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Elizabeth Nelson cleaning with breathing mask on

Children of Hoarders

A difficult relationship

by Eve Silberman

Published in December, 2011

Elizabeth Nelson also works to make people aware of the complexities of compulsive hoarding, but with a different emphasis. Nelson is co-founder of Children of Hoarders, a nonprofit that reaches out to people who, like her, grew up in homes to which they were ashamed to bring friends.

Married, the mother of two, and active in school affairs, Nelson moderates COH's online support group on She also leads a local in-person support group that meets monthly at Trinity Lutheran Church. The youngest of four children, Nelson recalls that her mother "kept every present she ever got, any school paper we ever wrote, bags and bags of thrift shop clothes."

Motivated by safety concerns (their father was ill), Nelson and her adult siblings once secretly cleaned their parents' home while they were out of town. Nelson recalls that, when her mother returned, she was "speechless"--and not with gratitude. "She stayed up for the first night making a list of all the things" she felt her children had "stolen." This spring, the family did another cleaning. Her mother no longer speaks to her.

One reason Nelson would like the complexities of "hoarding households" better understood is that many people assume that family members, if only they tried, could cure hoarders of their compulsion. When she mailed out Children of Hoarders brochures to thrift shops around the country, an irate employee in Ohio refused to post it. The hoarding would stop, she lectured Nelson, if she just "spent more time with your mother."

Another Ann Arbor woman told me tearfully about her repeated, unsuccessful attempts to get her elderly mother to acknowledge her hoarding problem. Both her parents are physically frail, and she believes that their home is an accident waiting to happen. "And when it does," she says bitterly, "People will say, 'Where were the children?'"     (end of article)

[Originally published in December, 2011.]


On December 30, 2011, wrote:
What a sad story! It goes to show that children are not always to blame when the hoarding continues! In the cases described here, it is beyond the powers of relatives alone to cure -- and the children should rest assured that they have done their best.

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