Inheriting the Hoard: Greg’s Story

December 14, 2010 § 36 Comments

“I knew as a kid I’d have to take care of it. I had prepared myself for it – for this moment,” Greg M., 41, says rather stoically of the overwhelming hoard that he inherited four months ago. Even so, “this is beyond what I thought it would be.”

In May 2010, Greg entered his childhood home for the first time in nearly 18 years. He’d driven the two-and-a-half hours from Burbank to his mother’s home in San Diego after she’d failed to answer the phone and missed a dialysis appointment. Greg figured something was wrong. Even though he’d stayed away from the house for years, he and his mother remained close.

When Greg knocked on the front door, he could hear his mother’s soft cries in the entryway. But he could not get in. The doorway was blocked – by his mother – and by stuff. He spoke to her through the mail slot then went around to the back door, prepared to break it down. “The door basically disintegrated,” Greg recalls. He then climbed over what had become mountains of clutter and possessions… through the kitchen… through the living room… and to the entryway, where he found his mother, collapsed, in a virtual air pocket. He struggled to get her out the door, to the front steps, where paramedics could treat her. Mrs. M., 83, a fun, feisty, and fiercely independent woman beloved by her neighbors… and, an extreme hoarder… would never return home again. For son Greg – an only child- the journey “home” was just beginning.

“The Project”

Shortly after his mother died, Greg took an indefinite leave of absence from his job in commercial construction to work full-time on cleaning up and clearing out his childhood home. He calls it simply “the project.” And he’s given himself six months to get it done. But truth is, he’s already falling way behind schedule. The scope of the project, as well as Greg’s reluctance to accept outside help, has made any sort of deadline near impossible to predict. “I have a feeling it might go longer than six months,” Greg concedes. “It might have to.”

Despite tremendous progress, the house is still overflowing with a cacophony of items ranging from the valuable (a box full of nambé serving pieces), to the sentimental (a 1970s Christmas card from Grandma, with a five-dollar bill still inside), to the somewhat interesting (a pre-Snuggie “body mitten” still in its original package), to the worthless (expired medicine bottles, a bristle-less brush, drawers full of bottle caps) to the positively absurd and ironic (a “bless this mess” sign, stacks of unopened boxes of storage shelving, detailed logs of thrift store purchases and freebies).

Most of the trash is gone and there are pathways where before there were none. Greg is on industrial size dumpster number four, has donated about four tons of clothing, and collected five small dumpsters of recyclables. But it’s like a teardrop in an ocean.

Thousands of books balance precariously in dust-laden stacks in what was his father’s study… bags and bags of crafts that his mother bought from a Native American bazaar line the living room floor… a guest room known as the ‘orange room’ for its orange carpeting, orange bedspread and orange drapes is – quite literally- filled to the rafters in what looks like an over-crowded time capsule from the 1960s and 70s. An old tape recorder sits atop the pile and Greg ponders what to do with it. He remembers trying to show his father exactly how it worked. “I was a little embarrassed that he didn’t know. I mean… he was such a brilliant man, very smart, couldn’t figure out how to use an old school tape recorder,” Greg recalls with some dismay. The wheels are in motion in Greg’s head. The tape recorder is obsolete. But it holds memories. He has trouble putting it down or letting it go – despite the specter of corroded batteries leaking out the back. Greg places it back on the pile. It’s a “keeper” item, at least for now.

Greg had to hire a locksmith to even get into that orange room. He doesn’t know how long it had been sealed off, or why. The answer may lie somewhere – buried in the hoard.

Greg figures his mother hadn’t gone upstairs in at least two years – because of her frailty and because of the blockade that had formed along the stairwell. Not that it mattered, he says. The whole upstairs had become “just storage.”

“It Was All I Knew”

In Greg’s early years, the 2400 square foot, two-story house with a large garage and sprawling backyard was filled with life, and only hints of clutter. The kitchen, living room, formal dining room, bathroom and study on the lower level, as well as a master bedroom, guest room, bathroom, and “Greg’s room” upstairs provided plenty of room for a family of three to function, and entertain. But as Greg got older, his parents started drifting apart and his mother’s penchant for collecting, and thrift shopping, and saving, and storing spiraled out of control.

Greg started noticing the change when he was about 10. His mother saved everything – even dental floss containers. She was convinced that they could be gutted and used to store things – really small things – and she had a whole bag of them. There were also bags of pen caps and plastic lids. All meticulously labeled.

The hoard grew as Greg did – and he learned to live with it. He stayed at the house until he was 23. “You’d think as soon as I turned 18 I’d get the heck out,” Greg says with a knowing sigh. “I don’t know why it took me so long to get out. I guess it was all I knew. This was the only house I’d lived in. So perhaps I was scared – and comfortable here. Even though it was a mess, it’s what I knew.” But it came at a price. “Living here at the house, it affected me, y’know, in not being able to bring friends over, especially in high school, friends, girls, there’s always the embarrassment factor, having to make up stories why I couldn’t have people over. And as a kid, just always [being] self-conscious either home or out in public to the point of being paranoid. My folks would always wonder, ‘why do you think people are always watching you? Why do you think they’re always looking at you when we’re out in public?’ Well, cause I knew the secret at home.”

When Greg left home in the early 1990s, there was no looking back. From that point on, “going home” meant going as far as the driveway, or meeting up with his parents at a local restaurant. “I don’t think I ever said the words ‘I’m not coming back until it’s cleaned up, or improved, but I think it was understood,” Greg recalls. “And then towards the last few years, my mom didn’t want me in ‘cause she was embarrassed. She knew how much worse it had become and also she didn’t want my criticism… She got to a point where she basically would start crying when I pushed too much.” So Greg stopped pushing. “She didn’t want any help from me, any other family, or friends, neighbors…. Everyone understood there was nothing I could do, as much as I wanted to,” he says, with a small catch in his voice. “I had to let her live the way she wanted to. But actually if I knew it was as bad as it was, I may have intervened.”

“He, Too, Became a Hoarder”

Greg’s mother was a registered nurse who retired when Greg was born. His father was a high school English teacher for 35 years. They were well-liked, intelligent, active members of the community. But they never sought help for the hoarding. “I don’t think they saw it as a problem,” Greg says, and perhaps they enabled each other. “[Dad] went to garage sales to buy books. [Mom] went to garage sales and thrift stores to buy schlock and clothes and what-not.”

Greg says his mother suffered from depression and other mental-health issues that may have contributed to the hoarding. “I think I recognized stuff as a kid and as a young man that I now know is like [Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder] type of behavior, perfectionism, moodiness. My dad on the other hand, he never showed any signs. He was quite stoic and quiet.” But still, he was not immune. The study, where he spent most of his time, grew to resemble a used-book warehouse. “[When I was] a kid, the bookcases were full, but not stacks of books everywhere. So he too became a hoarder.” The dusty enclave that was his sanctuary had to impact his health. “He had respiratory problems,” Greg says. “He had quit [smoking] for the last few years of his life but I’m pretty sure the air quality in the house was not good for him.” His mother also battled a myriad of physical ailments over the years, including heart problems, osteoporosis, and cancer. “I’m sure the conditions in the house did not help matters with her,” he says. And as a retired nurse, “you’d think she’d be aware of the health risks involved with hoarding.” Evidence shows the couple shared the house with a bevy of dust mites, spiders, bees, and rodents that found ample hiding space amid the hoard.

Outside the house, Greg’s mom was considered a petite powerhouse. “Everybody loved my mom,” Greg says fondly. “She had more energy than any of us. She was well-loved, involved in many organizations, volunteered much of her time. A very colorful person [with] vibrant, colorful clothing. You wouldn’t know that her house was the way it is if you met her on the street. And even people that did know, they accepted it and liked her for who she was.” 

In recent years, Mrs. M. was forced to slow down as her health took a turn for the worse. When Greg found her in the entryway last May, he knew it was the beginning of the end. He also knew that the state – and fate- of the house would never be discussed. “I didn’t [bring it up] because her health declined very quickly and I didn’t want to give her any stress. I knew she didn’t have long. Days, maybe a week,” Greg says. “What was there to discuss? I mean, I suppose I could have asked her ‘Why – why it got to this point’, but she was having trouble talking. Her voice was very hoarse, it was hard to hear, so um…” The words trail off as Greg struggles to answer a question that lingers still. “She’s tried to make her peace in the past – apologized for certain things, but the house never came up.”

“I Have Not Grieved”

Greg loved his parents, but he hasn’t been able to grieve for them. “I have not grieved for my dad who died four years ago, nor have I grieved for my mom. My dad – I don’t know why. I guess I knew there was still the house to deal with. There was something basically bigger than the two of them that I had to deal with. I haven’t felt the need to grieve. I want to though. I want to grieve, I want to cry, but I have this house to deal with,” Greg says with a frustrated glance toward the cluttered home. “I’m hoping that will happen. I don’t know when. Maybe when the house is done. Then maybe I’ll be able to grieve for my parents. Then I may miss my parents.”

The Storage Units

Greg had braced himself for the job at hand. But his parents’ hoard was not contained to the house itself. The backyard had become a jungle of overgrowth mixed with trashcans, plastic containers and a shed filled with more “miscellaneous” things. Inside the garage, a washer and dryer sat buried under more random stuff – including several unopened boxes of yet-to-be-assembled storage shelves, various papers and small appliances, old campaign posters, and even an egg carton filled with rocks labeled “Wisconsin rocks 1979”. Among many other things, Mrs. M., a native of Wisconsin, liked to collect rocks.

And then there were the off-site storage units. Greg knew his parents had one, and a few years ago, he asked his mother for a look inside. She showed him four. One belonged to his dad. It was filled with books – thousands of them- and a couple of filing cabinets with paperwork from his teaching and union days. The other three belonged to his mom and were jam packed with random stuff. “All I saw was newspaper, junk, who knows what. They were so full she couldn’t even look over the piles,” Greg recalls. He and his mother discussed strategies for clearing them out and donating items to charity, but they failed to reach agreement on how to go about it. Stalemate.

“I knew it wasn’t going to happen, so I let it go. I said, ‘Well, I’ll have to take care of it when the time comes.’” When that time arrived, Greg returned to the storage facility and was hit with another devastating surprise: There were actually six storage units, not four. Not surprisingly, the storage facility managers were sorry to hear about Greg’s mother. She was a favorite customer. “Their six units were costing them roughly 700 dollars a month,” Greg says. “And for what value? I don’t think any of it was valued at 700 [dollars].”

In some ways, the storage units were easier to deal with than the house itself. “I started with my dad’s unit. That was the most basic. I just boxed up books, got ‘em ready for pickup, recycled anything in there and trash, and had it picked up for donation, all the books. That was the easy unit. The others – my mom’s units – I rented a UHaul truck and proceeded to just empty ‘em out. I didn’t have time to sort. But I did bag up clothing and various items, knick-knacks, for donation.” That’s not to say Greg got rid of everything. He kept the smallest of the units, filling it with items that he wasn’t quite ready to let go of. “Sentimental stuff, things of value, whether that value is monetary or ‘other’. And that can be sorted through, processed, at another time. But I have to watch myself. I don’t want to become a storage ‘person’ myself.” Greg’s goal was to rent the unit for one month. That was three months ago.

“I Could Be a Hoarder”

Back at the house, Greg’s progress has slowed in recent weeks as “the project” gets ever more personal. The living room chair in which his mother often slept remains untouched – with a slightly dented pillow still capturing rays of sunlight peeking through the curtains. His mother’s colorful array of hats and shoes remain scattered throughout the house. Stacks of pots, pans and dishes – some clean, some not – align the kitchen counters. Greg has forged a path into his old room, but he’s saving the bulk of what’s in there – for now at least. “This is where my progress in the house slowed down, for the most part, cause I came across a lot of sentimental [things], whether it be toys or just anything – anything I remembered.” The closets and drawers remain full and untouched. “The rest of everything in here I need to go through, need to do the final processing,” Greg says, “[to] see what I’m gonna keep.”

In the hallway outside his room, a shelf is stacked with a hodgepodge of things that Greg has collected from various spots upstairs and doesn’t want to lose track of. Among them: decades-old books and photos, a McCalls Magazine from 1966, boxes and bags of costume jewelry, Christmas items, coins — and even old clothes tags. “[My mother] has an envelope of clothes tags of mine purchased in 1972. This is an example of the stuff she kept. I don’t know why I held onto this but for the…” Greg stops to think, and rationalize why it hasn’t gone into the trash. “This is a look into her mind I guess.” And perhaps, into his as well.

“I have recognized these tendencies are…” The words trail off. “I could be a hoarder. But that’s another reason I’m going through this process the way I am, so I don’t become one,” he says, well aware of the challenges ahead. “I’m still in the ‘trash, recycle, donate’ phase. It’s when everything that I want to keep is here in the house… Do I just keep it?… Or would that be like hoarding, cause there’s a lot that I’ve kept. I need to go through it. I need to clean this house and get it to a point where it can be lived in.”

The Girlfriend

Though Greg is an only child, he does have someone else to consider in the equation of his life and the house that has recently consumed it.

He’s got his own house, 120 miles away, that he shares with his girlfriend of 13 years, Sidney. She says Greg has an issue with clutter – especially paper – but that he’s done a good job keeping it in check and respecting their home. It hasn’t been easy, and now she’s got a better idea why.

Sidney knew and liked Greg’s parents – for all intents and purposes, they were her in-laws — but she never saw their house. “I don’t remember specifically when Greg told me that his parents were hoarders,” she says. “I did think it was odd we could only meet them out for lunch instead of going to their home to visit. He finally just told me, ‘The house is a wreck. That’s why I left. And they don’t want me [to go] in, I don’t want to go in, and I certainly don’t want you to go in.’”

Sidney got her first glimpse inside the house shortly after Greg started “the project.” He needed to clear a path before he would – or could- let her in. “I didn’t have any expectations,” she says. “It didn’t smell, like I thought it might… but just the enormity – the mass, the sheer mass” was overwhelming. “I didn’t go upstairs the first time. It wasn’t clear.” And she couldn’t begin to fathom how Mrs. M got around. “She was very petite, even when she wasn’t sick- I don’t know how she did it. I don’t know how she got to the fridge or the microwave, I don’t know. Greg did notice in the fridge the leftovers from the last lunch we had with her. So she got there, I just don’t know how she did it. Willpower I guess.”

“The project” has been a double-edged sword for Greg and Sidney. It’s put a definite strain on their relationship. But it’s also brought some issues to the forefront that needed to be addressed, including Greg’s disposition to hoard. “That is a bright side of this project,” Sidney says, “[Greg] seeing this (she motions toward her in-laws’ house) in himself. That doesn’t mean everything’s fixed at once but there’s an awareness that maybe wasn’t there before.”

“Hoarding Is Selfish”

Sidney tears up when looking at Greg’s “inheritance”. She is mad at her in-laws, for what they’ve done to Greg and to their life together. “The irony is [that Greg’s parents] were saving this for him,” she says. “Every little baby bottle, every little scrap, every rock that you see. In their minds they were doing it for him. And it’s just turned into this beast… I look around and there’s so many things that I guarantee should be a no-brainer [to get rid of]. But [Greg] doesn’t see that yet.”

That’s not to say that Greg isn’t angry with his parents too. “I think hoarding is very selfish,” Greg says. “For them to collect all this stuff and they know they’re gonna pass soon, and leave it… yeah, that’s been frustrating me a lot with this project,” he says with a deep sigh. “Even if I had many siblings, it wouldn’t be fair.”

The house is paid off, but the cost of “the project” has been adding up in terms of money, lost wages, physical and emotional strain, and precious time. Eighteen years after leaving home, Greg’s parents’ big secret is once again his. “It’s been a secret whether people knew it or not. It’s been painful. Not having people over. Having to make up stories… It’s just something that’s inside that doesn’t go away. I’ve had this in the back of my head, probably thought about it every day my whole life. And I knew this day would come.”

The Future

Life has been on hold since “the project” began. Greg is four months and counting into what was supposed to be a six-month project. And he’s still reluctant to accept outside help. “I wanted to do this by myself. And I think I’ve always had that in my head since I’ve been planning for this for so long. I have the need to touch everything… I need to see what it is, what all this hoard is. I don’t want help cause then [others would] be going through stuff that I want to go through. Yeah, I can tell them what’s trash, what’s not. But I want to see those items. I want to get my hands on them. I want to go through every box. Cause this is my life… I’m doing it for possibly selfish reasons by myself, but I think it’s therapeutic,” Greg says with a somewhat defensive sigh. “I just need to see everything myself. And I want to make the decision what happens to each item.”

Where does that leave Sidney? “I just kinda have to stand back and let him succeed or flounder,” she says. “Hopefully succeed. I want to see him succeed.” But “I need some milestones and timelines stuck to. I can just see this being a constant uphill battle never finishing. I don’t want to be a part of that. [In a] perfect world, we’d get this fixed up and move down here and find jobs down here. But – my biggest concern is that there won’t be any finality to this.”

Sidney’s been keeping a blog documenting Greg’s progress and hopes it might help others in similar situations. “If you think you’re a hoarder,” she pleads, “look around, get some help, because you’re really hurting the people you love.”

As for Greg, he’s taking it one day at a time, one object at a time. “When I was younger I always said I’d never live here again.” Now he’s not so sure.

Note from the author, Hannah R. Buchdahl: I interviewed Greg for this story in September, 2010, four months into “the project”. He later discovered three additional attic spaces – all full. It’s now been over a year and despite tremendous progress, Greg still has a long way to go.  Click here for video of Greg and the hoard, and here to follow Sidney’s blog.


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§ 36 Responses to Inheriting the Hoard: Greg’s Story

  • U truly created quite a few excellent stuff inside ur post, “Inheriting
    the Hoard: Gregs Story Inheriting The Hoard”. I will end up heading back to
    your blog soon. Thx -Elliot

  • […] Many of us, whether we get to actively glimpse the hoarding mess or are cordoned off from gathering the true magnitude, know that sooner of  later we will have to collect ourselves and bend over and sort handful by handful, hour by many hours. Such is the case at Inheriting the Hoard.  […]

  • […] Here is an interesting story worth a read about inheriting a hoarding home and perhaps the hoarding genetics at GREG’s STORY […]

  • hoardarama says:

    Wow, thank you Greg and Sidney for sharing this and Hannah for writing it in a clear way. I got chills reading this because it seemed like a glimpse into my future and because of the other similarities (being the only child of a San Diego hoarder who now lives in L.A.).

    I have tried to explain to my mother that she will leave me a huge burden when she dies, one that will affect my work and marriage and disrupt my life for months on end and that if she cares about me she will get help before it’s too late. She says I’m overreacting and that all kids have to empty their dead parents houses and that it’s no big deal. Till now there wasn’t a clearly written and accessible account that I could show her that actually details what “inheriting the hoard” really means. So thank you for this.

    The past few years have brought so much attention to hoarding and resources for children of hoarders. I’ve felt less alone than ever because of that but haven’t read/watched any accounts that I could relate to as much as I have related to this. I totally understand wanting to handle every item and empty the house yourself. Maybe it is some of hoarding ideation we are genetically predisposed to. But I like to think of it as catharsis – the hoard dominates your adolescence and your adult life so much that dismantling it piece by piece is taking control and killing it for good. I haven’t inherited the hoard yet so I don’t really know – I’m interested to hear if Greg finds the process cathartic at all or just sad and exhausting.

    I’m also curious about Greg’s plan of attack on the hoard from a practical standpoint – what methods work and what doesn’t. When I’m stuck in traffic or in a boring meeting, I often make plans about how I’m going to clear my mother’s house when the inevitable happens. I come up with elaborate plans and can kind of mentally unpack the house, sometimes I obsess on it a little. I’m curious whether Greg ever did that and if other children of hoarders have these kind of “clearing the hoard” fanstasies.

    Thanks again for putting your story out there. I look forward to reading more about the progress.

    • Charisse Simonian says:

      Email me at bigfishcasting (at) mac (dot) com as I’m looking for people to help de-clutter for an organizing show on Oprah Winfrey Network. Thanks!

  • Sherry Nelson says:

    I appreciate your story. My step-mother is a hoarder and I believe my father is slipping into depression because of it. He is a collector, but manages to keep his collections organized and neat in his large wood shop. She, however, has filled their new home to the point of narrow paths through each room.

    I believe I will gather my sister and step-siblings to improve this situation for them. I want the best for them and it breaks my heart to see this happen.

    Thanks again for your story! Best wishes to you all.

  • Geneaholic says:

    Very sad, but I can definitely relate. I have to say that I think it is largely genetic. My maternal grandmother was a hoarder to some degree, my mom is the worst (we haven’t been allowed in her house, my grandmother’s former home in 9 years, not that we’d want to), & I recognize tendencies in myself as well. It starts out slowly & innocently. I hoard books, but now that I have a Kindle, I intend to get rid of most, if not all of my hard copies. (I will keep the few genealogy ones & any sentimental ones). I have empty shoe boxes (probably 10-15) for the inevitable kid’s school projects (after once finding ourselves with no needed shoe box). I have newspapers of some recent headlines that might one day be valuable (at what cost?). I have collected some porcelain dolls on display in my curio case, but I have their original boxes in case I need to package or sell them. I cannot seem to keep up with the junk mail shredding in our house, so we have worthless papers piled up awaiting shredding. Which reminds me I need to go through the old financials & shred outdated bills. My middle child is 14 1/2 & I have all the bills from when he was born. So my tendency would seem to be books, financial papers, blankets/quilts, newspapers, & empty boxes.

    In contrast, my mom keeps everything & has since I was a child. We used to have a “junk room.” That’s what we called it. Baby bottles, old Tupperware & Mary Kay she used to sell, my sisters’ 15 year old tutus, clothes we could no longer wear or refused to wear (even in the 70’s we had better taste). Every summer it was my job to “clean” the junkroom – in the attic with no fan, ventilation, AC, with temps easily in the 110’s (minimum) so that I had to leave the room often just to catch my breath. 3 other sisters, yet it was always MY job & my job alone. Yet we were not allowed to throw out anything or give anything away. “Cleaning” apparently meant trying to organize the piles that were taller than me, without benefit of shelving or organizational gadgets. We would take endless garbage bags down to the metal donation bins, only for mom to have a fit upon discovering her junk missing. But alas, she also has a home filled with obvious trash; fast food wrappers, coke bottles etc. Her car is no different, she has to scoop out a place for someone else to sit if they are foolish enough to ride with her.

    When my grandmother died, my mom took over her house. That left our old house. I think my sis had tried to clean it over the years since mom was mostly living with my grandmother anyway. Not sure how far she got. Mom eventually sold the house (or land anyway) without even telling me! The house had been completely bulldozed to the ground & rebuilt & on the market before I even knew about it. Luckily there were few good memories there to lament anyway.

    Mom very slowly but surely I guess started giving away or trashing my grandmother’s possessions to make room for her own. The only thing I did manage to inherit was a punch bowl set with glasses. One day my mom “offered” me something else. It was a ceramic frog with an open mouth, caked with dirt & probably mold, used to hold my grandmother’s dirty kitchen sponge or rag. I graciously accepted it (you cannot tell my mother no, especially when you are her least favorite; she is a very difficult person anyway) & promptly tossed it in the trash. I mean, even if it had been cleaned up; are you kidding me? A kitchen sponge holder? That whole house & that screamed worthy of being passed down & screamed MY name, in particular?

    Sadly, my husband’s father was also a hoarder, albeit selective, though he managed to contain it mostly to one small storage room & perhaps the garage. After he died, they found lots of electronics type of things. (He was an engineer). But he wouldn’t just have one of each item, there would be 10 exact duplicates of the same unused item. And not because he forgot he had the first 9. They were all stored right together. My husband who works in the car business has car tires & rims which he SAYS he will recycle. He often does, but why do we still have the racing wheels from our 1996 Neon (that we got rid of ca 2000) in our garage?

    The question is; with the books, which would be a better value, donate & claim on taxes or do a garage sale? I’m thinking donation because I could unload them all at once whereas not all (if any) would sell at a garage sale, but the cash might be more handy now than the deduction later? I also have other better things to eventually unload that can’t or won’t go to GoodWill & either need to be sold in the paper or at a garage sale.

    Btw – Sidney, I have almost read your entire blog in a little over 24 hours. You and “G” keep up the great work. Btw – my son’s name is Greg & we have always called him G (as a nickname). (But we don’t call our other children “W” or “B” (when talking to or about them) except in shorthand emails or texts).

    • Sidney says:

      Thank you for the kind words, Geneaholic. I’m sorry for the troubles you’ve endured.

      For the books? I’m of the donate and claim mindset, because I’m afraid things will never be sold. I’m talking more about G, and certainly not calling names.

      He thinks he will sell everything on eBay, but in nine months he’s not listed a thing.

      I’m quite worried.

      • hoardarama says:

        I would be worried too. Not to be harsh on Greg but eBay isn’t what it used to be and it can be a lot of hassle for not a whole lot of reward for most items.

        I’m a big fan of selling things in bulk to flea market dealers and junk men who will come to your house and give a price for a whole lot of stuff. Sure, you don’t get retail but when you can clear a large volume of stuff instantly and get some cash, big deal. Donating is awesome too. It just seems like ebaying or holding a garage sale is so much effort when dealing with such a massive amount of stuff. Clearing the hoard is a reward greater than money, imho. Getting clutter gone so you can move on with your life seems more important than trying to squeeze all the money you can out of the clutter.

  • Socal says:

    OMG! I just read the Newsweek article and followed the link to your blog! I cannot wait to read it…looks like you have done a fantastic job blogging and sharing the experience!

  • Dez says:

    I wish you luck with this endeavor. We had to move my Mom into a small apartment in an assisted living facility. It took us FIVE YEARS to get her stuff down to an efficiency apartment and one storage room. The things in the storage room have actual value. Be patient and persistent. You can get it done.

  • danne4 says:


    Thanks for sharing your story. As I am commenting I have tears forming. I returned home about 12 hours ago after cleaning up a hoarders mess.

    I am the daughter-in-law, married to the son of a hoarder. I just spent 4 days during our christmas vacation to clean up my father-in-laws mess. This was the second major cleanup.

    The first cleanup took place 7 years ago when my in-laws decided to move 800 miles away. A full moving truck, over the weight limit, hauled crap 800 miles away. This was the crap my father-in-law refused to give up. We managed to fill 4 dumpters in a couple of months, but he still insisted on taking as much crap as he could. I will not go into all the details if this horrendous experience, but to give you a glimpse of some of the stuff we managed to get him to throw out:

    6 big block engines
    7 transmissions
    Lost count of the axels
    Tires – 27 ?
    Full size industrial floor cleaner

    He also collected ammunition, which found it’s way into the boxes of magazines that I was given permission to burn. Oh the fun of burning magazines while ammunition is exploding 3 feet away.

    To my astonishment I was the only one who was furious! All of his children let him take whatever he wanted. No one apologized for exploding ammunition, nor having to deal with this mess.

    My in-laws have always been on the verge of financial ruin. They were about to go into backruptcy a second time. Selling their home and moving would have saved them, but my father-in-law chose to spend $10,000.00 to move his crap. He also had to pay a fine for the moving truck being over the weight limit. Forgot to mention that we ran out of time and had to leave a car in the weeds.

    Off to the new house…trailer home.

    All the crap from their house was moved 800 miles away to a trailer home. All his precious crap was moved to a yard, in the heat, exposed to the elements. My mother-in-law felt he deserved to take whatever he wanted. He worked for it, he deserved it. He ruined them financially and emotionally with his illness and they continued to allow him to do what he pleased.

    This past July my father-in-law passed away, 7 years after his move. For 7 years he continued with his junk collection and most of the items he paid to move were rotting away in his yard. Not one of his children confronted him about his illness. My resentment grew and my respect dissappeared. My mother-in-law continued to put this man on a pedastal while she borrowed money from us for food. After a while we agreed to stop sending money seeing that he refused to change his lifestyle. They allowed my sister-in-law to move in with them to help with finances. He continued to spend his money the way he wanted and on what he wanted. His children would acknowledge he had a problem, but never confronted him about it. They all sat and watched. My sister-in-law still lives there.

    This situation has put a tremendous strain on my marriage. My husband has all the hoarding tendencies, he recognizes some, but not all. The difference… I refuse to tolerate it, it will not be allowed in my house. It is a struggle, I feel like I have to babysit all the time.

    My emotions were all over the place this past week. I dreaded this day. I could have stayed home, but I knew I had to babysit my husband, otherwise who knows what he would bring back home. Four days were spent cleaning up again. 80% of the cleanup was the crap he took with him. 8,000 lbs of Steel … Yes.. that is right! We loaded and sold 8,000 lbs of scrap pieces of steel. This is some of the steel he paid to move 800 miles, stored in his yard, rusting for 7 years.

    And once again, no apology from my mother-in-law. She just cried that it was unfair that he was gone, he died too early. She did mention once that she tried one time to get him to clean it up, but he refused so she gave up. During the four days, my mother-in-law did not help at all with the cleanup. She came outside twice. At one point in time she asked if the scrap yard was happy with all the stuff we brought them? I almost lost it. I still cannot believe she was curious if the scrapyard was happy with the two full loads of scrap steel, yet not once did she acknowledge the fact that my husband had to take off time from work without pay, spend 500.00 on gas,rent a u-haul for 200.00 and ask his wife to use a week of her vacation time to clean up her backyard. Unbelievable!

    My husband justifies it by saying it’s over, his father is no longer with us and his mess is cleaned up. He says this while he is driving and pulling the 2,000 lbs of tools in the U-Haul he rented to take back home.

    It’s not over for me… I married his son.

  • T. H. says:

    I am also a child of a hoarder. My mother died of cancer last year, leaving her brother and two children the job of cleaning out her house. After several months of difficult, sustained ruthlessness we did manage to get the house empty and put it on the market.

    I have a friend whose mother is an indiscriminate hoader: the mother’s house stinks of rotting food and things recovered from trash heaps.

    My mother, in contrast, was a discriminating hoarder. She had about one thousand bankers-boxes full of very good books. She had antiques, some of which are now in museum collections. She had tons of tools, clothing and household articles — almost all in good condition. In early years she was a genuine collector; she made a beautiful home and made wonderful Christmas gifts of rarities she found at rummage and garage sales. In later years she could not go to such sales without buying everything she thought was “underpriced.” If, for example, she found a new dustpan for one dollar which would cost two dollars to buy at the hardware store, she would buy it and consider herself to have “saved” one dollar, despite the fact that she already had twenty dustpans stashed away in the house (and despite the fact that she never used dustpans).

    If you added up the theoretical value of everything in the hoard, the total would easily have reached seven figures. But the sheer volume of it all made everything, paradoxically, worth less. Take, for example, her collection of toasters. When I found the first toaster I set it aside because I happened to need a toaster. Then I uncovered twenty more toasters. Which one should I keep? I didn’t have time to compare them all, so I just sent the whole lot to the Goodwill. Later I just bought myself a new toaster. Likewise with the books. If there had been twenty boxes of books then I would have kept some of them and driven the rest to the second-hand book store and sold them for a few hundred dollars. Given one thousand boxes all I could do was hire a moving company (expensive) and ship the books to a local book fair willing to accept them as a donation.

    More is less.

    I still have two carloads of boxes in the basement that have to be gone through….

  • Daughter in law says:

    This story made me sob uncontrollably – a reaction I wasn’t expecting but at the same time it has made me come to terms with the hurt I was feeling. My husband’s mother is a hoarder and although she is still alive and hoarding, I am dealing with her problem every day.

    Several years ago, my husband’s parents moved into a new house (before I met my husband) and he moved into his parents old home, partly for the free accommodation, and partly because he was doing his mother a favour by looking after all her stuff, considering there’s no way they could clear it out for someone else to move into.

    When I met my husband, we never stayed at his place – always at mine. He mentioned the hoarding, and how his mother was slowly working to clear it out. By the time I moved in a few years later, the house was liveable, but I was shocked at the evidence of hoarding which still remained. There were two rooms in the house which were crammed to the rafters with stuff. Ice cream container lids, single shoes, old expired medicine, you name it. I could not understand how his mother could place value on these things – it was so obvious that this stuff was rubbish. But we shut the doors on those rooms and left his mother to go about clearing them out at her own pace. I’ve recently just discovered that his mother’s way of “clearing out” is transporting ALL the stuff to her new house. it breaks my heart to turn up at their beautiful home and see the rooms slowly becoming more cluttered every time I visit.

    I’m sometimes angry because I feel like I’m trapped in someone else’s mess. I love my husband but his mother’s stuff is taking its toll on me. I get upset because no one tells his mother she has a problem – the entire family brushes it off as her “thing” – she sees ‘stuff’ as a security blanket, and like Greg’s mother, I think she wanted to be able to give it back to her kids as insurance for their future.

    This story has helped me understand and verbalise the hurt I’m feeling – I guess that’s why I reacted so strongly. Thank you so much.

  • Shannon says:

    I know what Greg is going through. My father-in-law passed away in June and the children decided that Mom should not continue to live in that house filled with crap any longer. She was out of control with the hoarding. 3 years ago we did an intervention and got through 3 levels of the 4 level house – putting everything in storage that wasn’t trash or recycle. She did not handle it very well and in less than 4 months she had the place filled up just like before. It is an illness and we knew then that nothing would be resolved until she got therapy or even admitted that there was a problem. She would cry and get very angry when we tried to discuss this with her as well. You’ll be glad to hear that there is an end – last week we finally finished cleaning out the house to put it on the market. We have one storage unit of stuff to contend with, but have decied to take a break for a few months since we have been at it every weekend for almost 7 months. The hardest part for us was that Mom is still with us and wanted very much to keep all her “stuff”. It was brutal, but we had to say “No” – for her own well being. Keep the faith, but throw away the clothing tags. The memories are important – not the stuff!

  • Michelle says:

    I have heard of hoarding, but before reading this, I had no idea of the enormity of the situation. So thank you for bringing this to light for the many people who probably do not know that hoarding is an actual problem.

  • Hermione says:

    My parents are severe hoarders who also live in level 3 squalor (with animal feces). I know that if their water were to get shut off, which is a distinct possibility considering that my mother has been unemployed for over 3 years, and they are pretty much destitute, that they would easily end up at level 4 squalor (with human feces).

    I haven’t set foot in my parent’s house in several years, except for a couple of years ago when my brother and I tried to help clean up their living room, which took almost a week, and which ended with my mother having a breakdown. I’ve since learned that we went about it the wrong way.

    Anyway, I have 3 siblings, and we’ve decided to intervene this winter. We aren’t going to let it get even worse. I hope we can get them out of the house permanently without my mother having another breakdown. I’m looking into therapists who specialize in hoarding.

    It’s always good to hear other stories. It’s such a soul-sucking thing to have to deal with.

    • Been There says:

      It is indeed a soul sucking thing to have to deal with. Hoarding is such an odd disorder in that it’s hard to find a place for it in the mental disorders category – it is somewhat like obsessive compulsive disorder, but not exactly. In any case, it is hard to treat therapeutically and it takes a huge toll on the family and friends of the hoarder.

      I have experience with this both from my mother and my husband. It’s awful. I cleaned out my mother’s home once when she was in the hospital because she had to return to a clean environment otherwise her recovery could have been compromised. I was lucky in that my cousin was there and was a huge help with it all. I found animal feces under the bed, the blinds, shelves, and ceiling fan had sheets of dust on them, etc. It was awful.

      My husband has a two-car garage that is filled to the brim with stuff. We could not park even one car in there. Hell, we couldn’t get a motorcycle in there if we wanted to. The living room is becoming a hoarder’s paradise as well. It’s taken a big toll of me and is one of the many reasons I will be divorcing him within the next year.

  • Julie B. says:

    Thanks, Hannah, Greg and Sidney. My mother is an extreme hoarder (with other mental issues) who is dying of breast cancer. It’s very hard to know how to navigate this thing, but I found comfort in your story. I will be following and rooting for you.

    Greg…let it go. Let it all go. That’s my two-cents.

    Love and peace,


    • Hannah says:

      Hang in there Julie. I’m glad the story brought some comfort. Good luck to you and your mom. -Hannah

    • Amanda says:

      My mother was a hoarder with mental issues as well. When she died ten years ago, I inherited the same situation that Greg did. I just wanted to tell you that it can be done. I am an only child, but with the support of my friends who helped me do all the cleaning I managed it. I had to get over the embarrassment of letting them in to her home, it was the only way I could have managed. The didn’t judge her for her disorder, they just helped me.
      Good luck.

  • Kimberly says:

    As I age I will remember so that my loved ones (children) are left with more memories and less “stuff.” Thank you for the courage to share this story.

  • Thanks for sharing Greg’s story. Hoarding is such an interesting thing. I know a man who bought the house of a hoarder once through a deceased estate which had not been cleared – he collected everything – newspapers, recycling and even insects – every ant that the man found in the garden while he was living there was meticulously recorded both in books and as samples. he is slowly going through it – it’s the legacy of a suburban block.

    i thought you might be interested in this art exhibition by Chinese Artist, Song Don, in which he turns his mothers hoardered posessions into an art exhibition that travels the world. It’s in Vancouver at the moment – The artists and his family have to travel with it as it is so much work to pack and unpack. She collected bottle tops, empty toothpaste containers, clothes, plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, toys, broken tape recorders, and so on ….. it’s an amazing piece of art. He also talks a bit about what he thinks made her a hoarder.

    Thanks again for sharing.

  • DT says:

    “overflowing with a cacophony of items”

    Cacophony refers to sound.

  • David says:

    This is a heart-wrenching, fascinating and beautifully written piece. I feel it’s quite generous and brave of Greg and Sidney to share their story- thanks for this.

  • MPMZ says:

    I feel so much for Greg. My mother was also a hoarder. At one point I did have to say I wasn’t coming back into the house. And I didn’t- for three years. Eventually my mom got cancer and passed. Two years later, my dad understands why I took a stand. He shakes his head and sadly says that he can’t imagine how horrible it would have been if he had died first, what my brothers and I would have had to deal with. He’s gotten through a large portion of the mess, but it will always have an effect on all of us. G-d bless Greg for the journey he has to take, especially by himself.

  • Ali B. says:

    What a sad story. Hoarders—collectors of any kind—are people who crave control over things. Greg’s inability to accept help is probably the saddest part of all, as it indicates he is also a control “freak.” I’m guessing any clutter expert/therapist would advise him to let it go and throw it all away. Ultimately, there is no sentiment in stuff, and things don’t define who we are. As this story proves, you can’t take it with you. What we do, not what we own, is what defines us and what counts.

  • Hannah says:

    Thanks for all the positive feedback. It’s truly gratifying to tell a story that can help others achieve a sense of understanding and support. – Hannah

  • Shawn Nelson says:

    Thanks Hannah. Very different side of this than what Sid has been writing. Probably hard for her to write the emotional side of what Greg has been going through and perhaps he found it easier to share with a stranger than with his “spousal equivalent” as Sid likes to say! I agree with you that with all of the television shows about hoarding I have yet to see anything dealing with this angle, the ones left behind to deal with the hoard. Thanks again.

  • Jess A. says:

    Lovely article. I really enjoyed it and it complements Sidney’s blog well.

  • Sidney says:

    Greg sends his blessings. Wonderful job, Hannah. Thank you so much.

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