Why Hoarding Hurts Children

DSC00258_1He shuffled into my law office for his 10 am appointment, his shoulders were hunched over and his eyes looked dead. I asked what brought him in to see me and he quietly removed some photographs from a yellow envelope and set them up like a slide show in front of me.

I had never seen anything like it.  A living room, a kitchen, a bathroom, all piled to the rafters with newspapers, junk mail, pizza boxes, dirty laundry, bags of garbage, kitty litter and much more. A trail through the house, no more than a foot wide, was left open as a passage way. In one photo a little girl in a pink dress sat smiling, leaning on a tower of junk.

He was embarrassed as he told me that his wife had transformed their home into a waste pit, that she wouldn’t or couldn’t stop and he was worried sick about his three-old daughter.

He said he loved his wife but believed the home environment was hurting his little girl. He asked me whether he should take his daughter and move out.

I was stymied. This was long before television turned hoarding into a spectator sport and  intuitively I knew his wife’s behavior was an extreme form of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

I sent the photos to a child psychologist and asked his opinion. I expected him to tell me that my new client had a legal and moral obligation to rescue his daughter from the chaos of their home. But he surprised me…he said that removing the little girl would only increase her anxiety, for after all, what she knew was a crowded, infested home.

My client got his answer and I didn’t see him again.

I didn’t question this psychologist because he was the expert. But today, after scanning Kimberly Rae Miller’s book entitled “Coming Clean” I wonder how that little girl is.

Ms. Miller describes her wrenching childhood, the rats, the bugs, the insecurity she felt as a result of her parents’ activities. Her mother was a compulsive shopper, her father a hoarder, and between them her life was isolating, secretive and shameful. In her late teens Ms. Miller had a breakdown, overdosing on pain killers. That’s when she finally left home and began living in her car. Yes, a car she vacuumed every day.

Family law lawyers see the best and worst of domestic life. That day I saw the misery of hoarding.

 

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

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