How A Parent's Compulsive Hoarding Impacts Children08:34
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A painting titled "DiningRoomBlur" by artist Holly Sabiston, whose mothers' compulsive hoarding was the subject of her art. (Courtesy of Holly Fisher Sabiston)
A painting titled "DiningRoomBlur" by artist Holly Sabiston, whose mothers' compulsive hoarding was the subject of her art. (Courtesy of Holly Fisher Sabiston)

The phenomenon of hoarding is well known thanks to television programs like A&E's "Hoarders" and Discovery Channel's "Hoarding: Buried Alive."

The mental illness is thought to be related to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and makes it difficult for a person to determine what's valuable and what isn't.

Hoarding affects entire families, forcing children of hoarders to keep secrets about a parent's debilitating compulsion.  Many children also fear becoming hoarders themselves.

"It was definitely a secret. There were only a few friends who got to see the inside of the house."

Holly Sabiston, child of a hoarder

Holly Sabiston grew up with a mother who compulsively shopped and hoarded so much that the family had to take out three mortgages on their Kansas City home.

Sabiston told Here & Now's Monica Brady-Myerov that her mother was terrified of others learning about her illness, and so she prohibited Sabiston from having friends over for sleepovers.

"It was definitely a secret," she said, "There were only a few friends who got to see the inside of the house."

Sabiston is now an artist, and depicts the piles of junk that are a result of compulsive hoarding in her paintings.

Randy Frost, Ph D., professor of psychology at Smith College explains in a video that the best approach for dealing with someone who compulsively hoards is to sit down and talk with them about it. He cautions family members from trying to throw get rid of possessions in an attempt to help.

"The worst thing you can do is to go in and throw things away while they're not around...in the long run these attempts are usually failures," he said.

Frost says the key is to get the hoarder to recognize and understand that there is a problem, and to attend a hoarding treatment program.

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This segment aired on July 19, 2011.

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