It’s not just clutter
Almost all of us begin by trying to help our parents.
The first question most children ask is “how do I make them see?”
The number one reason children seek help is because our parents deny that anything is wrong. But we know things are not ok.
Trying to help our parents often leads us on a wild goose chase, trying to solve problems that are not ours to solve.
Children do not cause hoarding disorder (HD) or hoarding behaviors.
Children are not the solution.
You cannot control the weather, either. It cannot be your fault, or your responsibility. But everyone tells us how we should help our parents and nobody has any help to offer us.
And many of us are desperate to save our parents.
When we seek help, we are consistently redefined as supporters, helpers, caregivers, erased as dependent children, and told to help our parents, instead.
Imprisoned in shame and secrets, there is nowhere else to turn.
As young children, our parents define the world.
Often, we remain lost and trapped in their disorder, believing our only hope depends on saving them.
Many believe it is our duty to save parents from themselves.
We may believe it is our only value because, frequently, it is our only, or primary source of approval and self-worth. Meeting their needs on their terms is often the only option for parentified children held hostage by parents' mental illness.
Trauma festers unrecognized, leaving us vulnerable to perpetual retraumatization, conflict, hopelessness, resentment, and estrangement.
Children do not seek help because of "clutter," or even mental illness.
We seek help because nobody can cope with problems that are ignored and misdefined.
Many believe hoarding is “the problem.” But by definition, our problem is not hoarding disorder.
That's our parents' problem.
Children seek help because parents’ problems fester out of control.
Turning to them has consistently failed and we are forced to fend for ourselves.
When we look for help, we are told to "work on the relationship" and help someone else, while our needs are ignored.
Lots of parents with HD, and many adults with many challenges, tragedies, and traumas do seek help. Many parents can and do mitigate the impact of adult problems on vulnerable, dependent children.
HD is not the cause of family dysfunction. It is merely one face that it wears.
Many people with HD do not force anyone else to live in unsafe and unsanitary conditions or deny and avoid their problems until it destroys their family.
But children seek help when parents don't, drowning us in their problems instead.
Denial, avoidance, invalidation, neglect, and abuse are never the inevitable result of any mental health condition. But they are very common reasons for children to seek help regarding parents' hoarding.
In many cases, parents repeat cycles of trauma and the unhealthy relationships they learned growing up.
A hoard is no place for a child.
Healthy parents do not imprison themselves and their children in trauma.
When parents raise children in squalor and disrepair, their ability to understand and meet children's needs is demonstrably compromised.
Our childhood trauma -- emotional, physical, and developmental abuse and neglect -- is often cloaked in parents’ unmanaged, unnamed mental illness.
It was not long ago that hoarding disorder was unrecognized.
Most of us, as well as our parents, and others we turn to, still grow up in a world where there are only “packrats” and “crazy cat ladies.”
Despite the spectacle on TV and increasing recognition of the public health challenges hoarding poses, children remain invisible.
We are forced to navigate denial, invalidation, and misdirection alone.
Googling our way through the world, we discover hoarding and think we have found the answer.
Lost in our parents' problems, we cannot see our own.
Instead of the answer to our problems, many of us find misinformation, alienation, and retraumatization, and do not see our experience anywhere.
Professionals redefine children helpers, supporters, and caregivers while conveniently ignoring children's developmental needs.
We are constantly told to offer more support to parents while trauma is denied, ignored, and we are judged angry, resentful and unhelpful children lacking in patience and understanding who must be psychoeducated by "experts" to support parents, who often cannot reciprocate.
At the IOCDF, they call this "help for families."
Talking about "clutter" may be destigmatizing to some and it also feels like denial, invalidation, gaslighting, hoardsplaining, silencing, all of which frequently trigger and retraumatize many invisible childhood trauma survivors.
There is no one size fits all.
But you are not crazy, and you are not alone.
The constellation of parenting behaviors, family dysfunction, and living conditions pose great challenges for children, throughout our lives, and across generations as we struggle to protect our own children, and break the cycles of trauma and abuse.
When children seek help, we don’t need help with hoarding disorder, psychoeducation, or hoarding specialists, any more than children need rehab for their parents' drug addiction.
To us, the mismatch is obvious.
Imagine addiction professionals demanding compassion and patience from traumatized children to extract more and better caregiving for parents who deny their addiction, and the impact on their dependent children, while imprisoning them in a meth lab?
Imagine addicts forcing children to shoot heroin with them, while researchers urge children to supply more patience, understanding, and compassion?
Illness never forces anyone to abuse or neglect children. Abuse is an action, not an intention, and not an illness.
Naming abuse never requires blame. Your feelings about your parents are yours alone.
Health and safety are the preconditions of compassion and understanding.
Health and safety for vulnerable, dependent children must come first.
Compassion and understanding must be reciprocal. Nothing else will do.
Of course, you feel hopeless, frustrated, and alienated when professionals in hazmat suits demand patience and compassion from children forced to live in dangerous, unsanitary hoards, with parents unable to meet their needs.
What else would you feel when "experts" return to their safe, comfortable homes, shaking their heads at our “negative attitudes,” “resentment,” and “unhelpful” feelings?
Many experience institutional betrayal by mandated reporters on top of consistent invalidation by professionals that not only diverts us from healing trauma, but continually retraumatizes instead.
That's not compassion or understanding, to us.
Those days are over. You’re here now. And we’ve got your back.
At MYCOHP, your hope is in your hands.
You can break the cycle, no matter what your parents do.
At MYCOHP, we put the needs of developing, dependent children first.
We understand your complicated and conflicted feelings.
We never judge you.
We never mistake children for helpers, supporters, or caregivers for anybody else.
We will never ask you to give more understanding than is given to you.
Or to forget everything you overcame to get here.
The future is ours.
See Complex/Childhood Trauma and C-PTSD for more information about childhood trauma and assessment tools to meet your needs.
To hear more from other COHPs about the challenges we face, see: VOICES.
To learn more about what’s out there and our alternatives, see Research with HD Relatives and Help for Children and Families.
See also: Frequently Asked Questions.
MYCOHP and COH, Inc. run two private, confidential, peer support groups for minors/youth and adult children of hoarding parents. To join, email us at:
MYCOHPemail@example.com (up to 21).
ChildrenOfHoardersfirstname.lastname@example.org (18+, formerly Yahoo ).
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Photo by Vitolda Klein on Unsplash