How Growing up in a Hoard makes Adulthood feel Impossible

I love the satisfaction of getting a project done. I can stare at a clean room or a completed craft project for HOURS, just marveling at the, well, doneness of it!

But the road there is often a bit more challenging for me than other people. 

For years, I thought there was something wrong with me. My negative self-talk ran along the lines of:

  • I’m not good with details/planning.
  • I’m not a finisher.
  • I love the idea of doing something, but doing it is too hard.
  • I don’t have the time/energy to get it done.
  • I don’t know what I’m doing. 
  • I WANT to get going, but I just can’t seem to get my act together.

I truly believed that maybe something about me was busted. Why did it seem so easy for other people to get things done, keep on top of the chores, make cool things? I definitely didn’t lack for imagination. Just initiation

It always feels like my get-up-and-go, well, got-up-and-went.

I was over 30 years old when I saw this amazing comic from ADHD Alien

It blew my brain straight out the doors, friends. 

I’d never before had the words or the concept for what was “wrong” with me. I sent it to my husband and I think it took me two or three days to get over how much it changed my self-image. 

As it turns out, people with ADHD aren’t the only people who struggle with executive functioning challenges. Many Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can affect our ability to plan and carry out tasks. In addition, children of hoarders often struggle with decision making, prioritizing tasks and items, and keeping the necessary energy level to see a project through to completion. 

Here’s how living in an adverse environment in childhood can translate to difficulties in adulthood, and why it doesn’t have to hold you back. 

So What Exactly is Executive Function? 

Executive function is the set of mental processes and skills that make it possible for us to learn, grow, plan, prioritize tasks, and carry out ideas. We use it in everyday life to make plans, execute those plans, and reach our goals. For example, if you’re baking a cake, the three main areas of Executive Function come into play: 

Working memory: This is the temporary memory we use for facts or thoughts we only need in the moment. Working memory might help us gather the ingredients, set the oven, or grab the utensils we think we need. If you have working memory difficulties, you may need to check the list quite a few times to be sure you have everything. 

Flexible Thinking: Also called “cognitive flexibility,” this adaptive thinking allows us to respond to obstacles to our goals. For instance, if we realize we’re out of baking powder, flexibility in thinking might allow us to grab the cream of tartar as a substitute. Being able to find another solution can be hard if your cognitive flexibility is low. 

Inhibition Control: The ability to inhibit (or pause) behaviors that interfere with the current goal or task. For instance, if you have low inhibition, it’s easy to get distracted by a text or a question. You might then leave out an ingredient, or forget to set the cook timer. 

When you work through challenges in these areas, you can greatly improve your results in everyday life.

How Growing up in a Hoarding Situation Affects Executive Function 

Hoarded households can do more than stress you out. Growing up in a hoarding household can have deep, lifelong effects on your emotions, your personality, and your function well into adulthood. This happens in a few ways: 

Underdeveloped Skills – If you live in a messy, cluttered, or unsanitary environment, you may not have learned skills such as cleaning, tidying, and maintenance as part of your upbringing. In a functioning household, taking the dishes to the dishwasher, vacuuming the floor, or cleaning the bathroom is part of normal life; in a hoarded household, these activities might not be routine (or in some cases possible). 

Underdeveloped Executive Function – Beyond not seeing good routines modeled, growing up in an adverse environment can result in toxic stress. Consistent exposure to mental, physical, or emotional abuse or neglect can affect your development on a deeper level. Several studies have pointed to adverse environments (of which hoarding is one) as having a correlation to lower executive functioning later in life. 

Can I Overcome Executive Functioning Challenges? 

The good news about executive functioning is that, though you may not have built those reserves in childhood, it’s a process you can start as a result with good results. The first step is understanding how your childhood experiences may be affecting your adult life in terms of decision-making, prioritization, and follow-through. 

Once you understand the areas that challenge you, it’s much easier to gather the resource you need and to learn methods for overcoming those challenges. Having those tools in place can help you lead a more productive, organized, and calm daily life. It will also help reduce the overwhelm you feel around certain tasks and routines, leaving you time and energy for even more improvement and success. 

Need a quick win? 

If you’re like me, sometimes even tackling a small task can feel huge, and lead you to more success. 

Want a quick tool to help you overcome the “magnifying glass” that makes simple tasks seem WAY bigger than they are? Check out my free guide, “The Stopwatch Method of Overcoming Cleaning Overwhelm.” It can help you stay on track without feeling stressed or overwhelmed. 

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