Growing up in a busy world...

I found this image some time ago but never knew that it was the work of two courageous siblings, Geoff Johnson (who is a Photographer by profession - the link to his site is below) and his sister Jennifer McShea - who are the survivors of a hoarded home. The link for the full article which appeared in the Daily Mail who have covered many stories about this challenge for people is also supplied. I think there must have been lots of deep breaths taken in the car before they walked back into their mum's home after being away for 20 years. The article tells us that their mum had battled breast cancer for the last 12 years leading up to her death and at that time the home had been passed onto her children. A Herculean task ahead of them to sort out the estate, upon walking in, they found that many rooms seemed 'to be exactly as they were'. Many adult children have to face challenges similar to this after the passing of their parents or kin. It will always be debated within families which approach is best. Whether to aim at determinedly and over a long period of time supporting their elderly parent in the hope that they can be part of raising awareness and better mental health and physical safety or whether with its 'best' or 'easiest' to restore or tackle things after their passing. Either way Safety should be our number 1 priority. It's 'okay' for people to live as they wish to live, but if something dreadful was to happen such as a fire its whether we as a family and community did all we could to avoid or minimise the impacts on them, their children or neighbours that counts. If you're really worried about fire hazards in or around the home then the CFA has created a register that any of the agencies such as Centrecare, CAFS, Unitingcare and Anglicare can help you to register the home on. If a property (the person's name is not needed) is registered on this list then the fire services will have a better chance to making a plan for a fire ahead of time at that property to help minimise the impacts. It's an anonymous registration and the owner or occupier of the property is not contacted. For these sorts of properties with such high fuel loadings (so many things) more people and fire engines/specialised equipment is needed to fight them so planning ahead is important.

Delaying tackling the challenges in the home during their lifetime (because of the person's lack of awareness or any other reason) often means that families are seeing even more things arrive, be held onto or decay and the task can move from medium to huge in as little as two years. Then there's aspects such as if you can't see the all of the walls or floor, mould and rot can sneak in. Vines can start growing through windows, so many things seem to have hidden themselves and space to do normal things like prepare food, and what might have been 'just too many things' can end up being another more dangerous hygiene issue/illness such as areas or sections becoming squalid. The children appearing in the images are actually the Jennifer and Geoff's children. The young people's images having been superimposed over pictures of their grandmother's home to show what it was like for Geoff and Jennifer, their parents, when they were growing up in the middle of it all.

Growing up in busy, disorganised or full houses is like many situations where young children's lives, experiences and aspirations are molded by their parents mental health/behaviour and in the case of hoarding disorders, are impacted hugely by the physical manifestations of it.

If you're a baby, where do you safety learn to crawl?

If you're a toddler, how do you explore your world safety?

If you're at primary school, friends don't come and play.

By the time you're a teen, how do you handle the shame, grief, anxiety and depression and learn to order your own room, clothes, hair and time?

If you have any families in your neighbourhood, with shutters drawn or who never seem to have friends over - perhaps its worth thinking about why and looking for ways to genuinely reach out or say "Hi". Keep it light. Your job is to be open for friendship not to be their therapist. Follow their language and the way they talk about their life. Here's a list of things that the 'Children of Hoarders' site recommends for friends, family and neighbours. THE DO'S AND DON'Ts a list of rules for talking with people who have homes full 'lots of beautiful stuff'... The result of Geoff and Jennifer superimposing the grand children's pictures is a marvelous and challenging set of images that tells the story of many little people in our community here in Ballarat and the adults that they have become.

The question I regularly ask is how we can make things easier for those little souls? How can I support the family member or members who live with them especially as like lots of us they may not be aware that collecting, buying, keeping or hanging onto this number of things may be a sign that they have a mental illness. Finding out that you have this mental illness in your family may also not be something that you are ready for and therefore its sooooo important for all of us to be kind and gentle and to walk slowly with anything we do.

If you are a person who smokes cigarettes and I came into your home and suddenly took your cigarettes away it wouldn't solve your addiction. It wouldn't help in the long term and it may have disastrous consequences so in the same way we need to remember that quick fix clean ups are NOT the way to go in 99% of cases - mental health professionals warn against this method and in some countries they are now being made illegal.

We all have too much stuff in our lives. Deep down we know that; but children in these homes and many others that don't have as much shock value, these little souls could all do with someone to talk to and remember them.

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