It’s not just clutter
Almost all of us begin by trying to help our parents.
This starting point most often leads us on a wild goose chase, trying to solve problems that are not ours to solve.
Children did not cause hoarding disorder and children are not the solution.
Failure to differentiate children’s needs from parents’ has pervasive effects, keeping children invisible, focused on parents’ problems instead of our own.
Many of us are desperate to save our parents, but when we try to help our parents, it is usually instead of seeking help for ourselves.
Trying to save our parents from themselves can disrupt our lives for decades, long after we have escaped the hoard.
Trauma frequently remains unrecognized and festering, a perfect recipe for ongoing retraumatization, conflict, hopelessness, resentment, and estrangement.
It often appears that hoarding is “the problem,” but by definition, our problem is not hoarding disorder (HD).
That is our parents' problem.
When children are desperate enough to break through the shame and secrets to seek help, it is mostly because we're condemned to suffer the consequences of growing up in a hoard, in a world ruled by untreated mental illness, where garbage often takes priority over the health and safety of children and families.
Not all of us grow up in hoards, or experience the same impact of untreated mental illness, squalor, or disrepair, and lots of parents with HD do want help.
People with HD and their children come in all shapes and sizes.
Despite the wide range of experience, most children seeking help come to recognize trauma related to unhealthy parenting, family dysfunction, and living conditions.
We believe all children deserve more help and support, but not all reach out. Society has a duty to protect the most vulnerable children.
Typically, we seek help because our parents will not acknowledge any problem, or get help for themselves.
It is not merely because our parents happen to have a diagnosis of HD.
When children are seeking help for their parents, it is primarily because their family is held hostage to untreated, often unrecognized, mental illness causing serious dysfunction, disruption, and trauma.
Dependent children must often forfeit health and safety to bond with unhealthy parents, which may persist for a lifetime.
Many of us were also buried in squalor, disrepair, secrets, shame, neglect, and abuse.
Sometimes neglect and abuse are more diffuse or precede recognizable hoarding, which is widely mistaken for cleaning and organizing problems until the hoard becomes severe.
Many children experience impaired parenting, chronic emotional abuse, and sometimes extreme physical neglect and abuse, centering around hoarding behaviors and their consequences, like hazards, squalor, and disrepair but also often related to avoidance, perfectionism, rigidity, poor impulse control, procrastination, etc., and the many other characteristics and comorbidities that travel with HD.
While some hoards accumulate slowly, symptoms of HD typically appear in adolescence.
We believe HD has a much more significant, lifelong impact on many parents, and their developing children, than professionals yet admit, or many families can piece together without hindsight, before a hoard has consumed them.
Learn more about the costs of misidentified trauma.
Helping children and families?
When we risk betraying parents’ secrets to find help, searches yield many public discussions of caregiver burden, not childhood trauma.
Journalists, hazmat cleaners, organizers, hoarding clinicians and researchers, tweets, blogs, and "listicles" everywhere tell us to "work on the relationship," misdirecting us to provide more compassion, understanding, and support to relationships that frequently are not healthy or safe.
There is virtually no professional or public understanding of the range of experience families face, or what growing up a homeless orphan in an indoor landfill trying to raise your own parents is really like.
When the impact of HD on families and children is discussed at all, it barely scratches the surface, and prioritizes HD parents’ perspectives and interests.
Talking about "clutter" might feel destigmatizing to professionals or parents.
For many children, this effort to build rapport with parents invalidates and belittles our experience, fuels more conflict, and keeps everyone focused on only a very small part of our parents' problems, while obscuring our own.
This approach might encourage parents to seek help and simultaneously further alienates many families who are most desperate for relief and understanding.
Many of us turn to hoarding professionals for help, and most of us have come to believe their responses to HD families are a large part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Developmental trauma is erased by professionals and organizations who note children’s “kind of funny perspective growing up” and offer tips like, “Remember you do have a choice not to live in the clutter at some point” or “Be aware that it is a disorder, but you do not need to suffer as a consequence” (https://hoarding.iocdf.org/for-families/how-hd-affects-families).
Research with HD Relatives and public communications to families and children are full of recycled, distorted judgments of families filtered through parents’ interests in professional echo chambers, by professionals failing to acknowledge trauma and abuse, offering victim-blaming and psychoeducation about HD mistaken as help and support for families, unable to make the distinction, or to candidly acknowledge the challenges of professional tunnel vision and conflict of interest, all while telling children and families not to judge and blame.
Children must find healthy ways to cope, but psychoeducation “to decrease the likelihood that family members trigger highly charged and dangerous or impairing behavioral incidents” comes across too much like professional victim-blaming and enabling abuse to us (see Research with HD Relatives, Chasson, 2014, 14-15).
Children are not responsible for parents unable to regulate their emotions and behavior.
We don't psychoeducate domestic violence survivors to stop "triggering" assault.
We don't psychoeducate children to stop "triggering" pedophiles.
We don't blame children for "triggering" an addict's relapse.
We don't make children responsible for their parents' illness or behavior.
And we don't have to reinvent the wheel.
We don’t expect the oncologist to cure the family, nor to judge “unhelpful feelings” and complain of “difficult family members,” “negative attitudes” “resentment,” or to dismiss trauma as stigma, embarrassment, or “caregiver burden” while demanding more compassion, patience, and understanding, but failing to show any (see: Research with HD Relatives).
You have many, very good reasons to be angry and frustrated.
This is not helping. Your needs are not understood or met.
To add insult to injury, you are usually painted as the angry, difficult, resentful, unhelpful, blaming, shaming boogeymen lacking understanding and compassion for your parents’ suffering.
But children cannot cause hoarding disorder. None of this is your fault. And none of this is your responsibility. You cannot control your parents' actions any more than you can control the weather.
Imagine addiction professionals demanding compassion and patience from traumatized children to extract more and better caregiving for parents who refuse to be accountable for their illness, and the impact on their dependent children?
Imagine addiction professionals telling children they had a "kind of funny" or "unhelpful" perspective on things?
Or offering "strategies to repair relationships damaged as family members attempt to force change" while ignoring parents forcing children to live in indoor landfills (https://hoarding.iocdf.org/for-families/webinar-helping-people-who-hoard/)
Can anyone truly imagine this blame shifting is "for families"? It should come with a trigger warning instead.
When we turn to professionals for help, this approach is frequently experienced as exploitation, invalidation, hoardsplaining, and gaslighting traumatized children.
Many experience institutional betrayal by professionals on top of invalidation and obfuscation that not only diverts us from healing trauma, but further retraumatizes instead.
When children seek help because hoarding has destroyed a family, we don’t need help with hoarding disorder, or hoarding professionals, any more than children need rehab for their parents' drug addiction.
To us, the mismatch is obvious.
We would not default to assuming families held hostage to untreated drug addiction are healthy, or that parents are unimpaired.
We would not confuse trauma with stigma, caregiver burden, or “negative attitudes” to be psychoeducated into more patience, understanding, compassion, and caregiving services for parents battling addiction who are unable to take care of themselves and their children.
We don’t urge domestic violence survivors to work on unsafe relationships.
Indiscriminately urging children to work on relationships without assessing trauma first is just as negligent and causes pervasive retraumatization.
This is not compassion, empathy, or understanding to us.
It breeds resentment, not compassion or understanding.
Only reciprocity can do that.
And it continues to distract COHPs from the problems that are ours to solve.
Worthwhile efforts to destigmatize HD appear to have the unfortunate consequence of blinding many professionals to the abuse and neglect children may face growing up in hoards, with parents who are often impaired.
It may be too much cognitive dissonance for many to accept, given the conflict with their pet theories, caregiver paradigms, psychoeducation programs, and research agendas.
Hoards cause many problems.
Children most need help when parents do not fulfill their intended purpose and cannot meet their needs.
Unsafe and unsanitary hoards compound relationship trauma.
They are often a red herring distracting everyone from the developmental needs of children.
We’ve found alternatives and so can you.
A hoard is no place for a child
Healthy parents do not imprison children in squalor and disrepair.
This is not merely “stressful.”
Forcing children to live in indoor landfills is child abuse.
Nobody can remedy a problem that remains misdefined.
Mental illness is on every list of the risk factors for child neglect and abuse.
The impact of parental mental illness on children is already well documented, even if trauma involving HD is ignored by the field.
Behavior rooted in mental illness may not be malicious.
But it is no more benign than children, or their parents, held hostage to unmanaged addiction, or psychosis, while refusing to acknowledge the obvious impact.
Anyone forcing children, families, or animals to live in unsafe, unsanitary hoards has problems that cannot be reduced to “clutter.” Imagine addicted parents forcing children to use drugs with them? Hoards rarely respect appropriate boundaries, never mind parents' behavior.
This teaches children self-neglect and self-loathing. It need not be deliberate. Trauma mixed with love is the most dangerous kind.
Proper identification of the challenges children, and parents, face is not blame, shame, or stigma.
Children are often too young to name trauma and abuse. Trauma is frequently unrecognized, internalized, or minimized by adults because of the shame, self-blame, and the cognitive dissonance it causes survivors.
Dependent children need parents healthy enough to care for them. Forcing children to grow up in hoards is not healthy enough, or adequate care.
Clean outs to appease CPS or concerned relatives never address the developmental trauma that follows children long after they escape the hoard.
This is simply a question of properly understanding dependent children’s needs and meeting them.
Children forced to live in unsafe, unsanitary hoards under the tyranny of unmanaged mental illness is a screeching fire alarm the field ignores, often by reinventing the problem as missed playdates, sleepovers, birthday parties, and clutter, instead (e.g., MHA SF Consequences of Clutter or Birchall, Hoarding and Families).
See Voices if you want to know what we say about our experience.
When neglect and abuse is not completely ignored, it is distorted as HD parents suffering the terrible consequence of "children being taken away."
Hoarded children are treated as just another possession, with no compassion or understanding of the nightmare children must live before being removed, or the impact of parents who are such an immediate danger to their lives that removal to foster care is the only alternative left.
Meanwhile, animals are "rescued" from animal cruelty and abuse.
Even supporting animal welfare workers takes priority over children forced to live in conditions described as traumatizing professionals (Demystifying HD).
Removing children is nothing but a desperate last resort.
Nevertheless, children are erased when protection is redefined as yet another injury to HD parents.
There is no place for children in that approach.
At MYCOHP, we put the needs of vulnerable, dependent children first.
Advocates for HD parents purporting to help families have a conflict of interest that conceals children’s needs, often subverting them to better serve parents, demanding patience, compassion, and understanding while denying and ignoring abuse.
When we follow their advice to better serve our parents, the result is often sacrificing our health, pushing ourselves to collapse, so it is no wonder they see only caregiver burden.
Often severe retraumatization, further injury in the hoard, a medical, or psychological crisis, triggers Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) or exacerbates unrecognized, lifelong symptoms.
Retraumatization is often camouflaged by a baseline of constant family and relationship trauma compounding childhood abuse, neglect, and the developmental trauma they cause.
At MYCOHP, you won’t get more of the same.
It may be unfair to expect unhealthy parents to raise healthy children in an unhealthy environment.
It is more unfair to expect children to understand, support, and parent themselves, and their parents, while ignoring trauma, neglect, or abuse.
We will never tell you your feelings are unhelpful because you do not exist to help someone else.
It’s extremely difficult for children to find remedies when most hoarding professionals keep pushing psychoeducation to better serve parents instead.
But it is not impossible.
We hope you will join us.
Many parents, and children, may not have the resources, information, or support to do better.
The default must change.
To those who genuinely want to help children and families, please stop blame shifting and pushing solutions for parents' problems on children.
Start listening instead.
Show understanding and compassion before asking us to give more, and more than you ask our parents to give.
Parents are the caregivers, not dependent children. Stop redefining children as helpers to label us unhelpful. We aren't just extra appendages.
Psychoeducating enmeshed and traumatized children to better support parents is not help for families.
It is advocacy for people with HD. And that's great, but don't confuse it with anything for us.
The bait and switch both retraumatizes survivors and destroys good will. If you cannot see the difference, or publicly acknowledge it, we cannot trust you.
We think trauma assessments are a better place to start.
Trauma assessments can meet children, and parents, wherever they are, right now, and tailor solutions to their most urgent needs, not your available tools.
And we welcome everyone who would join us with open arms, no matter where you've come from.
We’d love to hear from you. You can reach us at:
It’s not just clutter.
To learn more about COHPs' experience and the challenges we face, see:
See also Complex/Childhood Trauma and C-PTSD for more information about childhood trauma and assessment tools that can aid you in addressing your needs.
MYCOHP and COH, Inc. run two private, confidential, peer support groups for minors/youth and adult children of parents who hoard. To join, email us at:
MYCOHPfirstname.lastname@example.org (up to 21)
ChildrenOfHoardersemail@example.com (18+, formerly Yahoo)