08/06/2012 01:11 pm ET Updated Oct 05, 2012

What Is It Like to Live With a Hoarder?

This question originally appeared on Quora.

By an Anonymous User

Crushing. We are all forced to recognize, at some point, that we can not control the behavior of others. However, when that behavior intrudes on your space, your ability to be clean and eat clean food and stay organized and confident, that can lead to considerable problems. One of my parents was a chronic hoarder, and one of their parents as well. One of my siblings is also beginning to appear that way. Here are some things you may not have considered, that become a part of your life when you live with a hoarder:
  • You have no control over your own space. Forget decorating when the best you can hope for is to contain the clutter. I would come home from school and major pieces of furniture would have been added to my room that I would get in trouble for removing if I tried. If I threw away old/broken toys/clothing/etc, my father would go through the garbage regularly, find it, and put it all back in my room. Every house we ever lived in was dominated by boxes that were never unpacked. I shared a room with my sister at one place, not because we didn't have other rooms, but because they were all packed with stuff.
  • It changes your social life. Even as a young kid, I knew that having people over was uncomfortable, and other kids and teens would remark about how crazy-messy our house was; it just didn't make sense to them. I finally developed the good sense to never invite anyone over, except a few friends who were used to it. My mom would keep blinds closed or viciously clean just one area in front of the window so that strangers/neighbors/coworkers couldn't tell that something was wrong. Clothing would get lost in the piles and was often damaged/stained/wrinkled/weird ... that's noticeable.
  • You develop warped ideas of what's normal. When I first began stocking my own kitchen, I bought waaaaay too much food and let it go to waste repeatedly, because that's how I was taught to shop. I would buy a bunch of mixes and packaged food because expiration dates meant nothing to me. I was used to eating food that was years out of date or gone slightly bad. It wasn't uncommon in my household for my dad to buy things repeatedly, even when he was never using things, then serve food that was many years out of date because he wanted to use the old stuff first. I just went through their kitchen recently and found six unopened jars of marshmallow fluff, chemically separated, most from 2006 or older.
  • There are just strange habits that develop. For example, you could never clean in front of some family members because they would freak out, so my mother and I developed a regimen of secret cleaning. To this day, I find myself cleaning only when no one else is around. Stuff gets in the way of everything, and so you're constantly in a battle with yourself over whether it's worth moving things out of the bathtub to take a shower. You end up building these mental calculations in to things even when the impediments aren't actually there.
  • You have no agency. In an effort to protect his horde, my dad would declare random objects "yours", and thus, even after I had long since moved out of the house with all of my possessions, he would still tell people that rooms were full of my things. Ownership becomes fuzzy around the edges. Any carefully guarded spot is quickly filled with the best new deal at Costco. The overall quality of life in the residence suffers, and that makes it much easier to let everything continue to slide. If you have a flood in the basement, for example, whereas in a normal place you could run around picking up furniture, in a horde, everything just soaks, and once it's there, does it really matter how soon that water is gone? It doesn't feel like it really matters. Like everything else, it's a problem you'll get to later. And of course the hoarder still can't part with the damaged items, so now you have box upon water-stained box, just sitting down there. Overall, it gets depressing from every angle.
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