Why Don'T Hoarders Just Throw It Out?

I'm a big fan of the series, Hoarders: Buried Alive. My wife insists she is not a hoarder, because we don't have rats or roaches. But I think she qualifies as a Level 3 hoarder, which is someone who collects things that don't have any perceivable value, and who has portions of the house that are not usable for their intended purpose.

Performing normal daily activities is a constant challenge. On nights when I have to make dinner for the kids, a 20 minute meal prep job takes an extra 40 minutes to collect the piles of paper from the kitchen counter, and then another 30 minutes because the drawers in the kitchen are so full, it's not possible to find a container with a lid, or a cheese grater.

We get into fights constantly over the piles in front of the kids.

It doesn't matter what it is. It can't be thrown out.

I'm not allowed to throw out expired food or expired medications. Sometimes I do this anyway, when my wife leaves the house. But then she may find the things in the trash, and she takes them out.

As a compromise, I started labeling expired medication and food in bold RED letters with the expiration date on it, so nobody uses it. I moved the expired medication into a box, labeled it "EXPIRED MEDICATION" and put it in the garage.

She says she need someone to help her with these piles, and I tried a few years ago. I don't have the patience.

After about an hour, we had not gotten rid of a single piece of paper. After that, I decided it was easier to wait for her to leave the house, and then throw it out.

The conversation went something like this:

Me: "This is a piece of bulk mail from the telephone company saying they are having a public meeting in (large city 100 miles away) to comment on a new 1% fee to cover 911 service. The cost to us is estimated at $0.63/year. I probably am not going to go. Can I recycle this? "

WIFE: "No, I am angry that they are raising our rates."

ME: "We are either going to go to the meeting or not. We probably aren't going to go because we don't have time, and it is only $0.63/year. Can I recycle this?"

WIFE: "No - I want to keep that as a record."

ME: "If I give you $5.00, that will cover the fee for seven years. Can I throw it out then?"

WIFE: "Stop harassing me."

ME: "OK, it looks like they sent us this twice. I got one, you got one. Can I throw mine away?"

WIFE: "No - I want to keep both copies to show that they are wasting money. If they didn't send both copies, they wouldn't have to have the fee."

(I am not making this up)

ME: "Can I throw out the envelopes?"

WIFE: "No, I want to have evidence of the dates."

So then we move onto the next item.....

ME: "Here is a clothing catalog from Boston Proper. You have never ordered clothing from Boston Proper in the 12 years we have been married. Can I discard this?"

WIFE: "No, there is something in there that my friend Sarah (name changed) might want."

ME: "Can I mail the catalog to Sarah with a note?"

WIFE: "No, I don't just want to send her a catalog, I should write her a letter, but I don't have time."

ME: "OK, then it looks like you have six copies of the catalog. These copies are 2 and 3 years old. Can I throw out the old copies of the catalog?"

WIFE: "No, I like to see how the prices change over time."

Western44 Western44
46-50, M
4 Responses Jan 29, 2013

sigh! -- it seems so hopeless. My husband just goes into attack mode if I say anything about the mess. My anger has subsided which was of great benefit for my health. But my life is lonesome. No friends and mostly my head in the sand. I do projects at our house to get it to be nicer. But when the project is finished, I'm back to a feeling of being overwhelmed. I cope by sticking my head in the sand.

I just read your posts...and I'm wondering how things are progressing. I have a similar angry spouse who takes things out of the trash and argues about keeping things of no value. If you're still working this out, I would love to share rants, especially for those who are in similar situations.

what do you do when you hoarder not only keeps every stupid thing he ever bought but vehicles too !! thank god he had to trade in some of his cars !!

She is trying to rationalize keeping those things. Even though those items don't seem important to you, she has an emotional attachment to each of them so throwing one of those out feels like throwing out a special, one of a kind memento would to you. I understand your frustration because my mother is a hoarder too and keeps 10 year old junk mail because if she throws it out someone will dig through our trash, see her first and last name and be able to steal her identity from that. If she accepts there is a problem try to get her to go to therapy. A cause of hoarding is usually a traumatic emotional experience and talking about that with a professional can help.

Being in a similar relationship, I\'m curious as to whether you, Western44, followed this advice to get therapy for your wife and how it turns out if you do.