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I am 61, female, & live with my very fragile 89 yr. old Mom. All other close family members are deceased including my father (her husband of 65+ yrs), my older brother & only sibling, Mom’s friends & relatives, Dad’s only siblings, and my sweet husband who unfortunately passed 19 yrs ago at the age of 45.


The point I’m trying to make is I have been alone for many years and I’m used to handling things on my own (I don’t like it, but that’s just the way my life has turned out). My Mom is definitely fading & there are mornings I’m not even sure she’ll wake up. However, luckily she has no serious health issues, yet.


Being children of the Great Depression, my parents rarely ever got rid of anything and the house is jam packed with stuff. Mom & I get along for the most part, and I handle almost of her needs. The only touchy subject we do not agree on is all the clutter, mess, and junk in disrepair that has accumulated in the house. Even though my parents collected and saved all kinds of stuff, there is really very little of any true value here.


My biggest fear has always been that by the time she passes & I’m able to live my life again, I’ll be too old to enjoy it - as I’m sure many others can relate to as well. I do have degenerative arthritis & other physical problems which limit my mobility, and the thought of cleaning out everything in this house is going to be a nightmare.


I cannot stand clutter and have been quietly trying to “clean up” stuff whenever possible but it’s a slow, difficult, frustrating process. Mom absolutely will not budge when it comes to cleaning out things from the past that are no longer useful. I’ve had friends & relatives actually tell her that certain pieces of furniture, etc. should probably go to the curb, but nothing seems to persuade her. It’s embarrassing and depressing to live in a house where every room is outdated and filled with clutter, but Mom refuses to part with a thing.


How have AC readers dealt with this type of situation in the past? Mom is hardly a wealthy woman and whatever small amount of cash we could get is desperately needed. I am losing my mind & definitely my patience waiting for her permission to purge; I am anxious to begin tossing stuff out.


Any ideas or advice? I’m sick of being buried with old stuff that generally has no significance to me whatsoever.


-I’m Up To My Armpits!!

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I’d stop talking with your mother about it since it’s upsetting to her. Everytime I went to my dad’s home I got one grocery bag and filled it, out of his sight, with obvious junk that no one would miss. I didn’t touch anything that could be of value. But I always filled a bag, mostly burned candle, worn through pot holder, thousands of return address labels, etc. It made me feel I was helping, and in the end when I had to clean out the house for sale, it had helped, just a bag at a time.
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disgustedtoo Apr 25, 2021
Exactly! A little here, a little there, when they're not looking, and obviously of little or no value, pitch it! It took me about 1.75 YEARS to clear out my mother's condo (includes cleaning and some repairs.) I didn't live there and live about 1.5 hours each way, so it was a slow process. Having cats to care for, I couldn't just go stay there for a week now and again to speed things up. In her case, it was mostly just stuff, not piles of junk laying around, but it was many years worth of stuff! I'm still miffed at one brother who "helped" by bringing boxes of stuff I would consider junk to my place the few times he "helped"!

Added to that stuff I now need to go through (I planned to do my own purging once the house I'm in got repairs/renovations needed) is all the things that came from mom's MC space - included in that is a lot of items that were never hers! We weren't allowed in to pack, so I'm seeing clothing that wasn't hers and wouldn't even fit her, plus random towels, stretchy undies that were NOT hers, etc. MORE crap for me to deal with!!!
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My dad is 98 and my mom passed last August. I have slowly over the year been going through the house removing items. I started with drawers, under beds, and closets. Then I moved to items in rooms my dad does not go in. I first checked the will and gave the recipients, the items willed to them. All items of value I placed on the dinning room table. As family stopped by I had them look at what they wanted. I have taken several van or truck loads of items to Goodwill & Salvation Army. My mom alone had 4 closets full of clothes. Each day I spend a few hours scanning the millions (yes millions) of photos I found around the house in drawers, boxes, bins. The bins once I filled them stack 3 feet tall. I am talking large bins. I am probably close to 80% done. I am going under furniture now, couches round table cloth covered end tables. I kept one set of china, 1 set everyday dishes. A few casserole dishes and fry pans. It has been hard, I cried a lot when no one was around. I cried that I was just giving away all of moms pride possessions. I cried that she did not purge and left me feeling like I was giving her life away. Luckily my children want a lot of the furniture once my dad passes. My mom had great taste in quality well built furniture. My advice start slowly, a few hours a day ( I have psoriatic arthritis) Go in areas she no longer goes in. Best of luck.
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Live247 Apr 25, 2021
Your emotional response sounds very much what I experienced when time came to move mom into assisted living. Every thing in her condo was always "precious" and had a long story attached to it. She kept good care of everything (so I thought at the time) and all my life these things were imbued with supreme value. Then, when time came to actually empty the condo, a few important things passed down through the family were falling apart from neglect. What got me the most, emotionally, which you said quite well, was that I felt like I was throwing away or giving away her life. The burden was almost unbearable and I could not begin the task. But one day, driven from some powerful internal source, I leapt up from my chair, grabbed an armload of the pristine 1969 edition of gold gilded edged Encyclopedia Brittanica from her massive bookcase and tossed thenm in the dumpster. My mother was so proud of that encyclopedia set, and it was displayed prominently for 50 years. In her area, NO organization wanted any encyclopedia and specifically listed them as unwanted items. Nevertheless, it broke me to toss them. It felt like a violation of my mother's life, her being and all stuff she held in value. And the day Salvation Army came to haul off her furniture (I was unable to sell it) was truly a devastating moment for me - it was part of my history, too, all my life as far back as I can remember and my mother telling me how valuable it was. It isn't valuable if no one wants it, not even for free, and it's become just stuff. I took pictures as the service men loaded it in their truck and mingled it with other tables and chairs already in the truck. So is the dispensation of things...into the truck it goes. Hugs to you and all of us here who are dealing with our parents' stuff. I still have some stuff in a storage unit, so I am not yet done with it.
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I’m not sure from your post if your mother really is a hoarder, or just has a lot of ‘stuff’ that she is attached to. Hoarding is a health hazard, ‘stuff’ may not be valuable but is a treasure house of memories from an earlier life.

If it’s ‘stuff’, one suggestion would be to ask your mother to talk with you about each item – where she got it, what her memories of it are etc. Take notes, write it all down. Doing that will help validate her memories of the past, and it’s possible that you may even both enjoy it. In the process, she may be willing to decide that some things don’t matter to her any more, and that may help you both to agree what to do with them now. It should definitely help you to get rid of the stacks of washed plastic bags, like my mother left me! And it will be a very useful step for the inevitable time when you do have to sort and dispose of it all.

You may find that some things that you don’t think have any value, are old enough to have some historic value that someone on Ebay would like. A bit of history, dates, where it was made, often increase the value. Things like old kitchen mincers, out-dated lengths of printed fabric, little stools full of shoe polish brushes, now sell for useful money – it may not all have to get left on the curb or go to an OpShop. Once you have a list, it’s much easier to get someone knowledgeable to check it with you.

At least it’s a way to approach the mess that shouldn’t make mother feel that her whole life is valueless and is going to be thrown away. She might even get interested in who and why someone else might love it! I bought an Ebay persian rug from someone who said his downsizing mother was really pleased to think that I thought it was beautiful. Do it gradually, bit by bit! I’ve cleaned out 5 houses now, and you have my deep sympathy about what you are faced with. Yours, Margaret
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cweissp Apr 23, 2021
Such an insightful answer. Something you and I find valueless may hold such memories for the mother. I can't add anything else.
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A lot depends on the kind of relationship you now have with your mother and the kind of relationship you might want to have in the future. If you are hoping to have a friendly, loving relationship in your Mom's final years (and don't kid yourself, it could be another 10 years, it could be a few weeks), leave her stuff alone. My mom is now 96 and my sisters and I first attempted to thin out all the stuff decades ago. Ultimately, we had to acknowledge that it is HER stuff.

As useless as some of it might be, she does miss it if we toss even the smallest thing. 6 years ago she bought a storage shed and my sisters (with some small help from me) went through all the stuff, sorted it into boxes as she told us the stories of the treasured items. Most of it went into the shed in neatly labeled containers, a couple of bags went to Goodwill, and 1 bag went in the trash. It thinned out the amount of stuff in her living space and she has the option to ask to have something brought into the house.

Most of her "treasures" are junk. The chief sorting sister carefully labelled those few boxes of things that had some value. When Mom dies or can no longer refuse to go into nursing care we will take the valuables. All grandchildren and great grandchildren will have a couple of weeks to come and look at the stuff to see if there is anything they want. Then we will hire someone to haul it all off. We will not care if they keep it, sell it, or dump it all. 1 other sister and I have agreed to split the cost of hauling the junk off, which keeps the other 2 from worrying about whether they will have the strength or the money to do the job when it needs to be done.

Yeah, the presence of so much stuff is sometimes annoying, but the one thing that all of us sisters agree on is that we want to have friendly, pleasant relations with Mom. We want her final years to be pleasant for her. For 2 of us (we are 4), this time is actually the best time of our lives with Mom as our childhood experience was pretty nasty at times. She can no longer dictate what happens in our lives and we will not dictate what happens in hers. She is getting more frail and we keep thinking that her time must be just about done, but she has some kind of near-immortality and keeps on going. 3 or 4 years ago we called everyone and told them to come see her for the last time. Ha! Still going, like the Eveready bunny! For now, we choose to have peace with Mom and let her keep her stuff. It is worth it for the pleasantness of our weekly visits. As a child I never experienced a loving, nurturing mother. I now have a mother with whom I can have a pleasant conversation, which is worth putting up with the junk.
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elaine1962 Apr 25, 2021
AMEN!!! Peace over junk is WORTH IT!!! Beautifully said!!!!!
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My husband and I are both only children and had mothers who had too much stuff. I also cannot stand clutter. The fact that you are now doing this is a positive step. Don't expect any reasoning from your mother. If you can continue even if at a snails pace consider yourself to be somewhat fortunate.

The reality is that larger items such as furniture you might have no desire for in your future should just be left alone for the present. If she will notice its absence just leave it alone. Those items are actually easier to get rid of as they are single pieces. It's all the other stuff that can drive one nuts.

We would find a lovely wedding certificate from 1930 stuffed in a chest with old socks. Clothes that had mildew. Old books that were falling apart. Countless correspondence in no order,some of which was interesting, alot that wasn't. There was also so much more in a miscellaneous category. My point is to continue to tackle that which she may not remember . Purging some of it will give you hopefully some relief. Depending on how long she lives or can remember anything there may be more you can get rid of. My advice is not to expect any cooperation and find the countless little things to continue to get rid of.

It took my husband and I 6 months to clear out my mother's one bedroom apartment. Part of that was due to having to travel nearly an hour away back and forth to that apartment from our home. We had to feed a meter and run downstairs to not get a parking ticket. I know we got at least one anyway. My late MIL'S house was 6 hours away from where we lived. Alot of that was brought to our home to then sort out. We knew in both cases there would be no sense of reality as to what was worth keeping. We did keep worthwhile items while also throwing out alot. It was up to us to determine the worth which was mainly if we had any interest in it.

It can be an exhausting task. The process is emotionally draining and one finds oneself getting angry that this has been put upon us. Those are normal sentiments. I hope you can continue as I mentioned and know so many of us have experienced this seemingly thankless task. Hopefully you might find along the way something of value you desire but that likely will be the exception and not the norm. Wishing you the strength and energy you need along the way.
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As to worrying about the future, there are few things that cannot be hired out. I would have it cleared and let those clearing it save what they can for free and junk the rest. May cost a bit; well worth it.
As to living in this mess, I think I would not. If your parent needs 24/7 care then it may require placement in a facility. I would not live in a mess to care for parents; fact is I could not do live in care, but to put up with living in a mess on top of that is far far too much. You have problems of your own, and this should be a time in your life when you can still get around, when you can do things you enjoy and be surrounded by things you enjoy.
The choice is yours. Your Mom is in a different time in her life. She is facing down loss after loss after loss and doesn't want to give up more. You may need to make it clear her choices--in facility care or a complete cleanout of the living quarters.
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Based on your profile, it sounds like your mother may be suffering from dementia just from her refusal to shower alone, never mind the rest of the symptoms. I suggest you get her to the doctor for a cognitive evaluation so you'll know what you're REALLY dealing with here. Then you can decide what to do with YOUR life moving forward. Because if she does have cognitive impairment, she will be impossible to argue with ...its her way or the highway.

When the time comes to do a house clean out, don't assume there's nothing of value in your mothers home because it's cluttered with old stuff. Your folks have been collecting for years, admittedly, meaning they may have had a good eye and plenty of valuables in ephemera alone, as others have said. I sell on eBay and go junking 2x a week. You would be shocked to know what I find in little old ladies houses "packed with junk".....they're my favorites. Just recently I bought 6 paper Parents Magazine, Baby Care Manuals from the 50s, and Baby's Record Books that were handed out in the late 50s by dairy companies for free. I paid a quarter apiece for them and they sell for upwards of $20 apiece. That's one tiny example I can give you of something one might consider trash that could fetch you $120. In reality, people collect all sorts of crazy odd things others think off as garbage, and I sell on eBay! Before you do anything, get a knowledgeable estate sale appraiser who offers online AUCTIONS into mom's house to look over the place. That person can sell her stuff on an online auction for A LOT of money on Long Island where you live. Go to Auctionninja.com and look for companies in your area.

Here's a link: https://www.auctionninja.com/marketplace?city=Bethpage&state=New+York&miles=10&onlinesale=y

You want online auctions because they ship and reach a very large audience of bored people sitting around starting bidding wars on their laptops in Covid times! 😁

Wishing you good luck and Godspeed with all that's on your plate.
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Riverdale Apr 25, 2021
I think we all wished we lived near you.
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I’m really sorry to read about your situation. I had the same with my sister. She was 56 at the time her husband passed suddenly. I realize she is a lot younger than your mom, but the situation wasn’t dissimilar
My sister was in I’ll health with extremely limited mobility with a house cluttered in every single room. Her husband was definitely a hoarder and to a smaller extent so was she. Due to her sadness of losing her husband so suddenly, she was reluctant to part with ANYTHING they had together. It was a very very hard road but she and I started with small stuff (like going thru the oodles of Tupperware). We went piece by piece (keep, donate (to a good cause (e.g. Veterans)), sell (at a yard sale), toss. She made every decision. I helped nudge her for a reason for each decision. After we went thru the very large pile, she said she felt better (I know it was because she saw progress AND made the decisions- she just needed help getting there). After that, about a week later we went thru her pantry. We left enuf time between so she didn’t feel overwhelmed.

it is such a slow process but nudging them with options (that you present but she decides) and inching toward progress may help mom feel more in control and likely to want to do more.
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Mom loved her things. She had a huge family, lots of travel and friends and the family house of 50 years of precious items. I didn’t touch them when she was alive — just as I don’t like it when people go through my things.

Now that she’s gone I’m realizing that much of the junk were treasures- not just to her but to me. I’m so glad I didn’t force her to throw them away. They would have hurt her immensely.

I have chosen to do most of this myself - with a few drop ins by helpful relatives. It hasn’t been bad at all.

I started by sorting:
things that clearly have an owner
precious memorabilia
valuable items
keep
donate
trash.

After she is gone—-

The easy answer is pay to have someone do it all. Everything could be packed and hauled out quickly.

The inexpensive answer is sort it yourself (and you can pay to have the lifting and removing done, if needed).

The things you don’t want can be carried away by family members purchasers from an auction or tag sale.

it isn’t as bad as you think it will be. It is a sentimental journey I am glad I didn’t pass up.

Don’t pester her and take away her special treasures while she is still breathing.
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elaine1962 Apr 25, 2021
AMEN!!!
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My mom survived WWII in Europe and has many of the same issues. They lost everything--so everything is precious. The idea of "getting rid of stuff" scares her but the thought of "organizing" is appealing. She happily brings me piles of paperwork to organize. I identify what will be needed, and she's OK letting me dispose of the rest. That is our current practice each time I visit. One drawer at a time.

Her kitchen has always been small but it's becoming difficult to find places to put things. This has helped her agree to do a little purging. As is the case with many families, no one really wants her old dishes or silver. But I've asked my children to accept any gifts and get rid of them as they wish so that we will have less to deal with when we're grieving.

I've had good luck tackling one space at a time. We began in the basement--the fact that the things were stashed in the basement were the first clue that they weren't that important to her. We found, among other things, my sixth-grade art project, fitted sheets without any elastic, and crumbling Christmas decorations. She insisted that these things could be donated, so we kept two bags for donation...one went to the Goodwill, the other to the trash. We need to do this many more times, but every little bit helps.

We are also noting what NOT to do to our own kids. We are purging our own belongings more frequently. We are much more careful about adding belongings to our home. We are NOT adamantly insisting that we stay in our home until things get desperate.

(I see many people mention hoarding, and I don't think this is hoarding. Hoarders keep buying stuff. The Depression/WWII era elders were never big on buying...just on saving. The result is the same--too much stuff--but the underlying issues are different.)
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Maryjann Apr 25, 2021
Just FYI, buying stuff is not necessarily indicative of hoarding. Yes, hoarders can and do just hold on to stuff that has been accumulated over the years or collected from others' caches.
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