4 1/2 years ago, my now ex-husband had a severe, personality-changing stroke. I spent so much time trying to get him the help he needed that the house fell into something right out of a Hoarders episode. I finally had to get a divorce this past summer so I'd have time and energy to care for my kids and elderly mother. But now I feel like I've hit a brick wall. I don't know where to start. To top it all off, my mother is now in the final stages of respiratory and memory failure. I desperately want to create a fresh, clean environment for all of us and a really special last Christmas. I'm on Family Medical Leave, but don't have the foggiest notion how to get started anymore.

All the clothes the kids have outgrown have sat in the basement and mildewed. I can't bring myself to wash all of them so I can donate them, but I do I just throw them all away? What a waste!

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Hi dmanier. Firstly i can hear in your words that this has been so tough and it sounds like you havent put yourself first in a very long time. Sunny girl and garden artist have offered some fabulous solutions. May i just add one other small piece of advice. Take a day and do something that is so completely indulgennt for yourself. I dont mean massages or facials because they can cost alot-but if thats what your into and havent done it for a while then by all means go nuts. Just something that recharges your batteries,something you love but havent done in ages. If you feel good,the kids feel this and feed off your emotions. Im new to care giving but have learnt very quickly the fallout that comes with burning out and i have chosen to put myself first (as much as is possible) because if i cant get through this,none of my family will.
Love to hear your progress with the house and the cleanup... and a nice little story about something you did for yourself.
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Thank you both for responding. Knowing I'm not alone helps a lot. I've managed to keep Mom's apartment clean. It's my space that's a wreck, so when I'm not with Mom, I don't have a space to just unwind.
I have no attachment to the junk that has accumulated. I've just been dealing with all the immediate, pressing issues and shoving other stuff, literally, to the side.
I like the idea of dividing the mess into projects to do with the kids and breaking it up with fun activities.
Since it's our space that's out of control, we could do crafts and cookies in my mom's kitchen. Then she can feel like she's a part of the fun, too.
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Sunny, very good point on the respiratory issue and cleaning. What DManier could also do is wear masks and get a HEPA filter to operate during cleaning. It wouldn't be as high powered as a commercial one, but it could handle smaller cleanups.

If her mother is still in the home, I'm wondering also about the issue of extra dust becoming airborne and its effect on the oxygen equipment. The filters do have to be changed regularly, and cleaning might increase the need for filter change.

We've used the HEPA cleaners for years; I can always tell when I need to turn it on as I'm sensitive to dust. It's helped Dad and helped me.
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It's great you have acknowledged the problem. Since your mother has respiratory health problems, I would make your mom and the house a priority, though you and your kids will certainly benefit if it is nice and clean.

I might try to find some temporary housing for her since a house that is undergoing a big cleanup creates lots of particles in the air that are not good for anyone to breathe, but especially someone with respirator issues.(Dust and mold get into the air. I would think you'd need professionals to do it correctly.)

Since hoarding is so difficult for most people who deal with it, I might find some support from a counselor or therapist who has experience with it. They will know how best to guide you and get you support in the cleanup. Do you have health coverage that would cover a therapist for this? I'd find out and locate someone to help. Trying to do it by yourself is very risky and it's so overwhelming. Let others support you who are trained professionals.

I don't know if the clothes are worth saving or not, but an objective person could make that call. Often when clothes are mildewed, they smell bad...EVEN after multiple washings. I've tried it before. It may be something that just can't be salvaged. I wouldn't dwell on that. The important thing is to get the house in order.

I hope things work out well and you and your family will be in a clean and tidy house before Christmas! What a great way to start the New Year. I would continue with the counseling though.
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I'm sorry to read about your challenging situation. I think others here have been in similar situations and understand the pull between so many needs, and probably will offer some good suggestions. If it's any comfort, you're not alone. I've felt that way myself for some time.

First, I assume your ex-husband is being cared for elsewhere and that your focus is on your children and your mother.

Second, your profile states your mother is living in your home. I get the impression she's in a terminal stage. Are you planning to bring in hospice? The staff can offer a lot of care support to help both you and your mother, so that's something to consider as a top priority.

Third, spend a bit of time just prioritizing. What's the most important thing you need to do right now? Is it cleaning? If so, start small with the rooms that are used the most, and enlist the help of your children to make it a fun project; clean a little, bake some cookies or do something relaxing. The goal is to provide rewards so all of you see it as a fun project rather than something unpleasant.

Or is it spending time with your family? Or both? If so, plan a schedule that incorporates both elements and do the most unpleasant tasks first to get them over with. Then treat yourself with family time.

If there are safety and health issues though, address those first.

And remember that little projects help segue into bigger projects -"inch by inch" a friend always recommends.

Fourth, think about a way to have a special last Christmas for your mother that doesn't involve spending time shopping or buying presents. Are you or your children crafty? Make things? Gardeners? Can you think of things to make for your mother, even something as simple as hand made cards telling her how much you love her?

If your children like to color, check the Dover Publications sample pages for patterns. Add some pretty ribbons to the cards for a special touch.

Fifth, if you don't already, enlist the children in planning and helping with meals. If there's anything they can do for your mother, such as just sitting and being with her, ask them to do that. They'll be witnessing her decline, and if they can play a part in supporting her now, it might help them feel as though they're making a really important contribution (which they are).

Sixth, I would also explain to them what's happening to your mother, so they're not shocked when it does get closer to the end. Tell your mother and let your children tell her how they feel about her, how much they love her, and make it more emotionally comfortable for her to let go.

Seventh, if each of you spend more time with your mother, you can remember this period of your and her lives as perhaps the time when you did more for her than now than she needed at any other time in her life, and that you helped her during her final hours to make the transition as peacefully and painlessly as possible.

Eighth, as to the clothes, if they're already mildewed, they'll need some special attention, so just leave them for the time being. When you get the chance, you can address cleaning them up, little by little. If the children need new clothes, check out the Salvation Army. I was surprised to learn that some retailers donate brand new clothing which hasn't sold. You could pick up new clothes at a fraction of traditional prices.

Lastly, create special times when you and the children just spend time with each other, maybe with a cup of cider or hot chocolate, just to bond and unwind, and plan Christmas. Maybe start a memory album with old photos of the family, comments the children can add, something that they can look back on with fond memories.

But really, overall I think the key is to establish priorities and determine which tasks are high, medium and low priority. And remember that this will take time.

And be sure to try to relax and enjoy the season!
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