Stacks of newspapers and magazines. Piles of clothing, tags still attached, never worn. Overflowing dish sink. No place to even sit down. These can be signs of compulsive hoarding, a behavior disorder characterized by the obsessive need to collect and accumulate large quantities of stuff. Many hoarders have such difficulty letting things go that they've accumulated so much as to render their living spaces unusable. Hoarding isn't just a personal issue – it affects entire families, particularly young children. For family members who live with a person who hoards, it’s impossible to live in the clutter without having physical and emotional trauma. The emotional and psychological impact of hoarding on children can last a lifetime.
When hoarding exists in a home, families may not have space for shared activities, or may be forced to combine spaces inappropriately, such as an older child sharing a bed with a parent. Sometimes a single space must serve multiple functions, such as a space on a couch that is used for sleeping, doing homework, eating and watching TV. Due to the clutter, parents may be unable to provide their children with the basics of clean water, healthy food and a safe shelter. Children may feel that their hoarding parent values things more than their own child.
A home filled with papers, boxes and clutter is not safe, especially for children. Falling stacks of clutter can hurt young children, who may become trapped under large objects. Because of the mess, it may be impossible to leave quickly in case of fire or an accident, and emergency personnel may be unable to get inside through the clutter to assist. . Fearing a report to the authorities, hoarding parents may also be unwilling to call in repair people when something breaks, potentially dangerous if the broken items interfere with basic living conditions, such as a broken heater or plumbing.
Rotting food, garbage, animal or human waste, or molding piles of paper can attract insects and rodents to the home, as well as contaminate indoor air quality. Small children may suffer from health problems such as asthma, headaches, allergies and respiratory illness due to toxins in the home and air. If the clutter has taken over the kitchen, contaminants may taint the food. If the kitchen is unusable for cooking, the family may be forced to depend on fast food, which could lead to obesity and other health problems.
Children will go to great lengths to hide the hoarding problems from others, both from fear of how their hoarding parent would react and because they’re afraid their friends might treat them differently or make fun of them. Children may also fear others finding out the situation and removing them from the home, taking them away from their parents, such as if a neighbor or friend calls child protective services.
Diminished Social Life
When living in a home bursting with books, clothing, dirty dishes or even animals and their waste, children avoid having friends come over, or their hoarding parent may not allow guests. Children make up reasons why their friends can’t come over, and they feel isolated and ashamed of their home situation. This may lead to feelings of anger, depression, resentment or helplessness. Some children may even look for ways to avoid their own homes, preferring to stay with friends, relatives or the other parent in cases of divorce. Almost all children of hoarders describe a panic, called “doorbell dread,” whenever anyone comes to their door.
Lack of Housekeeping Skills
Living in a home filled with clutter, young children can grow up with very little understanding of cleanliness. Many children become hoarders themselves, having had no choice but to grow up amid the chaos and clutter and knowing no other way. Other children may fear becoming hoarders, so they swing the other way, becoming neat freaks and seeking out their own private spaces that they keep clutter-free.
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