Monday, February 28, 2011


So, it seems that the problem is primarily with my mom. She's definitely a 'clean' hoarder, no pests or dirty pets or anything. But definitely lots of papers, plastic containers, memorabilia, etc. The house is still somewhat usable, several of the rooms are still largely mess-free. But it's building, especially as we children have moved out of the house. The problem seemed to creep up on us slowly as a family, I can still vaguely remember what the house was like before all the clutter.

As she's deciding to hold onto - or even acquire - something, she seems to think either or both of the following:
  • We might need it someday/I can think of a use for it/I can thing of somebody who would love this
  • This reminds me of _______. I can't get rid of it
Those aren't even necessarily bad things, just they've been taken to excess.  The problem is that my parents HAVE to sell their home for financial reasons (and just because they're getting older and it's more difficult for them to take care of it). 

Initial Intervention:
After much back-and-forth in the form of meetings, emails, and skype dates between Bubs and Mimi and me, we came up with a game plan (even writing out a loose script).  It was scary/intimidating, but we sat both parents down to talk about it, in as gentle and non-confrontational way as possible.  In particular, we spoke to our mother's needs and anxieties, as we understood them.  Tried to let her do as much of the talking as possible.  We said that we knew it is hard on her to move from the house, to leave behind all those memories of us as kids, but we would still be her children, we'd still come over for dinners at their new place, but the important things, the living, breathing family would still be intact.

We addressed the two reasons that she seemed to want to hold onto things.  The majority of the sentimental things, she'd be able to save.  As for the "I might need this in the future" mentality, my dad pointed out that getting a good price on the house would enable them to buy what they needed.  I think that second part is starting to sink in for her.  I can see that it is hard for her to change this way of thinking though.  It's deeply ingrained in how she has been approaching things for years and years.

We talked about what had to be done (beside clearing out the clutter) to get the house in order.  There were two main things:
  • Strip wallpaper in living room/dining room, re-paint, finish trim/molding
  • Refinish the floors in the kitchen/hallway/breakfast area
Those tasks are relatively straightforward, but they depend on the areas being cleared out enough to perform the work. 

Follow Up:
Mimi had to go back to college, but for the last week or so of her winter break she helped Mom go through some of the stuff. Bubs and I worked a couple Saturday afternoons stripping down the wallpaper.  The hope had been that Mom would go through other stuff in the meantime, treat it as her "9-5" job.  This does not seem to work.  So the past 2-3 Saturdays Bubs and I have worked with Mom to help go through things with her. We try to be gentle about it, help her to change her perceptions, slowly build up a "tolerance" for letting go, but it is really exhausting for all of us.

I have no idea if she'll revert to her old ways once they move to the smaller place (seems like evidence reading about this disorder is pointing toward 'yes'), but I try only to think of the short-term goal: getting them out of this house while minimizing the emotional trauma to her.

Next Steps:
  • Try to find some sort of Cognitive Behavioral Therapist (CBT) in the area whom we can refer to our Mom and see if we can get some professional support in the process. 
  • See if we can find a way to propose the idea that they (both parents) might actually bite.  
I contacted Gail Steketee, Dean of the BU School of Social Work, who specializes in OCD and also Compulsive Hoarding.  This morning I just heard back from her and she recommended a couple of her colleagues who can help with referrals.  Worst case scenario, even if Mom and Dad don't agree to meet with the therapist, we (daughters) can still use the therapist as a resource for ourselves. 

PHEW long post!  Just had to get the background stuff out of the way. 

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