September 17, 2012

Guest Post: Hoarding and OCD in The Butterfly Clues

I'm happy to welcome Rebecca Taylor back to the blog for another Psychtember guest post! You can read her guest post for last year's event here.

I wanted to start by thanking Danya for inviting me to guest blog on her site, I love connecting with other bloggers and having the opportunity to reach a wider audience. So to all you fellow bloggers who are reading this (hint, hint) feel free to hit me up about a multitude of topics (psychology, writing, reading, working, kids…you name it!)

So I wanted to write about hoarding for several different reasons. One, I have had my copy of THE BUTTERFLY CLUES by Kate Ellison sitting on my bedside table for months waiting patiently for my attentions. For those of you who are not familiar with this book, the main character, Lo, is a hoarder AND has OCD (counting, word repetitions, and complex rituals.) Two, I have recently become completely addicted to watching HOARDING: BURIED ALIVE on TLC. And three, it was the first topic that sprang to mind that wasn’t already being covered by another guest blogger.

I like to start by saying that unlike many other “topic” YA books, THE BUTTERFLY CLUES is not actually about hoarding or OCD. It is actually a mystery about a murdered exotic dancer named Sapphire and Lo’s drive to solve that murder. For you writers out there, the hoarding and OCD are really used more as interesting character flaws and also serve (quite nicely I might add) to create conflict and serve certain plot elements where needed. Having said this, I would say that the hoarding and OCD come up so frequently throughout the book, that they are almost like another character in and of themselves or a C storyline if you will. Which, given the nature of these disorders, seems appropriate because both hoarding and OCD can be so disruptive to typical life functions that they become entities to contend complicating even the most simple of daily functions. So why the book is not about hoarding directly, I think Kate Ellison did a really wonderful job of showing how the disorder impacts Lo’s ability to solve this mystery much the same as how real people need to manage their real life under the constraints of a debilitating disorder.

I really did enjoy this book.

As far as hoarding goes, oh lord, what a challenging mental health condition that impacts every area of a person’s life. Hoarding is a new disorder being considered for addition to the DSM V (now set for publication in May of 2013) and the criteria under Obsessive Compulsive and Related disorder are looking something like this:

A. Persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value.  

B. This difficulty is due to a perceived need to save the items and distress associated with discarding them.
C. The symptoms result in the accumulation of possessions that congest and clutter active living areas and substantially compromise their intended use. If living areas are uncluttered, it is only because of the interventions of third parties (e.g., family members, cleaners, authorities).
D. The hoarding causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (including maintaining a safe environment for self and others).
E. The hoarding is not attributable to another medical condition (e.g., brain injury, cerebrovascular disease, Prader-Willi Syndrome).
F. The hoarding is not better accounted for by the symptoms of another DSM-5 disorder (e.g., hoarding due to obsessions in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, decreased energy in Major Depressive Disorder, delusions in Schizophrenia or another Psychotic Disorder, cognitive deficits in Dementia, restricted interests in Autism Spectrum Disorder).
Specify if:
With Excessive Acquisition: If symptoms are accompanied by excessive collecting or buying or stealing of items that are not needed or for which there is no available space.
It goes on to address to what degree the person has insight into their disorder and this appears to be the key to whether or not they are successful in diminishing the hoard through therapy because the people who have poor insight into their hoarding tendencies seem to go round and round in a frustrating and confusing cognitive loop of justification for their hoarding. Practically every item has great necessity and value to the individual and their anxiety about parting with their belongings is so intense, when challenged to even make decisions about letting a singular item go to either the dump or donation, those with poor insight become masters at avoidance, deflections, and circular logic. When pressed, they sometimes become very angry and aggressive probably as a learned behavior that is often successful in driving others away. If hoarding continues unabated, living conditions can become so dilapidated that routine maintenance and cleaning become impossible. Kitchens and bathrooms become unusable as toilets and sinks overflow, pipes break, walls and roofs deteriorate, bugs and animals move in and food, garbage and feces pile up and into the preexisting piles.

In THE BUTTERFLY CLUES, Lo’s hoard is contained in her bedroom and is not noticed by grief stricken parents: a drug dependent and depressive mother and a workaholic father. I would say that Lo’s insight into her hoard is very poor and, while it is not addressed directly in the book, it does not seem like she would, at this stage of her life, be very receptive to therapy. But, as I said before, this is not really the point of the book in the first place so I’ll just keep my armchair quarter back opinions to myself, ahem.

In short, yes I recommend reading THE BUTTERFLY CLUES. I do not recommend hoarding.  And now, I’m going to go clean out my closet.

Rebecca Taylor is a school psychologist and author of YA fiction. ASCENDANT, the first book in her ASCENDANT series, releases in June 2013 from Crescent Moon Press. She is represented by Emma Patterson at The Wendy Weil Agency Inc.

Follow her at:
Twitter: @RTaylorBooks
If you would like Rebecca to be a guest blogger on your site, email her at
ASCENDANT by Rebecca Taylor
(Crescent Moon Press, June 2013)

When I was twelve, my mother disappeared. I was the first person to never find her.
I’m sixteen now and she has never been found, alive or dead.
I’m not the girl I should have been.

When Charlotte Stevens, bright but failing, is sent to stay at her mother’s childhood home in Somerset England her life is changed forever. While exploring the lavish family manor, Gaersum Aern, Charlotte discovers a stone puzzle box that contains a pentagram necklace and a note from her mother—clues to her family’s strange past and her mother’s disappearance. Charlotte must try to solve the puzzle box, decipher her mother’s old journals, and figure out who is working to derail her efforts—and why. The family manor contains many secrets and hidden histories, keys to the elegant mystery Charlotte called mom and hopefully, a trail to finding her.

Thanks very much, Rebecca, for this thoughtful and informative discussion of the OCD/hoarding portrayal in The Butterfly Clues!

For those of you who have read The Butterfly Clues, what did you think of the presentation of Lo's mental health issues?


  1. Yes, hoarding is a horrible disease. One of my kids has an mother-in-law with it.

    Becky's books sounds awesome!

  2. Donna. I'm so sorry to hear about the personal connection to such a debilitating condition. It is very tough to treat.

    Thank you so much for the props on my book! It'll be out in June 2013 (same as you!!)

  3. I had two family members who were hoarders. It is truly a sad disorder to have. They were so attached to their belongings, they valued them above people.

    This book sounds great!

    1. Emily, So sorry to hear about the connections. It can be so rough on family members. I think I would get incredibly frustrated with this particular disorder.

  4. Oh, and I'm a new follower, Danya. :)

  5. My uncle who was disabled from a stroke had a long time girlfriend living with him an she was a hoarder. My husband helped with the clean out when my parents drifted to move my uncle out if the unhealthy atmosphere. He said he couldn't even imagine it (this was before the Hoarders show).

    It does make for interesting characters! I love Monk!

    1. I saw a statistic yesterday that roughly 3 million people in the US suffer from this. How sad for your uncle to have to try and manage the conditions and his own disability at the same time. And how kind of your husband to help!

  6. Your book sounds great! I can't wait to read it. THE BUTTERFLY CLUES sounds like a good book, too.

    1. Kirsten, You're awesome. I can't wait for it to come out AND the thought of it coming out also makes me nervous.

      Also, yes, The Butterfly Clues was an enjoyable read.


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