Thursday, February 11, 2010


It always amazes me how much we, as Children of Hoarders, have in common. There has been a recent thread on the Children of Hoarders forum about "research." To the Child of a Hoarder, this means the careful and continuous study of life outside of the hoarder home, with the plan of building a normal life based on what we have learned. When I was a young girl, I called this process "research," and I was surprised to see that so many other Children of Hoarders referred to it the same way. It is also the title of the following excerpt, written almost two years ago, from my book, "Nice Children Stolen from Car." (When I shared this particular vignette with my writers' group, they told me that they didn't like it. Maybe you have to be a Child of a Hoarder to appreciate it!)

copyright Barbara Allen 2009

Living with my mother and father is like living on another planet or in a foreign country ruled by a very strange king. The ways of the world outside our house are a mystery to me. I want to fit in, but I need some guidelines to tell me what is normal and what is not.

That's one of the reasons I like to read. Reading gives me clues about the lives of what I call “regular people,” provides me with details I might not otherwise ever learn: information about hygiene and grooming, about chores, responsibilities, good manners, about families who have fun together.

Our family isn't much fun. Cindy and I have met people who think, because we come from a big family, that it must be so great, nothing but a party all the time. These people have obviously watched too much TV. That's what we tell them, actually. When someone starts carrying on about how lucky we are to come from a big family and how much fun it must be, we tell them: “It isn't like the Waltons, you know.” Not much fun, mostly just crowded.

That's another reason I like to read. Reading lets me become part of those other families; the ones who do have fun. Families where the father is brave and wise, not someone who yells all the time and saves every bit of random garbage imaginable. Families where the mother gets off the couch once in a while, and not just to get another pack of cigarettes.

Besides reading, I also use observation to figure out the ways of the outside world. I spend a lot of time watching other people and putting what I see into a mental storage box labeled: Building a Normal Life. I take note of how chores are done, and how often, especially those related to cleaning. I try to remember how the table is set at a friend's home. I observe how other parents treat their children. When we travel in the car at night, I stare into the windows of homes with the lights on and the shades still up, paying attention to the arrangement of the furniture, the colors of the walls, how the rooms are decorated.

When my mother catches me doing this, she gives me a stern reprimand.

“That's rude and nosy, staring into people's windows like that,” she says. I shrug, ignoring her. She happens to be telling me this at the tail end of one of our Sunday drives, where we have just dropped in, uninvited, right at dinner time, at the home of someone we barely know. Looking in the windows from the car as we pass seems far less rude, in my opinion. It's also an important part of my on-going research, one that I can't afford to abandon if I'm going to fit into the “regular world” one day.

That's what I hope, anyway. If I can gather just enough of the right information into that mental storage box of mine, maybe I can do it. Maybe, someday, I can build myself a normal life.

And if I'm lucky enough, maybe I'll even be able to help Cindy and the other kids build one, too.


  1. I am surprised your writers group didn't like it. I love your writing. The words make me sad and I want to hug you as a little girl, but the way you weave your words, keep me mesmerized. I am so glad you kept writing and didn't let a writers group bring you down.


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