A report in the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, Volume 21, Issue 6 brought the impact on families into sharp relief. The research team spent a year collecting data before they revealed three underlying themes of deteriorating quality of life, shattered families, and rallying around to help.
Seven Years Further On Little Has Changed
Gail Skeketee, PHD and Licenced Independent Clinical Social Worker describes the stress family members feel on the International OCD Foundation website. She explains how difficult life is for children, partners, siblings, and aged grandparents living among the clutter.
Family members visiting a hoarder may also experience physical and emotional difficulties even though they do not live there. Friction and tensions abound as no doubt frustration does too.
Increased Conflict Among Family Members
Compulsive hoarding encroaches on shared space, especially the living room and kitchen. Purchases of additional sheds may occur without discussion, and result in less money available for essentials.
The hoarder may also max their cards when adding to their collection, and incur penalties when they can’t keep up with their payments.
Emotions can come to a boil when the compulsive hoarder spreads their collection into other people’s bedrooms, and adopts a dictatorial approach whereby they refuse to negotiate with the other people living in the house.
The Helplessness of Young Children Trapped in the Situation
Young children often have no option but to adapt. However, they may be too embarrassed to invite their friends to visit and this could damage their social networks. Having no space to play cramps their style, and they may become trouble-makers at school.
They may eventually conclude their compulsive-hoarder parent loves their piles of junk higher than them. In an extreme case, they may run away and fall into deep trouble that scars them for life.
Strained Relationships Develop With Adult Children Too
Those frustrations linger after children grow up and leave home. Their estrangement from the parents may continue as they bicker over what to do about the hoard. They may become extremely resentful about the conditions under which they grew up.
The core family may fall apart when the adult children refuse to bring their own children when they visit. When they finally part company, their hoarder parent may be left deeply depressed and unable to cope. Their self-esteem collapses as they turn to their clutter as their only friend.
What About the Life Partners of These Compulsive Hoarders?
Spouses and lifetime companions have an even tougher call. Their finances, even their lives may be hopelessly entwined with each other, their only true friend. Tension and hospitality build to breaking point as the hoarder is unable to change.
However, any minor children take the hardest knocks as their parents argue about custody. This is a cruel end to a once happy family, especially if the aggrieved one shows photos of the disorganized home in court.
Much of this might have been avoided if the couple agreed to family counseling. However, these steps should be taken long before the relationship fractures in the ways we described.