• Recently I found a letter my grandfather Bob wrote me about 9 months before he died.

    He and his new wife Sylvia were in the process of selling their respective homes and moving into a retirement community together.  In the letter he tells me that he is packing boxes for movers.

    He tells me that Sylvia helps him

    “decide what to try to sell, what to throw away (everything, according to her), and what to give away….When I think of her repeatedly warning that we shall have no room at Orchard Cover for all the junk I have stockpiled over these many years, I begin to lose sleep, and I sweat.”

    My last blog post, Pandora’s Boxes, tells the story of some of the things that migrated with him to Orchard Cove.  This post is about the people who can’t bring themselves to face their stuff like my grandfather did.

    As many as 15 million Americans are hoarders, meaning that they have a pathological or compulsive tendency to accumulate things and fail to throw things away. Most hoarders are senior citizens.

    Two phenomenal documentaries tell the intimate stories of aging hoarders:

    My Mother’s Garden, a documentary by Cynthia Lester, tells the story of a family ripped apart by a mother’s compulsive hoarding. Like many hoarders, Cynthia’s mom Eugenia started accumulating stuff as a reaction to personal trauma.

    Soon Eugenia’s children were literally displaced from their home by her stuff, and she became a pariah in the neighborhood.

    Finally, the threat of eviction incites her four adult children to action. Together they scheme to clean out the disastrous house. In the process of purging Eugenia’s home of all her baggage, they heal deep family wounds.

    Girl With Black Balloons, a film by my friend Corinne Van Der Borch, tells a story of another kind of hoarder.

    The documentary’s heroine, Bettina, is a brilliant artist who has holed herself up for 40 years, as her artwork took over her boarding room in Manhattan’s Chelsea Hotel.

    Bettina is so protective of her work that she can’t let go of it. She literally sits watch over her arsenal of art from a lawn chair in her hallway as the apartment crumbles around her.

    Like Eugenia, Bettina is threatened with eviction – but she has no family to come to the rescue. Instead, a couple of filmmakers take her on, rendering a stunning film in the process.

    Hoarders can be so overwhelming to deal with that family members and neighbors can’t cope. It takes tremendous patience and understanding to get to the root of the behavior – and the floor of the home.

    Here are some articles & resources to help:

    Elderly Hoarding: Threat to Aging in Place
    Understanding OCD Hoarding
    Care.com Elderly Hoarding
    Senior Anxiety, OCD and Hoarding

    More resources

    Read Monica’s Blog Making the Move: Seniors Navigating Moving & Stuff

    Thoughts or Stories? Please share:

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    This entry was posted on Thursday, May 24th, 2012 at 12:51 pm and is filed under Communication & Planning, Stories & Culture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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