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She has lived with us for over two years. She loves to shop online and in stores every week. She has a bedroom, bathroom, and a large storage closet that we emptied for her. She filled up the storage closet, most of the bathroom, and most of the floor space in her bedroom with stuff. Last week she bought three large new items including a sewing machine and a printer. She has no space left, but can't stop collecting bargains. She even gives us stuff we do not need.
She refuses to believe there is anything wrong. She has osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis, and her room is full of tripping hazards. We do not want to throw her out. We hired an organizer who came in and helped for a few months, but mother-in-law decided she no longer needed that help.

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I told mom NO when she asked for more clothes. "If you put one more thing in that closet, it will explode. You have to get rid of something first." and I have stuck to that. She's got more stuff than the Salvation Army for crying out loud.
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There are great books on hoarding at the library. I tried having my Mother place one or two objects a day at her side in the nearest pile, then she could enjoy it for a day or two before deciding which ONE item would be taken directly to good Will. My brother had to be the "heavy" as she listened to him just to keep him from losing his temper. I also gave us the gift of going trhough things from many years ago, sharing a story about the items and then placing in a box to donate.
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Your mom is buying all this stuff to make her feel safe and in control of her life. Help her to channel it into helping outside the home.
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My mother got hooked on those machines that have stuffed animals in them and collected Hundreds of the, My sister gave them to police and fire departments and hospitals. She felt important "collecting them for the children". Unfortunately after a number of years that ran its course and now it is lottery tickets. Gotta find her a new "hobby". We used to deplore the darned stuffed animals...at least they were cheap!
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It sounds like some counseling may be in order. Heck that is what they do on the TV Reality show "hoarders"! : - ) You haven't provided a lot of info on your MIL. How old is she and is she able to pay for all of these things w/o your financial support. And does she have transportation to the stores and a credit card? Obviously, it would be wonderful if you could get her to stop buying (Think getting rid of credit card. Or stop taking her to stores) Does she use the items or are they piled around in her room? Maybe, they can just disappear? (Think return them to the stores if she keeps them in the bags with receipts. )

My MIL started to show tendencies to hang on to everything. W/o a credit card or access to stores, it was holding onto every scrap of paper, note, receipt, newspaper article that she cut out, open food items, containers that came from her restaurants (facility), etc etc. When Hubby and I visited (not often enough) we simply removed items. It was great if she had to use the bathroom during our visit as we could really move things out then! LOL. My offer to help her 'straighten' out her closet resulted in quite a donation of clothing that she admitted she would never wear. I also got the vacuum cleaners out as her mobility wasn't great and housekeeping services were in use. 90% of the time, she never knew we had removed anything!

We JUST moved her closer to us. ALF We streamlined her belongings. YET, other family members continue to bring things, many are ridiculous. Who would bring a 95 year old woman who gets 3 meals a day and 24 hour snack service a 2 pound container of chocolate covered blueberries? The list goes on. Between my husband and myself, we are there several times a week. Out goes the rotting banana, the unwrapped (now hard) brownie, etc etc. My feeling is you have to be somewhat ruthless. It just isn't safe. You can't remove everything but try to stop the incoming and don't be afraid to return things especially the local stuff. Good luck!
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We are picking up the pieces.
But to stop the madness that pervades my family, it also meant mostly cutting off communications with them. I have not totally shut those down, as I know they might need to communicate things eventually...like when she dies...
but I am not holding breath that they would let me know that, either.
...just weird family dynamics.
It has taken me over 60 years to "get it" just how dysfunctional they are, and to be sternly proactive at setting limits on their access to me
--I know how effectively they can disassemble my mind and wellness, taught well by Mom for their lifetimes. Having stayed far away for so many years, meant that I got mostly away from all that, until the last 13 years or so.
I have been mourning loss of family all my life, not understood that was what it was...until now.
Now I know what it is, I can work to process that.
Severe chronic depression, anxiety, fear--all that was indoctrinated by that half my family.
So much so, I actually feared going to live with the --other-- half my family, fearing I'd never see Mom's side of family again
...that might have been so, but no one explained any of that to a child, back then.
They let me choose to stay with Mom, and I have paid dearly for that for a lifetime.
I am SURE the "boat" is FULL of plenty of company of people who've been thru similar and worse, and that is probly related to why so many elders get warehoused in long-term care facilities and their kids do not visit much, some not at all.
..staff in those places always wonder why....THAT is why!
IF people fail to bring abusive and dysfunctinonal behaviors out in the open, nothing can be done to remedy them, much less optimally.
Society has SO much work to do on those issues!
Meanwhile, document daily life with the person you care for.
If a police report is needed, start by dialing 911--EVERY TIME someone becomes combative or abusive.
Officials and volunteers might try to talk you out of it, or try to tell you it is too late, or try to convince you it is useless to report something they cannot witness...but report it anyway: those people are wrong to tell you things like that.
Document if you call Crisis Lines, and the content of the discussion.
DO make, keep appointments with counseling.
Try to get the person you take care of, to attend counseling too--they likely will refuse, but try, and document the tries.
Try to get the Doc to evaluate them.
It may take many attempts.
Make sure the Doc has documents from you for the elder's files, IF that elder has history of alcohol or other substance use, their dysfunctional behavior patterns, etc. that the Doc might not know about unless you write a letter and have them put it into that file.
I did report Mom's substance use history to one of her Docs.
..and warned him that she might ask for drugs.
They kinda ignored that, because she was usually so sweet and flirty during appointments.
..until the day she flagrantly flirted and asked for narcotics for pain "just in case".
The Doc left the room to check on something--[her file!], returned, and wrote her a script for something else [NSAID].
In the car, she asked me to translate what it was--I told her, and she went verbally balistic all the way home, and threw away the script.
Acting out happens.
Thankfully, she is no longer living in our house.
Thankfully, we have managed to prevent getting evicted.
Thankfully, our landlords compassionately helped us get our yard cleaned up [lots of leftovers from her shopping sprees at nurseries and junk stores].
So far, we still have a roof over us, no more rodents, no more bugs from her piles of junk.
But we still feel like we're in a state of shock, and have not yet been capable of doing the kind of cleaning and maintenance on things in our lives beyond bare necessities.
We are just barely managing to start getting some medical and psych care.
We are grappling with serious health and legal issues related to those and getting coverage.
But one step at a time, we are putting ourselves back together and starting over.
At this point, we look at each other, and worry about what we might devolve into when older...I worry that I might become more like Mom...
God forbid! and my kids have to care for us...I dearly hope not!
I just pray that we live decently, and die suddenly in our sleep, still reasonably coherent and reasonabley able to care for ourselves.
...but that might be another delusion! ;-/
Those of us who deal with these things, must keep helping support each other--I am so thankful to have found pages like these! Wish I'd found them sooner.
Now I am more than happy to share what suggestions might help others to get thru it.
{{{hugs!}}}
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Oh, man.. my dad has filled 3 outdoor sheds with items he's purchased, or picked up at dumpsters. This collecting has been going on my whole life. I even learned to drive on garbage night. Sunday nights were driving lesson nights because garbage was picked up Monday mornings in my aunt's nice neighborhood, and people would put their garbage cans out Sunday night. I'd drive, and he'd scout out the "good" cans. It was mortifying. He'd be yelling for me to stop so that he could pick up a broken picture frame, mangled umbrella, whatever, and I'd be pleading with him to stay in the car, just mortified that someone would see us. He even gave me driving lessons in the cemetery so that I could stop at the pile of dead flowers that had been collected from grave sites so that he could take the urns from the discarded arrangements.

My brother and I go over to his house and raid the sheds or spare bedrooms now and get rid of stuff while Dad is napping or has been in the hospital. He has no idea that anything is missing. I just about died one day when we discovered a Pee Wee Herman doll in one of his stashes. Where does one find something like that and why? I also accept any gift he gives me from his stash of treasures. I bring whatever it is, home, and throw it out. I don't know how you can manage your MIL, because if she's anything like my Dad, she won't want to part with her things. All I can suggest is raids! Its worked for us to be able to keep the junk at bay, but if your MIL is more with it than my dad, you're not going to get away with it. My dad now goes through the household trash since he can't get to the junk stores or dumpsters without me driving. He pulls out the empty shampoo bottles and any can or jar he thinks is particularly nice. And, I guess if raids won't work, the other thing we did was just give the man some metal sheds in the yard so that he wouldn't fill up the house too much. It didn't stop his collecting, but the spare bedrooms were freed up.
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My mother hoarded blankets. She lived through the depression and WWII and she said she would never be cold again. When she could no longer live alone and we closed up her one bedroom apt we counted 34 blankets and quilts for just one woman. Thank goodness that was the worst of it. But she also loved to buy clothes.. She had about 60 pairs of pants and sweats. These things are not just
collecting things it is hoarding at best. Good luck to you on getting her to stop. Oh
by the way when she moved into my house I insisted that we clean. She had old electric bills from 1958. Again good luck.
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I just had another idea. If your parent likes to read, try paperback swap.com. The only cost is postage. You post books you don't want, people request them, a mailing form with the postage amount can be printed or you can write the address. Wrap the book in paper, mail, get a credit, and then you order a book. It works very quickly, and I often have 20 credits built up at a time. It is a great way to quell the urge to spend money. Book tapes are on there, too.
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Hi!

My mother is dead. She was an alcoholic and a hoarder. The problem with hoarding is the accusations of throwing things out and blaming you for throwing her things out. Those fights were tough.

My mother filled an entire house and then went out to the barn and started filling it up. She would take any furniture left on the side of the road. Anything on sale. Fabrics...OMG, we had so much fabric. I don't think she understood QVC or we'd probably have had more stuff. (I wish she hoarded antiques or valuable items but alas, it is all crap she hoarded.)

I have no advice for you except it was very important in our place to keep the horse section of the barn neat and uncluttered for the animals. And I was very clear about that. Every time something landed in that section, I'd toss it in the section she'd pretty much filled. I'd stuff that section to the rafters. So there was an invisible boundary, cross it and the stuff would be gone.

We just cleaned out one of the rooms in our house. Room is about 11 x 17 or smaller and we got 125 black plastic bags of stuff out of just ONE room. We finally got the whole house and basement cleaned out and now will start on the barn.

Hoarding is horrible. I did learn a lot from those TV shows but I have no advice to stop the person except just shoving all the stuff back in her room until she has no space. Or simply state things place "here" or "there" automatically get thrown away. I was pretty tough with my mother about the horse section and she did back away from stacking that area to the rafters with crap.

On a funny note, all the years my brother and I dealt with the hoarding...Shoot, if we needed anything, we'd "mine" the area in the barn for the item. Not there, then we'd buy it. It got to a point that my mother didn't really know what she had. But sometimes she'd surprise you and some forgotten trinket would be the object of her need-to-see. Always someone stole it or someone threw it out deliberately...but maybe it was something we "mined."

Good luck!
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Chimonger: thanks, that's very helpful. You are 100% correct about MIL wanting to "be among her stuff" - we have been flummoxed that whenever she makes her own meals, she takes them to her bedroom to eat - even though there's barely enough room to do that. If we cook food for her she will eat in the kitchen or dining room. Otherwise she perches on the edge of her bed with her soup, cereal, or whatever she has and we know it gets on the floor. Her idea of cleaning is a wipe with a paper towel, so we have accepted the fact that the carpeting will need to be replaced in her room at some point. She used to complain about seeing bugs, until we pointed out that she's feeding them in there. Now we just have the pest control people visit each year when it gets bad. You are also correct in that this is a long-term, deep seated habit. She and her husband completely filled homes and moved to new ones for decades, until she could no longer get by on her own. We took her in when her back became so bad that she couldn't take care of herself. Now she has recovered from surgery, and is relatively self sufficient.

I love RLP's idea, but my MIL is very private and does not gladly accept advice from her SIL. Her husband was abusive and prone to tantrums while he was alive, so she tends to "placate" me and agrees with whatever I say. The moment she's away she goes back to whatever she had in mind. I think this is her defense mechanism from living with her husband - agree with everything, then ignore it.

Cattails: You are correct, I wrote about this problem last year when it first started getting bad. We studied up on hoarding after that, and made several changes. We hired an organizer, who made substantial gains in three months. MIL actually seemed to be learning some good habits. Two things changed, and suddenly it's getting bad again. One is that MIL's husband died in January, leaving a beaucoup of unfinished business that MIL is ill prepared to handle. MIL received some insurance money, which she used to buy her own car. Before that she depended on public transportation. With a mid-sized hatchback, MIL has found she can buy much larger bargains.

Chimonger, I like the idea of her living in her own place. She has signed up for a waiting list for a subsidized apartment in an area that she likes. She has nowhere near the money to self-finance where we live. It will take months or years for her to get in, and when she does we aren't certain she will be able to manage. She used to be a shrewd decision maker, but no longer. She's going for medical nostrums and treatments with no proven track record, other than advertising testimonials. I guess our documentation will start with that.

Thanks again,

ScottCh
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Chimonger: thanks, that's very helpful. You are 100% correct about MIL wanting to "be among her stuff" - we have been flummoxed that whenever she makes her own meals, she takes them to her bedroom to eat - even though there's barely enough room to do that. If we cook food for her she will eat in the kitchen or dining room. Otherwise she perches on the edge of her bed with her soup, cereal, or whatever she has and we know it gets on the floor. Her idea of cleaning is a wipe with a paper towel, so we have accepted the fact that the carpeting will need to be replaced in her room at some point. She used to complain about seeing bugs, until we pointed out that she's feeding them in there. Now we just have the pest control people visit each year when it gets bad. You are also correct in that this is a long-term, deep seated habit. She and her husband completely filled homes and moved to new ones for decades, until she could no longer get by on her own. We took her in when her back became so bad that she couldn't take care of herself. Now she has recovered from surgery, and is relatively self sufficient.

I love RLP's idea, but my MIL is very private and does not gladly accept advice from her SIL. Her husband was abusive and prone to tantrums while he was alive, so she tends to "placate" me and agrees with whatever I say. The moment she's away she goes back to whatever she had in mind. I think this is her defense mechanism from living with her husband - agree with everything, then ignore it.

Cattails: You are correct, I wrote about this problem last year when it first started getting bad. We studied up on hoarding after that, and made several changes. We hired an organizer, who made substantial gains in three months. MIL actually seemed to be learning some good habits. Two things changed, and suddenly it's getting bad again. One is that MIL's husband died in January, leaving a beaucoup of unfinished business that MIL is ill prepared to handle. MIL received some insurance money, which she used to buy her own car. Before that she depended on public transportation. With a mid-sized hatchback, MIL has found she can buy much larger bargains.

Chimonger, I like the idea of her living in her own place. She has signed up for a waiting list for a subsidized apartment in an area that she likes. She has nowhere near the money to self-finance where we live. It will take months or years for her to get in, and when she does we aren't certain she will be able to manage. She used to be a shrewd decision maker, but no longer. She's going for medical nostrums and treatments with no proven track record, other than advertising testimonials. I guess our documentation will start with that.

Thanks again,

ScottCh
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Judy: I appreciate how you view your mom's spending and I agree with your view. Nevertheless, if you mom was spending that amount of money each month on things and asking you to make room for them in your house it would be a completely different situation. My guess is Scott would prefer his MIL was able to take a cruise too. Boy these parents can sure put us through the hoops. Cattails.
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Chimonger, I think you are right on! Trying to maintain some kind of "control" in a world that has become chaotic and unpredictable may be a primary motivation for many elderly people. Their spouces are deceased, they are losing both their health and their minds. It has to be terrifying. They resent their dependence. It is no wonder that they look for ways to feel in control again or store up or protect themselves and their families by buying stuff or hoarding. My own 88 year old mother has become addicted to the Lottery, spending over a thousand dollars a month on $20 " scratchers". My sisters and I have talked about it and have decided to leave her alone for the most part. She has no debt, her house is paid for, her medical coverage is total, and she does nothing else with the money. She doesn't go on trips, shop or do much at all. If she spent several thousand on cruises, we wouldn't say anything, nor would we complain if she were going to the opera, theater, etc. So far this, while a "waste" to us, is relatively harmless and my sister keeps an eye on her finances. If she accelerates her spending beyond her budget, we will step in. We really hate her choice and it is such a waste to us; BUT, it is her money and she has a right to spend it as she wishes and not as we wish. Sigh, but I would rather see her taking cruises or going to the theater! She really looks forward to going to the small store every week to buy her tickets and spends a few hours there each week socializing. She is probably putting the store owner's kids through college! I just wish she had selected something else!
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Wow, Chimonger, that is some heavy stuff. You have been through the mill and my heart goes out to you and your family. I hope you are all getting some counseling as to how to put the pieces back together.

Hoarding is a disease. It's like dementia, only it's a mental illness. You can't just talk them out of it.

Scott, I think you might have posted about this before, I could be wrong. Nevertheless, I think you have to take some firm steps to stop this. It is your home and if your MIL is ill and it shows up in her hoarding, then you should ask yourself if you can live with this or not. How does your wife feel about it. That's important information for us to understand.

I don't know how old your MIL is or what her other health issues may be, but more information would be helpful.

Cattails.
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Chimoger...excellent suggestions!
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That is a wonderful idea to have her shop to help others!
BUT...
It sounds like she is a "hoarder".
Take a hard look at her behavior patterns.
Does she prefer to sit amongst her stuff, or does she come out of her space and mingle freely with family?
Does her conversation contain pleanty of referrences to "saving or stocking up stuff just in case" and things that are scary in the world; or things that are magical thinking?
IF she tends to spend more of her time alone amongst her piles of stuff, she is an emotional hoarder--it is a mental/emotional problem...
....that means, she somehow does not feel safe without piles of stuff around her
...afraid of running out of something;
...afraid of having to do without supplies.
Also, it could be she is a pathological buyer
...discovering WHY she cannot control her buying sprees, needs to be learned, in order to find effective method to curb her buying.
Hoarders usually have bad experiences in thir past that drive excessive buying--it does not matter what they buy--cheap or expensive is immaterial--it is the act of buying, stocking up, being in control of things...even if it may not appear as that on the surface.
One has to understand the underlying causes, to effect a good change in behavior--she needs help to effect a change, and you need help to cope with it.
OTHERWISE...
you are faced with living with a hoarder who's habits can and will take over your whole house; it can endanger the health and safety of the entire home and residents.
We lived with my mother for 6 years.
I still cannot imagine how I could have been so deluded as to think she would change her behaviors simply by having to live within a tinier space, and being among supportive family...we even well understood why she did it.
BUT, her mental conditions blocked any help or change.
We finally managed to stimulate previously unhelpful other siblings to take her in. Bless 'em!
It was an ugly transfer, but we were literally lucky to get out of it with our lives--how intact or restorable our emotional/mental health can be, remains to be seen.
Mom's choices and behaviors nearly destroyed us financially, emotionally, physically, and nearly got us evicted.
No 2 people could keep up with her behaviors, expectations, and habits.
We were prevented from finding her other more suitable living arrangements for 6 years.
I highly recommend you do NOT wait that long!!!
IF your Mom-in-law cannot stop herself from buying stuff,
and you are seeing signs that it is not going to change,
and if there are no other relatives to bless her behaviors onto,
it is time to seek assisted living, or, her own tiny place by herself.
Might check into your local area's version of "Area Agency on Aging".
See what senior resources are available.
Do not wait until you are so stressed it becomes an emergency.
Oh--and BTW--
DOCUMENT all her behaviors, at least on a calendar or in a diary
....comments that indicate she is not thinking straight, things she does--daily.
IF there is ANY hint of violent anger issues, document these, too,
and, if overt, call 911 to get them into a police report.
If there is any hint that she is not thinking straight, you might need that documentation to get her declared incompetent to handle her finances,
before she loses all her money that is needed to pay for her care.
Our Mom did away with $250K within less than 2 years
--egged on by my other sibs.
Because of that, she was not able to afford to make a modest home for herself, nor pay for care she might need.
She should have been declared incompetent long ago, but, because my other sibs were helping her pass as normal, literally blocking reporting her issues to Docs, we were hogtied for getting her constructive help.
I tried to get more history and documentation of her behaviors from sibs, one of them questioned why I would need to report her historic alcohol and substance use to her new Doc..!!! [duh?!]
BTW--a hoarder will NOT likely want to buy stuff to help others
--they are about accumulating stuff to help "protect" themselves.
While they might do a little bit to help others, they mostly hoard for themselves--regardless of what they might verbally state to the contrary.
Hope this helps.
You have your hands full. IT is important for you to set limits on her buying madness....MAYBE, with help, you can convince her to limit her buying to helping others...but it is not likely.
Under NO circumstances should you allow her to start renting more storage, or placing storage buildings in your yard...tell her that it is against the rules in your neighborhood, or something official, to place larger limits on her behaviors than what you can personally impose.
Since she is savvy enough to buy online, it might be possible to install a "net nanny" program to make buying online suddenly not work?
But she WILL get angry at anyone placing limits on her behaviors.
The best process is to get her to understand how unhealthy her habits are, that she must understand that you need to protect the health and stability of your home and family, that her habits are endangering that.
Make "I" statements about your feelings and needs.
Your Mom-in-law may be mourning losses, and covering those feelings by pathological buying and hoarding...psychologically, that helps her feel she still owns things and is in control of her life--even though that is in reality, false/distorted thinking.
Hope this helps!
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RLP That is a Fantastic Idea!!!! As long as she is financially able, that might work. Working, (campus security), and volunteering in schools for over twenty years I know first hand how teachers would be absolutely THRILLED with this! She might want to see her gifts in the classroom, maybe pics or a visit Scottch?
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Judy, that is great idea if she was a volunteer before, or at least an outgoing person. If however, she was not. . . I know that I will likely be volunteering in my last days as I did so for most of my life, but I have never ever been able to convince my husband to, and so he sits at home in front of the boob tube and drinks his beers and smokes his cigarettes and has decided to be miserable. My mother is a shopper and not a volunteer. You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink.

And if she has always been a shopaholic, you really really have a problem. I have a friend who may very well be homeless soon, partly due to this problem.

If it were me, I'd take away the credit card. After all, it's her house that the MiL is causing a problem in. I just took away my husband's bank card because he is causing a problem in our joint account with his extra beer/cigarette purchases. Fortunately he knows he is wrong and gave it up willingly if unhappily.
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Wonderful suggestion from the teacher. Also maybe she could volunteer at a local hospital, reading to ill children or working in a library during story hour or in a classroom. She needs something to make her feel needed and useful. If she sews, there are a number of groups who make everything from hats and pillows for cancer patients to blankets for children and elderly patients. Serrapeptase will do wonders for her arthritis. I use the Doctor's Best Brand from Vitacost.com. Take it on an empty stomach with a full glass of water. It took 4 days to work for me and can take up to a month, but I no longer have the debilitating pain. Check it out on line!
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How does your husband feel about this? Can you enlist his help?
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If you have a parent that really likes to shop, ask a school if she can adopt a class. Assign her a certain amount of money each month to spend.As a teacher, I would have loved help. We all buy a lot of what goes in our rooms. Treats, help at holidays, decorations, posters, coloring books, etc. are always welcome. Perhaps this will help to develop an interest other than shopping for a parent if she gets to know the teacher and class.
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My Mom does something similar. She buys so much stuff especially clothes she never wears. She constantly orders things and returns them. Since she's in assisted living and doesnt drive I have to take either them back to the store or UPS.

She constantly buys things for me as well. Often it's just junk, that looks much better in the catalog or on QVC than in real life.

It drives me crazy. I wonder what others say.
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I had this problem with my mother when she first moved in.... only it was with dollar store stuff! She has a bedroom and large closet but the bathroom is a shared downstairs bathroom. The only way to stop it was to get firm and say no more... my house is decorated the way I want it... I told her emphatically that unless it is something that she wants or "needs" for her own room that's fine but nothing else is acceptable... unfortunately, it did not stick until I started throwing out stuff she bought for elsewhere then her room... it was tough to do but now we are at peace.
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