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Married to a Hoarder


Dear Annie: My wife and I have been married for 30 years. When our oldest son left for college, my wife began using his bedroom for storage. It gradually filled with clothes, papers and things my wife bought from TV shopping shows. Soon, there was barely a path to the bed. It happened again when our second child left. Now both bedrooms are jammed so full that you can barely open the doors. Our attic is overflowing, and we rent two storage spaces.

My wife is now stacking stuff in our bedroom. I cannot get her to sort through things. She says she will do it "when the weather is better" or "when I have time," but she never does.

I fear my wife has some form of OCD. I am considering tossing stuff myself the next time she takes a trip to visit one of our children. If I throw away the junk, how will she react? I cannot live like this. — Drowning in Junk

Dear Drowning: Your wife is a hoarder. It's possible this was kicked into high gear by the stress of her children leaving the nest, but if it is getting progressively worse, she needs to seek treatment. However, unless she agrees to it beforehand, we don't recommend you toss things out while she is away. Instead, call your doctor and ask for a referral to a mental health specialist. You also can contact the International OCD Foundation ( for more information.

Dear Annie: For some reason, it has become common for people to bring their dogs when visiting, even if the visit is for as little as an hour. Some people won't come if they cannot bring the dog. Please print my list of what not to do when visiting with your dog:

1. Do not allow your dog to jump on my furniture.

2. If your dog does his business outside, clean up his mess.

3. Do not let your dog eat off of my china or snatch food from the table.

4. Do not expect me to put my cats outside because they do not get along with your dog.

5. If your dog is outside, do not let him scratch at my door or windows.

6. Just because I permit you to bring your dog, do not assume it is because I really like the animal. It is solely because I value your friendship more than I dislike your dog. I never let my children misbehave at someone's house, and I expect your dogs to behave equally well.

I used to have dogs, but I would never dream of taking them to someone else's home unless specifically invited to do so. — Anonymous

Dear Anonymous: Some folks consider their animal companions to be their "children" and expect others to treat them accordingly. But this is an unwarranted assumption. It is important to first ask whether it is OK to bring a pet, and if the answer is "no," respond graciously and make other arrangements.

Dear Annie: You recently published a letter from "A Lucky and Appreciative Married Man" and suggested that any reader who wanted to give the impression that they wrote it do so. My husband circled the column and left it out for me to see with a handwritten note saying he didn't write it but "should have." It made me stop to appreciate that he really means it when he frequently tells me how lucky he is.

We've been together for "only" 25 years, and it has been more than wonderful. The trials and tribulations have been nothing compared to the good times and memories. I hope the next 25 years don't go by as fast.

It takes two to make a relationship work. As the wife of another lucky man, I am fortunate to have such a great partner in this life. — Staatsburg, N.Y. Annie's Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please email your questions to, or write to: Annie's Mailbox, c/o Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254. To find out more about Annie's Mailbox and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



34 Comments | Post Comment
LW1: Your wife is a hoarder, and throwing everything away is an immediate solution that will likely be EXTREMELY upsetting to her, as well as short-sighted. She'll fill the rooms up again, and be twice as defensive about it. To her, every item and scrap of garbage has a story or a memory or a future use, and it feels almost disrespectful to get rid of it. Try to convince her to get some treatment to help her declutter, and try to set some firm boundaries- i.e. no filling up the common rooms in the house. If she won't listen to any of it, you wouldn't be the first spouse of a hoarder to be compelled to move out over this, even if you and your wife stay "together." I'm related to a hoarder, and I pretty firmly believe he'll die surrounded by his crap. Sucks, but that's how it is. It really is an illness- you should watch some of the TV specials, you'll see how cognitively impaired some of them are (thinking 10 year old meat is "still good," feeling as if they've "betrayed' a teddy bear by throwing it out, blaming everyone in sight for their problems and never taking an ounce of responsibility, etc), and how the hoarding affects nearly everything in their lives.

LW2: I feel ya, but some of your points aren't very realistic. For one, how does a dog owner "not let" a dog do something when the dog is outside and they are inside? The answer is extremely good training, but if that's not already in place, they won't be able to do much about the dog scratching at your window. I agree on most other points, which range from presumptuous to rude on the part of the guests (having their dog lick your dishes? Eeeeew). While we have cats, and have had dogs before, thankfully I rarely run into "that" kind of dog owner that thinks their dog should go everywhere with them. I'd suggest not having the dogs over if they bug you, but I'm sure that'll mean never seeing certain people in your life.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Jers
Thu Nov 14, 2013 9:27 PM
My brother in law would bring home all sorts of junk from Goodwill. A broken TV that he was going to fix. Useless crockery or kitchen appliances. My sister in law had 7 children to look after, and she had only one arm, so cleaning house around all the clutter was extra difficult. Every month or so she would call St. Vincent de Paul to come pick up a "donation" of most of the junk. Usually her husband didn't even notice that half of his collection had disappeared.
Comment: #2
Posted by: sarah stravinska
Thu Nov 14, 2013 10:01 PM

LW3 refers to the second letter on 25 September 2013.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Miss Pasko
Thu Nov 14, 2013 10:28 PM
I don't know about you, but I'd rather field the very worst hissy fit one of these hoarders could throw then live with my house chock-full of useless crap and clutter. The people who cater to and put up with this crazy behavior are far sicker than the hoarders themselves IMHO. @Jers, I'll be damned if I'll let some delusional trash collector force me out of my own house. LW1, tell your wife that if she wants to stay married and continue to live with you, she has to get therapy for this problem and she has stop accumulating clutter and trash. In the meantime, I say you should go ahead and throw everything away when she is out or when she is there for that matter. Just get rid of it before it becomes a health hazard.

If your wife doesn't like you throwing out her collection, tell her you'll be happy to get her her very own shopping cart and SHE can move out and take it all with her. Honestly, who cares whether someone so sick they are willing to contaminate their family's environment and so selfish they put their family's health and well-being second to their love of trash doesn't like or feels uncomfortable or betrayed by cleaning up. Yes, I know it's a form of OCD, but that doesn't mean you have to make yourself and anyone else who lives in the home a prisoner to it. Obviously, try to get her psychological help but no reason to enable or tiptoe around her illness to the detriment of everyone else.

Please just tell your family and friends to stop bringing their dogs to your house and quit complaining already.

Re: L3
Kudos Annies for pointing out your wisdom in printing the original letter along with your advice. Glad you are illustrating how your super awesome suggestion that all your readers whose wives did not have menopause symptoms, and who still want to have sex with them, should pretend like they wrote it. Clearly this has enhanced this couple's relationship along with countless others. I'll bet all the people who read your column for relationship advice are beyond thrilled to share this couple's joy.
Comment: #4
Posted by: EstherGreenwood
Thu Nov 14, 2013 10:43 PM
Re: LW1 – Since this “hording” phase began when your eldest son went away to college, then progressed when child No. 2 left, one would think a feeling of loss was being filled with “stuff” for your wife to manage her pain.

Or, sadly, your wife always had the compulsion, but never the room. Do you and your wife have enough finances to purchase items from TV shopping shows, then not use them?

Sometimes it is helpful to not just “get her to sort through things”, but set aside time to do it together. The two empty rooms could have been a starting point for your wife to have a need to fill them up. The compulsion must have grown (hence the two storage spaces and overflowing attic).

It could be too soon, but perhaps it is time to move to a smaller home, and both of you make arrangements to give the extras to those who need it more than the attic and the two storage spaces. If your wife is suffering anxiety, take it one day at a time, baby steps.

See a councilor together if your wife resists change, she surely cannot be happy with the way things are.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Jenna
Thu Nov 14, 2013 11:26 PM
I am a hoarder. Maybe my particular version of this mental illness is rare, but I'll tell y'all about it anyway: If, while I was away for a week or so, someone were to remove all the Piles of Stuff and clean up my house, I would be very happy and grateful. It's when people are here "helping" me "clean" and trying to get me to make decisions about every little thing that I get really anxious and upset and throw everybody out. If I went away for a week and came back to a clean house, it would be just luvverly. I wouldn't miss the Piles one bit.

I can't guarantee that the Piles of Stuff wouldn't try to come back. But it took years to get this way. And now that I know I've got an identifiable mental illness that manifests itself in Piles of Stuff (I didn't know before), I bet I could stay on top of it. Plus, I'd commit to having friends (the ones who did the Big Cleanup) come over once a month or so for dinner or something, & if the Piles were coming back, they'd see it and say something.

I live alone. I wonder if I have friends who like me enough to do this for me. Hmmm...

Comment: #6
Posted by: SusanW
Thu Nov 14, 2013 11:54 PM
@SusanW - YI do believe most hoarders would fall apart if one thing was missing, but my stepmother's situation is more like yours.
She was sort of a hoarder when my Dad was alive, but he kept it in check (sometimes meeting the UPS man in the driveway and refusing delivery). Even so, I could never visit and stay in their FOUR bedroom house, because she had an office, bedroom, and TV room to herself, filled with furniture and junk (but you could walk in them). The rest of the house was lovely. After he died, every surface of the house started to fill up. She sold the house a year later, but she wouldn't (couldn't) box anything up in preparation; she hired movers who said they'd box for her. We tried to get her to organize things in preparation, but she freaked out and yelled THE MOVERS WILL DO IT. So the movers show up, and they just look in shock at a home that looks like it exploded. They're supposed to pack a 4 bedroom house in a day. So we start on the first room - and she does the classic hoarder thing - "well, I should take this.. should I take this too? Yes I think so, right? Do you know, I got this in 1974 when we were in Venezuela..." It was weeks too late for those shenanigans. We literally distracted her in other rooms and told the movers "pack pack pack everything you see as fast as you can". Packed more than twice what should have, in a disorganized mess, no other option. When she got to her new place, across the country, her daughter got rid of probably 2/3 of her junk, without her knowledge. Every now and then she'll ask where something is - and we have to try to replace it, not always possible. With so many piles of junk, who the hell knew what was actually important to her? And asking a hoarder to separate stuff into important/less important is impossible, that I've seen first hand.
Comment: #7
Posted by: Steve C
Fri Nov 15, 2013 12:41 AM
LW1: Afraid she really does sound like a hoarder, and I think the LW needs to take action to get her some help, and quickly -- because it will only get worse otherwise. But this really requires professional intervention.

LW2: Don't tell the Annies this; give this list to your friends and family before they bring their dogs. The solution to this is for you to simply communicate with them, firmly but politely.

Comment: #8
Posted by: Mike H
Fri Nov 15, 2013 3:50 AM
LW1 - Since your wife didn't start hoarding until your oldest went to college, I'd say she's trying compensate for an empty feeling. I don't have kids so I don't know what empty nest syndrome feels like but I have never heard of someone being so bothered by it that become a hoarder. I don't think you should get rid of her stuff because I think she'll just replace it. I read Susan's story but I have heard that most hoarders freak out when they see their stuff gone and have to immediately replace it.

Find a mental health expert like the Annie's said. I know they mentioned the OCD website but I don't think your wife has that, although I'm no expert. Talk to your wife, tell her you're concerned and tell her that you'll go with her to see someone. If she refuses and it gets too bad for you, maybe you should move out. I'm not saying you have to divorce but you should show her that you won't like like that. Good luck.

LW2 - "Some people won't come if they cannot bring the dog." There's your solution right there! Seriously, if people refuse to visit without their dog, then are really worth having over? I love dogs but even I say, "It's a dog! Not a child! You can leave it at home!'
Comment: #9
Posted by: Michelle
Fri Nov 15, 2013 3:54 AM
LW1: Get that stuff out of the bedroom! Put your foot down! I've been living with a packrat for years and learned early on that the way to survive is to carve out your territory and defend it fiercely. I've always been afraid that my packrat could evolve into a full-blown hoarder if anything ever happened to me. Luckily, he's discovered eBay and how it can supplement his pension income when he sells things he's had for 50 years. (Who knew there was such a market for ancient bike parts?)
Whenever I've watched Hoarders, it's always struck me how self-absorbed some of them are. They are often more attached to their stuff than they are to their living breathing relatives. I suppose inanimate objects are easier to deal with.
If it's any consolation, at least your wife isn't hoarding animals. That is a particularly ugly compulsion as the poor creatures end up so sick they usually have to be put down.
Comment: #10
Posted by: Seabeast2
Fri Nov 15, 2013 4:00 AM
Re post #9, Michelle
Yes, it's often triggered by loss. THere was an old fellow in my home town who got department of health notices annually, followed by involuntary cleanups from the city. His entire family was killed by the Nazis in WW2, prior to him being sent to a slave labour camp.
Comment: #11
Posted by: Seabeast2
Fri Nov 15, 2013 4:04 AM
Jers, you have no idea of how many people assume it is fine to bring a dog to someone's home. One Christmas, my children were dog sitting for a neighbor and the dog was staying with us. I was having 14 people for dinner and I also had a cat. My mother brought her dog, 2 friends brought their dogs and my sister also brought hers. In my house that Christmas I had 14 people, 5 dogs (one of which was a Doberman) and 1 cat. It was utter chaos.
Comment: #12
Posted by: Marilyn
Fri Nov 15, 2013 4:48 AM
LW1 - Do you have a local/state adult protective services office near by that you can contact? My dad has had problems for years with my step-mom hoarding. He had tried repeatedly to get her to clean up. He has had my sister and her sister come over and clean up while she was away visiting her daughter in Virginia but the hoard always came back. But after she had a stroke 18 months ago, hospital staff contacted adult protective services after talking with my dad because she was hoarding in the hospital. She was building a small hoard in her room of butter packets, silverware, and napkins from her meal trays. The social worker looked at the house and would not allow her to be released from the hospital to her home until it was cleaned up because it was too dangerous. So she was given the choice clean it up or she's going to a nursing facility. She still tries to hoard things but my dad is able to keep it under more control since the social worker is now always checking up on the situation. This man's wife clearly needs help and he should absolutely seek mental health help for her; but this could be a way for him to avoid being the bad guy picking on her. Also if the hoard starts attracting vermin to their home and it spills over into any neighboring structures the health department could condemn the home (maybe another reason to make it not his fault he is cleaning it out).
Comment: #13
Posted by: Paula
Fri Nov 15, 2013 4:59 AM
LW1: My daughter (and her father too, I think it's kind of genetic) is somewhat of a hoarder. I on the other hand am not by nature, but fighting her stuff sometimes is overwhelming for ME and it's not even my stuff!

Since CC and I are in the process of moving right now, she has been forced to confront her stuff and here's how we have attacked the issue:

1. Schedule a day (or part of the day) to go through one specific part of the house. For example, maybe one Saturday morning, you attack the stuff in your bedroom. You set aside maybe three hours to do this, and break on the hour for 5 minutes. Have garbage bags ready and organize by "Keep" "Donate" "Sell" and "Throw away" . Then toss the garbage right away, and take the donation bags right away to the Goodwill. Then take her out to lunch. You want to reward the good behavior and you don't want to overwhelm her by attacking the whole house at once.

2. Do this once a week, attacking different rooms (or even parts of rooms: a closet alone took us a whole morning) on different days. Once the house is free of clutter, hire a housekeeper to come once every two weeks. The day before the housekeeper comes, do a "tidy up" of the house and again have the same category bags ready. IMMEDIATELY throw away the garbage and donate.

3. For the "Sell" stuff, designate one part of the house (attic?) as your storage unit. Before you store it, take a picture of the stuff and IMMEDIATELY post it on Craig's List or eBay. Whatever you don't sell in one month, donate.

Make sure that your wife is part of the process because if you do this without her, she will be ANGRY! One weekend I tried the surprise attack on CC and the result was a meltdown like you wouldn't believe. The agreement we had after that big ole fight was the above. When we do the deep cleaning Saturdays, we actually end up having a good time now because we make it fun. We listen to music or put a movie on in the background and when we are done, we go out for a fun lunch. It's our time together.

Finally, let's address the empty nest syndrome thing brought up by several people. My daughter still lives at home (probably for the next year or so), but I'm sure it will not be easy when she goes. BUT, I have a very busy full life. If your wife, LW, has been a stay home mom for all these years, you have to find different things to occupy her time. Retail therapy is VERY temporary and has to be constantly fed in order to work. This is the same kind of transition that happens when people retire: they have a significant void in their lives and need to find a way to fill it. Some people have hobbies, some people hoard, some people volunteer. Your wife needs to have something new to fill her time. Explore this with her: if she misses having kids around, maybe she can volunteer at a local school or youth center. If she's still working full time and is only around on the weekends, maybe you both can schedule day trips (with all the money you make selling your stuff?) or weekend getaways.

LW2: Very simple. If your friends are so inconsiderate of your feelings that they bring a dog into your home without considering your feelings, you either need to meet them elsewhere or get new friends. I don't know ANYONE who would bring a dog into a home without the dog being invited. I certainly wouldn't bring our dog anywhere new, it's very stressful for the DOG. These friends don't care about either their dogs or their friends. Yikes.

LW3: VERY sweet :) Wishing you a long and healthy life together!
Comment: #14
Posted by: nanchan
Fri Nov 15, 2013 5:34 AM
Re LW#1------
I don't know if hoarding can be inherited, but my husband was at least a 'packrat'. So was his mother, and so is my daughter.
None of them collect stuff to the extent I see on TV (I think they pick worst-case scenarios for those shows, or maybe even 'pad' the situation a little)-----his mom's 'collecting' was somewhat tempered by his dad, who ran the household and would periodically go through and throw everything out if he thought it wasn't 'useful'. And my husband didn't fill our entire house up, just one bedroom and the garage, and he used to go to garage sales, auctions, etc. and buy old rusty broken tools (large stuff like giant cement mixers, etc.) and 'store' them in our orchard covered with tarps till he could someday fix them. (He died just before his retirement, but I don't believe he would ever have done it, I never saw him actually repair and use anything.)
My daughter lives alone, so her whole house is full of stuff she 'is going to use one day'. I would be the worst person in the world to try and deal sympathetically with a hoarder, because I was so sick of it that if I could have, I'd hire someone to haul everything to the dump, and the heck with the hoarder's trauma. (I know it's real trauma, but if you haven't lived with it, you can't imagine what it's like. There was a tiny path to get through our garage, that's all. After he died I rented a gigantic dumpster and threw out literally tons of stuff, then had a gigantic garage sale-------made several thousands selling his junk to other peoples' husbands who probably hauled it home and stored it in THEIR garage.
I'd advise anyone who sees this starting, to nip it in the bud right away. Make the hoarder get help, if necessary, or get out of the situation. Yes, it's an illness, but it's treatable, if the person will get help. I tend to sympathize more with anyone who has to live with the hoarder, having been there. It's not fun living that way, expecially when the hoarder doesn't recognize the problem as being one.
Comment: #15
Posted by: jennylee
Fri Nov 15, 2013 5:37 AM
Re: nanchan #14
Wow!!!! We were posting at the same time, I guess. I've always believed it could be genetic, thanks for supporting my theory.
You are lucky, I think, to have at least a bit of cooperation from your daughter. My husband didn't recognize the problem and just said "No way are you getting rid of my stuff." And my daughter lives independently of me, so I don't have any leverage there, and she also is convinced there's nothing wrong with her saving everything. And hers started after she left home, so not much I could do there. I've offered to help her at least sort stuff, but when we did, turned out there was nothing she didn't think was necessary to save.
It IS nice, though, after living with others in the house (first parents, then husband) for 64 years, to be in complete control of everything. Don't know if it's enough to compensate for losing my husband, but it is great to have nothing here but what I choose to keep.
Comment: #16
Posted by: jennylee
Fri Nov 15, 2013 5:49 AM
PS on the clutter thing.

About a year ago, Dear Abby mentioned a great website called flylady dot NET that baby steps people through basic anti clutter and housekeeping tips. I love the site and wanted to suggest it here as well :)
Comment: #17
Posted by: nanchan
Fri Nov 15, 2013 5:54 AM
Re LW#2-----
I had the perfect excuse for many years------a strictly indoor cat who was totally neurotic and scared to death of dogs and other cats, and I just told people they couldn't bring their dog because I wouldn't subject my cat to having to hide under the bed the entire time they were here. She lived to be 15, before I had to have her put down, and I now have a cat (also indoor) who, I suspect, would be fine with dogs, or other cats-------I just don't tell people that. As far as they know, my current kitty is just as neurotic as my old one.
And people who insist their dog can't be separated from them, ever, are really doing a disservice to that dog. What if something happened to the dog where he had to be kept at the vet's for several days? Or they had to be hospitalized? A dog that is so neurotic that it can't be separated from its owner, ever, isn't a good thing to have.
(I suspect that in most cases, it's not the dog who can't be without the owner, but the owner who can't be without the dog.)
I used to periodically board my neurotic kitty if I went somewhere overnight, just so she'd get used to sometimes being without me. I expect she didn't like it, but she accepted it. It's like having a kid------you need some alternate besides just you to occasionally take care of your child-------helps in case of emergency, and also makes your child not be totally dependent of you, and terrified if you're not there. Same goes for pets.
Comment: #18
Posted by: jennylee
Fri Nov 15, 2013 6:29 AM
LW1 -
You say this started after you oldest left for college and accelerated when the second one also left. Evidently, the empty rooms being filled up are a way for your wife to act out the filling of a void.

From what I've seen of true hoarders (not to be confused with very disorganised pack-rats who just own a lot of stuff), it is pointless to try and convince them to sort anything (as you have found out), and little plans like separating things into "keep", "donate", "sell" and "throw away" piles (which can only be implemented AFTER the person has agreed to sort anyway), are only usable for disorganised pack-rats with a lot of stuff, not true hoarders. With true hoarders, everything is always in the first pile. Which is why they refuse to sort in the first place: there is no point in "sorting", as parting with anything is out of the question, so there are no "donate", "sell" or "throw away" piles. That's what hoarding is all about.

The only effective strategy in my humble opinion is the drastic one. People who stack items brand new still in the box right up to the ceiling don't want the stuff, they want a filled up, no longer empty space. Not the same thing. Find a way for your wife to be away for a few days (perhaps one of the kids can invite her to visit) and then clean the place up - youll probably need help.

Of course she'll completely freak and go ballistic when she comes back. Now is the time for the ultimatum: she gets therapy for her "anxiety", AND the hoard doesn't come back, or you're leaving. Perhaps you can threaten her to have her declared mentally incompetent. Whatever it takes. You may want to put the house up for sale and buy a much smaller one, one where there are no spare rooms for her to fill up.

One last thing: Children are supposed to leave the parental home at one point. That's what they were raised to adulthood for. A certain amount of empty nest anxiety is normal, but for it to develop into a mental illness is not. Your wife needs therapy to develop other ways of filling up the void than flling up the entire house with stuff she'll never use except to fill up empty space. And by the way...she's reacting like she's got nothing left in her entire life. What are you, chopped liver? Nice compliment she's making you there.

P.S.: P-L-E-A-S-E. Don't just throw out everything to the curb. Donate it to some organisation, I'm sure there's plenty of them in your neck of the woods. The way people are treating this planet, you'd think they're a dime a dozen.

You're deluded if you think anyone entitled enough to bring a dog to anyone's home without checking first will follow your little list. Suddenly develop a huge allergy and bar the flippin' dogs. Meet with these rude clods at their place or somewhere else if you enjoy their selfish company so much. I guess for every rude clod, it takes a wimpy doormat to match. Sheesh.

Comment: #19
Posted by: Lise Brouillette
Fri Nov 15, 2013 7:38 AM
Re: jennylee
I don't believe it is genetic, but it definitely CAN be a learned behaviour, passed on from parent to offspring. So there can be a familial component. But many children of hoarders react by becoming minimalists, so the familial component is not genetic.

Comment: #20
Posted by: Lise Brouillette
Fri Nov 15, 2013 7:46 AM
@Marilyn -- why is it, do you suppose, that no one has ever shown up on my doorstep with an uninvited dog in tow? It's not because I'm allergic or well-known for not liking dogs -- I LOVE dogs. I had one growing up and have one right now. And it's not because none of my friends or family have dogs. In fact, most of them do. So, it's either because I've managed to befriend only sane, thoughtful people who wouldn't think to do this, or it's because people recognize I have a spine. I suspect it's a combination of both. I have never had someone show up with a dog without asking first if it was OK to bring the dog, and I have never brought my dog to someone else's house without asking first.

My in-laws do sometimes bring their dog with them when they visit us -- because she's a puppy, and the live 90 minutes away, so between the actual time visiting with us and the travel time back and forth, that's a long time to leave a puppy to her own devices. When they don't bring her, they make arrangements with a friend of theirs to go let her out to do her business and play with her for a bit, and if the friend isn't available, they have a "puppy daycare" by them that she loves to go to. But when they sometimes want to bring her with them for one reason or another, they always give us a head's up that she coming to make sure it's OK with us.
Comment: #21
Posted by: Lisa
Fri Nov 15, 2013 7:54 AM
my mom was a hoarder for many years, well when had both of her legs amputated she had to clean up her act. we went through everything and she did really good until we got to her dresser drawer where she had all of her important stuff in it and a lot of junk. well I gave her a small Tupperware and told her to put the important stuff in it, and well get rid of the junk. when I came back, I looked into the box, it had her wedding ring, her nursing pin, and some other sentimental items in it, but it also had some of the most stupidest junk in it like nail clippers, a broken doll head, and her old set of teeth that didn't fit. Well when we went through it we were laughing so hard we were crying, when she died I kept the box broken doll head, teeth, and all and my husband would dream of throwing that away.
but I agree with the genetic component to it to a degree, I'm a hoarder like Susan w, what helps is my husband and I declutter together and it helps me stay on task.
Comment: #22
Posted by: terre
Fri Nov 15, 2013 7:57 AM
@Jennylee: " A dog that is so neurotic that it can't be separated from its owner, ever, isn't a good thing to have."

Not only is it not a good thing to have, but it's a sign that the dog is neither happy nor healthy. Instead of catering to the dog's illness -- because that's what it is, it's a canine mental illness! -- they should be trying to help the dog get over its separation anxiety so that the dog can live a happier, healthier life. These dog owners, if they aren't willing to do something about this for their OWN happiness, need to be reminded that the dog's happiness is also at stake.
Comment: #23
Posted by: Lisa
Fri Nov 15, 2013 7:58 AM
I think there's a pretty gigantic difference between a "packrat" and a true hoarder. What Susan W describes of herself sounds like a packrat. A true hoarder has a full-blown mental illness, a packrat has a bad habit. I'm a packrat. Several months ago, after the birth of my second child, my MIL came and did a massive declutter of my house. Although she did, unfortunately, throw out some stuff that I legitimately needed (there are a few things that I actually DO use that I can no longer find and must assume got tossed out because she didn't know what they were or didn't realize we really do still use them), it was a small price to pay to not have to go through it all myself. I was completely thrilled! And whenever I can't find something I need and realize she must have thrown it out (which is frustrating), I remind myself of how AWESOME it was that she did all that for me. That's the response of a packrat who is just too busy/disorganized/lazy (depending on whom you ask) to declutter her house. That is NOT the response of a hoarder, who isn't simply too busy/disorganized/lazy but has an actual, recognized mental illness.
Comment: #24
Posted by: Lisa
Fri Nov 15, 2013 8:07 AM
LW1 - You wife would NOT react well to having things thrown away. Besides, tossing stuff out isn't going to solve anything, it's only going to kick the can down the road, as the bedrooms will only refill after a while. Your wife must get professional help as the Annies suggest.

LW2 - You should post this sign on your front door when you plan to have dog-owner guests.
Comment: #25
Posted by: Paul W
Fri Nov 15, 2013 8:12 AM
L1: My mother is like this as well. When my parents were married, my dad tried to keep it in check, but my closet and my brother's closet already was half full of her stuff. After they got divorced, the stockpiles became worse. I shared a room with my sister, my mom's stuff took up 2/3 of the tiny closet, and my sister and I had to share the 1/3 space left. My brother's closet was 3/4 full of her stuff. My mom's closet had long since been stuffed full, and even the front closet we had our jackets in was half full of old dresses and other things. The hall closet was completely off-limits, stuffed to the brim with her stuff, and a few blankets that we were not allowed to touch. The standing piles were at a minimum in those days (the in sight piles, that is). When I moved out, one of the rooms was made into a junk room. When my brother moved out, his room was immediately filled with stuff, same when my sister left. Now, half of the living room is cluttered with boxes and you can't even walk into a room other than the kitchen. When I asked about this, my mom said that I had no business going into the other rooms anyway, and it was none of my concern. Forget about ever straightening up or throwing anything away, she will freak out and attack physically anyone who does that. Us kids are at a loss over what to do about it.
LW, please, do something about it now, before it takes over your whole house. Even the threat of losing you may not be enough to make her stop, if it's too deeply ingrained. Probably the main reason it didn't come out as much when your kids were home is that, frankly, they were in the way, so to speak. She wasn't able to put her stuff in there because their stuff was in there already. If she refuses therapy or parting with her things, then you may have no other option than removing yourself from the chaos. Good luck.
Comment: #26
Posted by: cadence
Fri Nov 15, 2013 8:16 AM
LW 1 My mom was a terrible hoarder after all the kids moved out. When my siblings would go to her house to clean up and throw out junk she would cry and grieve like someone had died. She literally had garbage in her house that she had taken out of other people's trash cans and brought home. She was more attached to that garbage than she was to any of her many children. Obviously she was mentally ill. I am just the opposite. I hate clutter or dirt. I can easily throw things away that I don't need.
The LW only question is how will his wife react if he gets rid of her junk. She may very well mourn her loss as if someone had died.
Comment: #27
Posted by: locake
Fri Nov 15, 2013 9:09 AM
I think that piles of junk to a hoarder are like food or money to everyone else - freighted with symbolism. Filling up an empty space with useless crap is hard to understand unless the empty space is the important thing. It must be filled. And since no one's paying me for my opinion (like all of us here!) it just sounds to me like the real empty space is the one inside the hoarder's psyche - hence the need for serious mental help. Not an original observation, of course, but just a thought.
Comment: #28
Posted by: Maggie Lawrence
Fri Nov 15, 2013 10:37 AM
LW1—Your wife is a hoarder. It's a mental issue that will only escalate. Unless you want your children to find your mummified body under piles upon piles of junk in several years, you need to nip this in the bud now. First, inform your wife point blank that you will begin throwing out the junk. Her reaction will be guttural fear followed by intense anger because she has an irrational need to collect and hoard the junk. Then, stick to your guns and start discarding it. I urge you to convince your wife to seek treatment because often hoarders will move from collecting one thing to another.

LW2—Look honey, if you don't want people's dog in your house then that is your prerogative. If someone refuses to come over because they can't bear to be without their damn dog for even an hour then it's their loss, not yours. Instead of expecting the world to change at the stroke of some advice columnist's pen, do something that you can control. Forget about your little list of Do's and Don'ts that nobody will bother to read or remember. You need to make it simple for the simple-minded. Place a sign at your front door that plainly states “No Pets please!” If someone shows up unannounced with a dog, then they either leave it in their car or they leave period. Don't negotiate, those are your terms.
Comment: #29
Posted by: Chris
Fri Nov 15, 2013 11:18 AM
Re: jennylee

Yep! Totally agree that it's probably genetic.

CC hasn't lived with her father since she was 3 years old, and I am VERY organized... she on the other hand is not. She's just like her father, he used to throw newspapers on the floor after reading them.

As her mother (and the payer of bills!) I have a LOT more say in how the house will be ran than if the hoarder was my spouse. I think that's a totally different dynamic, but honestly the same rules apply. You want to gently get through the clutter and then deal with it.

Comment: #30
Posted by: nanchan
Fri Nov 15, 2013 11:21 AM
LW1: Why did you allow her to buy so much crap in the first place? What have you been doing all this time she was losing her mind?

Comment: #31
Posted by: Diana
Fri Nov 15, 2013 12:46 PM
I just hope that LW1 listens to the real experts on dealing with a hoarder. Some of the methods advocated by a few commenters have been linked to pushing hoarders into suicide. You have to deal with the emotions first, then deal with the stuff.

I'd recommend 'Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding & the Meaning of Things' by Randy Frost & Gail Steketee to both the LW and anyone interested in the subject. It's quite an interesting read.
Comment: #32
Posted by: Miz
Fri Nov 15, 2013 4:18 PM
LW1 - congrats, hon, you won the wife-with-a-problems sweepstakes ---- your wife is indeed a hoarder. There is no need though to throw anything away. When your wife is gone, renting a large pleasant storage space and move everything to it. Yes, she'll get angry when she comes back. She may also have a good cry (which would be good for her). And it's fair for you to tell her, too, that living that way just isn't workable anymore. Good luck.
Comment: #33
Posted by: sarah morrow
Fri Nov 15, 2013 4:27 PM
LW1- Please get professional advice first, so your wife can deal with whatever pushed her over the edge. Then, you can have her counselor recommend a person who helps her get rid of the accumulated stuff. This is an odd mental illness, but they know how to treat it. I feel sorry for you, because I would not like to be forced to live like this until my spouse got help. Ask the counselor at which point you can lay down the law because your wife needs a reason to get help and stay healthy. You being ready to leave might be that reason. But get the advice so your wife doesn't do anything rash.
LW2- send your dog loving friends the list you sent to the Annies. After all, it is they who keep imposing on your hospitality, not the Annies.
Comment: #34
Posted by: Patty Bear
Fri Nov 15, 2013 6:35 PM
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