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Dec 17 2008

Children of Hoarders

Elizabeth Nelson said that she spent most of her childhood believing that she was one of the reasons why her mother suffered from compulsive hoarding and that her mother would frequently find excuses to blame the family for the clutter in their five-bedroom home. “My mother would tell us that the house is messy because you kicked your shoes underneath the dining room table and because your father doesn’t throw away the envelopes to bills,” Elizabeth said.

Like many children of hoarders, who are part of the baby boomer generation, Elizabeth grew up having no concept of what hoarding was. “We [my family] were all sort of taught that this was my mother’s thing to do, and we couldn’t do anything about it because she had such tight control of the house,” said Elizabeth.

Today Elizabeth is the moderator of the online support group,, which currently has over 2,000 members. Elizabeth believes that it’s important for children to confront their parents about their hoarding problems, unlike many psychologists who believe family intervention is not a viable solution and that it should be left to the professionals to handle.

Elizabeth Nelson

Elizabeth Nelson discusses hoarding during an interview with WXYZ (photo credit:

Several years ago, Elizabeth decided to address her mother’s hoarding problems, after discovering that her father, who is handicapped, was using a portable toilet in the living room because her mother had barricaded the bathroom door with hoarded items.

While Elizabeth’s mother was away visiting her sister, Elizabeth and her brothers spent over a week cleaning several rooms in her mother’s house. When her mother returned, she was shocked and angry by what her children had done – a common reaction amongst many hoarders who have had their belongings tampered with.

“Our intervention was not a complete disaster,” said Elizabeth. “We didn’t solve the problem and we knew that it was going to be a temporary fix, but we made the house safer for my dad.”

According to leading experts on hoarding, the disorder can never officially be overcome. Since the cleanup, Elizabeth’s mother’s home has, once again, fallen into disrepair.

While growing up, Elizabeth's bedroom was cluttered with her mother's hoarded items. (photo credit:

While growing up, Elizabeth's bedroom was cluttered with her mother's hoarded items. (photo credit:

Elizabeth said that many people within her support group have a difficult time organizing their own homes because they were never taught what a normal house should look like or what’s considered messy. She added that the support group has helped members differentiate between learning the behavior and having inherited the disorder.

Recently, the support group received a posting from a hoarder who reprimanded the members for “venting about their parent’s problems.” Elizabeth said that hoarders don’t always know how their children feel. “We’re not going to not talk about our experiences just to preserve their feelings,” said Elizabeth. “That’s not the point of the group.” “The point of the group is to talk amongst people who understand.”

Watch Elizabeth’s interview on her mother’s hoarding problems.