Auntie SparkNotes: My Mom Is a Hoarder
My mom is a major hoarder. She keeps everything; old clothes that no one wears, toys from when my sister and I were babies, old grade school papers, EVERYTHING!!! She refuses to throw things away because of their supposed “sentimental value”. I understand the value of memory, but these things are so piled up that there is very little room to move, never mind live, in the house.
When my sister and I try to clean up, she yells at us for trying to throw her things away. I cleaned out my room, completely emptying my shelf of everything, even things that I was still attached to, simply because I needed the space. I was hoping to move the shelves so I could have more space in my room, but she shouted at me that I had no right to do that because it was her house and then proceeded to fill it with her own things. She already has the entire basement, her and my father’s room, all the closets in the house, and the whole office filled with her own things.
My dad has tried asking her to get help, but she insists she doesn’t have a problem; she claims that she just can’t get around to doing it because she is too busy. If we offer to help her since she’s busy, she says that only she can take care of the stuff because we might end up getting rid of important things. I want to call an intervention and have her close friends come over and offer to help her work through it; my sister and I can’t do it because she sees us as enemies who only want to throw things away. I’ve even thought of trying to contact the people from “Hoarders”, but they want the email of the person who hoards; I don’t want her to see an email from them because she’ll know that we are trying to do something and will conclude that we are trying to undermine her again.
This has been a problem for many years now and I don’t know what else to do. Our house is a dangerous hazard, we have not had company over since I was 6, and our family is always fighting about this. Should I take the advice of a good friend and just wait it out till I can move away after college (I’m 20 and in my junior year, my sister is 18), or is there something that we can do to help her?
I’m sorry. This is awful. And while I suspect you know this already, it nevertheless needs to be said: the type of help your mom needs—qualified, extensive help from a mental health professional—is help you can’t give her.
And unfortunately, this needs to be said, too: there is no way to connect your mom with the help she needs without becoming her enemy, at least temporarily.
Which is not to say that your family can’t make a real, unified effort to intervene. You can and should give it at least one try. But if you do, you should be prepared for it to result in anger and resentment—and that’s even if it works. Which (and here comes unhappy truth number three) it may not. Unless your mom makes long-term, lasting changes in her behavior, an intervention won’t make more than the most short-term difference.
That said, if you want to try, then it’ll have to be a family effort: come together with your father and sister, with the goal of a) acknowledging out loud, all together, that your mom needs more than just the suggestion of help and b) formulating a plan, with your dad taking the lead. If you’re lucky, your unified front will make enough of a dent to get through to your mom, or at least get you all into family counseling, where she’s more likely to make a breakthrough than she is if left to her own devices.
But that’s where you leave it. No matter how for-her-own-good it is, you can’t make your mom change; you can only support her efforts if and when she decides to. And until or unless she does, you have the awful and wholly unenjoyable task of working with what you’ve got.
Or in other words: your mom is a pack rat. Your house is a mess. And statistically speaking, neither of these things will ever change. Which means that your best bet now is to think not of ways to eliminate the clutter, but of ways to work around it—beginning by removing yourself from the equation. Get your own place, or have a distinct plan to do so as soon as possible. As long as you’re stuck in the house, try to negotiate for control over the condition of your bedroom for the sake of your own sanity. And once you’re no longer living there, visit your parents at home on a schedule that’s comfortable to you... and if that schedule is “never,” well, that’s what restaurants and/or hotels are for. Set a line, and hold it—and be kind, firm, and honest if the subject comes up. (E.g.: “I love you and I love seeing you, but I won’t visit the house as long as it’s in that condition. It’s not safe, and it’s too upsetting to see you living in the midst of such a mess.”)
I know, I know: with your mother suffering from mental illness, focusing on your own comfort probably seems cold. But when you reach a point where your only options are to either put your needs front and center, or find a way to control another person’s behavior, your decision has already been made for you. You can’t help a woman who doesn’t want to help herself. You can only control what you can, let go of what you can’t, and find the balance that lets you live in relative peace.
Good luck. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for you.
Do you have a parent who hoards? Share your experience in the comments. And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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