How do I cope with my mother in law (87) with hoarding issues?


she has lived in our home for over seven years and it is been a fight from day one. She won't get rid of junk mail and gets things out of the trash and buys junk from catalogs which she hides in her room. We tried to clean it out when she is out of town at her sisters house but it becomes a fight and she continues to hoard. She does not pay us to live here and we pay for telephone and cable for her use only. She doesn't drive any longer and is not capable of living on her own. She refuses to give my husband her checkbook so he can pay her bills instead of her spending her money on junk. I've told her she is no longer allowed to get the mail since she is not capable of throwing away junk mail. We talked to her doctor who put her on antidepressants but she refuses to take them. Her home had a path through the hoard and she is re-creating the same environment in her room and bathroom in our home. She just came back after a six week visit with her sister and wanted to bring 8 boxes of stuff she bought at an auction. My husband refused to bring them home and her sister is now mad at us telling us we don't giver her enough room in our house. I know hoarding is a mental illness but it's our home and I feel we should have control over the amount of junk she hoards. Do we just bite the bullet and get rid of junk and donate the hundreds of bowled up books etc?

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Dear gaxley,

I hear your frustration. Its not easy dealing with a hoarder. I'm a neat freak and like things to be as clean and clutter free as possible. I would try to work with a psychologist and organizing professional and see what they can do.

I know its not as easy as basically paring everything done to the basics and telling them no more stuff. Its a lot harder. But it is your home and you have right not have it become a fire hazard.
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gaxley, I feel your pain. Hoarding is emotionally hard to deal with. I've been living with my mother for 7.5 years and still get distressed, angry, and crazy when I go into her room. It looks like a chaotic wreck to me. The rest of the house looked that way when I first came. It was a challenge. Fortunately, I had watched the shows that were on TV, so I knew the techniques of organization. I also knew to expect anxiety and anger. And boy, did I get the anger! I kept at it, though, and got most of the hoard out of the house within a year, then another huge bit of it out of the house after my father died -- both parents were hoarders.

However, there is a hoarding stronghold -- my mother's room and the one attached to it that she keeps clothes in. Both of these rooms look like a den perfect for vermin and pestilence. From my experience, I know how hard it will be for you to deal with the hoard in your mother's bedroom. That is her private domain and I know she will be mighty territorial.

You sound like you're doing a lot of what you need to do in intercepting the mail. Something else you might try is to say that a charity she really cares about is having a drive for clothes and things to raise money. She might be able to pack a few boxes to donate. Then you can run them to your local mission. (I did this to try to get my mother to get rid of some of her hoards of clothes before her dementia got too bad to sort through things.)

One thing you'll want to do is be on the lookout for vermin and mold. Hoards open the door to infestation because it is so hard to clean. It can get so bad that it feels like you need a haz-mat team. The room off my mother's bedroom is like that. It is mentally unsettling and makes me cough and sneeze to go in it. This makes me crazy. I'd love to get a bulldozer in and just push everything out. I know you know how I feel.

Good luck! It is hard to get them to loose the control over the mound of useless junk. But if you can get even a little cleaned out, it is a good thing.
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She's living with you rent free and spending her money on her obsessions and hoarding up her room? She doesn't get to tell you how it's going to be. It's your home, not hers.

I'm glad your husband refused to bring home the 8 boxes of junk she had, that he's obviously on board with you.

We all know from watching the show that trying to get a hoarder to throw even 1 piece of paper away causes great anxiety and anger. I wouldn't depend on your MIL to contribute to winnowing down her mess but since it is your home I think it's OK to slowly--every so slowly--begin to thin out her mess. Don't make a big thing of it, don't even tell her what you're doing. Will she really realize that a postcard she received from her dentist 4 years ago is gone? Or the 4 canisters of glitter? Don't take anything you think might really mean something to her but a Maidenform catalogue from 1999 might not be missed.

These are teeny tiny baby steps and you'll probably never get her to get rid of all of her stuff but it might make you feel better to chip away at it little by little.
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