Being the family member of a person with hoarding disorder (HD) can be very stressful. For those family members who live with the person with Hoarding Disorder, such as a partner, child, sibling or dependent parent, living among the extreme clutter can cause a lot of physical and emotional difficulties. These same difficulties can also be present for family members who do not live with the person with HD, and all families affected by HD may experience friction and tension as a result.
Children of those with HD often cannot avoid living in the extreme clutter — especially if they are still minors — which affects their social lives and development. Children are often too embarrassed by all the stuff to have friends come over, or are not allowed to due to their parent’s embarrassment. This may lead to feelings of isolation, helplessness, and resentment. In severe cases, children may not have space to play or study to the extent that the parent with hoarding may be investigated by child protective services.
Children may also feel resentful, depressed, or angry about the lifestyle their parent’s HD causes them to lead (e.g. “sacrifices” they are expected to make in accommodation, etc.). They may come to believe that their parent with HD values their possessions more than their children, which can cause children to feel abandoned, rejected, and/or that they are not loved nor treasured as much as their parents’ things.
Due to the increased family conflict, children might feel torn between the parent with HD and the parent without it. Should the family conflict reach such a point that divorce is considered, children may blame the break up of their family on the person with HD.
Legal issues may arise should a neighbor become aware of the home situation and call child protective services (CPS). If this happens, an investigation may ensue — this may result in the removal of children from the home, unless one of the parents makes other living arrangements. Whether the child continues to live in the extreme clutter or is removed from the home, the end result can be devastating for the family.
Adult children often have a strained relationship with their parent with HD. As adult children move out of the home, they may become estranged from their parent with HD due to disagreements about how hoarding should be handled. Adult children may also blame the parent for the conditions in which they lived as a child. Parents with young children may be concerned about their safety in a grandparent’s home that is heavily cluttered. Therefore, grandparents may become isolated from their grandchildren — not only does this create distance within the family, but it causes the person with HD to become even more isolated.
Adult children of those with HD may experience a phenomenon called “caregiver burden,” commonly experienced in situations where people are required to provide emotional or practical care for another person. Being in the caregiver role may cause increased interpersonal conflict, chronic worry, anxiety, depression, and the inability to cope. Caregivers may also experience a number of negative life events, such as loss of self-esteem, disruption of finances, loss of competence, loss of hope and sense of security, and difficulty planning for the future.