Dirty Secret: Compulsive Hoarding

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Jessie Sholl explores the many personal and psychological ramifications of compulsive hoarding: a disorder that her mother suffers from. Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean About Her Mother's Compulsive Hoarding is her memoir about confronting her mother’s disorder, searching for normalcy and cleaning out the clutter in her mother’s home.


Jessie Sholl

Comments [12]

mambocat from Louisiana

@hjs11211 : it's not a matter of simply not having adequate storage space for things you NEED. It's a matter of not being able to let go of things that don't matter, not being able to cull excess things like junk mail, not being able to use your living space as it was intended -- access to clean kitchen, bath and bed for example. It is a matter of things piled up to the point of being unsanitary or saving trash. If YOU currently have a small apartment and lack adequate storage space, YOU would probably make use of the closet space and bookshelves if you were to move to a larger home. A hoarder could move into a WAREHOUSE and fill it to the rafters. My husband and I live in an older, small home with a few small closets, so we have to be creative with rubbermaid tubs and such for storage -- but if you ask me for a hammer or a roll of scotch tape or some gift wrap paper, I can put my hands on it almost immediately. Kitchen stuff is in the kitchen, clothes are in the closets, and we have full access to our home, even though we don't have a living room large enough to seat more than six adults. That's the difference.

@skeptical: some hoarders acknowledge their problem and are slowly trying to get better, and honesty is part of the healing process once they finally acknowledge it is a problem. But most of the hoarding problem for lots of hoarders is that life is all about the hoarder, the hoarder's stuff and what the hoarder wants. Maybe Jessie's mother is finally trying to be open and get better, or maybe it's just another way for everything to be about HER. I'm afraid that only she -- Jessie's mom -- can know her own motives for supporting the book.

Jan. 27 2011 01:29 AM

Hoarding is different for everyone - some people don't mind stuff being thrown out if they can't see it being tossed. Others freak out no matter what. Hoarding isn't like wearing red - it isn't you either have it on or you don't. It's like wearing all colors - some people wear red with white, some with black, some people's red is brighter than others. Please don't think it's all or nothing, one way or another.

Dec. 29 2010 02:24 PM
Jessie Sholl from NYC

Hi Karyn and Amy,

For more information about hoarding and resources for family members, the group I mentioned on the show -- -- has a thorough list of links, some of which aren't just for children of hoarders, but also other familial relationships and partners. I also recommend the book Stuff, by Drs. Frost and Steketee.

Take care & all the best,

Dec. 29 2010 10:09 AM
karyn wickers from rockaway park, ny

Please post some more info. I have a relative with this problem and could use some guidance.

Dec. 29 2010 12:58 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Leonard, could links to some of the organizations for hoarders & their families be posted on this page, please?

Dec. 28 2010 01:40 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Another major danger of hoarding is trip hazards, esp. for people w/osteoporosis or balance problems.

Dec. 28 2010 12:58 PM

Parts of this woman's story don't ring true to me. I find it impossible to believe that her mother simply said "go ahead" about the book. That act of selflessness doesn't track with her mother's years of selfish hoarding.

Dec. 28 2010 12:57 PM
partner from queens

Is there any support grp for partners of hoarders? I am the partner of an "almost-hoarder". I run a lot of interference so the house isn't completely hoarded, but I do want to reduce the effect of this on my kids. The whole hoarding issue is probably the biggest one in our relationship

Dec. 28 2010 12:55 PM
Karla from Manhattan

My husband collects, boxes, transports, unpacks, boxes, and finally desposes. This has continued for 30 years. Is this hoarding? organizational? due to having an impoverished childhood?

Dec. 28 2010 12:54 PM

The thing that the hoarding TV shows have revealed is the absolute stubbornness and panic that erupts when you attempt to touch the hoarder's "stuff."

Dec. 28 2010 12:52 PM
A listener

I feel as though my mother's hoarding is caused by some early trauma in her life, most likely poverty, and that now she has this compulsion too keep buying and hoarding things which never get used to ward off the fear of going hungry or doing without.

The impact on me is that I cannot bring myself to enter her house and I experience waves of anxiety just thinking about the oppressive clutter.

I fee like I should see a shrink.

Dec. 28 2010 12:16 PM

why is this hoarding such a BIG deal all of a sudden? I have a small apartment, if I lived in a mcmansion in NJ no one would have a problem with my stuff spread out over dozens of rooms!

Dec. 28 2010 12:14 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.