Dear Dr G.,
I've been wanting to talk to someone about this for a long time but have been embarrassed. Let's just say that my house is disgusting, cluttered and smells terrible. My mother has always shopped a lot and rarely throws anything away.
This has been the case for a long time but got worse about 5 years ago when my parents got divorced. I really don't blame my dad for leaving. I rarely see my father,though, because he moved across the country. So, I am stuck living with my mother in a house with piles of clothes, junk and other things that we have no need for. It has gotten so bad lately that it's hard to walk from the living room to my room.
I have watched the TV shows on hoarding and have offered to help my mother clean out the apartment but she freaks out when I suggest this. I am embarrassed to have friends over and my friends wonder why I avoid having them over. Also, I'm noticing that I'm starting to have some trouble throwing away things as well.
A Teenage Girl
Dear Teenage Girl,
I am so happy that you wrote to me. At least from your story, it sounds like your mother may be suffering from Hoarding Disorder. I have not treated your mom, so she would need to be seen by a professional for a real diagnosis. But, I will discuss the disorder in case it helps you.
I would like you to know that Hoarding Disorder occurs almost equally among males and females and, yes, it can start in adolescence and gradually get worse with the passage of time without treatment.
In the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSMV,) Hoarding Disorder is characterized by:
1. the excessive accumulation of objects that lead to clutter
2. an unwillingness to part with these objects
3. an interference with healthy functioning because of the hoarding problem (like inability to socialize etc.)
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Also, hoarders tend to get extremely attached to objects almost as if these objects are part of their family. Hoarders worry that they will need these items some time in the future.
I am so sorry that you and your mother have to live in an environment in which you, and I'm guessing she, is uncomfortable. My guess is that your mother is also dealing with underlying psychological issues like anxiety and/or depression.
Approximately 50% of hoarders have symptoms of depression.