Monday, January 18, 2010

Nice Children Stolen from Car: introduction

January 18, 2010

Over the past couple of years, compulsive hoarding has quite literally "come out of the closet," and spilled forth into the bright light of public awareness. While talk show programs and television shows, such as "Hoarders," have done much to make this happen, I feel that often the emphasis is placed almost exclusively on the hoarders themselves. Very little is said about the children of hoarders and how they may have been affected by the experience of growing up in this type of environment.
Fortunately, there are some resources now available for children of hoarders, the best one by far Their Yahoo group offers support to hundreds of children and families of hoarders, giving a place where they can finally not only tell their family secret, but get help dealing with the aftermath.
But many of us remember when there was no help available, when our secret could not be told. In this blog, I would like to share some excerpts from my memoir "Nice Children Stolen from Car," which tells the story of that period in my life, written from the point of view of a fourteen year old. I'm sure that it will be a familiar one for many readers. Let me know what you think!

Nice Children Stolen From Car
Copyright Barbara Allen 2009


They have to be here somewhere.
I start with the dresser drawers. I have, on one or two occasions in the past, caught a glimpse of what seemed to be paperwork stacked in layers among the socks and underwear. Now, as I comb through the jumble of not-quite-clean clothes, I keep my eyes open for the official-looking envelope which will contain the information I so desperately need to find. Each item that I move aside or examine during my rummaging is carefully returned to its original place; I want my search to go undetected.

When the contents of the dresser drawers reveal nothing more interesting than untidy piles of receipts, old bills, and random scraps of paper, I turn my attention to other areas of the bedroom.

The closet isn’t promising. Outdated and unworn dresses, suits, slacks and shirts cram the rod, broken cardboard boxes spill out from beneath the hanging clothes, spewing more outgrown, never-worn garments onto the floor, but I see no paperwork of any kind.

Under the bed is another possibility, but a grim one. I inch my way across the room through piles of dusty newspapers, old National Geographics, geological survey maps, books, and yet more clothes. The unmade tangle of gray, unwashed sheets gives off a thick, musty smell. At the bedside, several area rugs, balled and linty from lack of vacuuming, are layered on top of one another. I sit cross-legged on the topmost rug and, wrinkling my nose, try to keep my face as far from the sheets as possible as I reach beneath the bed for one of the many cardboard boxes overflowing with papers hidden there. The box makes a scraping sound as I drag it forward toward me through the grit that films the floor; the top is open, the contents blanketed by layers of dust.

I had hoped the missing information might be in this, or one of the other boxes beneath the bed, but I soon realize that I am wrong. The boxes contain nothing of importance…or nothing of importance to me, at least: church bulletins from 1955, old test papers, articles clipped from “Dear Abby” columns, years-old newspaper sale flyers, price tag stubs. There is no rhyme or reason why this stuff has been saved, but there is plenty of it.

Too much stuff, actually, for me to continue looking anymore at this time. I have been in this room far too long as it is, and think it is probably in my best interest to leave now.

Outside, the sound of car doors slamming confirms my decision. The man and woman who claim to be my parents have returned, and my search for the adoption papers will have to be postponed once again.


There are, of course, no adoption papers. I finally abandon that idea, but come up with others, different theories to explain how I could have made my way into this family.

“Wrong Baby Brought Home from Hospital” is my favorite. I imagine the couple whose baby (me) was unknowingly swapped for another. My real parents are Mr. and Mrs. Normal, tidy and well-groomed, with a warm, welcoming home that smells of just-baked cookies or clean laundry. In the evenings, they sit in their cozy den and watch television. Between them on the sofa is a dirty, unkempt child with an unruly tangle of unwashed hair, the impostor who has taken my place in their lives.

As much as I love the idea of being a baby switched at birth, I soon discard that possibility as well. One of my younger sisters, Cindy, is so much like me in looks and personality that it is inconceivable that we could have come from unrelated families. And even my active imagination will not allow me to believe that there could have been two babies unfortunately brought home by mistake to the same family.

So I make up a new theory which will explain Cindy’s presence: “Nice Children Stolen From Car while Parents Inside Store Buying Milk.”

Cindy and I like this idea. We discuss it together sometimes, but we never truly believe it. The woman we must grudgingly acknowledge as our mother clearly has no energy or motivation for kidnapping. She spends her entire day lying on the sofa, chain-smoking and watching soap operas. Sometimes she stops watching long enough to take a nap.

The man who by default must be our father is also an unlikely kidnapping suspect. He seems to be only interested in filling our house with stuff, not random children stolen from a car. He isn’t home much anyway, but when he is, he is so unpleasant, we wish he wasn’t.

None of the theories work; I know that. But I keep them in the back of my mind, and pull them out when I need them to get through the day.


  1. hey barb great can't wait for more

  2. Barbara, I agree completely that much more attention needs to be given to the impact of hoarding on children. Thank you so much for sharing your experience openly so that others can learn and release the shame. I will be more than happy to help you promote your blog and put links to you from my blog. I would also very much appreciate you putting my blog and website on your blog roll.

    I often coach Adult Children of Hoarders to help them process the grief and trauma, release the shame, and deal with their parents' behavior.

    I'm thinking about posting a special page on my website ( and blog ( just on that.

    Would love to speak with you for a half hour or so sometime. You can book a half hour with me (free of course) at

    Look forward to hearing from you!

  3. Wow! You're right, we do have some similar experiences... very interesting and frightening at the same time! I have enjoyed reading your stories, they make me smile. :)

  4. Similar yet different enough that we can learn from each other, don't you think?
    I'm glad the stories made you smile; only a true COH would see the humor! Many non-COH'er's call them grim!
    I've added you to my list of links, don't forget to add me to yours! We're in this together!

  5. Ok, I might need you to help me figure out how to post links on my blog page. I'm usually able to figure out most things involving technology, but I am sort of stuck!

  6. Don't feel bad, it took me a while to figure it out.
    Go to "dashboard" (top right hand side of page once you've signed in) then go from there to "layout." In layout there is a section called "related links," just add my URL to that.
    Thanks and much appreciated!

  7. Whoo hoo! It worked! Thank you :)

  8. What a great blog Barbara! Why haven't you mentioned this in our group yet? It's good stuff-if you want me to mention it on the COH site, just let me know.


  9. Thanks Donna!
    I've mentioned it a number of times in posts on the COH forum! (So much, in fact, I was feeling like a pest!) Please mention it on the COH website, that would mean a lot to me. The COH website is something I only wish was around when I was trying to build my new "life after hoarding."
    It's funny...almost every time a topic comes up in our forum, I have a story from the book that matches it!

  10. Hmmm. People have often suggested I should write a book. I've always tried to tell stories about my growing up years in those 2 houses as if they were funny. They were terrible to live through, but......perhaps others finding them funny helped me feel less ashamed.
    I relate to so much of what you wrote. I never put it together so clearly. Thanks again.

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