Category Archives: Blog

What Are They Thinking?!

When you have a parent who collects things and can’t or won’t get rid of any of them even when it endangers their safety, you wonder why they behave this way. There are several thought processes that may  be at work here.

If your mother keeps everything, then she can avoid the anxiety of making a decision. She’s thinking “what if I throw this out and I need it some day”.

She may have developed extreme emotional attachments to her things. Her things are more like extensions of herself. If she was to get rid of the item it would be like  letting go of a part of herself. Her things re-enforce her identity. You may not value the little dress she made for you when you were eight years old, but for her it is a reminder of when she was young and vital and needed.

She might have trouble with categorizing. You, as a non-hoarder, see similarities and can group items together. Your mother, however, sees only the ways things are different and baffles you with the ways she creates piles of paperwork and other things that make no sense to anyone else.

So, what can you do? Start by listening. Engage your parent in a discussion where you listen more than talk. Let your mom tell you the history of the items and what she thinks she might do with them someday. Just let her talk without offering your own evaluations. You are creating a relationship hopefully based on trust.

Pack-Rat Parents (2)

Some people become pack-rats from excess buying. I have helped clear out homes where there were rooms full of stashes of unopened purchases…piles of them. They were acquired from shopping trips to the mall, mail order catalogs, internet shopping, and phone solicitations. For the people with this kind of hoarding it’s the shopping not the utilizing that provides the thrill of the kill. The unfortunate thing about it is that they can’t turn it off. They may go into debt over their heads in the pursuit of the relief for this need. Often, they hide the receipts for their purchases from their spouses, and possibly from themselves. What I have found most unfortunate is that when you try to help them recover some of their expenses by selling these items, they bring in next to nothing. If others want the items at all, they want them at bargain prices. In some cases the best I’ve been able to do is to get a tax deduction for them by providing a slip of estimated value to be signed by a receiver at Goodwill. As with all forms of hoarding, this compulsive shopping/acquiring behavior is beyond the person’s capacity to control. What is needed here is the family’s love and support for this person, some professional help from the medical and/or counseling field, and possibly someone trained as an organizer to work with people in this kind of situation.