The Story Many Don’t Tell: My Experience Growing Up in a Hoarded Home
I’m going to tell you a story.
I don’t like to call it a secret, but for a long time, I treated it that way. I know I can be totally open with you about it—probably with you more than most people. It’s taken me a long time to get it out, but I’m ready, and I think you understand.
I was raised in a hoarding environment.
I’m not sure precisely when it started, or when I learned to keep quiet about it. I obviously learned it like just like children pick up silly songs by repetition, or learn to say “please” and “thank you.” It’s drilled into you, and though you may not know the day it clicked, you know it’s wedged in tight.
I think the spiral started in earnest when I was 12. Things weren’t Better Homes and Gardens before that? But it was tolerable. But my grandmother died, and that was the beginning. Like a lot of hoards, the collection in my home grew slowly, out of grief or helplessness, or the need to hold on to something that’s already irretrievable.
The problem is, it held onto me, too. Still to this day. The hoard gathered in me, built up in neglected corners, piled up in my personality just like it did the countertops and cabinets of my childhood.
It took a long time to realize how much that environment changed me as a person. It took me a VERY long time to articulate that parts of my childhood were traumatic.
I can tell you all this because I’m pretty sure you’ve felt the same way. You may just be starting to dig out, or you may have done a LOT of clearing up already. Wherever you are on that journey, it’s okay. In either case, I know you get what I’m talking about.
Keeping up Appearances
I didn’t have a “bad” childhood by most standards. I grew up riding. We went to church. My parents worked hard to provide and make By most outward appearances, we were a happy, normal, working-class family. I had the things I needed, I didn’t want for anything. I had more than some.
I always had new clothes. Mom was a department-store MVP in her prime. But those clothes were the product of shopping trips that dragged on until my feet hurt. We once stood in a long line to buy something, even while an unexpected period threatened to embarrass me. Even though its arrival made my body ache. My mom told me I was making a big deal out of nothing.
So I may have gone to school with new clothes, but I’d also sometimes go with a head full of snarly hair. The rat’s nest caught the teacher’s attention. I’m sure it caught the kids’ attention, too. “There must be something wrong with me,” I thought. Clearly, I couldn’t take care of myself and I had failed. I think I was 10.
It was fairly soon after that when the fights began. The clutter in the basement became worse. The shopping took a toll on the finances. Throwing things out slowly became an activity best done in secret. The fights over “recovery missions” where my mom would pull things out of the trash that dad had discarded became louder. The house got worse over time.
The year before his death from cancer, my Dad had had enough. He told her he was leaving, that he refused to live the last years of his life in that condition.
They sold the house in 2001. He died in 2002.
I don’t have to tell you what comes next. I suspect you’re well-acquainted with it. Things went from bad to intolerable. Cat food cans and litter, clutter, dust, fights, and frustration.
Leaving it Behind
I moved out in 2004 when my high school sweetheart and I bought our first house. It was a cool 2-bedroom loft in a hip town. It was bright and new, and we were SO excited. But (for different reasons) we didn’t build any of the skills or the self-discipline you usually acquire growing up. I was handy, but a mess. Hubby grew up in a traditional household where mom did basically everything for the boys.
So we were just… well, kinda low-key slobs honestly. Of course, it was nothing like the homes I’d grown up in. But there were fights about clutter, stand-offs about dishes. We lived out of laundry baskets because folding and stowing clothes seemed like the impossible task. We got married in 2007 and lived a happy (if disorganized) life.
That changed in 2012 when we were blessed with not one but THREE new babies. Anything involving triplets can get overwhelming FAST. The first few years were a blur of diapers, bottles, and sleepless nights. We pulled things into better shape because we had to, but it was slapdash and not always successful. The systems still weren’t in place for long term success.
Becoming a Role Model
As the kids grew, so did their “stuff.” They were the beloved only grandchildren for both sides of a doting family. It was a tidal wave of love… and books, and clothes, and toys. And stress.
“Mom, when are you going to fold clothes? My dresser’s empty,” came the call from my daughter.
She wasn’t wrong. Everything was stacked up in baskets in my room, clean and patiently waiting for someone to come deal with it. I flashed back to my childhood, and it stung me to the quick.
“I’m going to get caught up this week, baby,” I promised as I dug through clods of random clothes in search of one (oh my God please just ONE) matching pair of socks. It was a promise I’d been making a lot, and barely managing to fulfill.
I knew I had to do better. For myself. For these kids, and for our family. I wanted to end the cycle.
This blog is part of that commitment. I’ve built a system of new habits, based on a deeper understanding of the overwhelm and mental blocks that have kept me in unhealthy cycles. I’m exploring how a hoarded childhood translates to difficulty in adulthood—and establishing the routines and mindset shifts necessary to overcome it.
Welcome to Overcoming the Hoarded Childhood. I would love to help you on your own journey to a better relationship with yourself, your stuff, and your own story.
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