The disorder you may prevent could be your own.

Bio :

Deborah has worn all these hats with pride: Teacher. Writer. Editorial Assistant. Manuscript Reader. Copyeditor.  Academic Administrator. Renaissance Literature Scholar. Business and Financial Editor. Literary Editorial Assistant. Substitute Teacher. Music Coordinator for Official Functions. Speech Writer. Consultant. Certified Life Coach. Travel Writer & Photographer. People skills and Computer Software Trainer. Dean. Academic Administrator. Research Center Director. Artist-in-Residence. Teaching Artist. Theater Critic. Writing Workshop Leader. Writing Coach. Dramatist. Poet. Multi-genre Artist. Board Leader for Princeton Research Forum and Jennifer Muller| The Works. Phi Beta Kappa. Prize winning Playwright and Poet. Award-winning Debut Novelist. Lifelong learner. 

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