Dear Annie: Can hoarding be cured? If not, I’ve reached the end of my rope.
My dear wife of more than 30 years, who does not work outside the home, has filled up our attic, two rented storage spaces and one bedroom with so much useless stuff that you cannot walk into any of them. Our own bedroom has stacks of papers, books and clothes all around. And now she has started to fill yet another bedroom with stuff. She shops every day — online and on TV in the morning and then in stores in the afternoon. I don’t even want to think about how much money she has spent on all this stuff. And she won’t give away or throw away anything.
I can’t handle it any longer. The clutter is unbearable. When I ask her how we could reduce it, she shrieks back at me with excuses about how she has had such a hard day and she can’t deal with it because of other things she is thinking about or doing. She literally yells at me.
So it comes to this. If there is any way to help her and help us get back to a normal household without piles of junk and two rented storerooms, then I want to give our marriage a shot. But if experts say hoarding is incurable, then I’m done with this marriage. If her shopping and her stuff are more important than I am, then I’m done with the marriage.
— Husband of a Hoarder
Dear Husband of a Hoarder: In short, the answer to your question is yes, hoarding can be “cured” — or at least reduced — but it is going to take some effort on your part, as well. Your wife’s hoarding is less about the accumulation of things and more about an emotional meaning that they give her. Before you throw in the towel and say goodbye to your “dear wife” (that wording leads me to believe that you do care deeply about her), there are some clear action steps you can take.
Try to help her focus on the underlying needs that are not being met and leading her to hoard. You might be surprised at how you can help her fill some of those needs. Tell her that though you are annoyed with the hoarding, there is so much more to her than this one hurdle she has to cross. Build up her self-esteem.
You feel that her shopping and stuff are more important than you, while the reality is that she feels a void within herself that she is trying to fill with stuff — a void that can be filled, at least partially, with your love and support.
Try to encourage small victories. Perhaps she cleans out one closet. Really praise her for that. In addition, try to give your wife a feeling of control. Ask her how you could help in the decluttering process as a partner. The last and probably most important point is to seek professional help together. Your wife is not alone in this. Therapy has been known to really help marriages in which hoarding is an issue.
You could also try reading a book by Marie Kondo, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” Sometimes, focusing on the benefits of fixing a problem serves as great motivation to take the steps necessary to solve the problem. In other words, living in a clean, uncluttered house improves people’s overall joy and happiness.