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Sue Ellen Jackson

Parents Corner


Dear Sue Ellen,

I think my sister is a hoarder.   Her house is filthy and full of junk.  I hate that my nephews live in that mess.  My sister won’t listen to me when I try to talk to her about this.  Do you think I should call the Child Protective Services?


Dear Rachel,

I am not an authority on hoarding but I have watched the reality TV show about it and have learned a thing or two.  Are you sure you want me to share my opinion?  If yes…here goes.

As a kid, I recall my Uncle’s house always smelled funky and they would pour dog food out of the bag directly on to the back porch to feed their hound dogs.  They had junk piled high in every room, but my aunt was a great cook and she kept her kids well fed and clean. (My mother never let me eat at their house but when we had family gatherings at my grandparents’ house, Aunt Mary Anne always brought Banana Pudding and it was delicious).  Uncle’s house was a wonderland for a curious kid like me; mostly because they had about 20 cats.  My parents always kept our visits there short. Now I understand why.  I’m pretty sure my uncle and his wife were hoarders.

Every state has specific laws about child abuse and neglect.  The generic definition of child neglect is lack of adequate shelter, food, clothing, or healthcare.  It is my understanding that hoarding is a pathological and life-threatening way of life caused by mental illness.  I am a clean freak and a germaphobe.  I don’t like funky smells, messes or unidentifiable objects in the fridge. Because of that, I am inclined to call people hoarders when maybe it’s really me that has the mental issue.  Aunt Mary Anne and her family seemed content .

I’m not judging here, but ask yourself this question; “Is my sister a hoarder or just really messy?”.  If your nephews are experiencing things like: eating food with mold in it, or going to school wearing the same dirty clothes every day, or they don’t have a proper place to sleep, you may need to get them help by contacting child protective services.  If you are a clean freak like me, it might just be a situation where your sister is a messy housekeeper; her house stinks and you don’t like it.  There is no law against having a dirty, house that smells like dirty socks (I wish there was).

It might be a good idea to watch that reality TV show about hoarders.  It is fascinating in a horrible kind of way, and it might help you decide whether you, or your sister has the problem.

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