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"I'm a Hoarder and My Husband Hates It"

Sharon can't bear to get rid of all the things that have piled in up in her home, but Brian is starting to feel resentful and angry that she can't just throw out her clutter. Can this marriage be saved?

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Sharon’s Turn

“My life is overrun with stuff,” said Sharon, 43, an accountant who’s been married for 10 years. “I save things most people would toss because they remind me of good friends and good times. My house is jammed with mementos. Until recently I had 30 lawn signs from when I worked for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.

“For most of our marriage my husband, Brian, didn’t complain. But that’s changing. He just got rid of all but two of my Hillary signs and my late grandmother’s handmade lace tablecloths — without telling me. Those were some of my most prized possessions!

“It was cruel. Brian knows I can’t help my behavior. I have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Apart from hoarding, I obsess about things and have trouble concentrating. I was diagnosed at age 30 and my doctor prescribed medication that reduces my anxiety and improves my focus. That turned off the worry switch in my head, but it didn’t stop the hoarding.

“I want to get my hoarding under control. But deciding whether to keep or discard stuff like an old driver’s license or a map from a city I’ve visited is agony. Brian wants me to pitch things without reminiscing about them first. I wish he’d be more supportive.

“Brian and I met through an online dating site. It was love at first e-mail: We both had lonely childhoods, an interest in politics, and an unusual hobby — bird-watching. My hoarding had scared away other boyfriends, so at first I only met Brian in public places. But on our sixth date I told him about my OCD. The first time he saw my cluttered apartment, he looked like a deer in headlights but said, ‘It’s okay.’ I thought I’d hit the boyfriend jackpot!

“We got married eight months later. I moved into Brian’s condo but still paid rent on my apartment for two more years — it took me that long to clean it out. We rented a storage container for the stuff I kept. Brian hated spending the money but he didn’t pressure me. We got along great.

“Three years ago we’d finally saved enough money to buy a house. We emptied out the storage locker and we took that stuff to our new home. That’s when things started to change. Brian griped about the clutter and badgered me to get rid of things. ‘Why can’t you be normal?’ he blurted one day. ‘Because I’m not normal,’ I snapped.

“Since then Brian has been avoiding me. He gets home from work before me, so he eats alone and plays computer games all night long. I eat in front of my computer, then I stay online or read a book. We don’t talk about anything but finances and groceries — we don’t even watch TV together anymore. If I ask Brian to go bird-watching, he says he’s too tired or needs to catch up on work. I feel so unloved! I love Brian and want to be close to him, but he has shut me out. I stopped having sex with him as a result, and if anything, my hoarding has gotten worse. Frankly, I don’t know how much longer I can stay in a lonely marriage.”

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