Help! My parents were hoarders.

I’ve made a life being surrounded by people with various forms of addictions and disorders in our Homeless Charity

  • Alcoholism
  • Drug addiction
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • General anxiety

The homeless are a group of people with a high level of mental health issues.

You might be surprised to learn that a couple homeless people I work with are also hoarders. 

There’s one man that reminds me of a raccoon. He’ll pick something up and just store it in his area. If I am missing something I can often go to his area and find what I’m looking for. 

But where I see hoarding the most is in my auction work.

My experience has been that hoarding effects both men and women, both rich and poor, both young and old.

Hoarding doesn’t discriminate.

Most people are embarrassed by their own hoarding or their family member’s hoarding.

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I wish people could let go of the embarrassment they feel with their mental health issues. These are afflictions that have been laid on you through your life journey.

Yesterday was my 14 year anniversary of quitting drinking, smoking and coffee. I was a case of beer a day kind of guy (and a couple packs of cigarettes and couple pots of coffee). Am I the one who chose to pick up all those beers and cigarettes and pots of coffee? Yes. But it became bigger than me. It was more about dealing with anxiety and depression than it was the substances.

The same is true with hoarding. You or your loved one bought those things. Yes. But it becomes something that you lose control of. 

A first step is not adding additional anxiety on top of the terrible feelings you already have. It’s ok. You are ok. You are just experiencing a mental health issue that is manifesting itself into collecting a lot of things.

The other thing to know about hoarding is: as an auctioneer, it doesn’t scare me in the least.

I once sold all of a person’s hoardings in a day and told him to start over and I’d be back in a couple years. 

I see a lot of adult children overwhelmed by their parents’ estates. I feel bad that they feel so bad because it truly is no big deal. I just see a 7 hour job. But I feel for them because they see a lifetime of collecting.

I was told that some local auctioneers only want to sell a few cherry-picked items. I’ll gladly sell everything. Shoot, I can even put the house up for auction that day and see if we get what you want out of it. I’ll sell everything. I’m a licensed Realtor and gun dealer. Truly, there isn’t much I can’t sell.

While the selling of items is of little concern to me, the emotional aspect of it all becomes more complicated.

If I’m working directly with the hoarder I look for some signs:

Someone who hoards may exhibit the following:

  • Inability to throw away possessions
  • Severe anxiety when attempting to discard items
  • Great difficulty categorizing or organizing possessions
  • Indecision about what to keep or where to put things
  • Distress, such as feeling overwhelmed or embarrassed by possessions
  • Suspicion of other people touching items
  • Obsessive thoughts and actions: fear of running out of an item or of needing it in the future; checking the trash for accidentally discarded objects
  • Functional impairments, including loss of living space, social isolation, family or marital discord, financial difficulties, health hazards

That list is from here: Hoarding: The Basics | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA

These symptoms can sometimes make selling items impossible.

I recently had a person tell me their father said he was just going to leave the mess to his kids to clean up. Believe it or not, that’s not a terrible way to go.

While the adult child feels overwhelmed by it all an auctioneer, such as myself, can make quick work of that problem. You should know that almost everything will sell:

  • Clothes
  • Kitchen utensils 
  • Tupperware 
  • All kinds of dishes
  • Old shelving
  • Boxes of nails

You name it. The hardest thing I have to sell is Christmas. I have to do some serious begging. But more often than not I can also sell that stuff too.

Shoes seem hard to move too. 

But other than that, I can usually find a home for all your things. 

And that’s an important thing for a hoarder to know: These items are going to be loved by someone new. It’s going to be put to good use and people are going to find it valuable. 

An auction is an act of recycling. We are giving your items a new life. They are going to start their journey again.

They aren’t going to be thrown away in a land fill. 

People hoard for several reasons.  An item:

  • will be useful or valuable in the future.
  • has sentimental value.
  • is unique and irreplaceable.
  • is a huge bargain.

Getting rid of items for a hoarder is incredibly difficult. Usually the only reason a hoarder reluctantly agrees to sell their items is because they have no other choice.

  • They have to move.
  • Their spouse is threatening to leave them.
  • They are living in unsafe conditions.
  • They can’t afford storage fees any more.

Selling a hoarder’s items is a very emotional experience. I always try to get the person to not be around for the actual auction. 

You should be aware that the pain of keeping the items has to be greater than the pain of selling the items. That means keeping the items has to be pretty darn painful.

If your parent is safe and can exist with their things, you might do all of yourselves a favor to just let them keep their things.

That said… if you can get a hoarder to agree to an auction, my experience has been that they recover quite quickly from the trauma of selling the things. I’m no mental health professional so don’t treat this like any kind of medical advice. It’s possible that for some people it might be a devastating experience that lingers with them for a long time. But so far that has not been my experience.

You might actually consider getting a mental health professional involved in the process. I’d be happy to meet with them, if that would help.

Hopefully, this will help you. So just to recap:

  1. If your parents have passed on and left you with a lot of stuff to deal with, fear not! We can quickly sell all those items for you.
  2. If your parent is still alive, pick your battles carefully. Do you really need to sell the items? Or can you let them live with them? If you can let them live with them I’d encourage you to think about just letting this fight go. Let them know you love them, keep them safe and just enjoy spending time with them even though their hoarding bothers you. Dealing with these things won’t be as big a deal as you think it will when they are gone.
  3. If you are somewhere in the middle, see if your parent would be willing to meet with a mental health professional. Maybe together you can all come up with a plan that makes sense for everyone involved.



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