Symptoms of the disorder cause clinically significant distress or impairment. These behaviors can often be quite severe and even threatening. Beyond the mental impact of the disorder, the accumulation of clutter can create a health issue.
I would also reluctantly emphasize that hoarding is incredibly social. Untrained to really help her, I had enabled my landlady’s hoarding, and had gone a little crazy in pretending like it wasn’t as bad as it was.
My landlady returned to her dewormed dog and her cats. She had a brand new mattress, bed linens and curtains. Perhaps for the first time in years, she could see her floor, which was shiny with Murphy’s Oil Soap. She thanked me, apologized for the mess she’d put me through, and promised to hire a housekeeper to keep things in order while she recovered.
But the honeymoon didn’t last long.
She was now expecting me to bring her food several times a day, and refused to hire a nurse. I was nervous that she was further going to consume my life. After a few days, I stepped in something when I came in to bring her food. The cat turds started piling up on the floor again, and I reminded her that she needed to get a house cleaner. When they were still there 24 hours later, I told her that until she picked them up, I wouldn’t be coming back.
We really only spoke one more time after that, when she summoned me down a few weeks later to go over a list of missing items.
“There were three can openers, I can only find two!” She screamed at me.“Where’s my fourth tennis ball?” I told her to go through all the clear plastic bags, but that the cleaning crew had cleaned everything that could be salvaged and thrown out what couldn’t.
“I told you to get the house cleaned!” She yelled at me. “Cleaning does not mean throwing things away!”
And then one day, a man rang my doorbell. He was a process server, giving me my eviction papers to put me out on the street. I had 30 days to vacate. I had never been so ashamed and frightened in my life.
I hired a lawyer to buy myself a couple more months. I could have probably staved it off for another year or two in court but ultimately I would have lost, and I would have been living above a toxic environment. I was lucky there had never been a fire.
I decided to leave – to leave my apartment, and to leave New York City.
Nothing but good came to me once I left – spiritually, financially, physically or professionally. I lived for a year with my sister, who had been living with cancer, which turned out to be the bulk of the last year of her life. I applied to six PhD programs and got into all of them. I got a fantastic new writing job (this one, in fact). I eventually moved to Manhattan.
I don’t regret my years in that house. I have wonderful memories from my time there – of parties and dinners and love and sex. Two friends’ marriage and family blossomed from a meeting in my kitchen. I left with a full heart ready to be filled by new adventures.
But I am glad that, unlike my landlady, I am emotionally well enough to know when to move, when to let go, and to understand that people and relationships are much more valuable than even the most prime New York real estate.
* Names have been changed to protect innocent and abused pets.
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