Mom-in-law moved in with us last year because she desparately needed back surgery, and could no longer live at home with her diabetic husband. Now she has recovered. She is essentially normal mentally, in her early seventies, but has limited mobility due to several fused vertebrae, substantial arthritis, and osteoporosis.

She continually shops at places like Walmart and online stores, even though she has covered nearly everything in her bedroom and bathroom with stuff. She gets several magazines a week, and collects items normally considered worthless like paper cups and plastic soft drink bottles. A stack of empty boxes reaches the ceiling, and another stack is growing taller by the week.

Even her bed is almost completely covered, there is just enough room for her to lay on her side. We have to nag her to let us change her bed linens, and then it takes her hours to make it possible. She's using disposable pads on her bed as a stopgap. She has limited mobility, and can just barely navigate the mess.

My wife and I are the homeowners, and are becoming increasingly frustrated. Mom-in-law is outwardly oblivious to the problem, and frequently shows us the latest bargains she has discovered. She even buys stuff for us, often inexpensive and redundant. We are trying to simplify our lives and remove old stuff that we have collected, so this is the opposite of helpful.

We recently emptied a large closet and offered it to her. We included plastic containers to help carry and organize her stuff. She hasn't even opened its door.

She used her bathroom shower curtain rod for hanging clothes, until there was so much clothing it pulled the bar off the walls. I had to shift shoes and clothing to get close enough to re-hang it. She has fallen in her room more than once, but she claims it is because she lost her balance; not because she stumbled over the obstacles littering the floor.

This year she decided she would rather eat most of her meals sitting on the edge of her bed. She does not see well enough to do this neatly, and can not easily reach down to the floor. She keeps containers of snack foods in her room now, and treats to feed our cats.

We have considered moving her to an assisted living facility, but she can't afford it an neither can we. That would cost over $3500 per month in our area. We both work full time plus, but do not want to spend our retirement money financing hers. She pays a modest amount towards our expenses each month. She would like to move back with her husband, where they lived with this kind of mess for many years. But he was recently diagnosed with congestive heart failure and does not seem to be doing well. He's very private and rarely talks to any of his children.

So what to do? Do we invade what has been "her space" in our home, and attempt to organize her belongings? That seems dramatic and risky, but what other options are there?

So far we have only done this on a small scale - removing obvious trash, vacuuming the floor space we can reach. Would interfering to a much greater extent open us to accusations of elder abuse? Theft? We do not know whether she would physically resist such an intervention. Every time we even hint at the topic, she becomes very evasive and dismissive.

I have read a lot about people who are compulsive "collectors", and have found no effective solution. Most of those are people doing it in their own homes - not their daughter and son in law's!

Has anyone found a good way to handle this? What are the steps?

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You said your Mom (in law) wanted to move back home with her husband, am I right? It sounds as though they both need assistance to remain living in their own home. About 3 years ago, I visited my parents after not seeing them for a few years. They live in PA and at the time I lived in TX. I could not believe what I saw when I walked through the door. Paper sacks filled with unopened mail, cardboard boxes stacked up everywhere, countertops with stacks of papers, dishes, whatever ... you know the drill. The first thing my son and I did was the major clean up that took about a month and we threw out 200 plus garbage bags full of stuff. Then we hired a private caregiver to come in a couple afternoons a week to cook and clean and keep them company. No, they were not happy about our cleaning or a caregiver -- at first - but eventually they used to both. These days Mom and Dad have a tidy home and round the clock caregivers and for the most part I'd have to say they're happy campers. So, that's my suggestion --- help move your mother in law back in her home so she can be with her husband and in her own place and get help to do the major clean up and then caregivers to assist the folks and maintain the place.
Helpful Answer (7)

What is your point, planeman? I totally disagree with your non-answer. To put up with destructive behavior by a guest-- related or not-- in one's home is not healthy. To adapt to living with or maneuvering around the behavior is called enabling, and is also a waste of a healthy lifestyle! Scott recognizes that something is wrong. Information is available from many sources-- like the Internet, Google, for example-- to assist people in determining treatment options.
You don't kick someone out of the house who is mentally ill, and you don't change your own healthy behavior to "match" the disturbed behavior. Let's be realistic and helpful with practical advice. Thank you. Christina
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Have you ever watched the show "Hoarders"? Sounds funny, but maybe you can get some ideas from the interventions done on the show. They make the people sort through and get rid of "stuff". It's a true disorder - hoarding. Seems like the only way this lady can purchase online stuff is with a credit card... which maybe can be de-activated? I hate confrontation - and maybe you do too! But obviously she's putting herself at risk, and putting your home at risk for invasion by critters! YIKES. Maybe you can have a "Health Inspector" come and review the living conditions you provide for her and sternly warn "YOU" that it must be corrected for her safety! Do you have a friend who enjoys acting???
Helpful Answer (5)

Hi Scott, what a mess. It sounds like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and there is medication she can take for it. Chemical imbalance, trauma from her physical ailments piling on. Please get her to a psychiatrist for a good evaluation. My Mother showed signs of this shortly before her dementia was evident.
Good Luck.
Helpful Answer (4)

i agree with christina !

planeman - you do not kick ur elders out in the street !

scott - u could slowly get each items out of her room , each day one by one . if she gets upset u could tell her its in the other room for safety reason . etc , or you have to be the bad guy and tell her youre not alowing her to live like that . sometimes we have to take control
dad calls me the boss lady . which i am , take ur meds , here come sit at the table to eat . go wash ur hands , etc . and it is also our job to make sure they have room to walk or use wheelchair , the house will have to be clean in case a home health nurses comes in , which that will hapen one day , best bet is to take control , if she gets mad well she ll get over it ,
if that fails you may want to talk to the doctor about it .
big hugs to u scott .
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I'd like to thank everyone who replied to my question so far. You've given me (or us) much to think about. Some of the solutions are very creative, like having someone pretend to be a health inspector! And making arrangements for her to live with her husband in their own home again is very attractive, something my wife and I have discussed several times.

The step we are taking right now is a shorter one, for various reasons. I didn't have much room to go into more detail in my already very long description, but masquerading as any kind of regulatory inspector would be hard to do. My mom-in-law was a registered nurse for fifty years, and worked in home health as well as hospice care during her long career. She's well versed in the regulations and inspection processes, or at least has been. Why she does not apply those rules to her own living conditions is something we don't understand at all.

As far as having her move back to her home, that seems very unlikely. Her husband's health seems poor right now, to the point where we worry about his ability to live at home. He is a retired veteran and fiercely independent. His family has tried many times to get him to make improvements to their home and get better medical attention, nothing has worked. He was occasionally abusive to his wife when she lived there. No amount of good wishes is going to make that option any better.

Our near term fix is to try bringing in a housekeeping service. We told mom-in-law that we've been wanting to do this for a while, and that the improved cleanliness and reduced workload will help all of us. We did our best to make it sound like it wasn't directed at her. We said it will help reduce allergens too, which helps since we all have allergies. And we made the point that the floors have to be cleared so that they can get in with the vacuum cleaners.

It remains to be seen whether a housekeeping service will run away scared after seeing those rooms, so we have our fingers crossed. We have time off during the holidays so we'll be helping "get ready" as much as we can.

Thanks again for the advice and good wishes. Please don't hold back if you have more ideas, we're pretty sure this is only a holding action, at best!
Helpful Answer (2)

I agree with Carol 100% and Linda and Christina and Ruth. My mother lives with my husband and I, shes 86. She shops at the dollar store, garage sales and gets bingo prizes. 99.9% of the stuff is not worthwhile. I've tried talking to her and it just upsets her. I'm only stern about food because that gets gross fast. I do what Linda mentions and each day I quietly remove handfuls of stuffed animals, rocks, and a bag of whatever here or there. I cannot handle clutter so she has gotten used to a fairly tidy environment. Every few months she visits my sister for a few weeks. I clean out her room during that time and she hardly notices. She recently freaked out because I had recycled a plastic potato salad container that she had washed and planned to use for her rock collection or some such. I shrugged and said we'd find another one and let it roll off my back. What are you gonna do?
Helpful Answer (1)

Sometimes we don't have time to be philosophers here, even though most people are very thoughtful and truly want to help others. We try to give practical advice. Each of us has a different style. Mine is to get to the point as quickly as possible, because, frankly, dealing with care giving situations, many are fraught with exhaustion, frustration, and just simply at their wit's end. Why pile on passive aggressive mind games to people already submerged in it?!
I know I have a bad habit of speaking out when I think someone is being a smart "alec", I have gotten into trouble before because of it, but I do not seem to learn from it. Sorry to those I am offending, sorry I cannot shut up when faced with people like this.
Planeman, perhaps you could start a Philosophy thread for we caregivers so we can understand what it means to be "Illusionary". Or maybe you mean "illusory"?
Up, Up and Away in your Beautiful Balloon, planeman.
Helpful Answer (1)

It's your house and you should not let it go any further. Maybe watch a video or movie depicting a 3rd world country would help her to see an imbalance. Hoarding experts claim it's a control issue - she sees her control and independence slipping away and her "stuff" is all she has control over. The key is to get her to see it for what it is - as others see it. That's hard to do. Also, take her on visits to places and/or homes where everything is pared down and neat as a pin in the hopes that she will develop an appreciation for that kind of lifestyle. Let every conversation in your home be about the merits of clean, simple living and always about the gluttony of materialism. Is she ever away from her stuff? If so, you will have to do the "deed." You will have to reclaim your home and realize that you have every right to do so. If she threatens to sue (and she won't), tell her to "pop your whip!" Perhaps, too, she might consider mini-storage. If you do not intervene, you might project a date in the not-so-distant future when she will not be able to enter her room - and ask her "Then what?" Many of these hoarders honestly do not know or realize how much money they are spending on stuff. When shown, they are often quite surprised. Hope this helps! K.
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Boy. Oh Boy! Did I ever stick my foot into it! My comment that Scotth is faced with choices and one is loving (put up with mom's idiosyncrasies) the other is cruel (toss her in the street) was not intended to be taken literally. In other words, what appears to be a choice is purely illusionary, she really has but one choice. I am amazed that no one seemed to comprehend that it was an obvious false dichotomy. I have a wife who has late stage dementia and I have kept her at home with the aid of a half time caregiver. I cannot imagine doing otherwise.
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